The Old Fogies go to Oban in Scotland

One of the places that we were really looking to visit on this particular trip was Oban on the West coast of Scotland. We have travelled extensively around Scotland but have never visited this small coastal resort before.

Travelled towards the town, we enjoyed some of the stunning scenery in the Firth of Lorn. Scotland is like no other place and offers a wide range of stunning scenery that is often dramatic but the hills and mountains are often covered by trees and bushes with a kaleidoscope of colour.

Oban in the Scottish Gaelic language means The Little Bay and that is indeed a great description with the bay forming a horseshoe shape looking out onto the Firth of Lorn. In front of Oban is the island of Kerrera and beyond Kerrera, the Isle of Mull. To the north, is the island of Lismore, and the mountains of Morvern and Ardgour.

Although quite a small town, it is an important transport hub for the Argyll and Bute area of Scotland and attracts thousands of people during the tourist season.

Its ideal location has attracted people since the Mesolithic times, however up the 19th century, the few people who lived here made a living from fishing, trading and quarrying. It was in the 19th century that Sir Walter Scott visited the area and published his poem The Lord of the Isles which began to attract new visitors to the town. Queen Victoria gave the town, the ‘royal seal of approval’ by remarking what a lovely place it was.

Even today, as you approach the town from the water, you tend to get the same impression with old ruined castles, a cathedral and a large folly called McCaig’s Tower on top of the hill above the town. The tower was based on the Coliseum in Rome and seemed a strange undertaking by local benefactor John Stewart McCaig.

The tower is reached by a series of steps called Jacobs Ladder and takes you through a path with a number of houses on the hillside. When you finally reach the tower, it is with some surprise because of its large scale. This seemingly ridiculous folly was built with good intentions, McCaig funded the work in hard times for the area to give work for local stone masons and labourers. The prominent local landmark was started in 1895 but construction ceased in 1902 on the death of McCaig.

Peering between the arches give visitors wonderful views of the Firth of Lorn and beyond and the building has a strangely peaceful atmosphere surrounded by stone and nature.

On the way back down, local artists showed their sense of humour with brightly coloured plastic legs in the garden and knitted woollen coverings for pipes.

From the top the hill, you could seen a number of Caledonian MacBrayne ferries plying their trade. Since the 1950s, the town has become an important ferry port with ferries going to many of the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

During World War II, Oban was used by Merchant and Royal Navy ships and was an important base in the Battle of the Atlantic. In the Cold War there were a number of important local bases the first Transatlantic Telephone Cable (TAT-1) came ashore at Gallanach Bay. TAT-1 was laid between Oban and Clarenville in Newfoundland, the cables were used to establish a ‘Hot Line’ between the US and USSR presidents.

The small Oban War and Peace Museum exhibits items of historical and cultural interest relating to the Oban area in peacetime and during the war years. Its friendly staff are quite happy to regale you with a few tales about the town.

After a spot of lunch, we decided to take a walk up to Dunollie Castle which is just outside the town on a site that overlooks the main entrance to the bay. Fortifications on the site go back to the Bronze Age, you can visit the ruins but we were more interested to wander along the waterfront and enjoy the spring sunshine and the view.

On this stretch was numerous hotels and St Columba’s Cathedral which is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. Mrs Nice always like a quick look around cathedrals and churches, so we made a short detour to have a look around the very interesting building.

Along the esplanade is a striking war memorial that pays respect to local people who paid the ultimate sacrifice in war.

One of the largest buildings in the town is the Oban distillery, which was founded in 1794. The modern town grew around the distillery which provided many jobs for the townsfolk. The modern town has a wide range of shops, bars and restaurants with the ferry port only a short walk away.

Near the ferry, a series of knitted woollen covers for the bollards shows once again a sense of humour. Whilst the signs promoting Oban as the seafood capital of Scotland may be a bit over the top, the free samples were eagerly gobbled up by the visitors.

Oban is one of those pleasant places on the Scottish coast to spend a little time. Although McCaig Tower dominates the town, there are a variety of places to visit and enjoy. It is also a place to sit and enjoy the stunning scenery and watch the various ships coming in and out of the port.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies go to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands

 

IMG_2674

On the day of our arrival into Orkney waters, there was a mist over the hills but it quickly became clear that the various islands that make up the Orkneys are sparsely populated with small areas of buildings and large areas given over to farming.

