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Issue 21 - Everything a port should be

Scotland Magazine Issue 21
July 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Everything a port should be

Oban is a great centre for exploring the West coast and some of the islands. Dominic Roskrow reports

They say location is everything. In which case, the Oban Caledonian Hotel has it all.

The town itself nestles on a rugged stretch of the West coast and you can only approach it from two directions: South, after winding your way along the roads North of Loch Fyne, past Loch Awe and on the winding road through Argyll and Bute.

Or, more likely, you can approach from the North, on the easier A85 route. And if you do come that way you approach the town from a height, its bay spread before you. As you drive in to the bustling centre, with its impressive harbour, the Caledonian is slap bang in front of you: in the heart of the town, in the heart of the harbour.

The advantage of being at the centre of such a picturesque place is that everything is on the doorstep and the views across the water are stunning. The disadvantage is that space tends to be at a premium so there is no car parking on site: the hotel will drive your car away and park it for you then bring it back as required. And luxuries like a swimming pool are impossible in such an old building.

No matter: If you’re going to Oban and want to be in the heart of the action, this is your place. If you can secure a view at the Caledonian which overlooks the harbour then it adds value to your stay. For this writer, sitting by the large bedroom window with a good malt whisky watching the island ferries come and go is a wonderful and totally relaxing experience.

The Caledonian itself is old and creaking a little at the edges, but quaint and friendly and an acceptable enough hotel to stay in. Beware the Victorian-aged lift, which snaps viciously when it closes and gives the impression it might take your hand off. There’s a well-stocked bar with a publike atmosphere, and a choice of two dining areas: the more formal restaurant, and brasserie-style dining with generous portions of some fairly standard menu ideas.

Despite its age, though, the hotel’s rooms are generously sized and well decorated, and the staff always supportive and helpful.

If you have children and you’re wanting something a little more off beat accommodationwise then have a look at the bizarrely-named Wide Mouthed Frog, a hotel sited a couple of miles from the town in a marina. It has excellent food, a pubstyle bar and modern chalet-like rooms which are reasonably priced and which have a separate children’s sleeping area so you can enjoy evenings in the room without disturbing the young ones.

The plan of the owners is to extend the place over a period of time so that it offers flexibility and variety to meet the needs of the local sailing community and the tourist trade. It’s already doing a good job, with the rooms far enough away from the bar as to offer privacy. In the height of season it gets very busy – certainly the seafood it offers make it a big attraction.

Oban is a great place to use as a base for excursions and you can easily take the coastal road towards Fort William to explore the region around the stunning and eerie Glencoe or take the ferry to the Isle of Mull, famous for its cheeses, the picturesque town of Tobermory and the pretty distillery that nestles there.

Oban is the perfect bridge between Highland and islands. And are there any better ways to while away an afternoon than visiting Oban’s fabulous whisky distillery and then enjoying a drop of malt in a bar overlooking the harbour?