10 Stunning Places Near Oban To Plan a Swim, Run or Cycle Adventure

If you are looking for a stunning place to visit with amazingly beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, plentiful wildlife, and superb coastal vistas then look no further than Argyll, especially the area surrounding the west coast town of Oban. It was originally known as the Gateway to the Isles, the Capital of the West Highlands and then the Seafood Capital of Scotland, but I have lived here for over 20 years and to me it is the Adventure HQ for Scotland. Adventure in all its forms from exhilarating boat rides to remote wilderness, playful outdoor fun to amazing wildlife encounters. It is not a lie to say that this small area of Scotland really has it all and it is accessible to almost everyone, no matter how old or how active, there is something that will suit you if you want to explore, experience, voyage, venture, expedition, scramble, race or simply get away from the rest of the world.

Going on an adventure can mean different things to different people, it might be doing something unusual, something daring or with risk involved, or it might be about having a new or exciting experience. The author Jon Levy suggests that an adventure experience should:

  • Be remarkable—that is, something worth talking about.
  • Involve adversity or perceived risk.
  • Bring about personal growth.

For me even if it involves just one of these it is bound to me something you will remember and talk about for years to come!

We are lucky that the people who live in and around Oban want to share their adventure playground with as many people as possible. Adventure Oban is a community-led group brought together by a shared love of the outdoors and the beautiful environment we live in. They want everyone to enjoy equal access to Oban’s natural playground and believe that  spending time in the water, out on the hills and generally outside is one of the best ways to keep our mind, body, and community healthy, and even more so when we do it together.

Getting into the outdoors can be difficult and sometimes there are barriers that come in all sorts of shapes and forms. From financial constraints to confidence issues to even just being nervous about going out on your own, these can all get in the way of getting started. Adventure Oban are helping to break down some of those barriers by bringing the community together around such activities as walking, climbing, cycling, water sports, coasteering, wild swimming, kayaking, abseiling and many more. To do this they are setting up the first ever Adventure Library! Imagine being able to ‘check out’ a piece of kit like a wetsuit or stand-up paddle board without having to buy your own or knowing if you are going to like it. On top of that, being able to tap into our amazing outdoor community, glean inspiration on routes and techniques or even just find someone else to go out with. They are the people to talk to if you want to try something new and you simply do not know where to start!

In this blog I want to share with you my top 10 places to go and things to do in and around Oban that involve swimming, running, and cycling. Of course you could just walk if you do not want to run! I have added in a little bit of information on the distance, the route and the food stops you can find on the way. I have marked them as cycle, run or swim but if I put cycle/run than you can do either or potentially combine both.

  1. Kerrera & Gylen Castle – Cycle/Run
  2. A Loop Around the Isle of Mull – Cycle
  3. Tralee Bay – Swim
  4. Upper Reaches of Loch Etive – Cycle/Run
  5. Colonsay – Cycle/Run/Swim
  6. The Lochnell Peninsula & Beyond – Cycle/Run/Swim
  7. Isle of Seil, Viewpoint, Moorland & Coast - Run
  8. Remote Glen Creran & Duror Loop – Cycle
  9. Oban 3 Hills In a Day – Run
  10. Oban & Connel Loop– Cycle/Run

1. Kerrera & Gylen Castle – Cycle or Run – 11km distance and 250m ascent.

Kerrera is the island you see across the bay from Oban and is reached by a small ferry which you find when you drive south out of town and past the main Calmac ferry terminal, sticking to the coast. For ferry timetables click here. Once on the island there is a circular walking or cycling route that is best approached by heading up the hill between the houses from the ferry and which takes you over the hills with lovely views out to Mull and Morvern and then drops down to the coast at the south end of the Island. Here you pass the lovely Kerrera Tea Garden which is open during the summer months and just past it you turn right and follow the path down to Gylen Castle before returning to main track which takes you back to the ferry. For more information on the route click here (walking) or here (cycling).

2. A Loop Around the Isle of Mull – Cycle – 79km distance and 765m ascent

If you would like to do a day of cycling on quiet roads in some of the most stunning coastal scenery, then take a day trip to Mull on the Calmac ferry. Once at Craignure turn right and continue along the road until you reach Salen, where you turn left on a narrow single track road to Gruline, then turn left again to follow the amazing costal road around what is known as the Wilderness Coast. Here you look out to the Treshnish Isles, the isles of Staffa, Inch Kenneth and Ulva you are likely to find a heron standing in the road and spot an otter eating a crab on the shore below. You pass Gribun and head uphill and inland until you reach the junction where you turn left to cycle up Glen More. Here the road makes its way through awesome mountain scenery and after a long uphill you are rewarded with a fantastic downhill stretch through lovely woods eventually reaching the shore again at Strathcoil and then Lochdon. Then a final stretch inland brings you back past Duart Castle and Torosay Castle to Craignure. Place to eat include the Craignure Inn and Arlene’s Coffee Shop.

