Oban seafront with McCaig's Tower above
|Population||8,140 (mid-2020 est.)|
|OS grid reference|
|• Edinburgh||93 mi (150 km)|
|• London||402 mi (647 km)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
Oban (// (listen) OH-bən; Scottish Gaelic: An t-Òban [ən̪ˠ ˈt̪ɔːpan] meaning The Little Bay) is a resort town within the Argyll and Bute council area of Scotland. Despite its small size, it is the largest town between Helensburgh and Fort William. During the tourist season, the town can have a temporary population of up to over 24,000 people. Oban occupies a setting in the Firth of Lorn. The bay forms a near perfect horseshoe, protected by the island of Kerrera; and beyond Kerrera, the Isle of Mull. To the north, is the long low island of Lismore and the mountains of Morvern and Ardgour.
Pre-history and archaeology
Humans have used the site where Oban now stands since at least Mesolithic times, as evidenced by archaeological remains of cave dwellers found in the town. Just outside the town, stands Dunollie Castle, on a site that overlooks the main entrance to the bay and has been fortified since the Bronze Age.
Just to the north of Oban, at Dunstaffnage, excavations in 2010, by Argyll Archaeology, in advance of the development of the European Marine Science Park found evidence that people were also living in the area from the Neolithic to the Early Historic periods. The archaeologists discovered funerary pyres that were in use for several generations during the Late Iron Age and a farmstead in use sometime between the late 7th to 9th centuries AD.
Prior to the 19th century, the town itself supported very few households, sustaining only minor fishing, trading, shipbuilding and quarrying industries, and a few hardy tourists. The Renfrew trading company established a storehouse there around 1714, as a local outlet for its merchandise, but a custom-house was not deemed necessary until 1736, with "Oban being reckoned a proper place for clearing out vessels for the herring fishery".
The modern town of Oban grew up around the distillery, which was founded there in 1794. A royal charter raised the town to a burgh of barony in 1811. Sir Walter Scott visited the area in 1814, the year in which he published his poem The Lord of the Isles; interest in the poem brought many new visitors to the town. The town was made a Parliamentary Burgh in 1833. A rail link – the Callander and Oban Railway – was authorised in 1864 but took years to reach the town. The final stretch of track to Oban opened on 30 June 1880. This brought further prosperity, revitalising local industry and giving new energy to tourism. Also at this time work on the ill-fated Oban Hydro commenced; the enterprise was abandoned and left to fall into disrepair after 1882 when Dr Orr, the scheme's originator, realised he had grossly underestimated its cost. Work on McCaig's Tower, a prominent local landmark, started in 1895. Paid for by John Stewart McCaig (1824–1902) the construction aimed, in hard times, to give work for local stonemasons. However, its construction ceased in 1902 on the death of its benefactor.
Built in 1897 for James Gemmel Boutein, Glencruitten House was built on the site of an earlier estate. Now Category B Listed, the building is a Scottish-style castle, or Scots Baronial house, that was significantly altered in 1903. A library wing was added in 1927/1928. The original architect, Edward Appin, was also involved in the work completed in 1903. Robert Lorimer of the Lorimer & Matthew firm, guided the additions made in the 1920s for Alexander Mackay, the owner at that time. The House has been a B-listed property since 1971. The contents were to be sold off by auction in 2003, including some furniture designed by Lorimer. Reports at that time shed additional light on the previous owners of the House, indicating that the MacKay family "at the Argyll house" had owned the property for four generations, since 1917 when it was acquired by "the venture capitalist Alexander MacKay"; the original owner was listed as the Shelly-Bonteyn family. MacKay and his son Robert Ferrier Burns Mackay were said to be significant collectors of art, including works by "Sir David Young Cameron (1865–1945) and James McBey (1883–1959)". For some time prior to 2020, Glencruitten House was owned by a religious community who listed it for sale that year. The listing for sale provided additional specifics: the House contained "woodwork and panelling believed to be by Clow Bros and Louis Davis stained glass windows. Also within the library is an original grade A listed Ingram organ with Welte Philharmonic roleplay mechanism (not fully operational)". The listing also stated that "remedial work [was] recently undertaken by the current owner".
During World War II (1939–1945) Merchant and Royal Navy ships used Oban as an important base in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Royal Navy had a signal station near Ganavan, and an anti-submarine indicator loop station, which detected any surface or submarine vessels between Oban, Mull and Lismore. There was a controlled minefield in the Sound of Kerrera, which was operated from a building near the caravan site at Gallanach. A Royal Air Force flying-boat base operated at Ganavan and on Kerrera, and an airfield at North Connel – built by the Royal Air Force. A Sector Operations Room was built near the airfield; after the war, this was extended to become the Royal Observer Corps Group HQ.
