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Monday, September 21, 2020

Scotland in miniature: Things to do on the Isle of Arran, from wildlife tours to whisky tasting


The Isle of Arran is affectionately known as ‘Scotland in miniature’. Which is not a bad promotional line — and an apposite one, given the variety of landscape from highland to lowland, all within a small space.

You can fit Arran into Wales 48 times, and a leisurely drive around the island takes just under two hours.

Then there’s the history. Arran dates back to the Stone Age — possibly as far as 7000 BC — and therefore has had its fair share of feuds, battles and complex politics.

The Isle of Arran is known as ‘Scotland in miniature’ - a leisurely drive around the island takes two hours. Pictured is Brodick Bay looking across to Goat Fell

The Isle of Arran is known as ‘Scotland in miniature’ – a leisurely drive around the island takes two hours. Pictured is Brodick Bay looking across to Goat Fell

Getting there is easy — motorway most of the way to Ardrossan, west of Glasgow, where you board a car ferry to Brodick, which takes less than an hour.

The most hazardous part of the journey comes once you have disembarked the ferry, because the wide, open scenery and rolling hills unfolding in front of you makes it almost impossible to focus on the winding road ahead.

We stayed at the impressive House of Machrie, on the Dougarie Estate, conveniently 20 minutes from the ferry, on the west coast.

Originally built more than 100 years ago to be the principal farmhouse on the island, it has coastal views across the Kilbrannan Sound to the Mull of Kintyre. It sleeps 14 and is perfect for a large family gathering.

Depending on the time of year, various sporting packages, from traditional field sports to sea fishing (our highlight was mackerel fishing with a boatman who told us tales of lobster-pot wars between rival estates) and lobster potting are available. The estate also has a nine-hole golf course.

We — me, my husband and two daughters aged nine and 11 — spent most days walking to different corners of the island and discovering secluded picnic spots.

King's Cave, which many claim is where Robert the Bruce famously saw his spider

King’s Cave, which many claim is where Robert the Bruce famously saw his spider

Thrilling views: Hire a guide from Arran Wild Walks who will help you spot seals, dolphins, whales, and even basking sharks

Thrilling views: Hire a guide from Arran Wild Walks who will help you spot seals, dolphins, whales, and even basking sharks

Coire Fhionn Lochan was one of our best finds. It’s a good hour-and-a-half’s walk but not painfully taxing, and the children scampered along happily. The prize is a secret loch in the middle of nowhere, perfect for wild swimming.

King’s Cave, which many claim is where Robert the Bruce famously saw his spider, should also be on your list. The children were intrigued by the story and enjoyed searching for the giant spider hidden in the cave.

If you want to see Arran’s iconic wildlife, hire a guide from Arran Wild Walks who will help you spot seals, otters, golden eagles, red deer, sea birds, dolphins, whales, and even basking sharks.

Brodick Castle, Garden and Country Park was a welcome find on a soggy day.

There is something to entertain every age group and a great tea room. You can also learn about the previous inhabitants, the Dukes of Hamilton.

Children can burn off excess energy on the zip wires, bridges, and high towers in the adventure playground while you take in the formal gardens, waterfalls and woodland trails.

The stand out moment for us was watching delightful red squirrels leap through the trees in the glass-fronted lookout hut, mesmerised. Arran, which has some 4,600 full-time inhabitants, is famous for its woollen wares. The Old Byre Showroom in Machrie is where you will come across Aran jumpers that are made to order — just note the different spelling.

Arran, which has some 4,600 full-time inhabitants, is also famous for its woollen wares. Pictured is the island's Lamlash Bay

Arran, which has some 4,600 full-time inhabitants, is also famous for its woollen wares. Pictured is the island’s Lamlash Bay 

This is a knitting style rather than a nod to the island as a whole. Once upon a time, the islands’ sweater patterns were a closely guarded secret and kept in the same clan for generations.

Aran sweaters were often used to identify the bodies of fishermen washed up on the beach following accidents at sea. Other local specialities sold here include sheepskin products handmade by residents on the island.

Elsewhere, Arran Sense Of Scotland was, three decades ago, a small, family-run soap business. It now supplies hotels around the globe with all sorts of lotions and potions.

Visit the original shop and test your skills by candle-dipping and making your own soap.

My husband was keen to visit the award-winning distillery at Lochranza to learn about its peated single malt. The tour ends with you sampling a dram or two. Booking is advisable — as is a designated driver. But, even without alcohol, we found that after only a few days Arran goes to your head in sublime fashion. We were giddy all week.

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