If Scotland could be compared to its famous breakfasts, then the Isle of Arran would be the bran muffin: filling, good for you, and delightfully digestible. Arran, however, is far from bland; every type of Scottish terrain you’d find on the mainland is crammed onto the island’s limited landmass, making this an ideal stop for nature enthusiasts. The island itself bobs in the Firth of Clyde, a foggy 45-minute ferry ride from the Ayrshire coast, cradled by the finger of Campbeltown and the Isle of Bute to the north. In the Western Isles, Arran is often overlooked for its more popular cousins Skye and Mull. Skye’s beauty is undeniable and stretches on for ages, but there’s something elusive about it, like you could spend a lifetime there and still need another one to see it all. While there’s some virtue in that, Arran as a place is easier to get to know and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more people taking the lumbering Caledonian-MacBrayne ferries over for visits in the future.
I love Scottish ferries. You can always count on them for two things: an astounding array of oddly-flavored chips (e.g., pickled onion) and random spurts of indecipherable gibberish from the cabin loudspeakers. It’s plenty to keep you entertained should you tire of the ridiculously gorgeous scenery. The main ferry line to Arran unloads you in the town of Brodick, the island’s largest settlement, and just north of the ferry terminal stands Brodick Castle, a red sandstone bastion from the sixteenth century. The interior of the castle is studded with close to 100 racked stag heads and a veritable armory decorating the walls. Friendly National Trust for Scotland staff members chat you up in each room though I swear some rivaled the castle in age – who needs retirement!
Standing sentinel in the distance is the Goatfell, a beautiful tooth of land looming over Brodick Castle and whose peak is often obscured by the heavy sea clouds. The Goatfell is popular with hikers and from its summit you can see Ireland on a clear day.
The coastal road – in fact the island’s only main road – leading out of Brodick runs the circumference of the island and links the small towns along the coast. Going north, you pass through valleys slashed with rivers rushing beneath heather-laden ridges on the way to the tiny village of Lochranza. Words escape me and would hardly stack up to Sir Walter Scott’s if I had them:
“On fair Lochranza streamed the early day,
Thin wreaths of cottage smoke are upward curl’d
From the lone hamlet, which her inland bay
And circling mountains sever from world ”
—Sir Walter Scott, The Lord of the Isle
Lochranza will drown you in introspection and gratitude. I have been to few places that filled me with such contentment in simply sitting still. There is not much to do here, but that’s kind of the point. Is “doing” over-rated? Here, yes. But if you get the itch there is a handy and excellent whisky distillery just south of town. I stayed in Lochranza for one night at an old church that had been converted into a B&B. If I hadn’t planned out a three week trip around Scotland in meticulous detail before arriving, I might never have left the place.
One day on the Isle of Arran is a tantalizing tease. It’s the kind of place you could spend weeks decompressing and emerge healed and burgeoning with creativity. It’s a slow, quiet place populated by warm people and hearty breakfasts. As with the rest of Scotland, the landscape is dramatic and serene. You can’t be gone for long before you long to return.
Listening to: post-rock on shuffle
Drinking: Highland Park 12-Year Old Single Malt