With its growing tourism industry, inspiring scenery and great places to eat, this stunning Scottish resort town has a wealth of things to see and enjoy. Words Lesley Gillilan.
This is the gateway to the highlands and islands of Scotland’s west coast; a bustling little port set on a sheltered horseshoe bay with a spectacular outlook across the Firth of Lorne. The rhythm of life follows the flow of boats that sail in and out of Oban to and from the Inner Hebrides – every local knows the Isle of Mull ferry timetable off by heart – but there is much more to this Argyll town than fishing and shipping.
Visitors come here for the outstanding views (a panorama of islands, lochs, mountains and sunsets); they come here to eat (Oban is known as the Seafood Capital of Scotland, with its foodie restaurants serving fresh Isle of Mull scallops, Oban Bay fish and local shellfish); and they come here to climb up to McCaig’s Tower, a curious granite folly in the shape of the Colosseum. It was built in 1897 by eccentric local banker, John McCaig, to support the town’s stonemasons (it now encircles a public garden). From this vantage point, visitors can look down on the slate-roofed town with its old whisky distillery and harbour esplanades.
A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Kerry Anne McKechnie and her husband, Allan, came here to escape city life. ‘We wanted our children to grow up in a close-knit community,’ she says. ‘And we thought it was the best place to start a family.’
Kerry Anne was raised in Oban. She spent 15 years in London and Glasgow, but now, she is back. Allan has bought a hairdressing business, Rutherfords, in the town and they have a daughter, Allie Mae. ‘We love the open spaces, the fresh air and the beautiful scenery,’ says Kerry Anne. ‘Whatever the weather, we go walking on the beach nearly every day.’
WHERE TO BUY IN OBAN
Oban’s houses tend to be large, stone-clad and typical of the Scottish baronial style – with mini turrets and crow-stepped gables – yet the prices are keen. Four- five- or even six-bedroom period properties are marketed at around £250,000 (though under the Scottish system the final sale price often exceeds the guide price). For the best bay views, and some of the finest houses, head for the elevated Victorian terraces between the town centre and McCaig’s Tower (Dalriach, Ardconnel or Duncraggan roads among others). Other popular areas include Gallanach Road and Pulpit Hill, on the south shore of the harbour. Out of town, the coastal villages of Connel or Benderloch offer seaside homes close to beaches and lochs.
The scenery alone is enough to keep you here: the bay, the islands, the white-sand beaches at Ganavan or Benderloch, the lochs and the highlands, provide the ingredients for a rich outdoor life. Within an hour, you can drive to Glencoe to the north, or to Loch Awe and Loch Lomond to the south. Hop on a CalMac ferry for a day trip to the Isles of Mull, Colonsay, Lismore or Tiree. The town’s renowned seafood restaurants include the Oban Fish and Chips Shop (try the monkfish scampi), Coast (for modern Scottish fare) or, right on the seafront, The Waterfront or Ee-Usk.
JOBS AND COMMUTING
The local economy is built on construction, transport (chiefly Caledonian MacBrayne’s island ferries), fisheries, agriculture and tourism, though there is a growing culture of self-employment and home-based businesses. The nearest city is Glasgow – two to three hours by road or rail (the Oban branch of the West Highland line terminates at the town’s harbourside station). Oban’s mini airport offers seaplane flights to the Inner and Outer Hebrides. For more information on the area you can go to visitscotland.com.
Oban High School is a very well-respected and inclusive community secondary, with accommodation for pupils travelling from the islands (including Colonsay, Mull, Lismore, Iona and Kerrera).
With a constant procession of boats sailing in from the islands there is no shortage of activity in Oban, but there are times when it can feel a little cut off, particularly in winter months when it can be wet, wild and occasionally snow-bound. ‘We are all obsessed with the weather forecast,’ says Kerry Anne. Like most of the locals, she makes regular day trips to Glasgow for a spot of shopping and city culture.
CAN YOU AFFORD IT?
Argyll and Bute: £184,586
Average house price values: [June 2021]. Source: Rightmove
PAY A VISIT
Built by a wealthy diamond miner in 1885, Greystones was a maternity hospital and a hotel before architects Mark and Suzanne McPhillips bought this baronial pile, remodelled the interiors and reopened it (in May 2013) as a luxury boutique B&B. The light, white rooms are a mix of the original and the ultra-modern, with comfy beds, modern bathrooms and views of Kerrera and Mull. Oban’s seafront is five minutes’ walk downhill. Doubles start from around £110 per night.
WHAT KERRY LIKES ABOUT OBAN…
The walk along the esplanade to Ganavan beach on a sunny day. ‘The scenery is stunning and you always see lots of wildlife. In spring last year there was a whale in Oban Bay for around ten days – something we would never have had the chance to see if we lived in the city.’
Eating out is a favourite pastime and for something ‘a wee bit different’ take a foot ferry over to the Isle of Kerrera for lunch, dinner or drinks at the Waypoint Bar and Grill. ‘A shuttle boat from the north pier whisks you across the bay to the island – where you can see Oban from a different viewpoint.’
Beautiful Tralee beach at Benderloch (seven miles from Oban). ‘A cream tea at Ben Lora Café features in our regular family outings.’
A successful campaign in 2011 to save Oban’s Phoenix Cinema (the former Highland Theatre) was backed by enthusiasts including Rowan Atkinson, Dougray Scott, Robbie Coltrane and Dame Judi Dench.