I recently spent a weekend at the Oban Winter Festival and what an amazing weekend it was! Now in its sixth year it has grown from a reindeer parade and craft fair into a ten-day all singing-all dancing twinkling Christmassy extravaganza. The harbour town is a popular gateway to islands such as Mull, Colonsay and Barra but it’s also a pretty amazing wee town in its own right. It’s a town where the residents all know each other, everyone is on first name terms and you feel part of a community. It’s a nice feeling.
I can highly recommend getting up there and experiencing it for yourself the next time it’s on. Why? Here are my highlights…
Corran Halls Craft Fair
Stalls and stalls filled with homemade Christmas decorations, yummy cakes and tablet, photos of the incredible scenery, transformed into glass plaques and posters, calendars, big woolly scarves and beautiful wreaths. Not to mention lots of cheery residents up for a good chat. Lovely jubly.
Oban Distillery Markets
Oban Distillery is one of the oldest sources of single malt whisky in Scotland and during the festival they opened their Cask Room and Old Milling Room for a Scottish Food and Drink Market. Tours around the Distillery with a few nips chucked in and an evening tasting session were also on the menu.
Oban Chocolate Shop
This one came highly recommended to me and it was immediately obvious why when I spied the huge frothy hot chocolates and fat fluffy waffles through the window. Chocolate heaven! The team officially have ‘one of the top ten most delicious chocolate shops in Europe’ and I can testify that the judges were spot on. My tasting plate was to die for, especially their signature Pear William. Mmm
Whisky tasting at the whisky shop
During the festival the whisky shop was offering free samples of a huge selection of their whisky so while I was there I, of course, thought I had better go along and sample the goods. It’s a tough job. Cute little Alice in Wonderland-esque “Drink me” tags hung around the bottle necks, tempting visitors to the shop, but I didn’t need any persuading and a few little nips warmed me up nicely.
Always a highlight of any winter festival, the whole town came out as the sun set and the parade began. The pipe band were wrapped up in smart black coats, the little kids, proud as punch, lined up to hold the festival banner, toddlers were waving fluorescent sticks and vying for a space to catch a sight of the reindeers and the residents were dressed up as Victorians with cloaks and bonnets, it was a true show of community spirit and a great night.
Clootie Dumpling Competition
Well, I’ve never experienced a Clootie Dumpling competition before so there was no way I was missing this. What a turnout! 12 perfectly baked dumplings, all lined up on a long tressle table. A rather dapper and hilariously funny judge thoughtfully tasted each one and the winner was awarded a engraved glass trophy, and she was thrilled. So was I when I tasted it.
Dunollie makes Christmas
This was such a nice surprise. A short and very pretty walk through the woods took me to a Christmas wonderland in among the trees and the ruin of the ancestral home of the MacDougall Clan, Dunollie Castle. With a steaming hot cup of mulled wine and a wee tub of stovies I sat and listen to the folk band playing in the marquee before exploring the forest, on the hunt for 25 mini Christmassy fairy doors. I explored the ruins and the 1745 house before listening to Christmas carols. A blissfully festive afternoon. If you visit the festival you’ll love a wee visit here.
Oban War and Peace Museum
Whichever little town and village I visit I try to find a museum, to find out more about the history of where I am. The Oban War and Peace Museum is run by some very welcoming volunteers and I spend a good hour learning about the town during the Second World War, when aircrew from Australia, Canada and the US were stationed there. There is loads to see and there’s a DVD in a back room which shows you everything you can do in the area.
The Gaelic Centre, on the top floor of the Corran Halls, were holding lots of workshops and sessions during the festival. I admit I know no Gaelic at all, but I’d love to learn and this was a nice wee taster.
Of course, you can’t help but fall in love with the the views in Oban. Take a stroll along the promenade and you will see the lovely little island of Kerrera and behind that the Isle of Mull, which when I visited, had a light dusting of snow on the mountain tops which made for some pretty gorgeous photos. Take a hike up to the ruins of Dunollie Castle or to McCraig’s Tower and the views get even better.
Of course there was lots on I didn’t have enough time for such as the cinema screening in the Phoenix Cinema including a dress up showing of a Fantastic beasts and a concert streamed live of the fantastic Andre Rieu. Or the comic Des MacLean performing. Or even the cute vintage camper van doing tours of the area.
Where to stay in Oban
Oban has a good selection of accommodation and if you are driving there is even more possibilities. This is the hotel I stayed at which I thought was lovely, it has now been taken over by new owners but it still gets rave reviews. There are some other hotels such as the Perle Oban Hotel and the Ranald Hotel. Some of the best B&B's in the area include The Coach House and Rose Villa. There are also self catering apartments and lodges such as the Kings Arms Holiday Apartments and the Rowan Tree Apartment.
A beautiful three hour train journey from Glasgow Queen Street takes you right into heart of Oban. The next weekend of the festival there was also a the Whisky Festival, the Haggis Festival, Haggis hurling, a Ceilidh, Victorian Afternoon Teas, a March of the Brollies and illuminations and fireworks over McCraig’s Tower at the Finale. Phew.
Find out more about Scotland’s winter activities and events at www.scotland.org
and find out more about the festival in Oban http://obanwinterfestival.com or search for the hashtag #ourstandrewsday on social media.
Have you been to a really great festival in Scotland? I can highly recommend the Oban Winter Festival, we had a fantastic weekend, there is nothing quite like a the feeling of being part of a community, celebrating in their own unique way, with the locals in the festive spirit and the town alive with lights and music.