Oban, Scotland

Jul 24, 2019 - Lord of the Glens

Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, resumed its typical dress of mists and clouds, once again appearing aloof above the Caledonian Canal. Having overnighted there at Corpach Basin, we now slipped out through the sea lock, past the old pepper pot lighthouse that guided vessels in from the sea at the canal entrance, and out into the open waters of Loch Linnhe. As we moved away from the Grampian Mountains, the clouds parted and the sun danced over saltwater. The Corran Narrows pinched the sea loch, distinguished by a fine lighthouse built by the famous Stevenson brothers in 1860. As we sailed south toward Oban into a more marine environment, northern gannets wheeled around the ship and dove at high velocity after fish, spearing the water with a spectacular splash.

We continued southward, past Castle Stalker, a medieval tower house built on a tidal island in the 15th century by the local Stewart chief. Soon we arrived in Oban Bay, a beautiful sheltered harbor guarded to the north by Dunollie Castle, an ancient stronghold which was latterly the seat of the clan MacDougall. In this bay in the year 1263, the Norwegian king Haakon IV mustered a great fleet of Viking longships in an ill-fated effort to defend his Norse holdings from the encroachments of the Scottish king.

Our atypically warm and sunny Scottish afternoon in Oban started with a tour of Oban whisky distillery. Oban has been producing distinctive malt whiskies since 1796, and we learned the secrets of the process from the initial malting of the barley to the final maturing in wooden casks—finishing with a tasting. Next, many of us took a gentle hike up through the terraced streets of the old town, past pretty cottages set among luxuriant gardens to McCaig’s Tower. This unlikely monument, reminiscent of a Roman Colosseum, and built by a local banker and entrepreneur, crowns the hill above the harbor town. From this spot, we took in magnificent views of the town, the bay, and all the islands to the west, fading one behind the other into the purple distance.

A final treat awaited us after dinner with a convivial whisky tasting on board Lord of the Glens with whisky expert Frances MacMillan. We sampled a smoky 10-year-old Talisker and a 12-year-old MacKinchie.

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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

Steve Morello

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Steve Morello has had a long and colorful career in the natural history world. Born in New Jersey he was lucky to be able to summer on the shores of Cape Cod. Whether it was exploring the tidal pools, snorkeling along the beach, or hiking in the dunes, it all came together to instill in him a deep connection to the natural world. It was no surprise that he would return to the Cape as a whale researcher in his adult years. It was on the Cape that Steve first became involved in guiding, and for 15 years acted as naturalist on whale watching boats in the Gulf of Maine. Steve worked with groups creating environmental education material for school programs and soon found another one of his passions, photography.

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