The wind tore sideways, taking my hair and worries with it. This was Scotland, after all, and the wind is to be expected. But I’d never been on the water in such weather here before. White caps danced before me like small fish jumping out of the ocean. White everywhere. The whitest of them all was the humble ferry persevering its way across the open water to reach us.
The cars were lined up ready for her arrival, yet they had opted to park themselves further back, afraid the water might reach up and drag them in for a swim. And yet I wasn’t worried. Scotland can handle a little wind. Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland without a little wind. And this water is what lay between me and my destination.
The Isle of Arran. Scotland in miniature. A mound of deep green and blue hues sitting across the water; I could feel the adventure calling. Finally, I said to myself, before hopping back in my car.
My friend Megan was waiting inside, surrounded by our half-eaten snacks. We’d been in the car for over four hours already to make it to the tiny port at Claonaig, a wee hamlet on the east coast of the Kintyre Peninsula in western Scotland. Most people take the enormous ferry at Ardrossan on the mainland to get to Brodick on Arran. Alas, we left booking our tickets too late and so were left with the ‘backup’ ferry at Claonaig.
In all honesty, I’m glad we were ‘forced’ to detour for it. Though it is a great tip, for those of you wanting to visit Arran by car, to book the ferry from Ardrossan sooner rather than later. It’s a much easier trip, a mere two hours from Edinburgh (or one hour from Glasgow), whereas the drive from Edinburgh to Claonaig took about four hours. In saying that, once we reached the city limits, the drive was spectacular, and it was a fantastic way to start our trip.
We’d both been saying for months and months that we would visit Arran. Life kept getting in the way. Until now. The ferry from Claonaig is relatively small, but it fit the twenty cars that were waiting to meet it. The journey was somewhere around 45 minutes, and, despite the wind, everyone was up on deck, letting the wind jostle them sideways. It was worth it for the view. A group of tradesmen were joking and laughing. A family sat huddled, their eyes on the splashing water around them. And I watched Arran get closer and closer. The adventure had begun.
Driving on and off the ferry was a small adventure in itself, one I thoroughly enjoyed. Arran greeted us with blue skies and warm air. The moment we arrived in the small village of Lochranza, we veered straight towards the castle. Humble by Scottish standards, but the sweetness of Lochranza hugged it from all sides. Yellow gorse next to blue water holding up moored boats overlooked by a row of beautiful homes. It was everything a quaint village should be, a postcard-welcome to the Isle of Arran.
After a quick wander around the castle, we hopped in the car with Brodick as our destination. However, within moments we were driving past Lochranza Distillery and before we knew it, we were gazing at an army of beautifully bottled Scottish whisky. Row upon row, Megan had almost too much choice. Lucky for us, the lovely employees offered up some samples to help narrow down the decision-making process.
Look at us. Five minutes in and we’ve already made purchases. But isn’t that the point of a holiday?
What I love about Arran is how easy it is to get around. Now, I can’t speak for public transport, since we were driving, but driving was certainly easy. Every single one of our destinations was no more than 20-30 minutes from where we currently were. Often it was just a short ten-minute jaunt down the road. So down the road we did jaunt to just outside of Brodick, to this wonderfully homey restaurant called The Wineport. A lovely employee at the distillery recommended it for lunch, and we were sold.
Parking our car, we made our way up to the blush pink building. The sun was shining and many of the patrons sat at the picnic tables on the lawn out front. A group of women sat laughing over a cheeky lunchtime wine. A family sat with their adorable dog as it basked in the sunshine. Two elderly gentlemen were savouring every bite of their scones, every sip of their tea.
Megan and I ordered chicken. Lots of chicken. And as we sat in the sunlight, enjoying a much-needed hearty meal, our whole trip ahead of us, our spirits were high.
I highly recommend The Wineport for a lunchtime stop. There were plenty of gluten-free options available for Megan and the staff were super friendly, up for a chat and a joke. They’re also huge supporters of local businesses for their supplies, including Arran Brewery, Arran Ceramics, and the Island Cheese Company.
And right next door, clustered around The Wineport like a mini community, are all these great little shops! Take the road to the side and literally just behind the restaurant are the shops. First up we went into MacKenzie Makers of Classic Leather Bags. You all know the smell of leather. The way it hits you like a spice, burning down your throat, as if it's soaking into your very skin. A smell I personally love. Megan’s shopping game was on point that afternoon and she ended up buying herself a gorgeous deep purple leather belt. It was slightly too large, so the lovely men adjusted it then and there for her. What’s great about this wee shop is that their work bench is right there, so we were treated to a small demonstration of leather working.