 

3. Tralee Bay – Swim – as far as you like!

If you would like to try a swim in the west coast waters then there is no where better than Tralee which is easy to access, has a gently sloping beach and no strong tidal currents. You can park either in Benderloch at the Ben Lora Café or halfway down the Tralee Bay/Keil Crofts Road where there is a small carpark on the northern side. Take your towel and wetsuit, or if you are feeling brave your swimming costume, and experience the delight of floating in the water surrounded by sandy beaches and forested hills. You might get lucky and see the local resident sea eagle that flies over almost every day!

4. Upper Reaches of Loch Etive – Cycle/Run – 39km distance and 674m height gain.

This route is best cycled until Barr. Park at Bonawe by the quarry entrance and follow the signs through the quarry by taking a little path round the back of the main commercial area. Then back on the track follow it north east along the coast passing by the remote cottage at Craig. Head on past the turnoff for Dail and the workings of the new hydro scheme at Allt Easach and the cottages at Barr. A couple of kilometres further and the track becomes a path that you can still cycle but becomes a lot rougher, although very beautiful, wandering through the native oak and birch woodland. Eventually the path becomes overgrown and if you want to make it to the head of the loch you are best to leave your bike and continue on foot. Once you reach Gualchulain you can relax on the rocks by the shore and look back at the north face of Ben Cruachan until you are ready to head back the way you came to Bonawe. Take plenty of food and water as this is true wilderness and you will not find a food stop along the way!

5. Colonsay – Cycle/Run/Swim – 28km (not including The Strand diversion) and 447m height gain.

To get to Colonsay in the first place you need to either charter a boat or take the Calmac ferry from Oban or from Tarbet in Kintyre, and you will need to stay at least one night so plan ahead! Colonsay is a lovely island packed with wildlife including corncrakes, eagles, otters, wild goats, and even rare orchid. The cliffs are also packed with enormous colonies of seabirds, notably fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shags, and all types of gull. There is plenty of marine life too with seals, dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks and minke whales regularly spotted along the coast. This fabulous cycle route takes you from one end of the island to the other. From the pier you turn north and follow the road uphill until it meets a junction at Kiloran where you will see the estate signs and Colonsay House. Turn right and follow the road until you reach Kiloran Bay where a track continues in a north easterly direction across the fields and takes a steep turn over some rocky terrain. Take a moment to pause and enjoy the magnificent white sandy bay that looks out towards the Atlantic Ocean and often has large breaking waves and is popular with the surfing community. Head north past sheep grazing on the rich grassland looking out for the diverse birds that thrive in this unique environment passing by the house at Balnahard until you reach the sea and one of the most isolated and beautiful beaches in Scotland. You can check out the remains of a wooden steam ship ‘SS Wasa’, lost to an engine fire in 1920 during a voyage from Liverpool to Sweden. The huge timbers and cast-iron hull can be found jutting out from the sand at low tide. If you packed your swimming costume and a snorkel you can take advantage of the crystal clear waters with a white sandy bottom fringed by kelp forest full of crabs, anemones, sea slugs and other sea life. Then you head back the way you came until you are back at the road junction at Kiloran, and this time turn right to complete the loop of the island taking a detour if you fancy it to check out the tidal crossing of the Strand. This leads to the island of Oronsay which is tenanted by the RSPB where they help protect the habitat for chough and corncrakes. Heading across you need to check out the tide timetables first and it is probably best enjoyed as a separate day trip so that you can visit the priory and take in the magic of this special place. When you are back in the village at Scalasaig you could try the Coll Hotel where you can get a lovely meal and wait for your ferry coming in.

