Oban - Exploring the Gateway to the Isles
After our awesome visit on the Isle of Skye we were excited to continue exploring Scotland. Oban was our next stop, and we didn’t have too many plans while in the area, but we had 5 days and we knew there was a lot to see. We had planned on visiting four different areas: Oban, Glencoe, Campbeltown, and the Isle of Mull.
We had a cute Airbnb right in the town of Oban. Oban is small town and very walkable, so we didn’t need to drive anywhere in town to reach the main sites, restaurants, grocery stores, or shops. This town is packed full of shops with local treats. Some of our favourites were:
The Oban Chocolate Company – where we enjoyed some delicious chocolates and the atmosphere of their café.
Chalmers of Oban – A great place to visit for souvenirs or traditional Scottish attire, especially if you are looking for tweed.
Oban Fish and Chips Shop – This was by far the BEST fish and chips we had on our trip! Oban is known for great seafood, and this little shop did not disappoint. We loved it so much that we went back twice, and the people there recognized and they made it a great experience.
One of the only things we knew about Oban before we arrived was that it was home to the Oban Distillery. Darrell was a fan of their whisky before our visit, and we both really enjoyed a few whisky tastings in their tasting room. The tasting room was relaxing and comfortable, and we easily spent a few hours there enjoying the delicious tastings and the experience. The employees there were very helpful and quite generous with their samples and tastings. It gave us an opportunity to try a few different whiskies, including some that were from distilleries other than Oban. It was also great to enjoy a few tastings and not worry about driving afterwards! The distillery is right in the heart of town, at the beginning of the waterfront. It is a beautiful place to visit just before sunset.
The biggest surprise we found in Oban was the amphitheatre called McCaig’s Tower. We had no idea there was an amphitheatre in Oban! It sits on top of a hill in town, making it a little bit of an uphill trek to get to, but the views across Oban Bay and over the town make it worth the walk. There is also a beautiful garden throughout the tower, making it a tranquil site to visit.
Oban is also known for its busy port and ferry terminal. It is a highly trafficked harbour, especially during the busy summer months. We were fortunate to visit in early November, so we missed the crowds, but our ferry to Islay was impacted by the unpredictable stormy weather that is prone to the area during the wintertime! If you are visiting Oban, any activity you participate in will likely have you strolling along the port at least once. We highly recommend visiting during sunset, as the light bounces off the Oban Bay and shines over the beautiful town.
While in Oban we took advantage of the central location and spent a day in Glencoe – a beautiful part of the Scottish Highlands, known for its dramatic landscape, ancient volcanic terrain, and waterfalls. It’s also very well known for being the backdrop in famous movie series such as Harry Potter and James Bond.
Our day in Glencoe was a busy one. We started nice and early to make sure we had time to drive all the way through Glencoe and back before it got too dark outside. We planned to make it more of a road trip than an outdoor adventure, but there are plenty of beautiful hikes to do in the area if you are interested in bagging a munro (or climbing a mountain as we may call it…).
To take the more scenic route from Oban, we exited the A82 highway and took the Gleann Comhann road passed the Glencoe Memorial Site. This site recognizes the events of the Glencoe Massacre. It was a little difficult to find, so if you are looking for it pay attention to Google Maps as you make your way down the road. We continued east on the road after the memorial, as it brings you right to the site of Hagrid’s hut – a location made famous from the Harry Potter movies.
There is a bit of parking on the side of the road. Again, because we were travelling in early November we were fortunate to have no other tourists or crowds with us as we explored the area, but I can imagine this site would be very busy in the summer months. To get to the exact location, you need to walk up the side of the hill for a few hundred meters. The views are beautiful, and we loved the gorgeous fall colours across the mountains and trees. It was a really special place for us to stop and explore, not only because we are fans of the series, but because the scenery was really stunning.
