10 Top-Rated Attractions in Oban, Fort William, and the Surrounding Area
The busy town of Oban lies by a sheltered bay in the lee of the island of Kerrera, 49 mi south of Fort William. Since Victorian times the town has been one of Scotland's most popular resorts, as well as an important harbor for services to the West Highlands and the Hebrides. One of the most popular boat excursions from Oban takes in the small islands of Staffa and Iona with views en route of the beautiful east coast of Mull. Oban also makes a good base for sightseeing excursions into the Highland mountains and lochs, while Ganavan Sands behind Dunollie Castle offers opportunities for bathing.
1 McCaig's Tower
McCaig's Tower makes a good vantage point for viewing Oban and the surrounding area. A wonderful replica of the Colosseum in Rome, the imposing structure was built at Battery Hill at the end of the 19th century by wealthy banker, John Stuart McCaig. He claimed the work would gainfully employ numerous townsfolk; however, it didn't take long before the locals realized this folly was intended as a memorial to McCaig and his family. After taking in the breathtaking views, be sure to stroll along Oban's pleasant Corran Esplanade with its shops, hotels and restaurants. Another highlight is the Oban War and Peace Museum with its presentation on the town's wartime past.
Hours: Open daily
2 Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel
Dunstaffnage Castle, just 4 mi north of Oban, stands guard on a rock overlooking the entrance to lovely Loch Etive. The three round towers and the walls, in places 10 ft thick, date from the 15th century when the castle belonged to the Campbell clan. The residential tower was built in the 17th century. Cannon on the ramparts were salvaged from a Spanish galleon that sank in Tobermory Bay.
A few yards further on, the ruins of a 13th century chapel deserve special attention as several early Scottish monarchs are said to be buried here alongside members of the Campbell family. Close by is the Oban Sea Life Centre on Loch Creran, an underwater world featuring sharks, rays, squid, seals and other creatures in their natural habitat, as well as a magnificent playground.
Hours: Daily, 9:30am-5:30pm
Admission: Adults, £4.50; Children, £2.70
Address: Dunstaffnage Castle Dunbeg, Oban
3 Castle Stalker and Kerrera Gylen Castle
Castle Stalker (25 mi north of Oban) occupies a romantic setting on a small island in Loch Linnhe. Begun in the 14th century as the home of the Stewarts of Appin, it was used by James IV as a hunting lodge and was restored in the 1960s. The attraction opens for tours five weeks each summer, and tours must be booked in advance. Another old castle worthy of a visit is the abandoned fortifications on the island of Kerrera. Started in 1582 for the MacDougall clan, it can be reached via a mile-long footpath from the jetty where the passenger ferry lands.
4 Bonawe Iron Furnace
This charcoal-fired ironworks located on the shores of Loch Etive was in service between 1753 and 1876 has been faithfully restored with particular emphasis on the furnace and adjoining buildings. A few years before it closed the foundry made cannonballs that were used in the Battle of Trafalgar - and today Taynuilt has a monument to Lord Nelson.
Hours: Open daily, 9:30am-5:30pm (Apr-Sept)
Admission: Adults, £4.50; Children, £2.70
5 Loch Etive and Ardchattan Priory Gardens
The northern tip of Loch Etive, only accessible by a small road or by boat, marks the start of the remote Glen Etive where magnificent golden eagles (their wingspans can reach 8 ft) can sometimes be seen hunting. The Ardchattan Priory Gardens, founded in 1230 by Valliscaulian monks from the Burgundian Val des Choux, is situated on the north bank of Loch Etive. Apart from the remains of the transept, Cromwell's troops left little else of the buildings, although the adjoining garden contains over 200 varieties of shrubs, including some fine bush roses.
Hours: Open daily 9:30am-5:30pm (Apr-Oct)
Admission: Adults, £4; Children (16 and under), free
Address: Ardchattan Priory Garden, Oban, Argyll
6 Loch Awe and Kilchurn Castle
Lovely Loch Awe - one of Scotland's largest lakes - and the Pass of Brander, the roadway following the River Awe, offer superb vistas of a stunning mountain backdrop that includes the majestic double peak of Ben Cruachan (3,693 ft). Pleasure cruises along the loch are available and leave the pier in the village of Lochawe before heading south beneath wooded hillsides and past several islands including Priest's Isle, formerly a priests' colony, and Inishail, once the site of a Cistercian monastery. You'll also see the ruins of Kilchurn Castle occupying a picturesque spot on a small peninsula at the northern end of Loch Awe. Built in 1440, it originally had a tower and keep, but in 1693 the first Earl of Breadalbane reinforced the site with a curtain wall.