IMG_3437

Our destination was the Orkney capital, Kirkwall which is by far the largest town in the islands. The Kirkwall’s skyline is dominated by the St Magnus Cathedral known as ‘The Light of the North’. Orkney’s ancient capital can be traced back to Norse times in the 11th century when it was called Kirkjuvagr. For centuries, Orkney was under Norwegian jurisdiction, before becoming part of Scotland in the 15th century.

Although Orkney may seem remote to the rest of Europe, people have been living here for at least 10,000 years. In recent times, archaeologists have found ceremonial stone circles, tombs, prehistoric villages and many other ancient monuments.

IMG_3485

 A shuttle bus took us on a short ride from the Liner terminal to Kirkwall and we began to explore some of the narrow streets in the town. One of the streets took us to the harbour which is still very much a working harbour with fishing boats, small boats and ferries.

IMG_3468

The waterfront has a small number of hotels, bars and restaurants, behind the waterfront is a number of small shopping streets. Orkney’s shopping streets are refreshingly free from the usual high street names and celebrates the island’s creative community with local jewellery, arts, crafts and contemporary fashion shops.

IMG_3463

 It was still relatively early with most of the shops and attractions closed, so we decided to take a small detour out of town to an area that is famous with its scenery and its part in British and German Naval history.

IMG_5749 - Copy

Taking the road out of town, we then joined the Crantit Trail which took us through some of the scenic countryside full of sheep, cows, horses and wildlife. After around 40 minutes walking we found ourselves at Scapa beach overlooking the famous Scapa Flow.

IMG_2752

Scapa Flow is a wonderful large natural harbour surrounded by islands, it was from here in 1916 that  Admiral Sir John Jellicoe led the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet to the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval engagement of the First World War. Scapa Flow was home to the British Home Fleet during both World Wars, it was also here in 1918 that the German High Seas Fleet was interned after the Armistice and then was scuttled in 1919.

IMG_2879

Not far from the beach was where a German U-boat in 1939 launched a torpedo attack on HMS Royal Oak with the loss of 833 crew. Near the beach there are a number of memorials to this tragedy and are a grim reminder that the idyllic scene in front of us was not always so.

IMG_2736

Also near to the beach is the Scapa Distillery which produces a single malt whisky, less known than the nearby Highland Park Distillery, the Scapa Distillery was founded in 1885.

IMG_3482

After a very short stay, we decided to take the local bus back into Kirkwall. A trip on the local bus is always a good way to see areas a bit off the tourist trail and an opportunity to chat with the locals.

Back in town, the quiet morning had given way to a bustling town centre as locals and visitors were mingling in the shopping streets and at the attractions.

IMG_5749 - Copy (2)

St Magnus Cathedral is probably  Kirkwall’s ‘must see’ attraction. It is the most northerly cathedral in Britain and was started in 1137 at a time when Orkney was ruled by the Vikings. A stone minster was founded by Earl Rognvald in memory of his uncle St Magnus who was martyred on the island of Egilsay. Inside it is a fascinating mix of museum and cathedral with a leaflet that points out some of the key artefacts.

IMG_5749 - Copy (3)

Equally interesting is the Orkney museum which is set in an large old building called Tankerness House, it tells the story of the Orkney’s from Neolithic times up to the present day.

IMG_5749 - Copy (4)

In the town centre is the large stone Earl’s and Bishop’s palaces which provide a reminder of Orkney’s importance in the medieval times.

IMG_3477

In many ways Kirkwall for centuries has been an important transport hub and still is, bus routes go across mainland Orkney and the port for ferries to Aberdeen, Shetland and the North Isles. Kirkwall Airport, with links to Scotland, Shetland and in the summer months Norway, is only three miles from the town.

IMG_2693

In the short time we were in Kirkwall, we managed to enjoy some of its fascinating history and could understand that it was an important place in many ways because of its unique landscape. Even the shops were quite quirky which made a change from the often sterile high streets in the UK.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.