Holiday in Scotland, Part 2: Oban and the Inner Hebrides

ICYMI: See my Holiday in Scotland, Part 1 post here.

Picking up on our next day in Oban, we headed off on a day trip to the Inner Hebrides isles. A boat ride on open waters was probably a bit bold after M braved the full Scottish breakfast that morning.

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Yes, that’s haggis AND black pudding. Don’t worry, there’s green veg on the plate, too. See it? Healthy.

For the day trip to the islands from Oban, you can choose to visit Mull and Iona, or also add on a third island, Staffa. We only did the first two, but if I could do it again, I would definitely include the third (puffins!!!)

You board the Cal-Mac ferry (Caledonian-MacBrayne) and sail for about 45 minutes to the island of Mull.

Once on Mull, you board a coach that drives across the island for an hour and a half, with the bus driver narrating over a microphone the whole way.

Our bus driver was Sheila (Shaleigh? How do you spell the Scottish version of what sounded like Sheila?), and she was great. She told us a lot about the Isle of Mull, and made some good jokes, like how they’re shaving the hairy coos to make Trump wigs.

The scenery on the drive was incredible, but we were in the coach the whole time, so I couldn’t really take pictures. We had quite a few wildlife sightings, as well: herons, seals, otters, sheep, and, of course, the Highland hairy coos, which did cause a bit of a traffic jam at one point; we had to wait for them to get out of the road before the bus could continue.

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Moooooove along, please

Once you’re across Mull, you board another, smaller ferry for the short ride to Iona.

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Coming in to Iona

The two most popular choices of how to spend the couple of hours you have to explore Iona are tour the abbey or hike up to the highest point of the island for the 360-degree views.

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The abbey on the left, and the hill to climb beyond it

We opted for the hike. It wasn’t easy to scramble up the muddy rocks in Hunter wellies, but I made it, and the view was stunning.

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In case we’d forgotten where we were, and needed a bit more ambience to complement the view, a bagpipe struck up in the distance.

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We hiked back down and walked to the far side of the island, which is a sandy beach that looks totally different from the other Scottish terrain we’d been seeing.

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After all that, we didn’t have much time left before needing to hustle back to board the return ferry to Mull. We walked past the abbey, and through the ruins of the medieval nunnery.

Then we popped into a small local craft shop, where I picked up this handmade beauty:

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Our bus driver back across Mull was no Sheila/Shaleigh/Sheelah?. If you’re a mumbler with a thick Scottish brogue, maybe tour guide is not the best job for ye, lad. M and I just kept looking at each other and laughing because we couldn’t understand a thing he said.

We arrived back at the port for the ferry back to Oban, but the weather was so nice right then we decided to play hooky, and watched the ferry sail off without us from the pub garden at the Craignure Inn.

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Now that was a proper local pub. I think we were the only tourists. All the people there seemed to know each other, and oh, what luck! It was open mic night.

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We were asked right away if we played any instruments, and adamantly shook our heads no. We actually considered heading inside, despite the sunshine, during one woman’s set. Another sang an upbeat ditty about killing her husband. If only there were talent scouts around…

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As much as we enjoyed the local entertainment, we decided we had better catch the next ferry back to Oban.

Read Part 3 of our Scotland trip here.

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Holiday in Scotland, Part 1: Glasgow and the Highlands

Just like the queen, M and I spent our August holiday in Scotland. Sans children. HUGE thank you to my in-laws for coming to London and staying with our girls so we could have a real getaway. I’m breaking up the trip into three posts, because I have a lot of photos to share, and one post for the whole week would be incredibly long.

Glasgow

We flew into Glasgow in the evening, and spent the night and the next morning there before picking up a car and heading into the Highlands.

These were the first people we saw when we walked into the hotel lobby:img_9230
Then the woman at reception told us “Don’t be alarmed if you hear drums. They won’t be on long.” It was a Hilton Doubletree. YEAH, SCOTLAND! FREEEEDOOMMM!

