Oban, a town that I’ve oft frequented17th July 2008
For various reasons and a variety of journeys, I have happened on Oban on a good number of my trips to Scotland. Unlike either Fort William or Kinlochleven, it is not immediately surrounded by hill country and so might seem a surprising destination for a hill wanderer. However, its plentiful supply of accommodation and decent transport connections very much work in its favour as a base for exploring Lorn and any nearby islands.
Casting my mind back over the numerous trips that had me frequenting the place, the thing that strikes me is how I made something of the opportunities that basing myself there given that they aren’t exactly on its doorstep. Of course, the internet helps with planning, but it is hardly a substitute for going somewhere in person and just skimming the surface to get a feel for what might be there. After all, I have often found that ideas for future visits come from trips that I have been making. For example, my most recent outing to the Lake District bore that out when I came home with more walking ideas than I would have had if I never went walking from Borrowdale into Great Langdale. It’s great that you can hardly ever run out of places to see and explore, even on an island the size of Great Britain.
When I first wandered into Oban on a day trip from Edinburgh in June 1999, I was very much in skimming the surface mode. That day, I was heading off on a day excursion to Mull of my own making and saw enough that I liked to nearly make visits to Lorn and Mull an annual occurrence since then. There have been years when my attention lay elsewhere (2000, 2006 & 2007) but I always seem to be able to make a return to sample more of what the area has to offer.
There were actually two trips in 1999 with the second one being made with my brother. In both cases and also for a trip in 2001, Oban acted as a staging post for Mull and Iona, something that it does very well. An inclement weekend in November 2002 saw me walking on the island of Kerrera and by Loch Etive with friends from Edinburgh. In July 2003, I managed to avoid the rain and even catch some sun on walks that took me from Oban to Taynuilt via Glen Lonan and then from Taynuilt up the shore of Loch Etive to Glen Kinglass and back again. I snatched a drier interlude in July 2004 to hike from Oban to Taynuilt (again via Glen Lonan) and then up the shore of Loch Etive in showery weather that allowed the hills to show their dramatic side. Deeper incursions into hill country occupied me on a wonderful weekend in June 2005 with Mull and Loch Etive behaving as muses yet again. The quality of the walking was such that, if I did it now, there might have been two trip reports on this blog afterwards. Summing up the trekking in a few lines just doesn’t seem to do a great amount of justice, so a retrospective posting might be the way to go. As it happens, it surprises me that my hillwalking attention drifted to other parts after that, but it did, and it was May of this year before I found myself back in Oban again. You may already have seen my telling of the first part of that adventure, and the second part has spawned this piece, delaying its appearance in the process.
In that quick potted history, Mull turns up more than once. My initial visit to the island saw me perambulating along roads and tracks on its eastern side. I ended up walking from Craignure to Duart Point and back. Along the way, I crossed both Duart Castle and Torosay Castle. The day started off cloudy and, like so many Scottish days, got better and better as it wore on. The result was memorable views up Loch Linnhe from Duart Point, and the castle looked splendid too. In August of the same year, I returned with my brother on an organised day excursion to Iona. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came away with a wrong impression of the islands because neither Mull nor Iona were looking far from their best in the murk and rain. Two years later, I had better luck with the weather when I dropped in on Tobermory. Cloud may have rolled in as the day went on, but I got enough sun on the ferry ride and when I first reached the said town to satisfy me. I did a spot of road ambling that day rather than proper hill wandering. That was left until a trip nearly four years later when I crossed the island from Salen and picked up a hill track that took me past Loch Ba and into Glen Camel. The right of way continued on for Glen More, but I had a ferry to catch, and so retraced my steps.
Loch Etive is another name that crops up a fair bit when I think of my explorations of north Argyll. That first visit under grumpy skies in November 2002 exposed me to the sight of the hills lining both its shores and Glen Etive. In fact, you could say that you are seeing all the way up towards Glen Coe. That first stroll took us from Taynuilt to Glen Noe by way of Bonawe Furnace and Inverawe Country Park, with a scary bridge crossing over the River Awe that I have made a number of times since. The outing was enough to whet my appetite and I returned the next summer and got up beyond Glen Kinglass before turning back, catching another side of the Ben Cruachan massif along the away. The route that I had taken was identical to that followed in November; I just continued on further and without any navigational blunders. Speaking of blunders, I did make one: I left Oban thinking that I had more camera film than I did, only to end up rationing it later. My next encounter with the sea loch was on a lengthy tramp from Loch Awe station to Taynuilt. My route took me up Glen Strae, over Lairig Dhoireann, down Glen Kinglass and along Loch Etive again. I started it later than I should have done, so a taxi was needed to get me back to Oban afterwards. Nevertheless, what started out showery in Glen Strae, turned glorious in Glen Kinglass and memorable along Loch Etive. Speaking of memorable exploits, a two-day hike from Taynuilt to Kingshouse at the head of Glen Coe beckons. For now, that’s for the future and will need me to abandon my usual overnighting habits to use a bothy at the end of Glen Etive. I could what seems on paper to be an epic walk from Oban if I wanted, following the quiet road through Glen Lonan that I have done on a number of occasions. It’s good to have possibilities in mind.
Even with all my visits, North Argyll still has more to offer my love of hill wandering, and Oban may even see me again. Now that I have got the history shared between us out of the way, it’s about time that part two of that report on my most recent stay in the area made its appearance here. I’ll need to get on with it, then…
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