Every year, thousands of people visit Oban, gateway to the Scottish west coast islands and home to the famous Oban whisky. The 2,000 person ferries to Mull and the Outer Hebrides can be packed with tourists, either getting rained on or being surprised that the sun does sometimes shine in Scotland and coming home sunburnt.
What many tourists don’t know is that there are a number of smaller ferries that can take you for a day out to a beautiful beach or to check out some castles while exploring quieter islands like Kerrera, Easdale, Luing and Lismore.
Since we are not yet allowed to travel outside our local area, I decided to combine delivering some shopping to a friend with a day trip to Port Appin, where you can normally catch the ferry to the island of Lismore for a day out cycling or walking. So, the next day I explored the Kerrera ferry.
Lismore has a population of 180 which, like much of the west coast, swells in the summer due to tourists and those who own summer holiday homes. Between Oban and Port Appin, I passed many campsites, castles and coffee shops, all currently closed but most had indications that the owners were busy getting ready for their reopening.
Right next to the ferry is the famous Pier House restaurant, hotel and Finnish sauna.The restaurant seats only 14, so make sure you book ahead if you want to try their seafood. Despite not being able to travel the seven minute journey to Lismore, I enjoyed watching the ferry and exploring the area with my dog.
The next day was sunny, so I opted to take my toddler paddling at Gallanach, an area just over a mile out of Oban, where you can catch the Kerrera ferry. Kerrera has a tiny ferry from central Oban that takes you to the main marina and a car ferry from Gallanach. Before having my son, I used to swim for around 20 minutes across to Kerrera and put my rucksack on the ferry for when I arrived. Kerrera is less than five minutes from Oban by boat. When I’m allowed to go back to it, in a few weeks, I’ll definitely be going for the hour or so’s walk to the island’s cafe and then to explore the castle ruins at the end of the island.
Instead, my toddler and I dared each other to go deeper and deeper into the cold but clear, beautiful water. We found some winkles (sea snails) attaching themselves to the pier. Winkles can be cooked and served as a delicacy. I believe that places around Oban like the famous “Wee Green Shack” that sells shellfish on the pier in Oban, often sell them. When we got out of the water, we went for a walk up the hill and enjoyed the amazing view over Kerrera and the island of Mull. There are a number of campsites around Oban and like the many B&Bs, after lockdown I expect they will get very busy.
However, one of the joys of this part of Scotland is that even when the town centre gets as busy as a pride festival, you can walk ten minutes or so out of town and still be on a hill without spotting another human being. There will be plenty of sheep and highland cows around though!
Oban itself is definitely worth a visit but often tourists are short of time and only stay for a night before catching the ferries to the islands. Whisky lovers can enjoy a whisky tour. There are also several companies doing hour long trips to see the seals for around £12.
A trip to Oban wouldn’t be complete without the steep walk to McCaig’s tower, a famous folly overlooking the town and the islands. When the pubs reopen, you may be surprised that there are some very talented Scottish rock bands performing. If you go and check out the pubs, you will experience Scottish hospitality and friendliness like no other place and are bound to leave having made some new friends. I’ve even met LGBTQ locals and visitors but don’t expect them to appear as stereotypically obvious as if they were in Brighton!
Despite getting a suntan on our visit to the Kerrera ferry, the day before at the Lismore ferry was a typical, slightly rainy, Scottish day. So if your heading up to the West Coast of Scotland after lockdown, make sure you bring your rain jacket, suncream and midge repellent!