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Discover Your Backyard: Oban & the Ancient Province of Lorne

Updated: Mar 25

Author: Barry Pickard

Oban is well known as the ‘Gateway to the Isles,’ being a crucial ferry hub to the Inner and Outer Hebridean islands, with sailings to the ever popular islands of Mull, South Uist and others. However, it is well worth planning a visit just to Oban and the surrounding area of Lorne. There is an exciting range of attractions to see in Oban, as well as several hidden gems in the beautiful Lorne countryside.

Join us as we discover the highlights of Oban.

Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these attractions appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the highlights of Oban, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland itself.

McCaig's Tower

Dominating the Oban skyline, McCaig’s Tower is probably the first feature that visitors see when arriving in this west coast town. At first glance, this magnificent folly resembles Rome’s Colosseum and is a must visit when in Oban. It is a ten-minute walk up the steep, winding streets from the harbour below, but once you enter the tower, you get a magnificent view over Oban and out towards the Isle of Kerrera and the ocean beyond.

McCaig's Tower, Oban
McCaig's Tower

The tower itself is really just a large, circular wall, with a grassy garden area in the middle. The tower has a circumference of some 200 metres, and the wall height varies around the circumference to accommodate the contours of the hilltop on which it stands.

The tower was commissioned in 1895 by John Stuart McCaig, who was a successful banker with the North of Scotland Bank. One of the aims of the project was a philanthropic one, of providing work for idle masons during the winter. As a result, work mainly proceeded during the winter months and it took until McCaig's death in 1902 for the tower to proceed as far as the completion of the structure you see today. By this time, it had cost him some £5,000. McCaig's bequest of £1,000 a year thereafter to allow the completion of the tower was successfully challenged in court by his relatives and what we are left with is therefore what had been built when he died.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: The garden area within the tower is an ideal location for a family picnic.

Oban Harbour

The centrepiece of Oban is its harbour and surrounding buildings. With beautiful views out to the Isle of Kerrera and grand Victorian buildings, Oban’s hub is a great place to walk around. There are plenty of boutique shops, with a focus on country goods and touristic gifts, as well as a number of enticing cafes, ice-cream parlours and traditional fish & chip takeaways.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Try the renowned fish & chips at Norries, followed by an ice-cream for dessert from the Pokey Hat.

Oban War & Peace Museum

On the harbour shore, the Oban War & Peace Museum contains a fascinating collection of artefacts and photographs depicting the rich cultural history of the busy port town and its people. You can learn about the fishing and maritime industries, the railway, road transport, local sports, the building of the iconic McCaig’s Tower and the strategic role played by Oban during the war years when the town was home to Australian, Canadian and US aircrew and RAF Flying Boats operated from the bay.

Saint Columba Cathedral

The walk north along the Corran Esplanade is very pleasant and you should take the opportunity to enter the Saint Columba Cathedral to view the lovely interiors. The cathedral was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and constructed between 1932 and 1959.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Stop at the neighbouring Alexandra Hotel and enjoy a coffee or bite to eat.

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Oban Distillery

A must for any whisky aficionados, the small Oban Distillery, with its two pot stills, is unusual since it sits at the heart of the town, making it one of the most accessible whisky distilleries in Scotland. Indeed, the distillery was established before there was even a town there, being built by the brothers Hugh and John Stevenson in 1794. Now part of the Diageo group, the Oban Distillery conducts tours and tastings for its visitors, as well as having an interesting display area and shop.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: The highly popular 14-year-old malt made at Oban Distillery is a great introduction to their range of whiskies.

Read on to find out about the great places to visit near Oban.

Historic Kilbride

A ten-minute drive south of Oban will take you to the abandoned village of Kilbride. The first written records of this historic village stretch back to 1249, but it is thought that there may have been some sort of church established at the site by Christian missionaries sent by St. Bride in the 5th century.

Historic Kilbride
Historic Kilbride

Today, the main building that can be explored is the ruined church from 1706. The adjacent MacDougall burial aisle dates from 1786 and contains both Medieval and more modern funerary monuments, as well as the graves of the MacDougall clan chiefs. In all there are some 319 known graves at Kilbride, dating from as far back as the 13th century to the present day.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Pay attention for Lerag’s Cross as you approach the Kilbride village.

Dunstaffnage Castle & Chapel

Dunstaffnage Castle & Chapel was the stronghold of the MacDougalls, built before 1240 on a huge rock above the Firth of Lorn. Captured by Robert the Bruce in 1308, when he famously besieged the mighty fortress, after his victory over the MacDougalls at the Pass of Brander.

Dunstaffnage Castle & Chapel
Dunstaffnage Castle & Chapel

Dunstaffnage remained a royal castle until it passed to the Campbell earls of Argyll in the 1460s. From then until the last Jacobite Rising in 1745–6, Dunstaffnage’s story is inextricably interlinked with the constant struggles by the Crown and the Campbells to control their unruly western subjects.

