My first trip to Scotland was one to remember. I had never been island hopping before, so I was really looking forward to spending four days exploring the small town of Oban and the surrounding islands of Mull, Staffa and Iona.
The journey to Oban takes approximately 3.5 hours from Glasgow by train and is an experience in itself. I used the Spirit of Scotland Travel Pass, which allows you to travel the length and breadth of Scotland. The route runs directly alongside Loch Lomond through the Trossachs National Park and passes lakes, lochs, waterfalls and mountains making for an incredibly scenic ride. I was lost in the scenery for hours!
Upon arriving in Oban, which is also known as “The Gateway to the Isles”, it felt like I had left the UK entirely and arrived in a small Scandinavian fishing village. This didn’t feel like the Scotland I knew from blogs and TV, it felt like somewhere completely different.
With a resident population of 8,500, Oban makes for the perfect getaway. It overlooks a bay with a backdrop of mountains in the distance and there’s a constant stream of fishing boats sailing in and out of the docks.
If you’re a fan of seafood, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Oban. During my stay I tried a restaurant called Ee-usk and the food was outstanding (I had the seabass). All of their shellfish and a large number of their wet fish are locally caught, while the restaurant itself offers stunning views of the bay. With restaurants like this it’s not hard to see why Oban has more recently become known as “The Seafood Capital of Scotland”.
Apart from taking the time to unwind, there’s plenty of things to see and do no matter what time of year you go. Local sights include McCaig’s Tower, Oban Distillery, Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel, the Scottish Sealife Sanctuary and Dunollie Museum. The surrounding scenery is spectacular making it the perfect place to visit if you’re a keen photographer. I mainly took the time to relax, taking long walks around the town and visiting local cafés.
When you visit Oban, the one thing you must do is the Three Islands Tour. It costs £60 per person and takes the full day, leaving at 10am in the morning and returning at 8.30pm. The tour covers the Isle of Mull, the Isle of Staffa and the Isle of Iona. All of the islands are stunning and teaming with wildlife. On the tour you can spot seals, otters, dolphins and a whole variety of birdlife including sea eagles and puffins. I fell in love with the Highland cows, which can be found in the surrounding farmlands. They are uniquely Scottish and being from England I’d never seen them before.
Isle of Mull
After a 45 minute scenic ferry ride from Oban, I arrived in Mull where I was met by the local tour guide. From there we took a coach across Mull to catch the next boat to Staffa. The tour guide tells you everything you need to know about the island’s wildlife, geological history, award winning oysters and local gossip — apparently Phil Collins owns a holiday home on the island, which he frequents every year.
Isle of Staffa
From Mull, we took another 45 minute boat ride to Staffa (pillar island), which looks like a Game of Thrones backdrop! One of the Iron Islands perhaps. The rock formations are similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by a pod of around 15 dolphins which surrounded the boat! When I last visited Australia, I went on a two hour dolphin tour in Port Stephens (which is apparently famous for its dolphins) and didn’t see any. So I never dreamed that I would see dolphins in Scotland, never mind so many. It was the highlight of the trip to unexpectedly see these magnificent creatures in the wild!
Once we docked, I had the opportunity to explore Staffa’s cave and climb right to the top of the cliffs. I watched my step and tried not to look down!
Isle of Iona
Leaving Staffa, the next and final stop was the Isle of Iona, which could be mistaken for somewhere in the Mediterranean. Iona is Scotland’s best kept secret. Its crystal clear waters and white, sandy beaches are the best I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in the UK; beating the likes of Newquay in Cornwall and Anglesey in Wales.
What makes Iona special is how isolated it is. If you go to any English beach in the summer, you’ll be lucky to beat the crowds and find a good spot. However, there are only around 1000 people on Iona during summer, and this drops to 30 in winter, which makes it the perfect place to escape and relax. I felt like I was a million miles away on the other side of the world.
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