Then she was running through all the standard info about the hotel—breakfast times, fitness centre and pool locations, etc.—and I suddenly snapped to attention when I heard her say “have sex in the morning.” Wait what? Ohhh she said the fitness centre opens at “half six in the morning.” Oh, that Scottish accent!

After breakfast at the hotel the next morning, and only breakfast, ahem, we did the downtown Glasgow walk outlined in Rick Steves’ Scotland book. Though the first two stops we made were completely closed up and covered by scaffolding for renovation, we had nice weather for our walk and got a taste of what downtown Glasgow is like.

I’d been before, back in 2002, but the only thing I really remember doing was having tea at the Willow Tea Rooms, which was one of the things closed for renovations this time.

Instead, we stopped for a coffee at the central train station, where I heard myself answer the barista, “I’ll have a wee.”

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Around midday, we picked up our rental car and drove out into the Highlands. We wound along beautiful lochs (Loch Lomond, Loch Long, and Loch Fyne), up to the “Rest-and-be-thankful Pass,” and to Inveraray, a cute town that features a castle that was used as “Uncle Shrimpie’s” (Rose MacClare’s father’s) house in Downton Abbey.

We had a look around and grabbed some sandwiches for lunch, then headed on to our destination, and home base for the next three days:

Oban

We went straight to the Argyllshire Gathering Oban Games, the annual highland games in Oban that just so happened to be the day we were arriving. We got there toward the end of the event, really just for the last hour, but we managed to get the gist of what happens (and also avoided paying the £12 admission, since they were no longer charging for entry at that point): Highlanders competing for feats of strength, which basically consists of throwing an awkward, heavy object as high or long as they can. Some running races. Scottish dancing. And bagpipes. LOTS and LOTS of bagpipes. There were also some food stands, a beer tent, some handicraft stalls, and some activities for kids. Did I mention there were bagpipes?

​​​After the final pipe-and-drum march that signaled the end of the event, we checked our hearing for possible deafness, then checked into the Alltavona Guest House.

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View from our room window

We enjoyed a welcome “wee dram” of whisky and sherry, and sat chatting with an older couple from Edinburgh, who gave us lots of suggestions of what to do once we got there.

Oban is right on the sea, so the thing to get there is seafood. We went to dinner our first night there at Ee’usk, where we enjoyed mussels and scallops, among other tastes of the local fare.

Oban at night

Glencoe

We had a big breakfast at our guest house the next morning, then drove into the misty mountains of Glencoe. The scenery was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It was like being in Jurassic Park, or Lord of the Rings, neither of which filmed here but could have. It’s easy to see why there are so many legends surrounding the Scottish Highlands. They really do have a mystical quality about them.

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We hiked a loop of all three trails that connect (blue, black, and yellow), which took a couple hours, and we did get rained on a bit.

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If ever you take a trip where it’s worth devoting a sizable portion of your suitcase to rain boots, Scotland is it.

We stopped for lunch at a hikers’ pub, the Claichaig Inn, and rested our muddy boots in the Boots Bar.

This is right where the third Harry Potter movie filmed the scenes of Hagrid’s hut.

After driving through even more incredible vistas, we headed back to Oban for a tour and tasting at the Oban Distillery.

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Single malt Scotch whisky isn’t my thing, but it is M’s, and I was happy to hand him my tastes as well. It was interesting to learn more about the process of how they make Scotch whisky, and why they age it for the number of years they do.

My favourite part of the tour was when a man pointed to the pictures on the wall of the different notes you get on the nose when you smell their whisky—honey, salt, smoke, and orange—and asked where they found oranges in Scotland hundreds of years ago in order to make this whisky.

I’ll end my first Scotland post with this video my friend Amber sent me while we were there, which M and I found hilarious (but we agreed it would have been even funnier if the floor they were trying to get to was six; see earlier comment about how the Scots pronounce it):

Read Part 2 of our Scotland trip here.