From rugged highlands to rolling lowlands. Lochs, glens, ruined castles, remote villages and dramatic coastline. The Isle of Arran has a bit of everything Scotland has to offer in one accessible location.
It took us just three hours to reach Brodick (the largest village on Arran and its main ferry port) from Glasgow. We shivered in the strong wind as we stood on the front deck of the boat watching the mountains emerge through the Scottish mist.
We had a few days to spend in Scotland and planned to try to cram as much of the highlands and islands into those days as possible. The difficulties of travelling in Scotland without a car however – and thanks to the island’s charm – meant that we ended up standing our whole time on Arran. We did not regret our decision.
Scotland’s main attraction is in it’s natural beauty. Its northern half is composed of beautiful mountain scenery and remote islands where you can get away from civilization. It is precisely this however, that makes it so difficult to travel in. As the population is so small in its most attractive parts, public transport is irregular when it exists at all and if pressed for time it can be difficult to experience what this country has to offer. Arran allows you to experience this (and remains remarkably remote) thanks to its location and size.
A view of Lochranza
We spent the first night in Lochranza. Perhaps the most isolated village on the island, you had better bring food if you are on a budget as there are no shops and only one pub/restaurant. Its setting however, is spectacular. At the bottom of a deep glen, the village sits on a natural harbour, right in the middle of which sits a ruined castle. Here the local chieftains used the guard the water between here and their other holdings on the mainland peninsula of Kintyre. There is not much to keep your entertained in Lochranza, but for those looking to relax in a beautiful setting or hike through deserted terrain it is perfect.
The next day we moved to a hostel on the edge of Brodick. The village was a twenty minute walk across the beach which curves gently around the bay. While not exactly large, you can at least find shops, restaurants and pubs here as well as the main bus terminal for the island.
The hostel was located at the foot of Goatfell – the highest mountain on Arran (2,866ft) and we spent a day climbing up to its peak. While steep towards the end, the climb is not too challenging and it only takes around 4 or 5 hours to get up and down it. As you reach the top you are rewarded with the sight of the island’s many peaks and glens laid out like a crumpled carpet. Glen Rosa in particular is particularly spectacular and despite my tired legs, I was tempted to climb down and follow it back to Brodick. This is truly what you imagine when you think of the Scottish highlands.
Glen Rosa viewed from Goatfell.
Our last day on Arran was spent exploring the lowland half of the island. We hiked along the coast near the village of Blackwaterfoot, and visited the cave where Robert the Bruce’s famous spider episode was said to have taken place before he forced the English out of Scotland. The part of the island resembles the southern half of Scotland and is dominated by rolling hills, moorland and forests.
A typical view from the south of Arran
After three days on Arran, the time had come for us to leave. We left satisfied however that we had maximized our time in Scotland and seen a bit of everything it had to offer. There might be higher mountains, more rugged coastlines, and more dramatic castles but those found on Arran are still pretty special and for those with limited time and money, a visit to ‘Scotland in miniature’ is the perfect way to get a feel for the country.
Glen Rosa from Goatfell