[Day 1] – Adventures of Aberdeen to Oban Scotland & Letting Go of the Fantasies of Wild Camping
Having just acquired Angus, our spunky, electric blue 2003 VW Polo, and with the prospect of a long weekend ahead – Dalton and I were more than just itching for our first Scotland road trip. We had been hearing mystical tales of the beautiful, stunning, spectacular, breath-taking (get it?) West coast of Scotland and decided this was something we needed to see for ourselves.
We loaded up on Friday after school/work and began our trek to the opposite coast of the country (yes, you read that right. In the UK you can quite quickly and easily drive from one side of the country to the other)! Thanks to our eternal sunshine here in the Scottish summers (aka light until about 11 pm) we were able to appreciate the constant changing beauty on our way. Cute towns like Crieff and a stunning sunset over Loch Earn kept taking our breath away (maybe these West Coast fanatics were on to something)…
We arrived to Oban around dusk and our absolute number one priority was getting some midge spray. We had heard tales of these tiny gnats like mosquitoes and were going to do our best to keep them and their pesky, itchy bites off our bodies. Driving through the tiny town, we couldn’t help but appreciate its charm. However before we could relax the ever impeding darkness was reminding us that we needed to find a campsite.
Our go-to explorer friends, Heather and Jason, had given us the low down on ‘wild camping’ and how to do it. Heather and Jason are an incredible couple who spent 6 months traveling around South America, have road tripped and camped (for free) across the United States and have since being in Scotland, converted a van which they now live and travel out of every free second they get. If you need travel advice, ideas and inspiration for pretty much anywhere in the world, check out their blog ArboursAbroad here. Needless to say – they have the scoop when it comes to adventures.
Essentially in Scotland wild camping is legal – which means you can pitch a tent and camp just about anywhere, for free. Sounds like a blast right? Now imagine yourself actually deciding where you’re going to put up that tent and settle down for the night – do you choose a public park? A backyard? A field? A beach? Wont’ it be awkward if someone walks by? Yes, a little bit more difficult than it first seemed to me.
It was getting quite dark and our minimal research of great wild campsites in Oban proved to not be to helpful (follow the dirt path next to the large tree. Turn right at the bush and camp next to the spring of the youth – just kidding, but seriously). We both were getting exhausted and finally decided it might be best to just get a bit further from town, find a dirt road that goes nowhere and just lay our heads for the night (my idealistic part cringed as I let go of the idea of glamorously lounging in my tent watching the sunrise over the beach, drinking mimosas). Needless in the dark night, we found a field, off a dirt road, outside of town, pitched our tent and called it a night.
DAY 2 – Whisky, Fish & Chips and Chocolate in Oban Scotland
We woke up early Sunday to bright, hot sunshine (yes, you read that correctly – bright, hot sunshine in Scotland). We only had one suspect encounter during our evening of camping on a stranger’s land – a dog came up sniffing our tent in the wee hours of the morning (but thankfully left just as quickly). As we rolled up our tent and made cold instant coffee (just about as bad as it sounds), I started taking in our surroundings. We were in beautiful green hills all filled with these lovely bright yellow flower bushes that smell exactly like coconut sunscreen.
I started to wander up the hill and literally choked on my coffee as I rounded the corner – we had inadvertently camped about 50 yards from probably the best view of Oban. We were up on a remote hill overlooking the tiny fishing town and harbor. Really, I don’t think a better campsite could have been found.
Thinking back to our hectic, jumbled mess of a night choosing a spot to sleep – it was one of those moments that really make you question whether sometimes things truly happen for a reason… Anywho, we packed up our things and set off for a day of exploring the town of Oban.
Oban’s alluring charm was contagious and we both quickly fell in love with the historic fishing town. We spent the morning climbing up to McCaigs Tower – an impressive coliseum built on top of the tallest hill in the town. We soaked up the gorgeous views of the harbor and surrounding islands before heading back down to tour our very first Scottish Distillery.
The Oban Distillery
Thanks to knowledge shared by Heather and Jason we had signed up online to the Friends of the Classic Malts Passport – a booklet that allows you to tour 12 different distilleries around Scotland for free (they’re the best right?!). The Oban Distillery Tour was great, really a perfect beginning into the vast world of whisky here in Scotland. Not only did we get to taste a special Oban cask strength whisky (along with the Oban 12 Year Old Whisky), but also we got to keep our signature Oban drams at the end. Oban Distillery definitely set a high benchmark for distillery tours here in Scotland.
Fish & Chips Lunch – Norries or George Street?
A bit flushed from our whisky at 11 am, we set out to find some fish and chips. My dearly loved Scottish Bible, Scotland the Best (really the best guide book for Scotland), informed us that Oban was the fish and chips capital of Scotland – so we definitely weren’t about to miss out on that.
Being the inquisitive, research-oriented people we are (others may just call it greedy), we decided to try out both George Street Fish & Chips and Nories Fish & Chips. Let me tell you… There was a definite clear winner – Nories. Oh man, the two were pretty much incomparable – if in Oban definitely stop at Nories (maybe a few times).
Oban Chocolate Company
We weren’t ready to stop consuming deliciousness, so next stop was the Oban Chocolate Company. A small, cutely decorated chocolatier in Oban that has everything from chocolate tasting to luxury hot chocolates. We settled for both (of course) and were not disappointed.
As the weather was beautiful and hot, next on our agenda was a visit to the Dunollie Castle ruins. We realized on our beautiful walk there we were either going to make or miss the last tour by seconds and were ecstatic to be able to sneak on the tail end as the tour was leaving. Dunollie Castle itself was neat, however the view from the ruins was by far the best part. A stunning overlook of the harbor, islands and channel – it maybe even just surpassed the view from our campsite (maybe).
After the tour we mosed around the house and were delighted to discover that one of the heirs of the residence was actually working. History makes itself presence when you get the opportunity to meet real living heirs of these castles and ruins that seem so ancient.
Live Music + Drinks at Markie Dans
After Dunollie we were a bit tuckered out from the day and ended up making a quick stop at a local craft fair before heading to Markie Dans, a patio pub with live traditional Scottish music. We lounged in the sun, sipping a pint and thoroughly enjoying the heat, music, cold beer and fabulous scenery in front of us.
All day we had debated between putting up camp in town and enjoying a night on the town or returning to the magnificent, secluded campsite of the night before. I’ll let you guess which won. After picking up a picnic of meats, cheese, cookies and beer, we headed back to our spot and set up camp. The evening was unbeatable – laughs, games, delicious food, fun beer and all with a breathtaking view.
The next morning we packed up and headed North – our plans including the famous Hogwarts Express Viaduct, Fort William and Glencoe. However we doubted that anywhere was going to charm us as much as Oban.
Click here to read about the next leg of our journey!