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Oban stands unchallenged as the capital of the western seaboard of Scotland. It was a late starter, existing only as a small fishing and trading village until the steamers of the early Victorian era started arriving in ever greater numbers. It became the main point of departure for the Western Isles and a regular stopping-off point for the steamers linking Inverness with Glasgow via the Caledonian and Crinan canals. And the arrival of the railway in 1880 only confirmed its growing status.
But there's much more to Oban than simply somewhere you transfer between train and boat. The town itself lies in a crescent that occupies the hills surrounding Oban Bay. The Bay is protected from all but the most severe of weather by the northern tail of the island of Kerrera, which blocks wider seaward views at Esplanade level. For these you need to climb the surrounding hills, from where magnificent westward views extend over the islands of Kerrera and Lismore to Mull and Morvern.
Within Oban the most outstanding feature is McCaig's Tower, more usually and descriptively called McCaig's Folly. This is the Colosseum lookalike that stands above the town and features in many of the postcards you will find for sale in the shops on George Street.
The Tower was built by a local banker, unsurprisingly called McCaig, in 1897. The aim was to provide work for local stonemasons and provide a lasting monument to his family. The original intention was to complete it with a large tower placed in the middle, but this, like the intended statues of McCaig's family, never materialised. First time visitors to the tower are in for a surprise. The interior comprises a grassy hilltop, with the wall of the tower encircling it like a crown on an uneven head.
These days McCaig's Tower serves three main functions. It is an ideal destination for a hard ten minute uphill walk from the centre of the town; it provides a nice walled garden as a respite from the hustle and bustle of the summer shoppers; and it is a great place from which to take the sea/island/sunset photographs that feature on all the postcards you'll see for sale in Oban that don't actually feature the Tower itself.
Well worth a visit while you are in Oban, especially if the weather is unkind, is the Oban Distillery, unusual in being located in the heart of such a busy town. There has been a distillery here since 1794. It can readily be identified by its tall chimney and by its location, almost on the waterfront and immediately underneath McCaig's Folly. It's a shame that they allowed someone to build a brightly painted shop directly in front of the distillery, thereby breaking the visual appeal of the buildings in that part of the town. But that's progress, and was probably agreed at about the time they decided to knock down the town's Victorian railway station in 1988.
Wherever you turn, though, there's no escaping the fact that Oban exists because of the sea. It is the main ferry terminus for Mull, Colonsay, Coll, Tiree and Lismore; and there are also sailings from here to Barra and South Uist in the Western Isles. Oddly enough, however, to get to Oban's own island, Kerrera, you need first to travel two miles south to Gallanach. Oban is also the main base for the Hebridean Princess, the superb small luxury cruise ship which sails througout Scottish waters.
Oban is also arguably the centre for the west coast sailing scene, and it also retains a large fishing fleet. On a nice day there's relaxation and enjoyment to be had by simply strolling the waterfront and admiring the boats. Or the really energetic can start The Coast to Coast Walk to St Andrews from here.
Overall, Oban is a busy place, and can at times be a crowded place: something that is particularly obvious if approaching the town from the north or east by road in Summer. But the bustle can add to the atmosphere and certainly adds to the number of eating, drinking and shopping opportunities available in the town. And Oban can also be a very attractive place. As a result it has a great deal to offer visitors, whether simply passing through or wanting to stop awhile.