Despite its diminutive size, the Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland is home to a whole wealth of activities, history and culture, well deserving of its moniker ‘Scotland in miniature’.
Here on the island of ‘high places’, as its name roughly translates in Gaelic, you can climb one of the top ridge walks in Scotland, play a few rounds of golf, wander round an 800-year-old castle, feast on chocolate, cheese, lobster, crab and game, down a dram of 12-year-old malt whisky, and sup on a pint of real ale, all locally produced, without having to travel further than 25 miles.
If you’re short on time, the easiest way to take in the whole island is to take the public buses, which are neatly timed to meet each ferry.
The port of Brodick is the busiest but not the largest settlement on the island. (The largest is Lamlash, which has for a long time felt like a retirement village and lacks the character of much of the rest of the island.)
Brodick Castle, as featured on Scottish £20 notes, stands impressively to the north of the “town” and is well worth a look for its ornately decorated rooms and manicured gardens, and, with the exception of James’ Chocolate shop, it is outside the town that the best of Arran is found.
A short walk out of the town brings you to Creelers, possibly the best place to eat on the island with fresh seafood, straight from the sea to the tank to your plate, and locally hunted game. Next to Creelers are two of the many ‘cottage industries’ on Arran – the Arran Cheese Shop and Arran Aromatics. Both offer the opportunity to see the cheese and cosmetics being made (so long as it isn’t a public holiday).
The cheeses range from plain cheddar, Brie and goat’s cheese, to spicy chilli, smoked garlic and claret and whisky-infused cheddars; all perfect for a picnic in Glen Sannox, packed in a traditional wicker hamper with chutney, mustard, and oat cakes, all also on sale in the shop. Delicious.
If you were not planning on hiking up Goat Fell, the island’s highest peak, I would heartily recommend washing down your picnic lunch with a bottle of Arran Ale, from the island’s brewery. For those keen enough to scramble up one of the island’s four Corbetts, a swift shot of Arran Whisky from the distillery in Lochranza should keep you going.
Although it may only be a Corbett, depending on the route taken, Goat Fell can be a deceptively difficult climb. There is an easy route, straight up the ‘tourist path’ from the grounds of Brodick Castle, but for the more adventurous there is a famous scrambling route from Glen Sannox (which will feature in a later blog), which would disappear in places if it were not for the helpfully chalked arrows pointing up.
The climb may be hard, but the view from the top of Goat Fell is spectacular; on clear day you can see as far as Ireland, as well as the Inner Hebrides of Islay and Jura.
The tiring climb should be rewarded with a good drink, and at the Lochranza Hotel, in the north of the island, there is plenty on offer. Besides numerous varieties of the island’s own whisky, the hotel’s bar offers a list of hundreds of other whiskies to choose from, some so expensive and rare, they’re kept in the cellar’s safe.
Despite being a popular holiday destination for Scots and less than two hours by car and ferry from Glasgow International Airport, this tiny island manages to never seem over-crowded, allowing you ample opportunity to explore at your leisure the real Scotland, in miniature.