Things to do in Arran
At long last. I’ve been waiting years to spend enough of a spell on the Isle of Arran to produce a blog that does it justice. The island’s incredible proximity to the central belt of Scotland makes it advantageous territory for day trips and, as such, my visits have always been too fleeting. But, no longer. With several days to play with here’s a look at my top picks for a weekend of activities in this fabulous all-rounder of a Scottish island.
This is one of the finest walks in the country. A truly magnificent journey, there can be no finer an introduction to Arran than to look down on it from its highest point. Dominating the skyline from Brodick, Arran’s ‘capital’, Goatfell is nowhere near as challenging a hike as it looks. Although there are a few steep stretches the going is generally pretty easy, although it makes a huge difference if you have the flexibility to wait for a sunny day. Hahaha, no seriously.
A popular hike for all abilities, the summit views grant you a vantage point over most of Arran, from the jagged Skye-esque peaks in the north-west to the sumptuous coastal views over Brodick Bay and back to the Scottish mainland. For the climbers out there, I’ve tackled Goatfell as part of a day trip from Glasgow, returning to and from the island as a foot passenger. Having the option to leave the car behind is just one of the many perks that make Arran one of Scotland’s favourite isles. You can track the Goatfell route in full here.
More from the Outdoors
For walks with less of an incline, but plenty of reward, here’s another couple for you to consider.
With one of Scotland’s most dramatic waterfalls as the centrepiece, this fairly straightforward walk begins on the east coast of Arran near Whiting Bay. Heading through a serene forested area before peaking at the Falls’ viewpoint, the scale will boggle you. You can extend the walk and continue on to the Giant’s Graves by following this route. It’s well advised and presents a great vantage point over towards Holy Isle and Whiting Bay itself.
As you’re in the area anyway, you might as well continue a little further south to the gorgeous beach at Kildonan. While Arran can’t match the jaw-droppers of the Outer Hebrides, this is a magnificent spot on a sunny day. The unmistakable Ailsa Craig is plopped between Arran and the mainland and sets off a wonderful scene. Up goes the drone.
Another fantastic stroll, across on the west coast this time, is the walk out to the 6000 year old caves made famous by Robert the Bruce….and a certain spider. While licking his wounds after the near-catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Methven, the Bruce is said to have been in hiding on Arran (early 14th Century). While here, and in these caves supposedly, he witnessed a spider trying and failing to build a web. Its perseverance despite many setbacks is said to have been the turning point for him – he came out of hiding re-invigorated and hell-bent on victory. Years of skirmishes and guerrilla warfare followed, culminating eventually in his against-the-odds victory at Bannockburn in 1314.
The walk is another fairly straightforward one and is incredibly varied. Woodland, marsh, beaches will all pass beneath your feet and you’ll be rewarded with open, lonely and dramatic views across to the Kintyre Peninsula.
Unlike many of the Isles, Arran has castles to boast of. Wee Kildonan in the south east is barely there anymore but Lochranza Castle in the north has an obvious appeal to the history lovers. Aesthetically sited on a mini peninsula, it dates back to the 13th Century and the Wars of Independence. It was also visited by Robert the Bruce and was in the possession of his grandson in the 14th Century. It had a personal appeal to me as well as I discovered it is the presumed basis for Tintin’s adventures in Scotland. ‘The Black Isle’ was based on Lochranza Castle, albeit repositioned by Herge to be more dramatically placed out at sea. Tintin has been a hero of mine since forever and his travels have without doubt influenced my own world path. Wee bit of misty nostalgia from me to you.
At the other end of the Scottish castle spectrum, Brodick Castle and Gardens are a look at more contemporary opulence. Although there was a castle at Brodick long before this, it was in the 16th Century that the current mansion first came into being. The castle itself is currently closed for renovation (re-opening next year) but the grounds are open year-round. The surrounding country park meanwhile has it all. Relaxing ponds, beautiful gardens, various trails and even an adventure playground for kids. I may have been envious.
It’s not all warfare and mansions though in this fabulous little island’s history. Far from it, as the geological significance of Arran is massive. The Arran Heritage Museum has a collection of bits and bobs dating back millions of years. There are also archaeological and social history exhibits that make for a fascinating hour or so of local island education.
My favourite historical spot, though, goes to the Machrie Moor Standing Stones. Outlander has played its part in romanticising these ancient pillars of course, but for centuries they have been items of wonder. The moor contains six stone circles, surrounded by emptiness save for the distant mountain ranges. Of various sizes (both in terms of the circles and the stones) they are an easy signposted walk from the A841 road in the west of the island.
Food and Drink
Arran excels in this department more than any other Scottish island. No surprises that they have plenty of meat and seafood on offer but you can add cheese, ice cream, chocolate, beer and whisky to that list. The latter is, unsurprisingly, my favourite area but it must be underlined how impressively Arran has done in this category. You can’t go anywhere on the island without seeing top local produce on offer.
But, whisky. Arran’s distilleries (there’s a second one in the making to accompany the one in Lochranza) are fairly new to the game but are already drawing plaudits. Despite only being founded in 1993, the quality defies the relative inexperience of the product range. For those into the sweeter Speyside-style, try the Arran Single Cask Sherry. Even the standard 10 year old is hugely impressive however, with plenty of citrus fruitiness going on. Although the peatiness synonymous with Islay is present, it’s much, much more subtle. First prize though, for me (and much to my surprise), goes to the Arran Gold Cream Liqueur. The shamelessly rich and creamy liquid gold goes down so easily it’s alarming, as the quality of the single malt dooms all the substandard blended whisky liqueurs to the back of the cabinet. You’ll never waste your taste buds on Baileys again I can assure you. The distillery restaurant was a bit of a chaotic disaster unfortunately but the distillery tour is a good one.
So there you have it, the island that has it all. For the complete newbies to the Scottish islands, you’ll struggle to find a better starting point than Arran. It’s accessibility and relative ease of getting about, coupled with the diversity of appeal outlined above, make it one of my favourite chunks of Scotland. I can’t imagine it’ll be long before I’m back for another island adventure!
You can also listen in to my highlights on Arran via my Radio Scotland chatter by clicking play below:
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