Corpach to Oban, Highlands of Scotland

Aug 23, 2018 - Lord of the Glens

Oystercatchers dabbling along the shore at the mouth of the Caledonian Canal witnessed our passing through the sea lock at Corpach, past the last “pepperpot” lighthouse and out into the open waters of Loch Linnhe. Exquisite Highland scenery—heather-covered hills and mountainsides; emerald green islands; Stalker Castle, an Iron Age stronghold more than 2,000 years old; and scattered coastal hamlets—slipped by on our passage southwest to Oban. We glimpsed a juvenile white-tailed sea eagle, as well as eider ducks and gannets, and soon we were rounding the headland into the deep haven of Oban Bay.

To the west, in the distance, is the Isle of Mull with its lofty slopes. Nearer is the island of Kerrera, a perfect shelter for the harbor of Oban. Dunollie Castle, seat of clan MacDougall since the 13th century, guards the northern entrance to the bay. The colorful port thronged with the comings and goings of vessels large and small: Hebridean ferries, fishing boats, tourist boats, private yachts, and working boats of every description.

The afternoon highlight was a tour of the famous Oban whiskey distillery, founded in 1794 by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson, with its special small stills and other traditional features. During careful reconstruction of the distillery in the 1890s, the builders found remains of Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) settlers who had occupied caves in the nearby cliffs 7,000 years ago, making their living from the rich resources of the shore. Oban today is still called “the seafood capital of Scotland.”

Afterward, we walked up through the town to McCaig’s Tower, a remarkable, circular stone structure modeled on Rome’s Coliseum that dominates the skyline. From the tower, the view over the bay to the distant islands of the Hebrides is truly spectacular.

The distillery is celebrated for the fruity, spicy character of its 14-year-old malt. Our exploration of the “water of life” continued after dinner with a tasting of Lowland, East Coast, and smoky, peaty Islay single malts under the guidance of local expert Frances. As we sipped, Frances enlightened us in lyrical fashion on the rich subtleties of Scottish whiskey.

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About the Author

Carol Knott

Expedition Leader

Carol studied archaeology, history and philosophy at the University of Glasgow, her native city. She spent many years as an archaeologist in the southeast of England, specializing in medieval ceramics and the conservation of historic houses and gardens. Since 1988 she has worked as an archaeologist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, living in a crofting village on the Isle of Lewis, and was formerly archaeologist for the National Trust for Scotland for their World Heritage site of St Kilda. Her great pleasure is to explore the cultures of Scotland, Europe and the North Atlantic, and to bring them to life for a modern audience. 

About the Photographer

Brenda Tharp

Brenda Tharp

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

For over 20 years, Brenda has used her photographs of the world to celebrate its beauty, and inspire others to protect what we have. Brenda grew up exploring the woods, lakes, and coastlines of New Jersey and New England and her family traveled regularly throughout the eastern U.S., camping, hiking, backpacking, and canoeing. She spent most of her childhood engaging with nature in some form or another and learning about animal behavior. When her father taught her some photography at 13, Brenda soon combined her love for nature with her newfound passion, and several years later her adventure began as a freelance photographer, teacher, and writer.

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