Driving from Edinbane, the northern part of Skye, I wind down the roads to catch the ferry back to the mainland. The sun is out and its rays dance on the lochs, glittering along the shore amidst the deep blue water.
My eye catches a wee sign posted on the side of the road directing me to handmade crafts. These signs are common along Skye’s roads and I will not pass this one up! Besides, I have time before the ferry sets off.
In front of a modest home, inside a tiny wooden hut lies hand-knitted hats, mittens, stuffed animals, and small handbags. The items have price tags and a sign that asks for money to be left inside a humble wee box. How trusting! Of course I pick adorable purple mittens and dutifully slip the money inside its rightful place before I slip out.
I make it to Armadale and onto the ferry. The trip to Mallaig is about 45 minutes to an hour. The lounge inside appears to be from the 1960s with its mottled brown carpet and dank green striped seating. The too-short brown window curtains add the final touch. Don’t forget to pick up a “Bagpipe Hero – Caledonia Rock” CD in the gift area to commemorate your trip (check out the video below).
Once I drive onto the mainland, I grab an egg sandwich (so many on this trip for this vegetarian) at the Co-Op Food market and begin driving south to Oban. Months earlier when I researched my trip, I remember photos of deceptive tropical looking beaches and as I drive over the River Morar, guess what I see to my right? A white sandy tropical looking beach.
Of course, I pull over.
Up until Skye, my trip was planned pretty tightly but for the last half of it, I meander and time loosens. So I stop off at another place that catches my eye. Listening to the wind gently blow and the crunch of dry straw beneath my feet, I take in the sights (see the video below).
As I drive closer to Oban along Route A828, I pull over to take a picture that I later discover is of Castle Stalker. Alone on an island unto itself, it was built in the 1300s and not until the early 20th century authentically restored. You can visit only at certain times during the summer and at low tide.
Finally, after approximately three hours, I arrive near Oban to my Airbnb. I take a nap only to be awoken when a houseguest thinks my car is still running. It is. Snowflake, my rental, is a hybrid and so quiet I failed to realize that she was still on!
Early in the evening, I head to town. Oban is in Argyll on the western part of Scotland. If you want to visit the Hebridean Islands you’ll find yourself here for there are many ferries that leave from its port.
I’m not going to the islands but I am on a hunt for some fish and chips for dinner! I go to a place on the esplanade that is nothing more than adequate. Oban has numerous fish and chips shops but I didn’t do my foodie homework to see what was most delicious. George Street Fish Restaurant seems to be one of them but I don’t know this at the time. Instead I ask a cabbie his thoughts for what he likes and he points me to one on the esplanade. While eating and the sun setting, I look out over the Oban Bay.
Later, I take a walk and go up to McCaig’s Tower. Fun (but steep) pathways lead up a hill and you can catch lovely views of the bay and quaint homes.
This structure has a funny history: Built in 1897 by a local banker with the last name McCaig (surprise!) it was originally intended to provide work for local masons in the winter (but I also hear he wanted to use it as an art gallery). Above the entrance is an inscription -“Erected in 1900 by John Stuart McCaig, art critic and philosophical essayist and banker, Oban”- no ego here!
Well, it was partially built but then McCaig died and his family wasn’t particularly interested in completing the construction. So now Oban is left with this unusual landmark that kind of looks like Rome’s coliseum but definitely isn’t. Inside is manicured grass and flowers providing more of a park feel than any gladiator fights or art galleries. It’s a nice place to take pictures and see the views of the bay but nothing more.
“Would ye like a wee canter?”
The next morning, I fulfill my fantasy of riding horses in the Highlands! Before my trip, I was on the hunt for a great stable that offered trail rides not just for beginners. I used to ride as a kid so I know how and though it’s been many years since I rode it’s like riding a bicycle – once you jump on it all comes back to ya!
The lasses at Achnalarig Stables are delightful companions. It’s the four of us (well eight including the horses) and two are the most experienced who can lead the trek. Lucy, my horse, is dark brown with a white stripe down her nose and punky black hair. She likes to do things her way such as walking her own path while the others follow a different route. Basically, she and I get along very well.
The weather has been so unusually nice the past few days – no grey clouds or rain! “It’s like summer!” one of the lasses half jokes. Along the paths, a few cows and sheep munch on grass but freeze as we pass by. The horses peer at them as though any moment they will jump and attack. We deduce that the sheep and cows must be awfully confused (and terrified) that humans are riding on the backs of these fellow four-legged friends. Meanwhile the horses are scared of these smaller creatures with funny fur and patterns on their body while speaking a strange language made up of “baa” and “moo”. They don’t have humans on their backs.
At first, we take our time heading out and at one point you can see Oban bay from where we stand on this clear day. After some light trotting, our lead lass turns to me and asks, “Would ye like a wee canter?” Of course I would while butterflies burst in my stomach!
Being used to riding in enclosed rings and limited trails in New England, I get the sense that on this glorious day in the grand outdoors, Highland horses love to kick up their hooves and fly in the fields! At the bottom of a hill, we get ready for another wee canter and I’m warned, “They like to go fast here.” A little bit like a choreographed group to music, the horses know when to do certain things at particular points. Quickly they all gallop up the hill as Lucy follows suit, the wind whipping up her mane and tail.
Know Before You Go
Achnalarig Stables – They are nestled in the countryside outside of Oban and hard to find if you don’t have Google Maps. My GPS didn’t know how to get there. £60 for a 2-hour trek will get you beautiful views (if the weather is nice) and a knowledgeable guide. Your level of riding experience (filling out a questionnaire is required before arriving) will determine your type of trek. Call or Facebook message them before you’d like to visit.
SIM Cards – Like a lot of B&Bs, getting in touch with a riding stable in Scotland can be difficult. Not everyone has a proper website and often the only way to contact them is a UK phone number. If you’re bringing your cell and need a SIM card, go to a place like Vodafone. They’re a common supplier in the UK with shops all over and you can easily add money online. I purchased 2GB for £15 that lasted one day short of my two-week trip. I had a lot of SM posting and tweeting to do plus it came in handy to make UK phone calls.
Places to eat in Oban – It calls itself the seafood capital of Scotland but I can’t confirm. Neither of the two places I ate at lent themselves to any superlative title but I didn’t do my homework. Sometimes wandering and asking for recommendations can lead you to great gems; other times it leads to mediocre places. Unfortunately I had the latter. This calls for a do-over! Where have you eaten in Oban that was delicious? Leave a comment below! Would love to hear for my next trip.