Today I’m delving into my travel archives to share some of my favourite spots on the lovely Isle of Arran with you. Arran is a beautiful island which is often referred to as Scotland in miniature.
In August 2015 we – as in Mr G, the Wee White Dug and I sailed into the island’s main town, Brodick for a weekend break to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary.
The ferry, which is operated by CalMac sails from Ardrossan on the mainland and takes under an hour to reach the island. It’s a scenic crossing with dramatic views of Arran’s mountainous north.
Arran – a compact island to explore
The island’s main road which is mostly single track snakes for almost 55 miles around the coast, passing through a number of pretty towns and villages on the way. Arran is an easy island to explore by car, or if you’re feeling extra energetic by bike or on foot.
We stayed at The Lagg Hotel in a tiny village called Lagg. Built in 1791 as a coaching inn, the hotel is one Arran’s oldest hotels. It was the perfect base a relaxing weekend break. We loved the quiet, leafy setting.
For a hotel with only 13 rooms we were spoiled for choice when it came to food. There was a traditional bar serving the usual pub favourites and a more formal restaurant. We ate in both during our stay.
It was at The Lagg Hotel that I developed a taste for a local delight known as Arran Gold. Arran Gold is the island’s answer to a favourite nightcap of mine – Bailey’s Irish Cream. Made with single malt whisky distilled on the island, it’s a heavenly mix of honey, cream and whisky. It’s incredibly moreish.
Torrylin Cairn and an old Arran legend
As a die-hard history geek I was delighted to discover the hotel had a fascinating historical site right on its doorstep.
Torrylin Cairn is a Neolithic chambered burial cairn of a type commonly found in South West Scotland. They’re known as Clyde Cairns after the Firth of Clyde where they’re found clustered.
Sadly Torrylin has been badly damaged over the years, but you can still make out the inner corridor and burial chamber which seems to align perfectly with the nearby island of Ailsa Craig sitting in the Firth of Clyde. Coincidence? No one really knows. It’s safe to say Mr G was utterly underwhelmed by the cairn’s alignment with Ailsa Craig and Torrylin itself. All he could see were a pile of old stones in a field.
Ailsa Craig has an imposing presence and an air of mystery to it, so I choose to believe the cairn aligning with it is no coincidence.
There’s a legend attached to the cairn that tells of a local man plundering it and removing a skull as a macabre souvenir. When he arrived home with his treasure, his house was struck as if by a terrible hurricane, but there was no wind outside. He was then plagued by shadowy figures and became so afraid that he promptly reburied the skull where he found it. That wasn’t enough to appease the angry spirits though and not long after he was thrown from his horse and killed while riding nearby. Thankfully, we didn’t meet any shadowy figures during our visit.
A walk to King’s Cave
Another Arran favourite of mine is King’s Cave at Blackwaterfoot. It’s reached via a pleasant circuit walk along woodland paths and rugged coastline.
King’s Cave is linked to the legend of Robert the Bruce and the spider. Some say it’s where Bruce hid after suffering a defeat in battle. Dejected and miserable he watched a spider repeatedly try to spin a web. After each failed attempt it started all over again, until it finally succeeded. So inspired was Bruce by the spider, that he rallied his troops and the rest is history.
Inside King’s Cave are ancient carvings and some undecipherable symbols. It’s a creepy and atmospheric place.
The most obvious carving is of a strange cross on the central pillar of the cave. If you look at the photo above and follow the pointy bit of rock upwards you may be able to make it out. The cross suggests the cave may once have been used by a medieval hermit. Rather him than me.
After leaving King’s Cave we wound our way back uphill and inland to finish our walk, enjoying some gorgeous views along the way.
The standing stones of Arran – Machrie Moor
Next, we visited Arran’s most significant historical site Machrie Moor. Machrie Moor is a vast site consisting of six well-preserved stone circles.
You never need to travel far in Scotland to come across a story associated with the mythical giant Fingal, so I wasn’t surpised to find that one of the stone circles was named Suidhe Coire Fhionn or Fingal’s Cauldron Seat.
