Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Oh Oban! (and some castles)

We left Ft William this morning after what was an unremarkable night in an unremarkable B&B, a now unremarkable breakfast in a rather unremarkable town. Ft William is the "outdoor capital of the UK" but unless you are hiking Ben Nevis or the West Highland Way I see no reason to go far beyond Ballachulish (Baile a' Chaolais in Gaelic). We headed back south along the coast on the A85, stopping at Dunnstaffnage Castle along the way (just off the A828 near Connell - turn at "The Wide Mouth Frog Cafe").

The castle was highlighted by warm sunny weather and a nice harbor view, the first of which has been in short supply for the last two days. Ruined ramparts and soaring towers and great views are mainly par for the course among the castle-hopping crowd, and Dunstaffnage was no slouch in this regard. WE ran into a quirky couple from Maine that were vary anxious to take our picture for us, so we obliged them. Little bunnies nibbled grass among the tombstones at one end of a small 14th c. chapel hidden in the woods behind the castle main.

We made it to Oban for a late lunch, preceded by a tour of the Oban Distillery. The distillery tour was excellent, if a bit corporate (Oban, among twenty other brands, are all now part of Diageo's portfolio). The ladies even sampled a dram of the standard 14 year, and I bought a bottle of the Distiller's Preferred 2013.


After traipsing through every alley and waterfront of Oban, we finally ended up right back in front of Oban Distillery at Julie's, for a great sandwich and a coffee. Oban is the major ferry terminal to the western islands, and while we didn't make the trip to Mull or Iona or Lismore or Kerrera this time, it was nice to be in a city with a decided amount of bustle to it. Plenty of interesting shops and pubs and whatnot, and it would have made for a good multi-day base town if we had decided to island hop for a bit (maybe next time). Doc particularly enjoyed discovering the several hundred flavors of truffles produced by the Oban Chocolate Company.

Once we finally pulled chocks from Oban we headed to Inveraray, seat of the Duke of Argyll (the grey headed guy from Rob Roy, if you've seen it). Inveraray itself is nothing spectacular, but another castle along the route was very neat, the 15th century redoubt of Kilchurn Castle

The castle is apparently best viewed in Standard Scottish Weather, which is best defined as "rainy at the beginning, cloudy by the end." It was a nice walk out the peninsula from the car park to the castle, which sits right out on the edge of the waters of Loch Awe. This is very much the castle you expect to find in storybooks, with all the right elements and size to give you a good visualization of the local laird, his garrison of 200 men, loopholes and archer slits in the walls, a fallen turret, gaol, incredibly large fireplace and all the rest. 


While visiting on a sunny day might also be nice, everything felt very much at home in the rain. I wonder if it is lit up at night - if not, that would be a pretty neat place to visit.


We ended up in a self-catering flat for the evening, not altogether a bad option with no host or other guests to bother us. An added benefit of both a washer AND a dryer let me do a little laundry before we head to Edinburgh tomorrow. We would have gone to The George for dinner but everyone was so full from a late lunch in Oban that we just grabbed some crackers, cheese and a local ale from the Food Cooperative and holed up for the evening.

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