When I was a kid I was lucky. My parents took me to Arran every summer. I say lucky as Scotland’s seventh largest island is a stunner and those trips gave me a lifelong love of Arran A love that grows as I take my own young family back every year. I’ve just been back again and I’d like to share with you some great new things to do and some old favourites too.
Arran – an island on the up and up
The most striking new thing is the shining new ferry terminal. It, and the massive new Glen Sannox ferry arriving next summer, are apposite symbols for a Firth of Clyde island that is on the up and up. This past summer was the busiest I have seen Arran – in part due to the great value RET fares that make it cheaper to get to.
The island may be busy, but she still has plenty of room for everyone. If you look at a map you can see that. All but one village, Shiskine, hugs the rugged coastline, leaving a vast mountain wilderness in the wild Highland north and thick forests in the Lowland south virtually empty.
Impressive Wildlife Credentials
I say empty, but one of our favourite annual traditions is heading out on a ‘nature safari’. In one drive we aim to see as many of Scotland’s ‘Big Five’ as we can. This time we managed to spot golden eagles, red squirrels (there are no pesky greys on Arran), seals and red deer (the UK’s largest land mammal ), only missing out on an otter. Beyond the famous five I’ve also seen porpoises, dolphins and even basking sharks on trips to Arran. It really is up there with Mull as the number one island for wildlife in Scotland.
We also spotted red squirrels when we headed back to Brodick Castle. I love what the National Trust for Scotland do here with the castle, grounds and the neighbouring Glen Rosa and the mountain of Goatfell, the island’s highest. The castle is currently being upgraded to make it is accessible to all. The new star attraction this year for families is the Isle Be Wild woodland adventure playground. My kids loved swooping across the ‘Jungle Bridge’ and up the vaulting tower in this kiddie wonderland. I appreciated that they have chunky wooden seats, with a roof overhead, where parents can relax with a brew from the onsite café.
Pushing further north more changes are afoot. Sadly Creelers – after years of telling me they were heading back across the water to Kintrye – have finally gone. Their restaurant is no more, but they still source seafood from the waters around Arran and smoke it at their smokehouse in Skipness. You’ll now find Skipness rather than Creelers smoked goodies all over the island, but it’s really the same thing. It’s a similar story at Arran Aromatics, which after a change of ownership has now been re-branded as Arran – A Sense of Scotland.
Even further north we ventured up to Lochranza, home to the superb Isle of Arran Distillery. I love their excellent range of single malt expressions and their tours. As a relatively new distillery (opened in 1995) most of the production is done in one large room so it is much easier to understand what is going on. Their big new attraction is a revamped café restaurant. I loved their local venison burgers and we all had a bit of their excellent tasting platter too, which pulled together some of the world-class local produce.
The other big distillery news is that they are building a second distillery in the south of the island just outside the small village of Lagg. Originally it was just to be warehouse space, but the project grew legs and there will be a distillery, visitor centre and café. All will enjoy views of the gorgeous coastline here and distant Ailsa Craig. During my whisky tasting at the exiting distillery I learned that they are aiming to produce a peated malt at the new distillery, something that they only do up in Lochranza for a few weeks of the year. I’m very much looking forward to the distillery opening in 2018.
Arran Coastal Way
One attraction that rarely gets the attention it deserves is the 65-mile long Arran Coastal Way. It was opened in 2003 by legendary Scottish walking writer Cameron McNeish (who loves Arran), but it hasn’t yet attracted wallkers in great numbers. That is all set to change, as it was recently recognised as one of ‘Scotland’s Great Trails’ alongside the West Highland Way. This, along with greatly improved signage and tweaking of routes, is set to see it become massively more popular. Deservedly so as it offers epic scenery and world-class wildlife viewing; it also opens up some hidden corners of the island that you cannot reach by road.
My favourite place to stay on the Arran is somewhere that constantly adds new things and tweaks others to keep ahead of the competition. The Auchrannie Resort has long been run by a slick general manager, Richard Small, who I’ve known for years. It’s family owned and the can do service from Richard and his staff really feels personal.
We stayed this year for a night in one of their luxury lodges. Some of these have recently been refurbished and they’ve done a great job. Our split level lodge was perfect, with three good sized bedrooms downstairs and fashionable open plan living and dining space upstairs. I loved the chaise longue up here! The overall finish was spot on with a real air of calm luxury.
I’m no fortune teller, but I can fairly confidently predict that if I’m lucky enough to be able to continue my family tradition and make it back to Arran next year there will be plenty more new and improved things on an isle that just gets better and better. If you’ve not been yet go! If you’ve just not been for a while I’d recommend you get back there as soon as you can. You won’t be disappointed.
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