It’s mid-March, end of the week. The car is scattered with birthday cake, a couple of rucksacks, walking boots, waterproof jackets. We’re heading up the south side of Loch Lomond, grey puffs in the sky slowly lifting as we fork left towards Oban. Four seasons in one day: windscreen wipers slice away hailstones; the next second they rest immobile in the sun’s rays. Across the Connel bridge, hills scrambling vertically on our right and the blue loch opposite, we meander towards Barcaldine.
In this village (hamlet? Dots of houses?) lies Ardtorna. Above a sloping field, contemporarily designed to look like a barn and low steadings, it’s a five star B&B. Winner of a jumble of awards – all positioned in the house’s foyer – hosts Karen and Sean present superb views, colourful chat and gourmet breakfasts. We are welcomed with smiles, gentle questions and warm scones, fresh from the oven.
Here you can sit, breathe. After weeks of stressful research, we stare out onto the rouging skyline, a few vessels floating on the water. We are not disturbed by sound or speech. Birds glide past towards the lowering sun. Sean and Karen wish us bon appetit and the engine lights up, direction Oban.
As the seafood capital of Scotland, the town has a substantial splattering of restaurants, from the revered (yet poorly reviewed) Ee-usk to the regular, reliable chippy. The high street eatery Coast is recommended both online and by Ardtorna’s owners. We’re not disappointed. I select a starter of brioche topped with poached egg, leaves and fried black pudding; a main of pan-fried salmon and vegetables. Fresh but richly Scottish; a theme which continues in Sean’s amazing breakfast the next morning. We’re welcomed with smoothies, a range of Teapigs, homemade soda bread, muesli, all the dried fruit I could desire… and my main is a custom poached egg and salmon design, punctuated with halloumi cheese and capers. I can’t explain how wonderful Ardtorna is. I could stay for weeks, though my savings would be somewhat depleted. When I win the lottery, perhaps?
At midday, we wind towards Oban again. The shops are still at this time, so we walk up to McCaig’s Tower, a panoramic colosseum which presides over the bay. From there, you can see the winding coastline of the isles, the ropey high street weaving into silk, the harbour boats buzzing at the port. They vibrate louder as we approach, a fishy fragrance issuing from the stall proffering mussels doused in Lambrini and thick-filled prawn pieces. We circle, returning to the Oban Chocolate Company. It’s a shop, mini-factory and café, with pillowy leather sofas facing Mull and Kerrera across the bay. I anchor myself in one and we’re there for hours. This is no simple café: it’s a chocolate elevation. The spoon of the peppermint tea holds a mint cream; afternoon tea is cocoa-fied with truffles, marshmallow lollipops and flavoured drops. You can even buy melting spoons and taster pots. It’s a chocolate lovers’ paradise, and gets appropriately busy for a Saturday in a wintery coastal town. Yet the lilac atmosphere is so calming and the staff patient and polite, that the coach-load of tourists cram in quite contentedly.
Isn’t it amazing how much you can squeeze in a day when you wake early? At three o’clock, the car is moored at the hill-foot parking area, our walking boots tied and feet moulding the mud underneath. Beinn Lora is only 308 metres high, yet the panoramas from even halfway up are stunning. Grey clouds lie low across hills, the horizon, the loch. Occasionally rays pierce the monotone ceiling and a sliver of gold sneaks towards us. Up and down the hill in two hours, we round off our two-day holiday with a fish tea. Oban Fish and Chip Shop, recommended back in the 2000s by Rick Stein (and that’s never been forgotten) serve up monkfish scampi, and a cod curry for me. Warming grub, promising further Scottish explorations in the not too distant future, as we scurry back down the A82 towards Glasgow.
Where’s your favourite spot in or around Oban?