Thursday, August 23, 2007

Logbook: Oban

Oban1On Tuesday morning I caught a ride on the Inn's shuttle van to the airport to meet my Mom. Unlike her last trip over, her flight was on time and she'd had good connections, so she was in much better shape to begin our exploration together. After a quick stop back at the Inn so she could sort herself out, we threw our gear in the car and took off. I hadn't really thought much about it, but my Mom commented on how adeptly I navigated the congestion getting out of the airport area and on my facility with driving on the left in general. It's funny how your brain adjusts to things, I guess, because after driving over here for a couple (few?) weeks now, it all seems quite normal to me. We zoomed down the M8 to Glasgow then worked our way through some traffic until we were able to continue with relative speed to the northwest. A few minutes later we were cruising along the shores of Loch Lomond, getting our first exposure to the beauty that makes this area of Scotland so unforgettable. We found a nice little place along the way to have some lunch then continued through the Trossach mountain passes and on out to the coast.

Oban2Oban is visually stunning, a graceful little city surrounding a peaceful harbor with beautiful views across to the islands. It is also very charming, with its stone buildings, winding streets and ever-present Scottish flavor. Along our drive up, we had been delighted to see signs advertising that the "Oban Highland Games" would be held during our time here -- a very happy coincidence of something we were keen to experience -- but it gave us a little concern about whether or not we would have trouble finding a place to stay. Not to worry, a little scouting around found us a perfectly good, slightly funky little hotel that could give us a room for the next three nights. By the time we checked in, jet lag had finally caught up with Mom -- aided, perhaps, by our celebratory dram -- and a short nap was in order. In the evening we wandered around town, found a decent place to eat then called it a day.

Oban3Yesterday morning we awoke to a fabulous blue sky and decided to go find a walk. Just south of Oban we boarded a tiny, twelve passenger ferry that runs a few hundred meters to the small island of Kerrera which is highly recommended for its walkability. True to its reputation, the six mile loop trail around the southern end of the island is excellent. Along the shore, around the crags, over the moors and through the farms we had a really excellent walk. The weather was absolutely perfect and we could see for miles across the water to the islands and well inland to the higher peaks. We stopped to have a sack lunch in sight of some old castle ruins then completed the walk and caught the ferry back to our car. We were back in Oban by dram-time, celebrated a fine day then got cleaned up and went out to dinner.

Oban4Today was the day of the Oban Games and we had a great time. Starting with a parade from downtown out to the athletic fields, the action never stopped. On first impression, the scene on the field seems to be chaotic. After a while, a sense of order somehow emerges: Four small platforms are set at the corners of the field where individual bagpipe competition goes on all the time; inside that perimeter, a normal size grass track hosts all manner of running events throughout the day; inside that ring, a fairly large stage in one corner hosts an endless stream of highland dancing competition; in the corner next to that, a vaulting area hosts other field events; and in the other half of the infield, the "heavy" contests like hammer and stone throwing take place. All around the outside of that complex is a broad array of food vendors, crafts, etc. All around the whole thing is a fairly large bleacher on one side and a nice hill for viewing on the other. Thousands of people -- including us -- spent a nice day enjoying a constant stream of activity, sports, highland culture, food, babies, puppies and fun! (Be sure to take a look at the Photos for more highlights.)

It's been a great first few days of our road trip. Tomorrow morning we take a ferry across to Mull and begin our exploration of the Hebrides. Stay tuned!

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