With its rolling hills, rugged mountains and wooded glens, it’s no surprise that Arran is affectionately known as Scotland in Miniature. Just a short drive and ferry ride from Glasgow, this attractive isle is one of the most accessible of Scotland’s islands, and a great shout for anyone keen to experience the joy of island life, without venturing too far from Glasgow’s burgeoning city centre.
Set just 15 miles off the mainland of Ardrossan (in North Ayrshire) the 50 minute ferry crossing – to Arran’s Brodick port – offers a distinct snapshot of what lies ahead. Split into Highland and Lowland areas, Arran’s charm is as rich as it is varied. And at just 20 miles long, driving around couldn’t be easier, with just three main roads to navigate.
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So where to begin? Brodick Castle and Gardens, surrounded by Britain’s only island country park, is a 10-minute drive from the port, and a great starting point. Built in the shadow of the looming, though easily climbable Goatfell Mountain, the castle’s history goes back almost 800 years. Today, its lofty, baronial style holds stories going back to the Wars of Independence. Positioned above sea level, the castle grounds offer great views of Brodick Bay; while the gardens, which were first imagined by the Duchess of Montrose Lady Mary Louise in 1923 have plenty of character, including an ice house, a Victorian walled garden area and a Bavarian summerhouse.
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Walkers can enjoy the 10 miles of walking trails within the grounds, complete with sculptures by local artist Tim Pomeroy. Look out for the charming Cnocan track, complete with waterfalls, ruins, gorges and Rhododendrons galore. The other of the island’s castles, Lochranza, can be found in the north of the island. Arran’s history is laid bare across the island, but the Machrie moor, complete with standing stones, is largely considered to be the island’s finest geological spot – and boasts the remains of six stone circles. Parking can be found near the track onto the moor.
The King’s Caves, near Blackwaterfoot are similarly worth a trip. Not least as one of the many locations in which Robert the Bruce is rumoured to have met the spider before battle. Whether it really was their meeting place, or simply a spot of historical whimsy matters not, with a circular route to the caves allowing visitors the chance to explore the vast coastline, as well as views (on a clear day) of the Drumadoon cliffs and Machrie moor. Nearby, the Giants’ Graves, the remains of two Neolithic tombs, near Arran’s Whiting Bay hark back to the early Bronze Age. Once there, head through the wooded glen to the Glenashdale Falls: easily the finest waterfall you’ll find on the island.
No stranger to lush hills and glens, Arran’s beaches are also something of a forte, with plenty to choose from. The aforementioned Blackwaterfoot has a lovely stretch of golden sand, and lies adjacent to one of the island’s popular golf courses. For little ones, Brodick Beach, by the port, has great amenities too, as well as play areas for younger visitors. Lamlash, 4 miles south of Brodick is equally well-equipped and family friendly – and is home to Arran’s popular Yacht Club, which offers top sailing lessons and events for all ages. The views out to the Holy Isle make it worth the trip alone.
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Set near the moor and standing stones, Machrie Beach is perfect for admiring the ebb and flow of the Kilbrannan Sound, and there are handy picnic tables for those who want to stop awhile. Largely a shingle beach, there’s not massive scope for sandcastles here, but there’s plenty of charm besides. The silver sands at Kildonan is a hot spot too, offering scope to spot otters, seals and even the odd dolphin.
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Beyond Arran’s sealife, wildlife is in abundance on both land and in sky. Lochranza is a perfect spot for deer watching, while bird watchers have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of sea eagles and other birdlife along Arran’s coastline.
Adrenaline junkies are equally well catered for on the island, and in recent years Arran has morphed into something of an adventure playground both on land and water. Gorge walking, rib rides, sea kayaking and segway fun are all available. Golfers too have plenty of good spots to tee off, with seven courses to choose from throughout the year in Brodick, Lamlash, Whiting Bay, Corrie, Machrie, Lochranza and Shiskine.
Biking is also popular, with 15 mountain bike routes and nine road routes, all well-marked along the way – as well as good facilities on the island for bike hire. The Clauchland Hills Forest is a popular spot for more experienced cyclists, and the 10km route by Brodick Castle comes highly recommended. Alternatively, for a decent road ride, the coast route from Machrie heading north is pleasantly flat, so a good shout for all ages. Pony trekking along the island’s beaches remains popular too, with trekking available and great terrain to be found, in and around North Sannox Farm.
Arran’s homegrown crafts and foodie produce continues to expand on the island, with the likes of Cladach Pottery, Arran Aromatics and the Isle of Arran Cheese shop, all worthy of a visit. The Byre at Brodick does a nice line in handknitted Arran sweaters, while Southbank Studio and MJM Mirrors, are top spots for locally made woodwork and glassware.
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For further adventures, Arran’s most beautiful satellite island, the Holy Isle, is a trip to remember. The 10-minute ferry ride out to the isle goes from Lamlash pier. Acquired for the Samye Ling Buddhist Centre in 1991, this ethereal little isle dates back to the 6th century, and offers an ancient healing spring, the remains of a 13th century monastery and the cave of a 6th century monk. Easily explored by foot, Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep and Saanen goats are all in residence here. Boat trips out to Pladda for seal spotting and RSPB sanctuary Ailsa Craig are also available.
To learn more about southern Scotland, why not check out our Edinburgh Road Trip Guide.
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