Suidhe Coire Fhionn is a double stone ring where legend has it Fingal stood his giant cooking pot. It must have been some size of a pot and I dread to think what he filled it with – stag casserole maybe, complete with antlers. One of the stones on the outer circle is perforated by a hole. This is where Fingal is said to have tethered his favourite hound Bran.
The Wee White Dug attempted to recreate the scene for us at another of the stone circles on Machrie Moor but he fell short (quite literally) of how I was picturing Bran in my head.
Maybe if Fingal had owned a wee pet moose he’d have fitted the bill better.
Excavations of the archaeological remains at Machrie Moor date the site to between 3,500 and 1,800 BC.
Like Torrylin and its alignment to Ailsa Craig, this site appears to align perfectly with the mountains of North Arran.
Lunch and a mighty fortress – Lochranza
We were hungry after a morning spent rambling, so we headed to the village of Lochranza for lunch. The Sandwich Station seemed like the perfect option. It’s a tiny converted fire station that sells soup, sandwiches, home baking and a decent cup of coffee. It was a dry day so we grabbed a table outdoors.
A cute little robin hopped around our table looking for crumbs.
Lunch was tasty and consisted of sandwiches made with fresh bread and Isle of Arran Cheese, homemade soup and Arran Ice Cream, mint choc chip for me and strawberry for Mr G.
The wee dug barked at the robin to scare it off and hamper its efforts to muscle in on the crumb action. As soon as his back was turned it returned. The boy was not pleased at this cocky sign of defiance.
After lunch, we explored the imposing ruins of Lochranza Castle which sit on a peninsula in Loch Ranza. Lochranza is actually two castles for the price of one, as it incorporates a rare medieval hall-house dating to the 1200s and a more common L-plan tower house from the 1500s.
The castle highlights for me were the black as the grave pit prison and the murder hole. Every castle worth its salt needs a murder hole.
If you’re puzzled by the term, let me enlighten you. A murder hole is a hole in a fortified building through which nasty objects such as boiling hot tar, big rocks and arrows could be rained down on any unsuspecting intruders trying to breach the defences below.
Whizzing through Brodick, bound for Lamlash
The drive from Lochranza to Brodick passes by the Arran Distillery which makes The Arran Malt and that amber nectar Arran Gold.
This is undoubtedly Arran’s most beautiful stretch of road. It’s rugged and remote framed by a dramatic backdrop of jagged mountains.
The 2015 Brodick Highland Games were in full swing as we passed through the town. We could hear the sound of bagpipes skirling. I’m a sucker for a pipe band but we were on a mission to explore the island that day so there was no time to stop.
Our next stop was at the village of Lamlash. After Brodick, Lamlash is the most populated settlement on the island. It sits on a sweeping bay with views across to Holy Isle, now home to a Buddhist retreat. It’s a bustling village with a good choice of places to stay and eat. It also has several nice little craft shops selling locally made items.
Lamlash is home to a monument commemorating the Highland Clearances which hit the population of Arran hard. Between 1829 and 1840, 300 islanders were cleared from the crofts they’d farmed their entire lives to make way for sheep and deer. Many sailed to Canada to start a new life in a strange, foreign land.
We were distracted by the gorgeous views en route though and made a couple of quick photo stops to snap Ailsa Craig and Pladda Island and lighthouse.
Before leaving on the ferry the next morning, we enjoyed a wander around Brodick. The sea was calm and the morning light that beautiful watercolour blue that I love.
It’d been another brilliant Scottish adventure. We sailed away from Arran wishing we could have stayed longer. There was still Goat Fell (Arran’s highest mountain) waiting to be climbed and the distillery just crying out for us to tour it to stock up on Arran Gold. Plus Mr G had grown quite partial to the island ales, having sampled a few back at the hotel. So the Isle of Arran Brewery was now a must see attraction for him. I’m like a moth to a light-bulb when it comes to scented soaps and candles and regretted missing out on a visit to the lovely Arran Aromatics shop. And last but not least there are still a gazillion other fascinating historical sites on the island crying out for a visit. You could say that Arran is unfinished business for us.
I’m hoping 2017 turns out to be the year we return to Arran to complete our must see list.
P.S. It was – yippee. Here’s what we got up to.
Until next time …….