 

6. The Lochnell Peninsula & Beyond – Cycle/Run/Swim – 21.8km and 180m height gain.

Leaving your car in Benderloch cycle out along the Tralee Bay Road/Keil Crofts Road passing by all the caravan parks and take a left turn just after Kintaline Farm down a small single track road. After 1km it takes a sharp turn to the left which you follow to the T junction where you turn left and then right along the formal tree lined avenue that leads to Lochnell House on the Lochnell Estate. When you are in front of the house turn right and cycle along the track, up and over the hill until you can see the sea. There is a track on your left that leads down to the beautiful beach at Camas Nathais. Stop here and enjoy your picnic where you are unlikely to meet anyone else and you can enjoy the peace and quiet. Then head back up the track and take the gate on your right that leads you up a track towards the St Margaret’s Tower from where you get views across Tralee Bay to Ben Lora which you can spot through gaps in the luscious Atlantic Oak forest. Historic Scotland have classed the tower as  The Lochnell Observatory and a 'Category A Listed Building’. It is not known why it was built but one theory is that it was a way to give work to local men who found life hard after the 1745 Jacobite rising and subsequent Culloden battle. You might need to leave you bike at the newly converted house at Fuarachadh and run or walk up the last section. You can complete a round loop on a path that will bring you back to where you started but take care not to take the path that instead takes you back down to the shore on the other side. Then you can pick up your bike and head back down the track to the main house and retrace your steps back to where you started. If you are getting hungry on your way back check to see if the Tralee Fish n Chip Van is open.

7. Isle of Seil, Viewpoint, Moorland & Coast – Run – 11km distance & 283m height gain.

If you are looking for a run with a difference, then running across the Isle of Seil might be just what you are looking for. On a clear day you can look out to an amazing array of islands including Luing, Scarba, the Slate islands, Jura, The Garvellachs and the Isle of Mull. The route is moorland, boggy in place and rough under foot. To get there you must cross over the ‘Bridge Over The Atlantic’ also known as The Clachan Bridge which is steeply humped so small vessels can pass underneath. The historic Tigh an Truish Inn is a great place to eat and  sits just over the bridge. The name means house of the trousers and comes from the period after the 1745 rebellion when the Government banned the use of the Gaelic language and the wearing of tartan and the kilt. It was here that islanders heading for the mainland would change from their traditional garb into trousers. The rare Fairy Foxglove (Erinus alpinus) covers the bridge in a gentle purple haze in the early summer, further enhancing an already beautiful structure. I suggest parking your car in the car park at the far end of the road at Ellanabech and then walk back through the village and take a track that heads up the hill through a gate just by the large slate pool. Seil is the most northerly of the Slate Islands as was at the centre of one of the largest industries of Scotland during the eighteenth century where Easdale Slate was mined. Many ancient and prestigious buildings in Scotland are still roofed with Easdale slate and you can see the remains of the working which the sea has now flooded into forming deep pools. Head up the track for almost one kilometre and then take a right turn which heads you in the direction of the trig point at Meall a’Chaise. You might need a map and compass to locate it as you only see it when you get close and there is no path to the trig itself. For the next part of the walk head back down to the road the way you came and then follow the coast along to Kilbride where a track heads up the small hill of Barr Mor and takes you over to the church at Kilbrandon Church. Here turn right and head down the road to take in the swirling tidal rapids at Cuan Sound which can run at a rate of up to 7 knots which is truly impressive. Sit and observe kayakers and sailing boats navigating their way through on slack tide. From here you can take the path that follows the coast north west and meets the road to Ellanabeich where you can retrace steps to your car. Pop into the Oyster Bar & Restaurant to try locally sourced oysters or a bowl of Cullen Skink Soup made with smoked haddock.

8. Remote Glen Creran & Duror Loop – Cycle 44km and 784m height gain.

If you want to experience the feeling of being in the big mountains, away from it all, perhaps see an eagle or spot a pine marten then this is the cycle ride for you. It is mainly on forest tracks but there is a short section of very steep uphill where you will need to push or carry your bike and then a similar unrideable downhill section before you meet the track on the other side. Park at the forest carpark at Elleric and head up the forest track towards the upper reaches of Glen Etive. Keep going until you pass a small disused quarry on the left when you have nearly reached the top of the main climb on the track. The track levels off and you are looking for a sign on the left pointing out a footpath to Glen Duror. If you just carry on another hundred metres past the sign you will find is a disused track left by forestry machinery that is easier to push your bike up. This leads to a gate and a magnificent view of the surrounding hills. You can see east into the Glen Coe hills, north to Ben Nevis and Loch Leven and in front of you are the hills of the Ballachulish Horseshoe. Next you need to navigate your way down to the river, cross it and push your bike along a rough path until it turns into a rideable track. Basically you keep following the track downhill until you reach the road at Duror. Before you reach it, you pick up the Sustrans Cycle Path heading south and follow it up a windy hill and into the Highland Titles Nature Reserve. Here find the time to stop a moment to enjoy the wee lochans, look out for a red squirrel and check out the reserve information on the wildcat sanctuary. Then simply follow the cycle path all the way down the coast, on the way passing Castle Stalker Café and the Jubilee Bridge which was built in 1898 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and crosses a salt marsh where there is a bird hide on the far side. Eventually you reach the Creagan Inn where you can stop for some refreshments and at the roundabout take the left turn and follow the road back to where you left your car at Elleric. This is the most fantastic day trip and gives you the feeling of having seen it all, high mountains, forest, coastline, and nature at its best! The Creagan Inn is a nice spot to relax and contemplate your adventure watching the sunset over Loch Creran.

