Oban: Brilliance, Folly, and Moss

Oban Harbour, looking out towards the island of Kerrera, from the ferry bound for the isle of Mull (the snowy mountains beyond)

D and I are back from Oban, where we spent a delightful Thursday night to Saturday morning.  In the Friday pictures, there is a tinge of the delicate, low sun that never exceeded a forty-five degree angle above the earth. The waters of the bay were glassy and shallow, and the weather dry: this state of affairs is highly unusual, being that Oban is on the West Coast of Scotland, where the rain spends a good deal of its time (though I gather it counts permanent residence on the really big green island next door) pattering the soil, eating away at the cliffs, and making sure the woodlands and any feasibly-situated permanent human structures have a good coating of moss to them.

Below is a taste of the town, which wraps around the horseshoe bay, and tucks itself  amongst some smaller hills. The structure at the top of the hill in view is McCaig’s Tower, or McCaig’s Folly, built around 1900 by a ‘essayist, philanthropist and banker’ as it says on the plaque on the walls of it. Mr John Stuart McCaig, wealthy narcissist, planned the design himself, but got a little ahead of himself.

Towards part of downtown Oban from the middle of three piers.

A panorama taken from the folly, stitched together with the aid of MS paint.

A closer view, approached from behind the town

From Wikipedia: “McCaig’s intention was to provide a lasting monument to his family, and provide work for the local stonemasons during the winter months. McCaig was an admirer of Roman and Greek Architecture, and had planned for an elaborate structure, based on the Colosseum in Rome. His plans allowed for a museum and art gallery with a central tower to be incorporated. Inside the central tower he planned to commission statues of himself, his siblings and their parents. His death brought an end to construction with only the outer walls completed.”

In one of his wills, McCaig tried to set up the tower as a charitable place, on the grounds that it would be leased to the stone artists who were making the statues of himself and his family meant to adorn it.  But ah – “In a landmark ruling the Court of Session decided that the tower was not a charity as it was self-advertisement and not in the general public good.” So the town has this quite lovely monument to vanity, half built, sitting like a crown on top of its head.

After puffing up the hill, we walked down and through the town – too many photos to put up here – and later went to the island of Mull, but not until 4pm since we had missed the previous ferry at 12pm.  Some things might do to be planned for, but we were happy just to take things with a slow spontaneity. All we had was the journey out to the island, there and back again – since the buses that were supposed to take us around the island inexplicably would not return for the 7pm ferry.  Never mind, it was one of the most beautiful ferry rides I’ve ever taken. I did do them regularly once upon a time, between the isle of Skye and the mainland.  That was more gloomy than not, with the sight of the crumbling Castle Moil to greet you on the way home.

The route to Mull passes not one but two castles, one on the mainland who has made good acquaintance with the rain:

The jauntily named Dunollie Castle

And another that seems an outpost in a bleak world:

...the far more appropriately named Duart Castle, on Mull

The crossing was calm, but we were told by a chatty fellow passenger that in bad weather the shallows around the islands – which even on that day were making little white horses to indicate their presence – can produce large breakers and make the going rough.

Hence the need for lighthouses and buoys where the rocks jut out.

Despite the lack of time to go adventuring on Mull, and the awful weather of the following day that sent us home on the train early, it was without doubt, worth the journey.

From the ferry, looking back to the mainland

That ghostly pink peak is Ben Nevis, Ben Cruachan (thanks for the correction Stramash!) known as the Hollow Mountain because there’s a hydroelectric power station inside of it (one that can be toured, and I do intend to do this some time). Lastly, for now, a picture from the train southwards:

Mountains near Loch Awe

D read law, and I snapped what I could of the rain-blurred scenery, in between reading something I picked up for the ride. I had at last reached my self set two week deadline with Smollett – more of him later – and begun on what seemed an appropriate novel for a passage from Highlands to Lowlands, And The Land Lay Still, by James Robertson. Or, A Beginner’s Guide to the Case for Scottish Independence, as I like to think of it. Though the book is a light one (I managed nearly 300 pages today) it may demand I write a longer post, with a fair bit of background thrown in for those unfamiliar with twentieth-century Scottish history, the rise and politics of the SNP, devolution, stone-stealing, and so on. Warning you (or piquing your interest) now…



Filed under Endless Reads 2012, Scotland, The Now

6 responses to “Oban: Brilliance, Folly, and Moss

  1. CJ

    “a slow spontaneity” makes such sense to me. And believe you me my interest in stone stealing and devolution is piqued.

    Unitl reading you I thought Ireland the ancient land in those parts–now I see a country I feel I once lived with stories in every laid stone.

    • Ah and, I didn’t even bring up the fleet of 200 Viking longboats that once came into the Oban bay, carrying 20,000 Viking soldiers bound for final loss in the town of Largs in 1263…

  2. You got some really beautiful light in your pictures from Oban.
    I love the sunspot through the “monument to vanity”, it’s like a jewel sparking in the crown.
    Sounds like a wonderful trip!

  3. Glad you enjoyed your visit to Oban. I live in the town and always enjoy hearing that visitors have liked their visit. The ghostly pink peak isn’t Ben Nevis though, but is Ben Cruachan. For us Obanites Ben Cruachan is a much more spectacular peak than Ben Nevis! But I guess we are biased! Ben Cruachan has a hydro-electric power station inside it- it’s known as the hollow mountain. Worth a visit. Hopefully we can welcome you back in the future for another visit.

    • Ah ha! Thank you for that – we were going on the ‘knowledge’ of a man on the ferry, who seemed to know what he was talking about. Shows me not to trust everyone I meet to have a good grip on these things.

      I’ve wanted to go to Ben Cruachan for ages and go on the tour. It’s tough without a car, but hopefully some day.

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