Oban was also important during the Cold War because the first Transatlantic Telephone Cable (TAT-1) came ashore at Gallanach Bay. This carried the Hot Line between the US Presidents and USSR General Secretaries. At North Connel, next to the airfield/airport was the NRC (Nuclear Reporting Cell) of the Royal Observer Corps (29 October 1925 to 31 December 1995).
Since the 1950s, the principal industry has remained tourism, though the town is also an important ferry port, acting as the hub for Caledonian MacBrayne ferries to many of the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides.
As with the rest of the British Isles, Oban experiences a maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. The nearest official Met Office weather station for which online records are available is located at Dunstaffnage, about 2.7 miles (4.3 km) north-north-east of Oban town centre. Rainfall is high, but thanks to the Gulf Stream, the temperature seldom falls below 0 °C (32 °F).
|Climate data for Dunstaffnage (3 m asl, averages 1971–2000)|
|Record high °C (°F)||13
|Average high °C (°F)||7.0
|Average low °C (°F)||2.1
|Record low °C (°F)||−8
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||192.2
|Average precipitation days (≥ mm)||27||23||28||24||23||26||24||26||27||28||27||27||310|
|Average rainy days (≥ 1 mm)||20||16||19||12||11||13||14||15||17||19||19||19||194|
|Average snowy days (≥ cm)||7||6||5||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||3||23|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||33.5||59.6||86.2||145.8||189.7||174.9||142.6||141.7||97.5||75.6||46.2||30.7||1,224|
|Source 1: Met Office|
|Source 2: Weatherbase|
The local culture is Gaelic. In 2011, 8.2% of the town's population over age 3 could speak Gaelic and 11.3% had some facility in the language. Oban is considered the home of the Royal National Mòd, since it was first held there in 1892, with ten competitors on a Saturday afternoon. The town hosted the centenary Mod in 1992 (the year it became Royal) and in 2003 the 100th Mod. These two events attracted thousands of competitors and visitors (the 100th Mod was later than the centenary because it was not held in the war years). The Mod is held in Oban roughly every 6–8 years, and has last been held in October 2015.
The town had a two-screen cinema, which closed in early 2010. Thanks to a local community initiative supported by a number of famous names, it reopened in August 2012 as the Phoenix Cinema. Oban has itself been used as a backdrop to several films, including Ring of Bright Water and Morvern Callar.
The Oban War and Peace Museum advances the education of present and future generations by collecting, maintaining, conserving and exhibiting items of historical and cultural interest relating to the Oban area in peacetime and during the war years. A museum also operates within Oban Distillery, just behind the main seafront. The distillation of whisky in Oban predates the town: whisky has been produced on the site since 1794. The Hope MacDougall collection is a unique record of the working and domestic lives of people in Scotland.
Music is central to Gaelic culture, and there is lively interest in the town. In the 2010 pipe band season, the local Oban High School Pipe Band, led by Angus MacColl, was successful in winning the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, the Cowal Games competition, and the Champion of Champions for the year in the novice-juvenile grade. The town also boasts a successful senior pipe band. The local Gaelic choir competes regularly and successfully in the Mod.
The town has been the birthplace and home of a number of well-known people.
The most prominent attraction in Oban is McCaig's Tower which is visible from a great portion of the town. Construction of the tower began in 1897, funded by John Stuart McCaig as a way of providing work for local stonemasons and to serve as a lasting legacy for his family. McCaig died in 1902, and although construction was set to continue, with McCaig promising £1000 a year for its construction to continue, his family challenged this in court and won, stopping construction.
The area around Oban has a dramatic scenery of the coast and mountains, as well as historically valuable local castles and ancient religious sites. North of the town the natural rock formation of Fingal's Dogstone is connected in legend to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.
The Oban Visitor Information Centre, operated by VisitScotland, is located in the Columba Buildings on the North Pier. The Oban & Lorn Tourism Alliance also provides information about local attractions at the official web site.
Oban lies at the western end of the A85 road. A number of ScotRail trains run between Oban railway station and Glasgow Queen Street daily. The town is an important ferry port: it is Caledonian MacBrayne's busiest terminal. Oban is known as the "Gateway to the Isles", with ferries sailing to the islands of Lismore, Colonsay, Islay, Coll, Tiree, to Craignure on Mull, to Castlebay on Barra and to Lochboisdale on South Uist. In 2005, a new ferry terminal was opened, and in 2007 a second linkspan opened, allowing two vessels to load/unload at the same time.
Formerly, Oban also had direct passenger railway services to Edinburgh. The scenic line, which ran via Glen Dochart, Strathyre, Callander, Dunblane and Stirling, closed in 1965. Railway services north to Ballachulish on Loch Leven were withdrawn in 1966. (These services were withdrawn as a result of the Beeching cuts.)
