A weekend escape to Oban, Argyll

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?

6 thoughts on “A weekend escape to Oban, Argyll

  1. Thank you so much for the beautifully written review on Ardtorna.
    We have posted it onto our FB page for all to read.
    It was such a delight to have you stay with us again 🙂
    Sean and Karen 🙂

  2. So how could I bypass a post about Oban?
    I’ve never heard of Ardtorna, but being a local I guess I’ve never needed a place to stay. Still, it looks absolutely lovely and those views are to die for!
    I haven’t been up Beinn Lora in years, but as I grew up in a street called Lora View and went to school in Benderloch that hill was a constant feature in my childhood, Perhaps I’ll scale it this weekend when Julie and I visit our parents. No promises though!
    But since you ask, my favourite spot in Oban has to be the viewpoint at Pulpit Hill. It’s a place that I always visit when we are in town and I’m amazed when folks that live there tell me they haven’t been up in years! I never tire of the view and could sit there for hours watching the town go about its business and watching the ships come and go.
    In the Oban area, my favourite spot has to be Connel Bridge and the various views of it. Another constant in my childhood (our street could just have easily been called “Connel Bridge View”) I think it rivals the Forth Bridge in terms of aesthetics. Rounding that corner of the A85 where you first see the bridge is the moment I know I am “home” and I hope that feeling never leaves me.

    1. Ardtorna really is lovely, although it will set you back a few pennies! The owners are so thoughtful and the breakfast is incredible! Though if home is just down the road, it’s hardly surprising you’ve never heard of it 🙂 I actually know that area fairly well; we always went to North Ledaig campsite during the Easter Holidays, so have good memories of the little newsagent in Connel where we got our rolls and sweets in the morning 🙂 I have never been up Pulpit Hill though – where is it in relation to McCaigs? And I totally agree with you RE Connel Bridge. Something about the symmetry with the surrounding scenery that makes it memorable. I WANT TO GO BACK!!

      1. What a small world! The first job I ever applied for was as a weekend cleaner at North Ledaig.

        I didn’t get it, but did get a job at Tralee Caravan Site along the road and I worked there on and off for several years.

        Pulpit Hill is on the opposite side of the bay from McCaig’s Tower. If you were at McCaig’s Tower looking out over the bay it would be on your left, behind the Ferry Terminal and Railway Station.

        The viewpoint is about a twenty minute walk from the town centre, but if you take the route up Crannag A’ Mhinisteir then you get nice views over the bay for most of the way up.

        Actually, further up Pulpit Hill than the viewpoint is the TV / Radio Mast – you can see it from McCaig’s Tower and it has even better views – I’ve not been up there for a couple of years, but it’s a fairly easy walk (past my Granny’s old house) along a pretty decent track (necessary for the maintenance vehicles).

        As well as a more unusual view of the town centre you can see right over Kerrera and out to the Firth of Lorne. Looking the other way you get views over the (less picturesque) south of the town. Walking along the headland beyond the mast you get views out over the Sound of Kerrera.

        We always used to walk the dogs up there and I know it’s a favourite of @loosemooose’s too.

        If you’re heading Oban way at any point and want proper directions just let me know!

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