25 Nov 2009

Stretching time in Oban

I’m sorry that some guidebooks don’t praise Oban the way they should. A passing mention about McCaig’s Tower followed by a few seafood recommendations, then it’s all about catching the ferry to Mull or another island.

The first time I visited Oban it was a day trip by bus from Fort William. I stepped off the bus in the town centre and was immediately at home. Small but bustling, it is one of those towns where a tourist can become familiar with the main streets within a couple of hours, resulting in a feeling of settling in, a sense of comfort that usually develops only when one has stayed somewhere for at least a few days.

With the Island of Kerrera acting as a snug defender against the sea, Oban’s harbour curves long and languidly, with shops and cafes giving way to houses and bed and breakfasts. Bold and grey in the day, beautifully lit at night, McCaig’s Tower does indeed dominate from its hilltop perch. This Rome-inspired project was begun by a local businessman a century ago but was abandoned after he died. A steep trail leads to where the failed Colosseum hosts a simple garden and offers panoramic views.

Although it is the largest port in Northwest Scotland, even the street vendors seem to value the premise of slow food, with fresh, incredible seafood morsels readily available. The next time my Scotsman and I pass through town I want to have a proper sit-down meal at one of Oban’s popular seafood restaurants.

However I can say that if you love food and you are in Oban, you cannot miss the Kitchen Garden. Oh, the cheese, the biscuits, the vinegars and oils! And if you enjoy a wee dram, then oh the whisky! With its high, well-stocked shelves and complete dedication to all things luscious, The Kitchen Garden is one of my favourite delicatessens and cafes. The café is upstairs and with such a cheese selection available it is worth at least one person in the group ordering the Ploughman’s Lunch. At least you can all get a nibble. To get an idea of what I’m on about, visit their site and take the “virtual tour.” Look for the little lady in the doorway!

Rather that seeing Oban as a “jumping off” point to other destinations, I suggest Oban is the place where the mind transitions, gearing down as the senses reopen to the joys of simple pleasures. The scent of the sea, the swoop of the gulls, the gentle bobbing of the fishing boats in the harbour, or the slothful approach of a Calmac Ferry. Time just seems to stretch a little. As a tourist, Oban is a place where it is just so easy to feel good.

I don't know about you, but I feel good just thinking about it.

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