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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