When Friday rolled by and we found ourselves in the car queue for the ferry to the Isle of Arran, we could not be happier. After back-to-back Arcade Fire shows in London and Manchester, and then a 4-hour drive up to Scotland, we were ready for some peace and quiet and all that Scottish charm…and whiskey! Scotland is renowned for its Scotch (it’s in the name), but to visit some villages on the Scots’ whiskey islands was high on Joel’s list, and we were so ready to check it off. We were checked in for our afternoon ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick, on the east coast of the isle, and waited out the Northern summer chill and drizzle in the car until the belly of the beast opened up and we were ushered on board. A surprisingly smooth 50 minutes later, and we headed down to our car as the ferry got ready to dock.
What commenced was a perfect weekend of trying out the Scottish island life, exploring as much of every side of the island as we were humanly able to in two and a half days. And let me tell you – we did not mind spending a weekend in Arran…bliss bliss bliss.
East was our base. We checked in to our cutest little country hotel, the Ormidale Hotel, which was only about 5 minutes drive from the dock in Brodick, which is the biggest town on this tiny isle with its impressive population of a full 3000. I can’t properly express how adorable this hotel was. We were checked in by the barman, who said that breakfast is “let’s say 9am?” just as sun reared its head for a glowing look into our little garden view. To be honest, the island books up very quickly over the weekends and this was one of the last rooms available, but we loved our stay here. Plus, they had the best best best burgers and disco and karaoke nights for all the locals.
Since the sun had so graciously shown its face just as we arrived, we set out to explore the Western side of the island and walk to the mysterious Machrie Moor Stone Circles. The walk takes you through blissful countryside landscapes – past millions of bleating sheep, rabbits hiding in tall grass and all the hues of green bathed in the glow of the early sunset. But then it also takes you over an archaeological site with cairns, farms, and burial sites from the early Bronze age, much of which has remained as large stone circles, some more mysterious than others – but all surrounded by the gorgeous Scottish landscape.
We woke up on Saturday to the best-case scenario – full Scottish breakfast and a SKY FULL OF SUN! So we out South to hike to the Glenashdale falls (or, because for every pronouncable thing there is Scots ot Gaelic version, Eas a’ Crannaig). We parked our car in a wee little parking spot just past the bridge in Whiting Bay, and from there the trail is clearly marked. The hike to the waterfall is just over 2 easy kilometres, all of it in thick shaded forest next to a bubbling stream, and it brings you to Arran’s highest waterfall, crashing over a few tiers before it flows into the stream down below.
From there we followed a sign to the left and continued on to the Giants’ Graves. The hike from the waterfall is just short of 2kms and most of it takes you along a wide dirt road that eventually bends around to show you a dazzling panorama of the island. The trail cuts over to another archaeological site where they excavated two Neolithic tombs, each big enough to be able to bury a, you guessed it, giant. At the tombs we met Pat, a lovely almost-local who lives a ferry ride or two away on another island, and who shared the secret of maps.me with us. This is the perfect traveling app with tons of roads and trails that you can download and use offline, many of which Google has yet to accurately map (it came in super handy a week later when we had to make quick decisions in order to catch the sunrise in Bled, Slovenia) (I also wonder if it can be more useful in Morocco’s medinas…). Pat accompanied us on our steep 1.6km walk back to the car, where he hopped on his motorcycle and we went our merry ways.
Goodbye, Pat. If fate is kind to us we will meet you again somewhere in the world!
We took off on Arran’s Coastal Way, a circular road that runs all around the island, hugged in between sheep farms, mountains, woodlands and the deep blue waters of the Firth of Clyde (literally the deepest waters of the British Isles) – basically the most perfect Saturday drive ever. We made it to Blackwaterfoot on the West coast (there had to be pirates here back in the day, come on), where we were pleasantly surprised with a Cider and Sausage Festival – just in time for lunch! And then, in a perfectly British way, we lazed around on the grass listening to a jazz band doing covers while sipped on cider and snacked on sausages.
And then, our Arran swan song, the much anticipated Isle of Arran Distillery lie waiting in the North. What better way to cap the afternoon than learning the secrets of the Scotch at a whiskey tasting for champions? None better, that’s what. And thank goodness we were returning home via rail and we could take home a full-size bottle the good stuff home with us.
After meandering around the 16th-century ruins of Lochranza castle for a couple of minutes, and spotting some deer that stay in the area, we took the slow drive home to our pretty little country hotel, where we feasted on their pub grub and pints of cider (never enough cider). We checked in for our morning ferry with full and rested hearts, having been able to lazily explore the isle of Arran in the Summer sun – a luxury which locals kept reminding us is quite rare.
So maybe this post is not an accurate reflection of what Arran is really like, maybe it’s greyer and colder and wetter. I guess we will just have to go back and see for ourselves.