From the Isle of Skye, we made our way to Oban, also on the west coast of the Highlands. On our way, we took a detour to the Glencoe Valley. The spectacular scenery of this valley may seem familiar to you as it has been used to portray the beauty of Scotland in many films, including Skyfall, Outlander, Highlander and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
We arrived to the harbour town of Oban and were very pleased with our accommodation. The Scot is a family run hotel that was refurbished earlier this year, and the rooms were a good size and excellently appointed. The cooked to order breakfasts each morning were also great.
On our first full day in Oban we had booked a 3 Island tour with West Coast Tours. We booked the early bird tour which meant our first boat sailed at 7:30 am. One of our tour guides informed us the nickname for this tour is the ‘hardy buggers’. The first leg of the journey was on a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. The trip took about 50 minutes and we were able to purchase breakfast on board (we had yogurt parfaits and muffins, although full cooked meals were available).
Mull is the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides (after Skye). It has a population of ~3000 and again, it seemed even more sheep. Departing the ferry, we boarded a double decker tour bus to take us across the island. This journey on a single track road, with passing places, took about 1.5 hours and gave us a great appreciation for our driver, Colin. Not only did he maneuver the bus with ease, he provided a continuous commentary that was both informative and very entertaining. The scenery as we crossed the island was great!
Reaching Fionnphort on the other side of the island, we boarded a smaller boat operated by Staffa Tours. At this point, it had started to rain, and although the staff assured us it wouldn’t last, they provided slickers for any of us who were hardy enough to do the 30 minute journey on the outside deck.
As we approached Staffa, we were greeted by a pod of bottle-nose dolphins who swam alongside the boat.
Staffa is a beautiful, uninhabited island, home to hundreds of seabirds and known for its magnificent basalt columns. Geologists claim that these unique formations were created by volcanic eruptions more than 60 million years ago.
The effect of the columns is most overwhelming at Uamh Binn or as it is more commonly known, Fingal’s Cave. You can walk to the mouth of the cave to peer in, but I didn’t feel completely confident with walking on the uneven wet rocks and we were content with the view from the boat.
As we took to the land on Staffa, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Rather than walk to the cave, we chose to trek across the island to the area where a large colony of puffins settle each spring and summer. Puffins live most of their lives on the open Atlantic, but nest in burrows and rocky crannies on the island, where they lay one egg during the summer months. Puffins mate for life and the male and female take turns caring for the baby – called a puffling. 😀
The puffins were incredibly comfortable with humans mulling around. It is thought that they know seagulls (their main predator) won’t come around while humans are there.
After our time on Staffa, the boat brought us to the island of Iona. This tiny island, just 3 miles by 1.5 miles, is known as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. Saint Columba, an Irish scholar, soldier, priest and founder of monasteries, left Ireland in 563 and landed on Iona where he established an abbey. The monastic community flourished and missionaries from Iona spread the gospel throughout Scotland and northern England.
The Iona Abbey dates back to the 13th century although much of it has been refurbished or rebuilt over the centuries. There is an excellent audioguide provided with your admission (in our case, once again using our Scotland Explorer Passes). While the use of the abbey diminished over passing time and by the 17th century was in ruin, a new religious community has given the abbey fresh life.
The Celtic crosses mark the front of the abbey – some experts believe that Celtic crosses originated on Iona.
The original Shrine to St. Columba at the entrance to the church has been a destination for pilgrims for centuries.
The abbey has many interesting medieval carvings and a tranquil cloister.
Next to the church a building houses a small museum with a remarkable collection of original stonework from the abbey.
Next to the abbey is St. Oran’s Chapel, the oldest church building on the island.
We also visited the ruins of a medieval nunnery.
Iona has a population of only ~200, but of course, has its share of sheep and Heilan Coos.
From Iona, it was a short ferry ride back to Fionnphort, where we boarded a bus to travel across Mull once more. On this trip, our driver Sheila entertained us with stories and some recorded music. Listening to the Scottish music as we enjoyed the Mull scenery was a wonderful experience.
Our second day in Oban was spend enjoying the small town and harbour area.
We climbed the hill to McCaig’sTower. This unusual mini-Colosseum was a project undertaken by a local tycoon in 1900 who unfortunately didn’t live to see it completed. It encompasses a lovely garden and commanding views of the harbour.
In the afternoon, we took a tour of the Oban Whisky Distillery. Founded in 1794, this small distillery offers a one hour tour that explains the production process and ends with two samples of their product. In our case, the first sample was from a cask tapped at 9 years – it was not nearly as smooth as the next sample of their standard 14 year product. My lab friends will appreciate that the drams were dispensed using disposable pipettes.
We enjoyed some great meals in Oban – at Oban Fish & Chips (the best fish & chips), Cuan Mor (a break from seafood), the green fish stand on the pier (mussels & scallops for lunch) and Ee’usk (delicious halibut).
We loved the little town of Oban and the Three Island Tour and would definitely recommend spending a couple of days in the area to anyone visiting Scotland.
Bev & Harvey