From there we made our way east, still following the same smaller road. We came to the Clachaig Inn where we took a pit stop for lunch. The food and atmosphere were awesome! We could have stayed there all afternoon enjoying pints of beer and tasty comfort food. For those of you hiking around the area, this would be a great place to stop afterwards to recharge with a delicious meal.
Shortly after the Clachaig Inn we continued east and made our way back on the A82 highway. We continued east/southeast for about 20 miles to a town called the Bridge of Orchy. Along the way we made plenty of stops along the side of the road, taking hundreds of photos, soaking up the beautiful scenery, and enjoying the dramatic colours of the landscape.
We opted to take the same route back, as we ran into some unfavourable weather and were hoping to stop at a few spots we missed on the way home.
These two spots were Etive munro and the Photography House. Etive Munro is likely one of the most photographed locations in Glencoe. We didn’t realize it at the time, as we just happened to come across the munro because we loved the scenery and wanted to see if we could capture a photo before the light faded too much. We turned off the highway, down a gravel road, hoping we would be able to get a little close to the mountain. This road brought use right to a small creek and waterfall, interesting trees, and Etive in the background. We both fell in love with this location, and we ended up taking some of our favourite pictures here.
There were other photographers there as well, so it’s not much of a secret location, but we were happy we found it!
The second spot is called the Photography House on google Maps. It’s this tiny white cottage in the a field by a creek, right at the base of mountains. It’s off the highway so it’s very easy to access, and it’s always full of tourists. This is another popular image that you have likely seen, and we had fun trying to be creative with how we captured it.
It’s amazing how different Glencoe looks in each season, but we really liked how dramatic the area looked in the fall/early winter. The rust, reds, orange, and brown colours contrast so interestingly with the grey sky and water.
Since Oban was the closest we would be to Campbeltown, we wanted to take a day to visit this unique whisky region in Scotland. This small and remote areas was once a thriving whisky region. However there are only three distilleries remaining in the region. We really had one purpose for this day trip – to visit the Springbank Distillery.
The road to Campbeltown is quite windy, and for the most part you are along the shoreline with beautiful water views. This is great on a beautiful day, however when the weather isn’t to lovely, the road can be quite dangerous and is prone to flooding. It can also be busy with tourists during the summer months, so it’s important to plan your route in advance. It’s just over two hours to Campbeltown from Oban, so we planned to head straight there with little to no stops along the way.
Once in Campbeltown we stopped by the distillery to reserve our spot on a tour and grabbed some lunch in town as we waited for our timeslot. We decided to treat ourselves and purchased a Warehouse Tasting package. This gave us the opportunity to taste one of a kind whiskies right from the cask. It was a great experience, especially because the tasting was done right in the storage warehouse. We both loved the whiskies and tour of the facility – it was a great way to discover this whisky region!
Isle of Mull
Last, but certainly not least, we would recommend taking the ferry trip over to the Isle of Mull. We loved our visit to Mull so much we did a whole blog post on our day there – The Perfect Day on the Isle of Mull.
The highlights from our day there included a visit to Mull Cheese Farm. We visited on a day that the farm was closed, but that didn’t prevent us from being able to experience the farm operations as they have self guided tours set up during the off season. We were also able to purchase some delicious cheese products from their honour system store. The whole day was a wonderful experience!
Mull is also home to one of our favourite distilleries – Tobermory. The distillery is right in the town of Tobermory, which is a colourful town with so much charm. The distillery has both Tobermory (un-peated) and Ledaig (peated) whisky. Their tasting room was newly renovated and perfectly cozy for the late fall season. Some of Sharleen’s favourite whiskies are from here, and we could not leave without buying a very special bottle for us to take back home to Canada.
Oban is a great place to visit! Especially if you are heading to Cambeltown, the Isles - via one of the many ferries visiting Oban each day, or Glencoe. Although it is a small town, there is plenty to see in a day, and many day trips in the area. At first we weren’t too sure how we would fill our 5 days in the area, but they were jam packed and full of adventure! Some of our favourite experiences in Scotland were here, and we are so happy we visited.