I am beginning to enjoy the relaxed pace of island life. The more I visit the more I want to visit more! As cliche as it sounds something shifts in my mind when I get off the ferry. The stress lifts, the mind declutters and you feel peaceful and chilled out. At least I do. Every time. I’ve just returned from two days on the isle of Arran and could quite happily just drive right on back, what a wee beauty!
It was still dark as I drove to the train station to pick up Kay and we headed sleepily towards Glasgow hoping with our fingers crossed that we would miss the morning rush. We did indeed and were rewarded with a pretty fantastic sunrise as we arrived in Ardrossan to catch the ferry.
Arran is one of Scotland’s most accessible islands which means it’s also one of the most popular. A quick 55 minute ferry journey (long enough for a haggis buttie and a cuppa), the journey offers dramatic views of The Goat Fell mountain range, the tops of which, when we visited, were layered in a thick dusting of snow. The lush dark greenery beneath and the colourful shop fronts of Brodick painting a beautiful picture as we sailed gently into port. The cold chill of the fresh sea air whipped around our ears on route to our car, reminding me to add a summer trip to my calendar, and we drove to meet the rest of the Scotlanders at the famous Auchrannie Resort. Auchrannie is the biggest resort on the island, comprising of hotel rooms, lodges, spa and 2 swimming pools so if your keen to bed down in luxurious surroundings this is for you. I prefer to immerse myself in the way of the locals and found the perfect little B+B, more on that later.
Myself and the rest of the Scotlanders were lucky enough to spend the first day with the lovely Sheila from Visit Arran who, having lived on the island all her life, was a fantastic tour guide. Driving to the west of the island along the String Road, which cuts across the centre of the island, we arrived in Blackwaterfoot with full intentions of trekking to the Kings Caves. The weather had other ideas though (again, need to book a summer trip!) so we decided to keep cosy in the car and head north along the Shore Road which is the only circular A road in the uk. It loops 56 miles around the coast of the island making it easy to see everything you need to and making it pretty difficult to get lost. The fact I never got lost says a lot, I drove to Glasgow once and ended up at the ferry terminal for Dunoon.
The Highland line which cuts across Scotland also neatly cuts straight through the centre of Arran, giving Arran it’s reputation as “Scotland in miniature”. You don’t have to drive far to notice the changing landscape. The north of the island is rugged and mountainous, the colours could fool you into thinking it’s Autumn, the hills and valleys a mishmash of burnt oranges, chestnut browns and dark moss green. Sparcely populated, this half of the island is dramatic and powerful, the mighty Goat Fell dominating the views. Red deer can be seen on the hill sides and if your lucky you might even spot some more of Arran’s “big five” (otters, seals, red squirrels and the Golden Eagle). Driving amoungst the high hills, along the winding picturesque road, gives you the feeling of being in a world of your own and offers lots of photo opportunities. Getting out the car also lets you soak up the smells and sounds of island life. You are likely to hear nothing but the birds in the skies and the odd sheep which dot the surrounding fields.
Our first stop was to the northwest of the island, Lochranza, where we visited Lochranza Castle and had a brilliant tour of Arran’s only single mart whisky distillery. Closed for renovation the owner was kind enough to show us around, and give us a wee dram of their famous 14 years old Arran Malt, matured in first fill sherry and bourbon casks to give a fruity intense flavour with toffee and cinnamon notes. We also sampled the creamy, warming and utterly delicious Arran Gold. Unfortunately the shop was closed so we could buy any (My summer list is growing…).
We stopped for a few photos of the snow capped mountains, which contrasted bizarrely with the clear blue skies and water to the east, before stopping for lunch at Janie’s tearoom on the outskirts of where we started, Brodick.
If you’ve read my blog about my goals for 2016 you will have read that one of my aims is to experiment more with fish and I started here with my very first bowl of Cullen Skink. It was amazing! Lightly flaked smoked haddock, leeks and potatoes in a thick creamy perfectly seasoned soup. The banana and chocolate cake wasn’t half bad either, in fact Janie’s has just won the accolade of best handmade cakes on the island.
Situated next door to Janie’s is the ever popular Arran Aromatics and the just as popular Arran Cheese, which you simply can’t leave the island without. I didn’t.
The island’s Heritage museum is also just along the road which tells the history of the Island and you can explore such buildings as the Milk House, the Farmhouse, The Bothy and the Coach House.
After an excellent first day myself and my daughter left the rest of the Scotlanders to head home and we headed back across the String road to our B+B, Lochside Arran, which is situated near Blackwaterfoot. Perched neatly overlooking the Kilbrannan Sound and Kintyre Pinnisula it has fantastic views and comes complete with two large lakes and some rather friendly swans. The lady who runs the B+B, Margorie, treated us like royalty and we slept peacefully that night with full bellies, thanks to the generous amount of crackers, Arran cheese and homemade cakes laid out for supper.
Breakfast didn’t disappoint either with ample supply of cereals, fruit, porridge and croissants in the cosy dining room before the full English was brought, cooked to your liking, to the table.
After a warm and comfortable sleep and enough food to feed an army we hopped in the car to explore the south side of the island which you can read about here.