Argyll and Bute

View from Oban over the Sound of Kerrera
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

View from Oban over the Sound of Kerrera

A resort and ferry-port on the west coast of Scotland, Oban is known as the capital of Lorne, located 32 miles (52 km) south southwest of Fort William and 60 miles (98 km) northwest of Glasgow. Its name derives from the Gaelic for 'little bay' but it is now the third largest and most northerly of the towns of Argyll and Bute. Although existing as a small hamlet in the mid 18th Century, it grew in size and importance such that it was created a Burgh of Barony in 1820, a Parliamentary Burgh in 1833, a Police Burgh in 1862 and, by 1890, had a population in excess of 5000. This growth in population can be attributed to the arrival of the railway in 1880 and Oban's importance as a steamship terminal. Today, Oban is Scotland's busiest ferry-port, with several sailings daily to islands in the Inner Hebrides and the Western Isles. The town is also notable for its tourists, its trade links with the Highlands and Islands, and its seafood.

Three features dominate the town. St. Columba's Cathedral on the Corran Esplanade, by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 - 1960), is a notable landmark which serves as the principal church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. To the north, Dunollie Castle is the ancient stronghold of the MacDougall Lords of Lorne and although dating back to the 12th century, the square tower and parts of the wall still remain. On Battery Hill to the back of the town, McCaig's Tower dominates the skyline. Financed by John Stuart McCaig (1823 - 1902) and built in the style of the Colosseum, it was probably constructed more as an homage to his forefathers than his stated aim of job creation. Intended to overlook the town from Oban Hill is another less obvious ruin, the Oban Hydropathic Sanatorium, begun in 1881 but never completed.

The Northern Lighthouse Board has had a base in Oban since 1904, but this was upgraded to become their principal engineering support station in 2000 and the base for their vessels. The town gained a Lifeboat Station in 1973.

In September, the Argyllshire Gathering meets in Oban - one of the most important Highland Games of the year. The Corran Halls provide an entertainment venue which regularly hosts the Royal National Mod, the festival of Gaelic culture which was founded in Oban in 1891.

Oban Masonic Lodge was founded in 1791. Oban High School dates from 1890. Both poet Iain Crichton Smith (1928-98) and politician Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish (1938 - 2001) were teachers in this school, while singer Anne Lorne Gillies (b.1944) and archaeologist Prof. Tony Pollard (b.1965) were pupils. Further education is provided by an outstation of Argyll College UHI situated within Glenshellach Business Park and the Scottish Association for Marine Science, lying 2½ miles (4 km) to the northeast at Dunstaffnage. The B-listed Regent Hotel (formerly the Marine Hotel, 1936) is a rare example of an Art Deco hotel in Scotland. Both the Atlantis Leisure Centre and Oban Phoenix Cinema are now community-owned. Lorn & Islands District General Hospital was opened here in 1995 to centralise healthcare for the area. Oban War & Peace Museum opened in the former Oban Times Building in 2006. Born in Oban were political correspondent Kenny MacIntyre (1944-99) and novelist Alan Warner (b.1964).

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