Desolate; Cold; Sunnier than expected; Extremely hiker-friendly; Extremely public transportation deficient. The sheep run wild, but the people do not since nothing much is open past 8 PM. This was the world I stumbled into on the Isle of Arran in late March— admittedly too early in the spring to be exploring the far reaches of rural Scotland.
But a tiny island in the Firth of Clyde with a population of less than 6,000 is not the kind of place that reveals itself to visitors immediately.
Brodick is the town where the ferries dock and where you’ll find most of the B&B’s and hotels. I can’t tell you how we got lost looking for ours; The entire village is half a mile wide. Strangely, it was a very small child who came to our rescue.
“Are you lost?” he asked helpfully.
Not accustomed to getting directions from 8-year-olds, I skipped the pleasantries and stuttered out the name of the hotel.
“Oh, you’re close by,” he answered. “It’s right through there.”
Following his extended finger towards a dense patch of woods, we peered cautiously into the trees. A dark, murder-y footpath paved the way through.
It didn’t seem right, but with a useless map and no other choice, we thanked the boy and started into the woods. Naturally, I had the sensation of entering a low budget horror film; an unseen audience jeering over my shoulder in anticipation the axe-murdering psychopath hiding around the bend. I could almost hear handfuls of popcorn hitting the screen in rowdy open protest of my idiotic decision to go in first.
As we emerged alive out the other side, the scene took more of a turn towards Rocky Horror. The Ormidale Hotel loomed over us, a stately former mansion with a weedy garden framing the entrance. A woman in a vintage maid uniform held the door open as we filed in. Back in urban Glasgow, I would have assumed her getup was ironic. But the Isle of Arran feels a tad frozen in time, and I wasn’t as sure what to make of things.
Our itinerary was simple: Climb Goat Fell, the highest peak on the island, and visit Machrie Moor for the ancient stone circles. Too bad a blizzard two days prior had dumped three feet of snow on both places. We hadn’t come prepared in the least.
Our luck turned around when we climbed into a taxi with a friendly driver who had known the island his whole life. In an impressive show of hospitality, he turned the meter off and radioed around to the other drivers on the island for updates on the conditions. Machrie Moor was deemed hopeless, but the east coast was clear, so he dropped us off at the trail head for the stunning Glen Rosa. He assured us with a smile that at the very least, we’d be able to see Goat Fell in the distance.
As we picked our way through the sweeping valley without another soul in sight, I stopped feeling sorry I’d dragged my friends to the Isle of Arran so early in the season. The snow line stopped short just above us, receding slowly in the afternoon sun. Wandering sheep made the only audible sounds. The bluest sky I’d ever seen in Scotland hung brightly overhead as we completed the easy loop around the valley.
Back at the Ormidale Hotel after dark, we’d resigned ourselves to an evening of CSI reruns and early sleep when our curiosity was piqued by… a ruckus. As the sun set, the ground floor of the hotel had erupted into warm and lively carousing. An old record player in the corner spun Roxy Music and the Talking Heads while a sizable portion of the population of Brodick gathered around the bar. We joined them easily, ordering a round and settling at a table with a view of the room. The locals wandered over, one or two at a time, for a friendly chat with us, the out-of-place looking tourists. They told us their stories. They brought their dogs and their kids. It was probably the most alive place on the island.
Isle Of Arran Highlights
The town of Lochranza also boasts a castle, but more people visit for the whisky distillery. The tours are comprehensive, led (in my experience) by a friendly Lochranza native dressed kilt-casual, and the tasting is very generous.
Machrie Moor is the site of several stone age monoliths in an area of completely unspoiled moorland. Similar in eerieness to the stone circles on the Isle of Lewis, they are a popular attraction because of their mystery.
Goat Fell is the tallest peak on the Isle of Arran, but don’t worry, you can climb it. I mean, probably. The going gets a little tough towards the top, but the trail is well worn and no special gear is necessary.
Walking On Arran is honestly my highest recommendation. Here’s a comprehensive list of (easy) Arran walks from a blogger who knows the island like the back of her hand.