Oban has an airport outside the village of North Connel, some 5 miles (8 km) NE of the town. The airport has regular connections to Islay, Collansy and Tiree, with flight-times of just half an hour. The code for Oban Airport is (OBN) and the only airline flying from the airport is Hebridean Air Services. The airport featured in a 2021 episode of Top Gear.
Oban has a primary school campus located in the south of the town along with Park Primary School at the north of the town, and a major high school, Oban High School. In 2019, £36 million was spent on a new building for the high school, replacing the original 1890 building which was subsequently demolished. Secondary school pupils are drawn from a wide surrounding catchment area, with some pupils having long commutes to and from school every day. Students who live on surrounding islands such as Coll or Mull stay at a local hostel during the school week. The school funds the hostel so that the families of the students don't have to pay themselves.
The building formerly used as Rockfield Primary School has now been taken over by the Community and is being extensively refurbished. It has also been used as a polling station for areas of the town.
Oban is served by Kilmore & Oban Parish Church of the Church of Scotland. There are two church buildings in the united parish, namely at Glencruitten Road as well as Kilmore Church. The minister (since 2007) is the Rev. Dugald Cameron, who formerly served at St. John's Renfield Church, Glasgow.
A third church, the former Corran Esplanade Church (opened in 1957 as Christ Church) at Corran Esplanade in the town, is now closed.
A fourth church, St Columba's Argyll Square Church was opened in 1888 and closed in 1984
The mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Argyll and the Isles is St Columba's Cathedral at the north end of the Esplanade. During the 19th century, the Rector of the Pro-Cathedral was Father Allan MacDonald, a poet and Gaelic scholar. The present cathedral was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and constructed between 1932 and 1959.
The Scottish Episcopal Church is represented in Oban by the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, situated in George Street. It is one of two cathedrals of the united Diocese of Argyll and the Isles, the other being the Cathedral of the Isles in Millport, Isle of Cumbrae.
There are several other churches in the town, including the Free Church of Scotland in Rockfield Road, the Baptist Church in Albany Street, Salvation Army in Stevenson Street, Elim Pentecostal Church in Soroba Road, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Lorn Christian Fellowship (Independent) both of whom meet at Oban High School and the Associated Presbyterian Church in Campbell Street. The Congregational Church in Tweedale Street was built in 1880.
A Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses is located nearby at 57 Lorn Road, Dunbeg.
Pennyfuir Cemetery, to the north of the town, contains several notable burials, including Frances Shand Kydd, the mother of Diana, Princess of Wales, and four casualties of the 1942 Dunbeath air crash which also killed Prince George, Duke of Kent.
Oban's proximity to the mountains and the sea means that a wide array of sports are available to visitors and locals, from scuba-diving to coasteering to sailing to mountain biking to winter mountaineering. Other activities of note in the town are:
The local amateur football team is Oban Saints with a small stadium situated in Mossfield. However, shinty is a more popular game locally, with two major teams, Oban Camanachd and Oban Celtic, in the town. The Oban Times runs a "Spot the Shinty Ball" competition each week. Oban Cricket Club was formed in 2003 and plays in nearby Taynuilt. Oban Lorne Rugby Football Club turned 50 years old in 2012, and competes in the RBS West region. The Highlanders were a World Wrestling Entertainment wrestling tag-team originally from Oban. Glencruitten Golf course was designed by professional golfer James Braid in the early 1900s, and offers a challenging 18 holes across difficult terrain.
Watersports are an obvious activity in a seaport, and sailing is very popular. West Highland Week brings sailors from around the world to the town every year. A raft race regularly takes place in the bay which offers a chance for locals to win prizes and trophies. Scuba diving is also readily available. The wreck diving is spectacular, with the Sound of Mull offering some truly world-class dive sites. Although weather and visibility can be variable, the local geography means that a dive somewhere can always be achieved.
Laurinburg, North Carolina, United States became a twin town to Oban in 1993. The initial agreement was between Scotland County, North Carolina, and Argyll & Bute District Council. Following reorganisation in 1995, the agreement was confirmed by Argyll & Bute Council in 1997. The local High School takes part in a yearly exchange with students from the Scotland High School. In 1997, Oban was also twinned with Gorey, County Wexford, Ireland.
- "Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba ~ Gaelic Place-names of Scotland Gaelic Place-names of Scotland".
- "Mid-2020 Population Estimates for Settlements and Localities in Scotland". National Records of Scotland. 31 March 2022. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
- John Butler. "Pronunciation of Scotch Whiskys". School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 23 March 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
- "Argyll and Bute – Earra-Ghàidheal agus Bòd". BBC. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
- The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (1974). Argyll, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 2 Lorn. HMSO. ISBN 0-11-491147-9.
