Issue 221
May/June 2022

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Jul 3, 2022

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The Road to Oban Pier…

Mary Gladstone is wary of taking the 'High Road' that leads to 'trippery' Oban. The 'Low Road' to Scotland's South West has a lot to recommend it. Better still, restore the rail link!

HAVING KNOWN Oban for ages, but not visited it recently, my impression of 'The Gateway to the Isles' is it's got quite smug.

As a tourist resort it doesn't have to try hard. All it needs is to offer a harbour view, something we managed by renting an airbnb looking over the bay to the islands of Kerrera and Mull. Down on the pier, where some headed for the ferry to Coll, you saw women in their 30s, with shocks of long hair, looking sexy in wellies and striped pullovers.

One was the spitting image of what I imagine children's author, Mairi Hedderwick's heroine, Katie Morag might look like thirty years on. The feisty little girl's adventures were inspired by the island of Coll, where the author once lived.

On the island, they had a ceilidh in the community centre to celebrate Mairi's grandson's wedding. Friends tried to talk with Mairi but the band played too loud.

My mother, a native of Argyll, would have described Oban as 'trippery'. From the double yellow lines running the length of the town, the taco bar that's not too well-frequented, the chippy that is and the sound of the pipes on the pier – (or were they canned?) – Oban, with its population swelling in summer to 24,000, is phoney and expensive.

You pay three times more for a property in the West Highlands than in SW Scotland, where you can still buy a small house with a sea view for under £ 100,000. It's sad when locals can't afford to buy their own homes, but even Mairi Hedderwick was unable, when returning to Coll, the island she made famous through publishing her Katie Morag books, to buy a house with a sea view.

I was hard put to find one derelict building in or near Oban, whereas in Dumfries & Galloway, Wigtown District, ruins, abandoned hotels, derelict barns and stores abound.

While Oban is Caledonian MacBrayne's busiest terminal, Cairn Ryan (5 miles north of Stranraer) is far from bullish. Earlier this year, P & O temporarily halted sailings to Larne after sacking its crew so they could replace it with cheaper substitutes.

Northern Ireland carriers are abandoning the Cairn Ryan route because of the notorious A77 and A75 trunk roads.

Come on, you know it makes sense. What about building a rail link for freight?

Down in the southwest, people try harder. Over the years, Richard Baines of Logan Botanical Garden has put on fascinating exhibitions, built programmes for the young and commissioned a yoga event (June 8 this year).

Lee Gaunt from Coventry runs a garage. His wife has taken over a local store for her cake- making business.

You can't get a better lunch or coffee and cake anywhere in the southwest, or in Oban, for that matter, than at the Fig & Olive, Maria Salzmann's award-winning café /restaurant in Stranraer.

So, you take the High(land) road to Oban and I'll take the Low(land) road to Stranraer and … . that's that!


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