Trunki Files contributor and UK-holidays Guru Linda Hull has just returned from a week on the Isle of Arran – the perfect introduction, she argues, to the delights of Scotland. Traveling with her husband, two girls (aged 5 and 7) and mother, here she shares her experience.
Getting there and staying there
One of the best things about Arran is that it is not nearly so long a drive as some of the other well-known destinations such as Mull or Skye. There is, however, a short ferry ride from the Ayrshire town of Ardrossan which makes the journey much more exciting. Actually, on our outward, journey it was a bit too exciting, with winds meaning quite a bumpy ride which did not suit my eldest daughter. In the summer however, this is a rare occurrence, and the journey back was just beautiful with amazing views.
You arrive in the main town, Brodick, but, as the island is small, you are likely to have a relatively short journey to your accommodation. We stayed in Whiting Bay, south of Brodick on the east coast of the island, which is fairly sheltered. After the usual holiday cottage prevarication, we settled on Arran Swiss Cottage for the week. The girls were very excited by the prospect of bunk beds and thought the larger bathroom was very fancy; Andy and I, meanwhile, were impressed by the views from the lounge, master bedroom and lovely sun room which was a great space to play games, watch out for red squirrels and enjoy the sea views. The cottage was very well-situated a short walk from the shore, with a tearoom at the bottom of the hill, and was comfortable and well-equipped – probably slightly nicer than the website pictures convey.
Uphill and down dale
My husband always likes to get some proper exercise in while on holiday, cycling, running or in this case some serious hill walking. Given good weather on the first full day of our holiday, he embarked up the most famous climb on Arran, Goat Fell. I dropped him off in the village of Corrie, allowing him to ascend one way and come down a different route to meet us for afternoon tea at Brodick Castle. Later in the week he also walked the North Sannox Horseshoe which, judging by the photographs, satisfied his need for mountains even without the ‘Munro factor’ (as there aren’t any on Arran).
Meanwhile, the girls and I were beginning to explore what Brodick had to offer. There are a good few nice shops, both in the town and going out towards the Castle (most notably Arran Aromatics where all sorts of delightful smellies are on offer.) There is also crazy golf, putting, play-park, the fun of watching the ferry and a decent fish and chip shop (Hooked and Cooked on the quay) as well as cafes and hotels. So plenty to keep small people entertained, particularly in good weather. We also made a number of trips to the sandy beach along the Fisherman’s Walkway, which is known as the Duke’s Beach.
Brodick Castle is a National Trust for Scotland property and so, as National Trust members, we had free entry. We made two trips, mainly because it was sunny on the first one and so we stayed outside, only venturing in on our next visit when the weather was slightly less good. Inside the castle there are activities such as ‘Hunt the Bogle’ and the room guides were extremely friendly, pointing things out to the girls. There is a good cafe with plenty of seating and the grounds are lovely, with gardens down to the sea, a Summer House and a nature room with wildlife activities. There is also an excellent adventure playground which the girls loved, although it seemed a particularly ‘midgie’ spot so I would advise insect repellent for parents waiting for their children to run off some steam.
Braving the beach
There are lots of good beaches around the island, both for paddling and for rock pools. We had a lovely morning seal-spotting and paddling at Kildonan in the south of the island, with amazing views to the lighthouse on Pladda and to Ailsa Craig. The beach in Whiting Bay was also excellent with both sand and rocks. The National Trust for Scotland were running Seaside Safaris in Blackwaterfoot during our visit, which for us was one trip too far, but I’m sure would have been a good afternoon out. Another feature of beaches around the island was a set of swings at almost every one – the girls thought that was marvellous! There are also boat trips from Lamlash to explore Holy Isle – another one for a later visit.
Exploring on foot
As well as the more intrepid hill walks, there are some good walks suitable for children (and lazy mums!). On our trip round the island we took a detour at Machrie to see the standing stones – an easy, flat walk to an impressive historical site. Our cottage also sat right on the route to Glenashdale Falls – this walk involved some uphill but was not too challenging and the waterfalls were impressive. The walk starts officially at the Coffee Pot Cafe, and for us it also finished there – I would recommend this cafe for being everything an island tea room ought to be – just lovely! There are lots of walks at Lochranza, with a ruined castle to explore and red deer roaming around, and if you feel the need a distillery to while away some time should the weather turn nasty.
We were fortunate for most of the week to have good weather, so didn’t need the rainy day options of soap-making at Arran Aromatics, the Arran Brewery tour or the Heritage Museum at Brodick which has lots of activities for children. We also didn’t visit the Auchrannie resort which has a pool, spa and soft play activities open to the public. The highlight of our week for the girls was pony-trekking at North Sannox. They had expressed an interest and the hour-long trek for beginners suited them perfectly. The people running the farm were very friendly and really made it a memorable experience for the girls – they were beaming from ear to ear when they got back.
So, we were fortunate with the weather and with our choice of cottage, which is always a bit of a lottery. I know, though, that for many people Arran is a place they return to again and again, and I can see why. We visited after the Scottish school term had started, so I think it was a bit quieter than at peak times, although the ferry home was packed! If you want to experience what Scotland has to offer, without the long haul up to Skye or Mull, Arran is a great option – it is compact and comfortable, but with a rugged edge and stunning scenery. I am quite sure we will be back.