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Arran

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Andrew R. McGhie

 

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Arran

 

The wide sweep of Brodick bay, Arran, with the ‘Sleeping Warrior’ on the horizon.

 

Legend has it that the future King Robert the Bruce sat in a cave near Blackwaterfoot on the island of Arran and watched a spider swing, swing and swing again when trying to start her web and on the seventh try she made it. This encouraged him to try, try, try again to defeat the English, finally succeeding at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which resulted in Scotland becoming an independent country following the Declaration of Arbroath in 1326.

 

Arran, an island that sits astride the Firth of Clyde, is truly a magical place to many people and is often referred to, not without cause, as Scotland in miniature, stretching from a massif of mountains in the north, topped by Goat Fell, which rises to almost 3000 feet, to the lower lying hills in the south reminiscent of the southern uplands of Scotland.

 

My love affair with the island started in the early 1950s when my parents used to rent a cottage for a month every summer in one of the island’s little villages starting with Corrie on the north west coast of the island and moving on to Brodick, Whiting Bay, and Lamlash during my teenage years. Those were the halcyon days when life was simple with no TV and movies that only came to the village hall in Brodick, the island’s main town and major ferry port, two or three nights a week, when fun and recreation had to be self-generated. Things haven’t changed all that much even today as the visitor still has to work for fun and recreation through hiking, climbing, fishing, golfing, and other energetic pursuits.

 

The point of this article is to encourage visitors to Scotland to consider a side trip to Arran if only for a day. An early morning train from Glasgow whisks the holidaymaker down to the seaside port of Ardrossan, on the Ayrshire coast, in time for the 9:45 am departure of the car ferry, Caledonian Isles, which steams across the Firth of Clyde in a little under an hour, docking at Brodick pier at 10:40 am. Alternatively, you can drive to Ardrossan and pay about $15 pp for the round trip on the ferry. Buses are waiting at the pier to take you on a trip round the island. You can do either the northern or southern half-island tours for $9 and get back in time for the next ferry three hours later or you can do both trips for only $15 and get back in time for the following ferry at 4:30 pm.

 

The Caledonian Isles steaming into Brodick pier

 

Should you take the round island trip you will see, in addition to the beautiful scenery, such sights as the little island of Pladda that sits at the southern tip of Arran and on which there is a lighthouse that has been operating since October 1790; the three to four thousand-year old, Bronze Age, standing stone circles at Machrie Moor on the west coast; the new whisky distillery at Lochranza in the north. Stop in for a tot. You will then pass by the towering Goatfell, a hill walker’s dream of a climb, and, finally, reach Brodick Castle on the north side of Brodick bay, the hereditary home of the Dukes of Hamilton, which was finally owned by Mary, Duchess of Montrose, before becoming a National Trust for Scotland property in 1957. The Castle’s history dates, at least, from the fifth century A.D. when it was a stronghold for the Irish tribe that founded the Kingdom of Dalriada.

 

Should you decide not to take the bus tour of the island, you can casually stroll through the quaint village of Brodick to the island’s Heritage Museum, which also boasts a cafe. Though from personal experience, I would suggest that you not seek a meal on a Tuesday- it is closed! Continuing your walk leads, via the golf course, to the grounds of the Castle and a few pleasant hours can be spent touring the walled garden or seeing the art and artifact collections in the Castle itself.  I have fond memories of attending a Garden Fete at the Castle around 1950 when the highlight of the day was a performance by Robert Wilson, Scotland’s premier tenor at the time. On the way back from the Castle, you can stop in at the world famous Arran Aromatics factory, renowned for their toiletries and candles, or the Arran Brewery for a free tour and tasting (only the tour is free!)

 

For those who have more time to spend on the island, there are plenty of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and self-catering opportunities, with island residents more than willing to help you have a good time. Since the island is only 20 miles long and 56 miles in circumference, there are many beautiful walks available to villages with arresting names like Kildonan, Pirnmill, and Catacol. Or stop, as we did forty years ago, at the Lagg Hotel, dating from 1791, on the southwest corner of the island, for afternoon tea; a charming spot, if ever there was one. You may even have time to visit the Holy Isle, which sits in a well-sheltered bay off the village of Lamlash, just four miles south of Brodick. This small island rises to 1000 feet and was the site of an early Christian monastery. Today it houses a Bhuddist retreat! It can be reached by an hourly ferry service from Lamlash during the summer.

The Holy Isle sits beyond the headland. Taken from the ferry entering Brodick bay

 

For those seeking healthier pursuits, there are 7 golf courses on the island (only two of which have 18 holes),  many tennis courts, putting and bowling greens, fly fishing and bait fishing, pony trekking, climbing and hiking trails, cycling, boats for hire and other opportunities for sailing and parasailing. What more does the adventurous traveler need? All this and more on a little island whose total population barely tops 5000 souls. Not bad for an island that annually enjoys about a quarter of a million visitors! On a good day it is a sight to behold and on a bad one….it is …interesting!

 

Andrew R. McGhie  06.20.05

 

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