Showing posts from May, 2017

Oban Distillery

Argyll & Bute | Oban | Distillery | ★★★

Half past nine on a July morning, the doors open and tourists pour in! With a central location in one of the Highlands' most popular towns, Oban Distillery is always going to have a captive audience. Founded in 1794, this is one of Scotland's oldest and smallest distilleries - in fact even older than Oban itself, with the town growing up around the distillery. Why small? Production buildings have always been hemmed in by cliffs and adjacent houses, preventing expansion. Instead - so they say - Oban Distillery focuses on quality rather than quantity, producing a rich, mostly lightly-peated malt which falls somewhere between the typical Highland and Island flavours. Tours of the production areas are a bit brief but deal with the crowds quite well. Numbers are limited so you still get a good chance to see what's going on, and regular slots continue late into the evening during summer to squeeze in as many people as possible. No phot…

Review: Rabbie's Tours

Various locations | Tour company | ★★★★★

When travelling around Scotland exploring new places, we can't help but notice the popularity of guided tour companies. For many visitors this is the obvious way to see the country, be it for one day or several. But I was sceptical. Could it be fun being stuck on a bus full of strangers, shepherded around roadside viewpoints with fellow passengers getting in the way of your photos?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Having spent a day with Rabbie's - one of the giants of the Scotland tour company scene - I can confirm that this is an excellent way to see the sights. A fixed, guided itinerary takes the stress out of holiday planning and lets you tick off must-see attractions without needing to hire a car. Read on for a trip report; all photos on this page were taken on the tour.

The west end of George Square was bathed in morning sunshine as I arrived bright and early in Glasgow city centre. It was sunny and already over 20°C (68°F) at 8 …

Kilchurn Castle

Argyll & Bute | Dalmally | Castle | ★★★

It's ruined, romantic and surrounded by stunning Highland scenery: Kilchurn Castle is your quintessential Scottish stronghold. Set on a pocket of land jutting out into the country's longest freshwater loch, Kilchurn's dramatic waterside setting rivals that of much more popular (and expensive) Urquhart Castle, although with no facilities. The castle was built in the 15th century as a residence for the mighty Campbell family, converted into a garrison after the 1689 Jacobite uprising. Substantial parts of the walls and towers remain, and it's well worth exploring all sides (and the steep steps to the top of the main tower) thoroughly to do this castle justice. There's also an excellent viewpoint accessed from the A819 to the south - see below for access.

Location & info

📌 Kilchurn Castle★★★
Off the A85 2 mi west of Dalmally, G.R.: NN 133276 ///mixes.weekends.hero
Open daily, April to September; southern viewpoint always …

Oban War & Peace Museum

Argyll & Bute | Oban | Museum | ★★

The Oban War and Peace Museum is, like a few of Oban's attractions, easy to walk right past. The museum's housed in the old HQ of the Oban Times and doesn't look like much from outside. But if it's one of those days when rain's falling and you're running out of indoor options, you won't be complaining. It's old-fashioned but free, and in fact the name rather undersells itself: most aspects of the town's broad history are covered.

Location & info

📌 Oban War and Peace Museum★★
Corran Esplanade, Oban town centre, G.R.: NM 858303 ///sardine.bats.deriving
Open daily, late February to late November | Free

St Columba's Cathedral (Oban)

Argyll & Bute | Oban | Cathedral | ★★★

St Columba's Cathedral is a cavernous building dominating the north end of Oban. Built gradually over the years between 1932 and 1953, the cathedral is the mother church for the Catholic diocese of Argyll and the Isles: a huge region stretching from the Outer Hebrides in the north to Arran in the south. Probably impressive more for its sheer scale rather than its beauty, it's nevertheless well worth the short walk along the Esplanade from Oban town centre.

Location & info

📌 St Columba's Cathedral (Oban)★★★
Corran Esplanade, 10-min walk north of Oban town centre, G.R.: NM 855307 ///plan.admire.breeze
Probably open daily | Free

St John's Cathedral (Oban)

Argyll & Bute | Oban | Cathedral | ★★

Despite its central location, St John's Cathedral is easily missed on a trip to Oban, capital of the West Highlands. This sandstone and steel Episcopal cathedral dates to the early 1900s, and fortunately looks better on the inside than on the outside! The angular exterior hides an impressive, though admittedly unusual, nave and narthex; the prominent metal support columns result from funding running out during the construction of what was originally meant to be a much larger church.

Location & info

📌 St John's Cathedral (Oban)★★
George Street, Oban town centre, G.R.: NM 859304 ///roughest.visions.fruity
Probably open daily | Free

Castle Stalker viewpoint

Argyll & Bute | Portnacroish | Viewpoint | ★★★

Castle Stalker has one of the most romantic settings of any Scottish tower house, cut adrift from everyday life on a tiny tidal island in Loch Laich. It's possible to visit the 15th century castle - which featured as Castle Aargh! in Monty Python and the Holy Grail - via boat from Portnacroish, but a cheaper option is to view it from the mainland, which we describe here. The hillside viewpoint is easily accessed from the A828 at Portnacroish; alternatively, cross the Jubilee Footbridge from the other side of the estuary for a closer view.

Location & info

📌 Castle Stalker viewpoint ★★★
The hillside viewpoint for the castle is off the A828 at Castle Stalker View café, just north of Portnacroish, G.R.: NM 925477 ///shell darling bloom
Viewpoint is always open | Viewpoint is free

Anything else? Details above refer to the hillside view - we haven't been to the island or inside the castle. From the café, it's a 2-min walk to t…


Argyll & Bute | Village | ★

Occasional views of Lochgoilhead from the summits of the surrounding Arrochar Alps aren't promising: a spread of caravan parks and hotels seemingly ruining an otherwise beautiful sea loch. The reality is better: a tiny village with its tourist accommodation mostly a respectful distance away, taking little away from the stunning situation at the head of Loch Goil, itself an arm of the much larger Loch Long. And that's about it - there's almost nothing to do here apart from take in the scenery. Carrick Castle (exterior views only) is worth a quick trip, 5 miles away down a dead-end road to the south. Despite being just 30 miles from the centre of Glasgow as the crow flies, Lochgoilhead is as remote a location as many elsewhere in the Highlands. Steamer services have long ceased, so the only access is by a choice of two winding, single-track mountain passes - no doubt hairy in winter.


📌 Lochgoilhead ★
Argyll & Bute, G.R.: NN 200013

Crarae Garden

Argyll & Bute | Minard | Garden | ★★★★

Billed as a "Himalayan glen", Crarae is an absolutely gorgeous forest garden on the banks of Loch Fyne. Lady Grace Campbell created the site in 1912, sourcing trees, flowers and shrubs from China, Tibet and Nepal via her nephew and plant collector, Reginald Farrer. Several waymarked trails explore the hilly site, which straddles a burbling burn complete with small waterfalls and gorge sections. The red path covers the highlights (also incorporating the shorter green and yellow trails), with the steep white and blue routes visiting eucalyptus forest and a viewpoint for Loch Fyne. Look out for red squirrels too.

Location & info

📌 Crarae Garden★★★★
By the A83 1 mi northeast of Minard, G.R.: NR 986972 ///
Open daily except over Christmas & New Year period, but probably best late spring / early summer | £7.50 adult / £5.50 child / free for National Trust for Scotland members