Stunning mountain scenery, superb beaches, wonderful wildlife, and historic sites: the Isle of Arran has it all
Photos © Izzy Bunting
The Isle of Arran is often described as 'Scotland in miniature' because, for such a small island, it packs in a huge range of the fantastic features that make Scotland a world-class destination.
There are mountains to climb, prehistoric sites to explore, waterfalls and rivers cascading through picturesque glens, and a historic castle or two.
The island is also home to some of Scotland's most iconic wildlife – in fact each of Scotland's 'Big Five' (red squirrels, red deer, golden eagles, seals and otters) can be spotted here.
You could spend a month or more on the island and see something different every day. Here are just a few of the highlights.
There's been a castle on this site near Brodick since the thirteenth century, but the imposing house that visitors see today is the result of renovation and rebuilding in 1844.
There are beautiful gardens and woodland walks to explore – and this is one of the best places in Arran to look out for red squirrels.
It's a great day out for kids too. As well as exploring the opulent Victorian interiors, there's an excellent adventure playground, complete with towering treehouse. Or hunt for fairy homes along a short marked trail through the woods.
Arran is home to many superb beaches, but one of the best is Silver Sands at Kildonan.
This undeveloped arc of pristine pale golden sand, lapped by clear turquoise water, is heavenly on a warm, sunny day – and dramatic when the weather is less kind.
There are superb views out to the islands of Ailsa Craig and Pladda, and this is an excellent place for seal spotting. Wading birds such as curlews and oystercatchers are also in abundance.
At 874m, Goatfell is the highest point on Arran. As mountain climbs go, it's pretty straightforward if you take the clear path from the Arran Brewery, just outside Brodick, and return by the same route – simply follow the signs to Goatfell.
Even though it's straightforward, it is a very steep climb – particularly as you approach the summit, where the path becomes rougher and you'll need to negotiate a number of small granite boulders. So you need a decent level of fitness.
Going by the straight up and straight back route, it's 11km in total. Allow five hours, at least – and longer if you want to take a few breaks en-route and enjoy some time at the summit, where the views are simply breathtaking. On a clear day you get a 360-degree panorama of the island, and you may even be able to see as far as Ireland.
There are harder routes up and down Goatfell, involving ridge walks and some scrambling, which provide more of a challenge for experienced hillwalkers.
Eas Mor waterfall
A short but lovely circular walk, setting off from a car park near Kildonan, takes you up through pretty woodland to Eas Mor waterfall. There are several viewing platforms, giving great views of the single plume of water plunging into the ravine below – particularly dramatic after a period of heavy rainfall, when the river is in full spate.
Returning back to the car park you pass a curious oddity in the middle of the woods. The Library is a green-roofed log cabin created from trees felled in a storm in 1998. Inside there's a bookshelf crammed with books, and the walls are lined with messages from people who have visited – there's even a stack of pens and paper so you can leave your own message, memory or words of wisdom. It's a great place to shelter in if it's raining.
As you head back down to the car park, enjoy the magnificent views out to the islands of Pladda and Ailsa Craig.
Machrie Moor standing stones
Around 4,000 years ago, six stone circles were erected on Machrie Moor in the west of the Isle of Arran – and some of these remain remarkably intact, making it one of the most significant prehistoric sites in Scotland.
The first stone circle you encounter is Fingal's Cauldron Seat – an impressive double circle of stones. Legend has it that the inner ring of stones supported a huge cauldron, belonging to the warrior giant, Fingal. Look out for the stone with a hole through it – said to have been used by Fingal to tether his dog.
Of the other stone circles, Circle 2 is perhaps the most striking. Three towering stones – the tallest is 5.5m high – stand together on the moor. There would have been seven or eight stones in this circle originally, and like the other circles on the site they were used for religious and ceremonial purposes by Neolithic and Bronze Age farmers living on Machrie Moor.
North Glen Sannox
An easy and beautiful there-and-back walk follows a path from the car park alongside lovely North Sannox Burn. The route heads first into forest, and then opens out into dramatic mountain scenery.
Look out for red deer at the edges of the forest – they are common in this part of Arran. If you don't spot one, drive north along the A841 through Glen Chalmadale – it's is one of the best places to see red deer, and if you drive this route just before dusk, you stand a good chance of seeing them.
The Giants' Graves are two Neolithic chambered cairns, dramatically situated high above Whiting Bay.
The larger of the two cairns is about 35m long, so it's easy to see how the site got its name. Archaeological excavations within the burial chamber in 1902 revealed shards of pottery, arrowheads, and flint knives.
It's a steep climb to reach the Giants' Graves, but well worth the effort. On a clear day there are stunning views across the bay to Holy Isle – but even in poor weather it's an atmospheric and peaceful spot, with mist swirling through the nearby forest.
At 45m high, Glenashdale is reputed to be the finest waterfall on Arran. To reach the best views of the falls, it's a beautiful walk through mixed woodland.
On the way, be sure to take the short detour to the Iron Age fort. This small, enclosed settlement was built some 2,500 years ago – you can still see parts of the original dry-stone wall that was constructed to protect the inhabitants from attacks by raiders or wild animals.
After crossing Glenashdale Burn above the falls you reach a vertiginous viewing platform – not for the faint-hearted – giving a spectacular view of the falls crashing into the deep wooded gorge below.
The walk to Glenashdale Falls can be combined with a visit to the Giants' Graves, creating an enjoyable 6km circuit from Whiting Bay.
The picture-postcard village of Lochranza, in the north of the island, is home to a ruined castle, a picturesque harbour, and Arran's whisky distillery.
It's a beautiful place to visit and soak up the views. Look out for the large resident population of red deer – they can often be seen grazing on the golf course to the south east of the village.
A visit to the distillery is a must. The Visitor Centre is open to the public for pre-booked tours and tasting, as well as to buy whisky and other local products in the gift shop – but check the website for the latest updates regarding Covid-19 restrictions.
Arran is home to many local food producers, and sampling a few of the island's culinary delights is one of the highlights of a visit.
The Isle of Arran Cheese Shop produces a range of different flavoured cheddars. Try chilli, herb or cracked black peppercorn, served on an Arran oatcake made by Wooleys – a traditional family bakery that has produced baked goods on the Isle of Arran for generations. To go with the cheese and oatcakes, add some chutney from Arran Fine Foods – tomato and red pepper or spicy beetroot are excellent choices.
The Isle of Arran Brewery combines traditional brewing methods with water from the island and natural ingredients. There are lots of varieties to choose between, from red Arran Red Squirrel to Arran Blonde – a light, golden ale. Or for a stronger tipple, try a wee dram from the Lochranza distillery – Arran Single Malt is created from Scottish rainwater, purified naturally as it cascades from Loch Na Davie down the Easan Biorach burn through six different waterfalls.
The Bay Kitchen and Stores at Whiting Bay is a good place to stock up on some of these local goodies, with fresh bread and cakes and locally grown fruit and vegetables also on offer. It stocks an impressive range of vegan foods too.
Green Adventures October 2020