Late in 1746, Dunstaffnage welcomed one of its more famous guests, Flora MacDonald. After aiding the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Flora was arrested and was incarcerated in the castle of a few days before being moved to the Tower of London. She was released the following year.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Check out the shore on the northern side of the castle to get beautiful views of Loch Etive meeting the ocean

Bonawe Iron Furnace

Bonawe Iron Furnace is the most complete charcoal-fuelled ironworks in Britain. Founded in 1753, it ceased firing only in the 1870s. Today, displays show every stage of how pig iron was made – as well as cannonballs for use in the Napoleonic Wars. Bonawe’s stunning setting, at the head of Loch Etive, seems at odds with its industrial past. But the nearby Glen Nant National Nature Reserve is just one example of the Argyll woodland that Bonawe relied upon.

Bonawe Iron Furnace
Bonawe Iron Furnace

Wood was significant, as it was cheaper to use the local forests, turning them to charcoal, and then transport the pig iron to the more industrialised areas of the UK, than it would have been to have the furnace elsewhere and then transport the huge amounts of charcoal required.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: The Bonawe Iron Furnace, Dunstaffnage Castle and Kilchurn Castle are maintained by Historic Environment Scotland. If you are touring Scotland for a week or so, or if you live in Scotland, buying an annual membership is a great way to save money and allows you access to a host of historic properties throughout Scotland.

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St Conan's Kirk

Sitting on the banks of Loch Awe near Oban, Saint Conan’s Kirk is a fantastic place to visit. This enchanting kirk is steeped in family history, unconventional approaches to design and magical stories.

The original St Conan's Kirk was built between 1881 and 1886 by Walter Campbell and comprised the nave and part of the choir of the later church that visitors see today. In 1907 he began work on a much more ambitious church. The new St Conan's Kirk was first used for worship in 1930. Neither conventional nor slavishly representative of any particular type of architecture, Campbell took ideas and designs from different places and periods and produced something remarkable.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: There is an excellent little café at the side of the church, which is ideal for a soup and sandwich lunch.

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Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn Castle was a fortress, a comfortable residence and later a garrison stronghold, and contains the oldest surviving barracks on the British mainland. Its five-storey tower house dominates the complex, with a lower hall, courtyard and barracks below. Kilchurn Castle was built in the mid-1400s, and it remained the base of the mighty Campbells of Glenorchy for 150 years. After the first Jacobite Rising of 1689, Kilchurn was converted into a garrison stronghold, but was abandoned by the end of the 1700s.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: There is a scenic viewpoint of the castle and its stunning backdrop at the side of the A819 road, on the opposite bank of Loch Awe.

The Glen Orchy Waterfalls

Just a 25-minute drive from Kilchurn along the single-track B8074, up the stunning Glen Orchy, you will arrive at the impressive Easan Dubh waterfall - a perfect spot at which to have a scenic picnic. On the way to Easan Dubh, there is also a chance to explore the lower falls of the River Orchy, with Eas Urchaidh being easily accessible from a small carpark. The middle falls, known as Eas a' Chathaidh, can also be viewed, but that one is a little more difficult to access.

Clachan Bridge

The Clachan Bridge was built in 1792 by engineer Robert Mylne. The single-arched bridge is steeply humped so small vessels can pass underneath. The bridge is also known as the ‘Bridge Over the Atlantic’, since it connects the Isle of Seil with mainland, with the narrow strip of water actually being part of the Atlantic.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: If you are looking for a nice meal while visiting the bridge, make a reservation at the Tigh An Truish hotel, which is on the Isle of Seil side of the bridge.

Clachan Bridge, Isle of Seil
Clachan Bridge, Isle of Seil

Kilmartin Glen

We have covered the awe-inspiring ancient wonders of Kilmartin Glen in more detail in our previous post, but any trip to Oban and its surroundings should always include this fascinating glen. Around an hour-long drive south from Oban, just outwith the historical boundaries of Lorne, Kilmartin Glen is full of prehistoric stone circles, towering standing stones, enigmatic cairns and some examples of the earliest rock art in Britain.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Head to the southern part of the glen and explore the lofty Dunadd Fort, which was the citadel of the Kings of Dál Riata.

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During our recent visit, we opted to stay at the Clan Cottages, in the idyllic Kilmore, just south of Oban. There is a selection of well-appointed self-catering cottages on the shores of Loch Nell and they are an ideal base from which to explore Oban and the surrounding countryside.

Clan Cottages, Kilmore


Too often travellers just pass-through Oban on their way to the isles of Scotland, but in doing so, they miss experiencing an entertaining little town and a beautiful, fascinating locale. So make sure to plan three or four days into your west coast itinerary to discover this great little corner of Scotland.

Related Blog Posts

If you are interested in finding out more about the Argyll and Bute region of Scotland, please view the Tailor-Made Itineraries posts below:

Comment below and let us know what your favourite thing was to do or see in Oban.

Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these attractions appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the highlights of Oban, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland itself.

Tailor-Made Itineraries posts every two weeks, and you can subscribe to the latest blog and newsletter here. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.


Tailor-Made Itineraries creates one-of-a-kind bespoke self-guided travel itineraries for adventurous and curious travellers.

These self-guided tours deliver a personalised and exciting holiday experience that takes the effort out of trip planning.


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