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McCaig’s Tower, Oban's crowning glory

The crowning glory of Oban, McCaig's Tower, is a monument designed by eccentric Victorian millionaire John Stuart McCaig. At first glance, visitors might think it looks like the Roman Colosseum, but a closer look reveals that it is circular, and has Gothic and Roman touches. And while technically it's not a tower, Oban natives have adopted, with great pride, their "tower" since it was built on Battery Hill, Oban's highest point, at the turn of the 20th century.

Technically classified as an architectural folly, the "tower", constructed of local granite, was built at the turn of the 20th century by a Lismore boy turned self made banker, John Stuart McCaig. He designed the monument himself, and employed masons during the winter months. The outer shell complete, he next planned to build an inner tower to house an art museum, as well as sculptures of himself and his large brood of siblings.

But when he died suddenly, work on the monument stopped. Having spent about £5,000 on the project, McCaig left the same amount in his will to complete the statuary of his entire family. But his remaining siblings contested the will, as they were afraid she would be ridiculed by the community for spending money so extravagantly and unnecessarily, and a judge declared that McCaig was an "eccentric" intestate, and that further work on his monument did not serve the public good. The Lord Justice Clerk said about John McCaig:

"He seems to have been possessed of an inordinate vanity as regards himself and his relatives, so extreme as to amount almost to a moral disease, though quite consistent with sanity."

Instead, Catherine McCaig, John's sister, invested the money in trusts, and funded good works, including a church, coal for the poor and Gaelic language education. However, at the end of her life, she felt guilty about taking the money away from John's statue project, so she left money in her will for the sculptures, larger than life, to be set within the tower, and the monument locked up forever in memorial to the family. One the same grounds that she overturned her brother's will, hers was also declared invalid. Describing it as a "sheer waste of money", Lord Salvesen commented:

"The prospect of Scotland being dotted with monuments to obscure persons who happened to have amassed a sufficiency of means, and cumbered with trusts for the purpose of maintaining these monuments in all time coming, appears to me to be little less than appalling.".

The McCaig family left no other heirs, as none of the siblings every married, and the Catherine McCaig Trust still exists, with a mission of supporting Gaelic medium activities and education.

For decades, nature reclaimed the monument, but residents have claimed it back, transforming the spot into a peaceful garden with a platform where you can take in the best view in town. Watch the sun set over the bay, boats and islands, and be sure to bring your camera.


Visit McCaig's Tower with our historian and certified STGA Yellow Badge Oban Walking Tour guide, Michelle. Hear the story behind it and get the best view in Oban. If you are looking for things to do in Oban, get in touch today to book a walking tour with Imagine Alba!


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