16 April 2011

Hey Oban you're so fine...

Check out that blue sky...doesn't
 happen very often here.
Two years ago when I studied abroad in Edinburgh, I was blessed with some pretty great flatmates. I've already spoken a bit about Kari, so now it's Catriona's turn. Catriona is from Oban, which is in the Western Highlands. She invited me for a small visit, so I jumped at the opportunity. On Monday morning I grabbed a train and was on my way. The train itself was gorgeous. The view out the windows were breathtaking and I kept grabbing my camera in an attempt to capture it. 
Beautiful view from the train window.
Catriona met me at the train station and we were immediately on our way. Our first stop was a little beach. Oban is right on the Atlantic, so the ocean and the surrounding Highlands were remarkable. There was a little swing set at the beach. It was quite possibly the most beautiful view I have ever had from a swing. It sure as heck beat Woodview School's playground.

Now this is the life...
I mean, the view is only OK...
From there we made out way to Castle Stalker. Now, anyone that has ever been to Scotland will recognize this from the postcards. It is completely surrounded by water on Loch Laich, so you can't go up to it. Instead, there is a little overlook cafe where you can admire the view while sipping a cup of coffee. On a fun note, it was apparently used while filming Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

Castle Stalker, straight out of a postcard.
That night, Catriona and I made a delicious Italian feast for dinner. It was perfectly complemented with the beginning of our Grey's Anatomy fest. We rented season one of our mutually favored show, and it was beyond finished by the next night. I'm not sure if we should be proud or ashamed.

It looked kinda like a tiny Colosseum.
The next day started at Oban's finest, McCaig's Tower. A rich old man, John Stuart McCaig, designed and built the tower himself. It was meant to be a monument to his family, but it was unfinished. When he died, he stipulated in his will that his money go towards finishing the tower. Needless to say, his family was pissed. They sued for control over his estate and the money then ended up going to his sister. The best part is that when his sister died, she also left her money to the same thing. The exact same lawsuit and outcome followed. Anyways, despite the harried past, McCaig's Tower is a pretty cool and quirky place. It is set high up in Oban, so the views from the walls are beautiful.

View from McCaig's Tower. Hello Atlantic!
Enjoying the blooming spring flowers at McCaig's Tower!
Our next stop that morning was Dunstaffnage Castle. This is apparently one of the oldest standing stone castle in Scotland. It was built in the early 13th century. Dates like that always blow my mind. I mean, it's older than my entire country! Dunstaffnage has some interesting history. There is some speculation that the Stone of Scone was once there, although it is more likely that it was at Iona. Since the 15th century, the castle has been held by the Clan Campbell. To this day, there is still a post called the Hereditary Captain of Dunstaffnage. Nowadays, the only requirement of the office is that they have to spend 3 nights a year at the castle. Considering there is no roof and it is apparently haunted, I'm not sure how awesome those 3 nights would be.

Oban is, according to Catriona, the seafood capital of the world. So for lunch we had to get some. After a delicious seafood pie, we were on our way again. For the afternoon we took a drive to the Bridge Over The Atlantic. Built in 1782, you cross the bridge to get to the Isle of Seil. It was actually kinda freaky driving over it. It's only one lane, so you have to be sure that no one is coming from the other direction. Also, the arch is so high that you lose sight of the road when you're going over the top. It's a very simple bridge, but the view is, again, beautiful. Actually, I'm not sure that the views were ever once underwhelming the entire trip.

Pretty pretty pretty!

Afterwards, we had a bit of an unintentional adventure. While driving around, we hit a huge pothole and got a flat tire. We pulled the car over and grabbed our cell phones, only to discover that we didn't have a signal. Well...that's a bit of an issue. There were some houses nearby, so Catriona ran over and knocked on their doors in hopes of being able to use a phone. Unfortunately, no one answered there...and at this point we were at a bit of a loss. Neither of us had ever changed a tire, so we weren't sure how to even begin. (Note to self: LEARN!) Luckily, a car happened to pass by and Catriona flagged the driver down. As she was asking to borrow his phone, he offered to have a look at it. He ended up changing the tire for us, which was absolutely amazing. We both felt like a slob watching him do it, but I couldn't help but feel like this was a scene directly out of a movie. He was our knight in shining honor, saving two damsels in distress. On the plus side, we were at least stranded along a beautiful shoreline. 
Pretty stellar place to be stranded.
Frolicking in Glencoe.
We settled on a visit to Fort William. We drove very leisurely, stopping frequently to get out of the car and take pictures. I think I made Catriona stop like 50 times - it was that pretty. It was a fairly rainy day (shocker) but that type of weather tends to suit the landscape. With the mist and grey clouds, the Highlands look majestic and like something out of a movie. I especially enjoyed driving through Glencoe. There, we stopped and walked along the road a bit. Glencoe is known for its scenic Highlands and an infamous massacre that happened there in 1692. I have been to Glencoe before, but had always been slightly disappointed. I'd always been to the visitor center, which doesn't provide very remarkable views. Driving through the park, however, I feel like I finally got the Glencoe experience.

Just one of the many beautiful views during our drive.
Check out the perfect reflection in the loch!
Catriona and me. Holy skinny arm Batman!
After a lunch stop in town, Catriona and I headed the Fort William gondola. This gondola brings you up the Nevis Mountain Range. Ben Nevis the highest mountain in the United Kingdom and all of the British Isles. At 4,409 feet, it's a pretty impressive sight. I really enjoyed this part, since it was a cool experience and it provided me with gorgeous views -- which is my favorite part of any trip. It's apparently Britain's only mountain gondola, so it's a fairly unique experience over here. Luckily it wasn't that far off the ground, because then I would have really been freaking out.

Pretty sweet views during our gondola ride.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this little trip. Oban was gorgeous and I couldn't believe that this was where Catriona grew up. I felt like this was more of a genuine Scottish experience -- goodbye coach trips! I hardly knew ye.

View of Kilchurn Castle from the train - another one of Scotland's standard postcards.

I woke up one morning and this was outside my window. Catriona was not as impressed and excited as I was.
Daffodils are everywhere! Makes me feel like spring is officially here.
Skinny arming it with Castle Stalker. I sense a new picture category...
Mom Picture, or Sororitastic Picture?
I could not get over the combination of the Atlantic and the Highlands.
One of the 50 times I made Catriona stop so I could take a picture.
Dipping my toes in the Atlantic!
Hair, billowing in the wind. Majestic Mom Picture.

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