We also stopped in at the other shops nearby, including a gift shop, an art gallery, and a garden centre. Honestly, Arran is a dangerous place. So many cute shops in such close vicinity. Because it doesn’t stop there, dear reader.
We then drove 30 seconds down the road (don’t judge) to the next little cluster of shops. First up was Arran Aromatics. I am a sucker for soaps and lotions. We spent some time there smelling the different ranges. We each bought something (shocker) and then moved on to the Arran Cheese Shop. Cheese-lovers get ready for the best of Arran and Scottish cheese, not to mention a range of other delicious products. If, like Megan at the distillery, you’re not sure what you like, they offer samples too.
Another four minutes down the road (I told you it’s small) is the town of Brodick. About one-fifth of the island’s 5000 inhabitants live in Brodick, and this is as ‘big’ a town as you’ll see on Arran. We headed straight for the Arran Chocolate Factory where I treated myself to a small selection of local goodies.
Then we took the 6-minute drive along a beautiful backroad to the village of Lamlash. As we approached, we spotted a smaller island just off the coast. Small compared to Arran, though it looked anything but. Its sides shot so vertically up towards the sky, it’s a wonder anyone lives there. But they do.
Once we’d checked into our absolutely gorgeous room at The Arran Lodge, our host told us that the island was called Holy Isle. Her partner runs the ferry to and from the island, in fact. This sacred island is open to visitors during the summer seasons. We didn’t find time for a visit this time around but it’s on our list!
What I love about living in Scotland is how late the sun stays up during the warmer months. It was about 6pm when we decided to go and see the Machrie Moor Standing Stones. I’ll admit this was one of the biggest reasons we wanted to visit Arran in the first place. I’m unashamedly a big Outlander fan and part of me hoped to be hurtled back in time the moment I touched one of the stones.
Alas, I am still here. But I still had a great time. It was yet another short drive to the small car park. From there, we walked for about twenty minutes to get to the stones. There are a lot of false herring stone circles on the way, don’t be misled. Keep walking, you’ll know Machrie Moor when you see it.
The walk itself was almost as incredible as the stones themselves. This quiet country pathway was hugged by fields of vibrant green and bushes of fragrant yellow gorse. A waft of coconut followed us the whole way. Spring had sprung and so had the little lambs. Some would be lying in the middle of the path, jumping to their feet the moment we got too close, skittering away to their mums who were keeping a stern eye on us. But I was happy to simply watch the lambs play. Watching their little legs kick about is honestly one of life’s greatest joys.
And then we reached the lonely moorland that is home to three Neolithic stones, as ancient as they are beautiful. Standing strong like soldiers awaiting orders, they almost look forgotten surrounded by expansive fields of Scottish greens and browns.
As the sun sank lower in the sky, a yellow haze burned across the landscape, making it seem all the more mystical. While I ran around taking photos, Megan wandered around the boggy moorscape and found several ancient-looking trees and the ruins of an old stone building. There was a moment when I looked around and couldn’t spot her. I admit I wondered if she’d accidentally (luckily) been sent back in time through one of the stones and perhaps I’d have to continue my journey without her.
Turns out she was sitting in the ruins eating snacks. And this is why we’re friends, ladies and gentlemen.
It was time for a late dinner, and boy was it sorely needed. After a bit of on-the-go Googling, we discovered that this place called Auchrannie Resort had a restaurant open to the public. As we approached the building, I remarked that we had somehow just arrived at Kellerman’s. Points if you get the reference.
Inside is a beautifully decorated restaurant with plush chairs and romantic vibes. It’s still perfect for families, though, of which there were many. We proceeded to have a divine meal while reminiscing on the day.
Day two didn’t hold back. After a makeshift breakfast of pastry and fruit gathered from the shops in Brodick, we headed to yet another one of Arran’s adorable waterfront villages known as Whiting Bay. There you will find the entrance to the Glenashdale Falls walk. This is an easy walk for those who are wondering. I will admit the walk wasn’t as beautiful as we’d hoped, since there had been a fair amount of logging done along the pathway, so it was mostly open land and tree stumps. In saying that, it was a peaceful walk and the falls themselves were amazing. Once there, you can enjoy staring down at the plummeting waterfall from the platform. We also headed up and around the back of the falls where you can stand (carefully) in the rock pools at the top of the falls.
We did the loop walk that heads to a point where you get a wonderful view over the area. The glistening water stretches out before you; we could even spot the Holy Isle from our vantage point. This route also takes you past the Giants’ Graves. These chambered cairns are two of more than twenty that are scattered across Arran. Built during the early Neolithic period, these burial chambers are some 5700 years old. It was a really cool spot and very out of the way, so we got to enjoy it all on our own. I’m glad we went this way along the route, since there was a steep decline to get all the way back down to sea level. Just saying.
