Tuesday 9 October 2012--It's amazing what you can do if you have to. Yesterday, with a full day in Edinburgh ahead of me, I couldn't help but sleep
in. Today, I have to get up early to get Win to the airport. Despite feeling a bit fuzzy after a late evening out, we manage without much trouble. In
the terminal, we dawdle as long as we dare over coffee and pastry; then Win heads for the gate and home, and I begin the drive through Stirling, Doune,
Callander, and Crianlarich, to Oban. As always, I have mixed feelings about being on my own again. Traveling solo means I can do what I want, when I want,
without negotiation or compromise. And yet, I have to admit that I usually make better use of my days when Win or Ron or Bobby is along. I feel a lot more
guilty wasting their time than just my own. There is a valuable life lesson in there, I think, if one is open to it. A stubborn old bachelor like me
I have mixed feelings about Oban, too. I've stayed here twice, once a long time ago, on one of my first trips, and again last year when Ron and I were stranded on our way to Colonsay. Usually I am passing through, as I am today. Lots of people like the place, I guess, and there's no shortage of hotels and B&Bs. But it's always seemed a bit tired and grim to me. I suppose part of it is that it lacks the brightness and coherence of the whitewashed planned villages of Inveraray, Plockton, and Ullapool. Nor does it help that the town's best feature, its harbor, is rimmed by the busy lanes of the A85, which funnels too much traffic through what should be a pedestrian-friendly area. Perhaps worst of all, I cannot find a pub to my liking. I have a quick half at Coasters, which seemed nice enough when I wandered in late at night last year. The bright light of day does it no favors. The venerable Oban Inn, closed three years now, is badly missed. You can walk by, look into the window, and see the fixtures and furniture still there, as if the landlord might arrive at any minute to open up. Pub closings are just part of the problem, albeit the part I tend to notice most. Even in small places like this, superstores on the edge of town seem to wring the life out of the core. There are stirrings of an economic development plan for the town center, aimed at filling in the vacant spots and sprucing things up generally. There is talk of Wetherspoon's coming to town, and I suppose that would be an improvement over what's here. At the same time, I fully understand the considerable local resistance to it. A Wetherspoon's makes you just like any other place; Oban wants nothing but to be Oban. I'll watch with interest over the next few years. For me, for now, Oban is a stepping-stone between the congested Central Belt and the nearly deserted Western Isles. It's simply unfair, I know, to compare it to urbane Edinburgh on the one hand, or wild and windy Coll and Tiree, where I will spend the next week, on the other. But there it sits.
Whatever one thinks of Oban, it shows its best face to the departing traveler aboard the CalMac ferry on a sunny afternoon. We sail out the Sound of Mull, with the namesake island and its capital, Tobermory, to port, Morvern and then Ardnamurchan to starboard. Out in the Sea of the Hebrides lie the scattered Scottish isles--Muck, Eigg, and Rum to the north, the Treshnish Isles to the south, and Coll dead ahead. It's all new territory for me.
The ferry lands at the pier at Arinagour, Coll's port and population center, such as it is. My B&B is the first house along the road. I check in, and stroll on down to the Coll Hotel for dinner and pints.