Things to Do in Oban
Bordered by steep, waterfall-threaded mountains, dramatic Glencoe (Glen Coe) is the stuff of Scottish postcards. Though it has historical significance—it was the site of the 1692 Glencoe Massacre of the MacDonald Clan—and its very own ski resort, Glencoe Mountain Resort, the valley’s main draw is its spectacular scenery.
A vast landscape of hills and mountains, lush valleys, mist-shrouded lochs, and shady woodland trails, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park makes an easy rural retreat from Scotland’s biggest city. Located just north of Glasgow, the park also serves as the gateway to the Scottish Highlands.
With its expanse of heather-speckled moors, peat bogs and mist-veiled lochs, Rannoch Moor offers an enchanting introduction to the wild scenery of the Scottish Highlands. Vast, remote and uninhabitable, the moors stretch over 12,800 hectares (128 sq.km) between Glencoe and Loch Rannoch, and have long been a favorite spot for hikers and photographers looking to escape the beaten track.
The easiest way to take in the dramatic scenery of Rannoch Moor is with a ride on the West Highland Railway, a historic route that runs through a 23-mile stretch of the moors. Alternatively a number of hiking, cycling and 4WD trails offer the chance to discover the rugged moorlands and the surrounding mountains, as well as spot native wildlife like Red and Roe deer, red squirrel, Golden Eagle and even the elusive Scottish Wildcat.
Complete with turrets and battlements, this Gothic Revival-style castle is revered for its storybook good looks. Inveraray Castle has been the seat of the Clan Campbell since the 15th century and has more recently served as a filming location for Downton Abbey. The castle houses collections of weapons and art, and is surrounded by manicured gardens.
Paying admission to get locked in a barren cell? At Inveraray Jail, it is worth it. The former prison turned museum manages to bridge the gap between tourist attraction and meaningful infotainment and delves into the darker parts of Scottish history. Small as it was, Inveraray was the seat of the Duke of Argyll and thus, the town came to be of central importance. The prison and the courthouse were opened in 1820 and prisoners from all over the area were brought here, not only men, but also women and children. Due to overcrowding, an additional building had to be constructed but the whole jail eventually shut down in 1889, when larger prisons in the bigger cities took over.
A visit to Inveraray Jail includes a tour through the different wings of the prison and even a trial lock-up in the cells and courtyard cage. Visitors can read stories about the inmates who were locked up in those cells, sit in the restored courtroom and listen to trials and meet the warden and prison guards, all dressed up in authentic period costumes. Coincidentally, Inveraray Jail is believed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Scotland and has many ghost sightings to report.
On a tiny peninsula at the northern tip of Loch Awe surrounded by glens, Kilchurn Castle is one of the most photographed spots in Scotland. The castle of 1,000 calendar covers, Kilchurn has had many lives: it served as the powerhouse of the Campbell clan from the year 1440 and was even later used as barracks able to house up to 200 troops during the Jacobite Risings. In the 1750s, however, a huge fire caused by lightning ran right through the castle, and its ruins have been abandoned ever since.
Kilchurn is for anyone who has ever dreamed of having a ruined Scottish castle all to themselves, with no tourist trinket shops around. There isn’t even an attendant at the door of this picturesque ruin, but despite being unmanned, there are plenty of information boards throughout the castle. Climb to the top of its four-story tower for views of the loch and surrounding hills, and remember to say hi to the sheep on your way out!