9. Oban 3 Hills In A Day – Run – 8km distance & 250m height gain.

So if you are in Oban with a day spare then why not aim to get to the top of the three local hills, each of which are a stunning viewpoint where you can really appreciate what an amazing spot it is to visit! The three hills are Battleship Hill to the north of the town, McCaig’s Tower which although not right at the top of the hill is the most significant and well known visitor attraction in town, and Pulpit Hill which is on the south side of Oban. Take the waymarked path (white arrows) around the back of the Corran Halls until you reach a new sign for Dunollie Wood. Dunollie Wood is a wonderful example of Scotland’s rainforest with hazel trees drip with rare lichens, mosses and fungi, bluebells carpet the woodland floor in spring. Follow the trail through the woods until you come out through a gate into the top end of a field. A track here takes you on a diversion to the top of Battleship hill which is popular with locals as a picnic spot in the summer and you can watch the ferries sailing out of the bay and across the Mull. Then head down and pick up the trail again which will take you through a residential area and into another section of woodland on the other side of the glen and eventually you find yourself back at the Corran Halls. Head along the waterfront until you are in front of the distillery (you will see the big chimney stack) and take the next  road on the left that heads towards a disused church and the back of the distillery (Argyll Street). From here the climb to McCaig’s Tower is signposted. First tackle the steps that take you up onto Ardconnel Terrace, turn left here and follow it round to a junction, head straight across and up the steep road (no pavements) until you reach the carpark on the right and the entrance to McCaigs Tower. It is built of Bonawe granite taken from quarries on Loch Etive and was commissioned by the wealthy, philanthropic banker, John Stuart McCaig as a lasting monument to his family, and to provide work for the local stonemasons during the winter months. Built between 1897 and 1902, when he died, it was never fully completed and is now a Grade B Listed historic monument. After you have made it back down to the town again make your way along the pier and past the ferry terminal and take a path that heads up the steep 'Haggarts Brae' beside the Maridon B&B signed 'Footpath to Pulpit Hill'.  When you reach the road take the next right which short-cuts a wide zig-zag in the road to re-join further up. Then turn right onto a footpath, signed for 'Pulpit Hill'. The footpath leads up steps emerging in a grassy park-like area and then up to the viewpoint and benches where there is another great view over the town and bay. If all this has made you hungry you have plenty of places to eat when you head back down including The Oban Chocolate Shop, The View Oban, The Taste of Argyll and Eusk.

 

10. Oban to Connel Loop– Cycle/Run – 18.9km and 313m height gain.

My last recommendation is lovely loop taking you out of Oban on quiet roads ,which are part of the Sustrans National Cycle route to Connel and coming back in via the old Coach Road. You can stop in Connel to admire the Falls of Lora, the largest tidal waterfall in the UK, and to grab some lunch at The Oyster Inn where you can drink in the views across to Ben Lora, Lismore, and the hills of Morvern. The first half involves cycling past the golf course and the lovely Loch Luachrach and then after making a left turn towards Connel you enjoy the rolling ups and downs of the road as it passes by numerous crofts looking across to the peaks of Ben Cruachan in the distance. On reaching Connel you turn south along the main road for a few minutes before picking up the track that runs adjacent to the railway line and heads through farmland with only a gentle rise and fall in terrain. As you head back towards the houses you pass the horse riding stable at Achnalarig and retrace your steps back to the town centre.

These are just rough route descriptions so make sure to take a map and compass, waterproofs and plenty of food and water with you. Some of the routes are wild and remote and you will not necessarily meet anyone or have help arrive, so take a first aid kit and your mobile phone for emergencies. But more than anything have fun! Look around and listen for the call of an eagle or the squeak of an otter. Feel the sense of awe in the majestic mountain peaks and island vistas that go as far as the eye can see. Take in the feeling of being away from it all and savour the moment when the sun comes out and when you notice the splendour of the Atlantic rainforest and all its greenness and diversity of life. Notice your feet bouncing on the peat bog, sinking into the pine leaves and the sand between your toes. Listen to your wheels splashing through the river and feel the wind on your face as you whizz down forest tracks. Immerse yourself in the Adventure HQ of Scotland!

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