- "Dunollie Castle | Canmore". canmore.org.uk. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
- "Vol 60 (2016): Multi-period activity, the European Marine Science Park, Dunstaffnage, Argyll | Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports". journals.socantscot.org. Archived from the original on 27 August 2021. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
- "History of Oban". Oban Tourist Information Centre. Archived from the original on 4 February 2014. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
- "Oban History". The Gazetteer for Scotland. Archived from the original on 16 December 2013. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- "The Hydro – Oban Hydropathic Establishment and Sanatorium-". www.obanargyll.com. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
- Historic Environment Scotland. "Glencruitten House (LB11984)". Archived from the original on 25 March 2020. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
- "Dictionary of Scottish Architects – DSA Building/Design Report (July 17, 2020, 4:31 pm)". www.scottisharchitects.org.uk. Archived from the original on 25 March 2020. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
- "Alexander MacKay" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
- "Trio of Scots talents in one". www.antiquestradegazette.com. Archived from the original on 25 March 2020. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
- "Contents sale puts Scottish painters onto eager market". www.antiquestradegazette.com. Archived from the original on 25 March 2020. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
- Keel, Toby (23 March 2020). "A 13-bedroom castle under £1m with a stunning oak-panelled library and impossibly romantic boathouse". Country Life. Archived from the original on 25 March 2020. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
- "Glencruitten House, Glencruitten, Oban, Argyll and Bute, PA34 13 bed detached house for sale – £975,000". OnTheMarket. Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
- "Dunstaffnage 1971–2000 averages". Met Office. Archived from the original on 19 October 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
- "Oban weather records". Weatherbase. Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
- "2011 Scotland Census". Archived from the original on 4 June 2014., Table QS211SC.
- "Oban Games – Information about The Oban Games". Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- "The Corran Halls – Oban". Argyll and Bute Council. 6 December 2010. Archived from the original on 11 March 2013. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
- "Dame Judi Dench in bid to save Oban cinema". BBC News. 17 February 2011. Archived from the original on 8 January 2019. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
- "Scotland the Movie Location Guide – Oban". Archived from the original on 18 August 2004. Retrieved 6 September 2004.
- "Oban Distillery - The Distilleries of Scotland - scotchwhisky.net". www.scotchwhisky.net. Archived from the original on 9 January 2010. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
- "Dunollie House Oban :: O, A, J". Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
- "Oban Pipe Band on top of the world". 20 August 2011. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- "Oban Gaelic Choir". www.obangaelicchoir.co.uk. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
- "Mccaig's Tower, Oban – Historic Buildings & Homes". Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- "McCaig's Tower Feature Page on Undiscovered Scotland". Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- "Fingal's Dogstone". Gazetteer for Scotland. Archived from the original on 6 June 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
- "Oban & Lorn Tourism Alliance :: Home". Archived from the original on 4 September 2004. Retrieved 6 September 2004.
- "Visit Oban: The Gateway to the Isles – Scotland blog – By Scotland Channel". Archived from the original on 20 March 2015. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
- Council, Argyll and Bute (21 December 2010). "Oban Airport Information". Argyll and Bute Council. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
- "Destinations". Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- "Oban Airport gets in Top Gear". 29 March 2021. Archived from the original on 29 March 2021. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- "Oban High is officially opened". 5 June 2019. Archived from the original on 12 August 2020. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- "Rockfield Primary School (Former), Rockfield Road, Oban | Buildings at Risk Register". www.buildingsatrisk.org.uk. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
- "Situation of polling stations". 6 July 2021. Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
- "Kilmore & Oban Church of Scotland". Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- "Oban, Corran Esplanade, Christ Church Dunollie | Canmore". canmore.org.uk. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
- "Argyll Square Church (C) Gerald England". www.geograph.org.uk. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
- "St. John – An Online Cathedral For St John The Apostle". Archived from the original on 3 August 2010.
- "Scotland – Oban". Associated Presbyterian Churches. Archived from the original on 7 August 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- "Oban Congregational Church". www.lochgilphead.org. Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- Oban (Pennyfuir) Cemetery – Commonwealth War Graves
- "50th Birthday Celebration for Oban Lorne".[permanent dead link]
- "Oban Golf Course, Argyll, Scotland, Glencruitten Golf Club". Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
- "West Highland Tennis Week". Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 6 July 2009.
- "West Highland Yachting Week". Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- "Oban raft and sea kayak races make for a busy bay". Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
- "Susie Wolff: The Scot quietly making a noise in Formula E". BBC News. 2 August 2022. Retrieved 20 August 2022.
- "Laurinburg Exchange | Oban High School". Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
- "Gorey Town Twinning". Gorey Town Council. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
- Hughes, Mike, The Hebrides at War. Canongate Books, 1998, ISBN 0-86241-771-6.
- Batstone, Stephanie, Wren's Eye View: The Adventures of a Visual Signaller, Parapress Ltd, 1994, ISBN 1-898594-12-0. Written by a Wren based in Oban for most of WWII.