We’d built up an appetite, so we headed back to Brodick. Megan had spotted a little food truck the day before, so we made straight for it. Just on the outskirts of the main hub, on Auchrannie Road, you’ll find The French Fox. This food truck became our lunch spot for both days. Once we’d sampled the incredible flavours and spices of their chicken dish, we were hooked. We shared the meal between us on a small table under a large tree. A fresh flower poked out of an empty Orangina bottle.
And tucked in alongside it was yet another cluster of alluring shops, including a very hippy-esque clothing and jewellery shop called Zoku where I picked up a quality sterling silver chain.
Once we had refuelled, it was time for another walk. As we headed to our destination, we stopped in at the village of Blackwaterfoot to see the lovely people at Blackwater Bakehouse. I’d heard only good things from a colleague. Alas, we arrived after closing time but what we loved was that the bakery has an honesty box for those who come calling in the afternoon! The goodies are left in a wooden cabinet, where you can either leave cash or send a deposit to a man named George. It was by far the cutest thing I’ve seen in a long time.
Not far from Blackwaterfoot is the car park for the King’s Cave walk. There are two directions you can go, we accidentally took the longer one, but it was well worth the journey. Scottish woodlands to our left, Scottish countryside to our right, and then before we knew it, we were descending towards the crashing ocean below through a rocky pass of moss and flowers.
The beach below was absolutely stunning, a blanket of stones underfoot led us to the mysterious King’s Cave. An enormous steel gate akin to a crown guards the entrance, but you’re more than welcome to head inside. The temperature drops a few degrees and light seeps away as you look around for the early Christain carvings found inside. I had a blast, needless to say.
Another thing I love about this cave is the legend surrounding it. Scotland’s ‘Outlaw King’, Robert the Bruce, is said to have taken refuge in this cave after years of defeat. Disheartened, he was all but ready to give up until he saw a spider trying to spin a web. The wind and rain kept wrecking the web and it tried five times. “Five times has the spider failed,” said Bruce. “That is just the number of times the English have defeated me. If the spider has courage to try again, I will try once more to free Scotland!”
He watched the spider. It rested for a while as if to gain strength, and then threw its slender thread toward the roof of the cave. This time it succeeded. Bruce declared, “The spider has taught me a lesson. No more will I be discouraged.”
That night we stayed locally in Lamlash for dinner and had a lovely meal at the Glenisle Hotel and Bistro. Since Arran is so small, restaurants can get busy on the weekends in the warmer months, so I’d recommend booking where you can.
I honestly didn’t expect much from our final day, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the lovely time I had at Brodick Castle. We arrived early just as it opened, so as we began to wander around the beautiful gardens, we were left to our own devices. This incredible garden has a wild range of plants from around the world. There were boardwalks and small, cavernous sections, perfectly manicured gardens and striking gazebos. If you have time, wander their new Fairies and Legends Trail and keep an eye out for all the tiny fairy homes hidden throughout the forest.
And inside the castle was even more incredible. I was taken aback by how striking the decorations and rooms were. And because we went when it was a little quieter, we were given such personal attention throughout our wander. Every few rooms or so, you’ll find an employee of the castle. Make sure you have a chat with them, they’re filled with all types of interesting facts about the family and history of Brodick Castle. Now, I’m not normally one for facts and figures when exploring a place, but I really enjoyed this little addition.
And that’s that. Our adventure was coming to an end. Of course, not before another scrumptious lunch at The French Fox. We queued at the main ferry hub at Brodick and waited to board. The journey itself was really amazing. Several of the other passengers and I hung over the side of the ship spotting the enormous pink jellyfish and dolphins as we cruised on by. It was smooth sailing back to the mainland and while I regret ever having to leave Arran behind, I had a head full of memories, a backseat full of souvenirs, and a camera full of pictures to remind me of the wonderful time I had.
I cannot wait to go back.
If you happen to beat me there, say on our 3-day Isle of Arran Adventure from Edinburgh, say hi to Arran for me.
Bronwyn lives and breathes words. Before coming to work at Rabbie's, she spent 7 years in publishing and is a published author of YA fantasy books. Born and raised in Sydney, she was drawn to Scotland and affectionately calls it her 'soul home'. An avid traveller herself, Bronwyn's favourite places (so far) are Mongolia, Iceland, Morocco, and Scotland (of course). When she's not writing, she can be found exploring the Scottish Highlands with her camera, on the lookout for coos and men in kilts.