This kidney-shaped island has earned the tag of ‘Scotland in Miniature’ for its bleak, highland mountains in the north and flatter, milder beauty of the south.
At 25 miles long, Arran is big enough to soak up the crowds and still feel unspoilt and, as the most southerly of the Scottish islands, it’s easily accessible, allowing you to avoid the stress of travel and the chillier climes of more northern parts.
Trekking around Arran is an awesome experience thanks to the spectacular scenery. The rocky north coast boasts 10 peaks over 2000 feet and dozens of ridge walks, and the south provides a variety of gentler forest hikes. Goatfell is the island’s most popular peak and, at 2866 feet, its highest. You don’t have to be super-fit to attempt it, although the final ascent is more testing thanks to steeper, rockier terrain. It’s worth a little exertion, though – the views on a clear day are glorious stretching over to Ireland in the west and the Mull peninsula in the north.
Hiking around the island is also a great way to spot Arran’s wildlife, which ranges from magnificent stags and rare soaring golden eagles to the odd puffing tourist. Thankfully, it’s never overrun by the latter, but for total peace you should time your visit for late autumn or winter (at the risk of the mountains being shrouded in a misty pall). It’s worth bearing in mind that the weather can change quickly in Scotland, so always leave home armed with a map and warm clothing.
If rambling isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other options. The Cairnhouse Riding Centre (01770-810 222) in Blackwaterfoot caters for horse riders of all standards from hourly, beginners’ treks in the morning to hacks in the afternoon for the more experienced jockey. Boat rental is available from Lamlash Boat Hire (01770-600 998) and for an adrenaline rush you can try paragliding or quad biking.
Wetting your whistle
Although they say in Scotland that a day in Arran is never a day wasted, it is perfectly possible to get wasted in another sense, by visiting Arran’s brewery, distillery or cosy, old men’s pubs. Whisky has been made for centuries on the island, although until relatively recently it was all done illegally in an effort to avoid the customs men. Locals still remember the days when bootleggers outwitted the law to keep the islanders supplied with their favourite poison.
Since 1995 whisky has been made legally at the distillery in Lochranza on the remote north end of the island. Their tours are rounded off with a tasting session where you can experience the warming sensation of Arran whisky melting down your throat.
The brewery near Brodick is also worth checking out – the superb selection of dark and blond ales are found all over Scotland and are additive-free, meaning you get less of a hangover. Arran has great little pubs in most hamlets, usually with a roaring fire and a wet dog to keep you company as you enjoy a restorative scotch after a long walk.
Worth a look
Found on the craggy north shore and framed by breathtaking mountains, this delightful hamlet is home to the whisky distillery and is guarded by a beautiful ruined castle, which you can explore by asking for the keys at the local post office.
This beautiful castle with walled gardens is surrounded by a country park with scenic trails and its onsite tearoom is the perfect escape from the chilly weather.
With seven courses, Arran can boast the most golf courses per population of anywhere in the world. The wilderness provides an unbeatable setting, with sea views, imposing mountains and red deer grazing on the fairways.
Sleeping & getting around
Arran has lots of relatively cheap accommodation from youth hostels to B&Bs. A great place to stay is the Catacol Bay Hotel a couple of miles past Lochranza, which is also the island’s best pub, serving delicious grub food and Arran ales. A bus service circles the island and the roads are in pretty good condition – just watch out for the kamikaze sheep.