7 Kilmartin Church and Castle Sween
A number of unusual gravestones can be seen in the graveyard at Kilmartin Church, the oldest dating from Pictish times, the most recent from the 19th century. To the south of the tiny village a number of standing stones have been preserved, the oldest of which, the Nether Largie South Cairn, date from the early Bronze Age around 5000 BC. Nearby Castle Sween is thought to be the oldest stone castle on the Scottish mainland. Built in the middle of the 12th century, it was destroyed in 1647 by Sir Alexander MacDonald. Also of interest here is St Columba's Cave, a rocky cavern just north of Ellary that was used by Stone Age man and where St Columba first set foot on Scottish soil (a rock altar and cross symbols testify to the existence of an early Christian church). A notable collection of 15th century gravestones are found 12 mi south of the cave near the ruins of Kilberry Castle.
8 Fort William
The busy tourist resort town of Fort William lies at the south end of the Caledonian Canal and makes an excellent starting point for excursions into the unspoiled Northwest Highlands and Ben Nevis. Fort William itself, after which the town was eventually named, was built in 1654 by General Monk for Oliver Cromwell following the 1st Jacobite Rising. Fort William was named after William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. Be sure to spend some time exploring the West Highland Museum in Cameron Square with its fine collections of furniture, paintings, weapons, everyday objects and Highland costumes. Also look out for the documents relating to the opening of the West Highland Railway in 1894 and the celebrated conquests of Ben Nevis, notably that by Henry Alexander who in 1911 drove a Ford Model T to the summit.
A great excursion from Fort William is to Glenfinnan Viaduct, often recognized from numerous Harry Potter movies (amongst other films), and steam excursions aboard the lovely Jacobite steam train along the West Highland Line. This is regularly voted one of the world's most stunning rail journeys.
Hours: Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm (Mar-Dec)
Address: Cameron Square, Fort William
9 Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg
Fort William's main attraction is undoubtedly Ben Nevis, at 4,406 ft Britain's highest mountain. The origin of the name is subject to one or two interpretations, but the most likely meaning is "shrouded in fog", which on most days of the year it is. But on a clear day, the bare reddish shades of granite and porphyrite gleam in the sunset and make an unforgettable sight. A relatively easy ascent of Ben Nevis is possible by following the route from Achintee House, a route that takes about 2.5 hours, while for hardcore runners an annual race to the summit takes place each September. Whatever way you choose to get there, the views from the summit are spectacular and on a clear day extend for about 150 mi, taking in the Scottish Highlands and Islands as far as the Hebrides and the Irish coast. Many walkers choose to start their ascent in the evening and then bed down in a sleeping bag at nightfall so as to be able to savor a Ben Nevis sunrise, another unforgettable experience (so long as the fog doesn't intervene). A longer route to the summit of Ben Nevis is via Allta a'Mhuillin and the neighboring peak of Carn Mor Dearg.
Situated on the west coast about 15 mi south of Fort William is the valley of Glencoe. It stretches for 10 mi, from the 3,345 ft high Buachaille Etive Mór in the east (also known as the "Great Herdsman") and as far as Loch Leven, a saltwater arm of Loch Linnhe. The valley is famed for its breathtaking scenery, winter sports, walking and mountain climbing.
Many legends surround Glencoe, in particular that of Fingal, the mythical Scottish giant who defeated the Vikings. About 600 AD, St Mundus, a pupil of the Irish saint Columba, came to the valley and stayed on Eilean Munde, the small island in Loch Leven which remained a religious center for centuries (remains of the small chapel can still be seen). Other important peaks are Stob Coire nan Lochan (3,657 ft) - a popular spot for winter sports enthusiasts - and Bidean nam Bian (3,742 ft). While only experienced climbers will want to tackle the summits, some hiking routes are suitable for inexperienced walkers who can enjoy the true beauty of the valley.