A Little Slice of New Zealand – Oban, Scotland.
Just 3 hours away from the hustle and bustle of Glasgow is the little town of Oban (OH-bin), Scotland’s self-proclaimed seafood capital and the ‘Gateway to the Isles’. I am here with my mother on a week-long trip through the land of bagpipes and haggis, where people speak with a burr and the lakes are all called lochs.
When we get off the train, the overriding sense of peace and tranquility is the first of many things that remind us of New Zealand. We were there one Easter, years before all the LOTR hooplah, and my memories recall a quiet, green place with big clouds and scattered showers. Just like Oban.
We drop off our things at the hotel and check out the local tourist information office for tours to the nearby islands. They may as well rename it “the big tourist shop”, because the place is chock-full of merchandise – we spent a good 20 minutes looking through guidebooks and shelves of assorted trinkets. Our next stop was the pier, perhaps Oban’s most important facility as it is the calling point for both passenger ferries and fishing vessels.
For a beautiful view of the bay and the town, it’s worth climbing the steep hill towards McCaig’s Tower, a late 19th century folly which was never completed. Originally meant to house an art gallery and museum, the empty shell now contains a secluded garden and a balcony where you can watch the sailboats coming into the harbour.
Protecting the bay is the windswept island of Kerrera, its rugged scenery hinting at the grandeur of the outlying isles. It is here that we spot yet another similarity with New Zealand – the island’s northern end is crowned by a lone obelisk, just like Auckland’s One Tree Hill.
From McCaig’s Tower we bypass the steps and take the long way back into the centre of town. To the right there are little B&Bs, picturesque bungalows and the occasional view out to the bay. Savouring the quiet of the residential streets, we pause to watch an incoming ferry approach the dock.
The Waterfront Bar and Restaurant on the pier – serving locally caught seafood – is your best bet for fresh fish at reasonable prices. For starters we order grilled oysters and some mussels from the nearby Isle of Mull. These are possibly the best mussels I’ve ever had; they are juicy and even a little bit sweet. For mains we share a platter of salmon, sea bass, seared king scallops (the biggest we’ve ever seen) and two large silky-smooth halibut fillets. Paired with a generous plate of hand-cooked chips, the experience is pure luxury.
We share the balcony seating with a sweet American family and a discerning Japanese couple, enjoying the sunset over the bay. More than anything I’m glad we discovered this jewel of a town at the end of the railway line. When the meal is over we retreat from the evening chill and return to our hotel room, where there is an even better view over the harbour.
Eventually the sun sinks below the horizon and we are treated to the most beautiful dusk, right from the comfort of our room. It is 45 minutes to midnight and the skies are still a deep shade of blue. Sensing a good photo-op, I mount my camera on a tissue box and take one final picture. It is perfect.