Part 3 Islands and nearly Islands…Arran and Kintyre

After a remarkably quiet night we awoke to a sunny morning. The ferry to Brodick on Arran took 75 minutes for a very reasonable £28.

Recently the ferry operator Calmac has had to drop their fares to RET, Road Equivalent Tariffs. This has of course been welcomed by many, but means that fares for motorhomes are much lower, so some of the islands, including Arran, are saying there are too many. I suspect in summer this is a real problem, but we saw less than we expected on our visit.

I had wanted to visit Arran since my sons went there on CCF camps with school, and came back with stories of amazing breakfasts, whisky gravy and alarming hikes where they had to be roped together! … I think they may have mentioned scenery and wildlife….. but probably not!

First stop was Brodick castle, set high above the bay, and with beautiful gardens.

It’s claim to fame is as the ancient seat of the Dukes of Hamilton, and is very much the archetypal baronial lodge with hunting trophies adorning the walls, and lovely state rooms. The food in the kitchen looked amazing… despite being fake!

The gardens are splendidly laid out, and were awash with the colours of Rhododendron and Azaleas.

They also had a red squirrel hide, but none there on our visit. A chaffinch wasn’t shy about eating the peanuts though! Look closely!

There was also an interesting book in the library that nearly persuaded me to take up yoga!!

We planned to drive around the islands coast, finding some walks as we went. Climbing the central mountains, including impressive Goat fell at 2866 feet, was not on the agenda!

Our first stop was at stunning Kildonan in the south, looking out towards Ailsa Craig. This strange island is where they source all the granite used to make curling stones!

We walked west past beautiful beaches and rocky shorelines, stopping frequently to watch the shore birds feeding amongst the rocks in the water. Some of the rocks would suddenly move! In fact there were hundreds of seals basking on rocks and in the shallows.

We also found a beautiful waterfall coming down the rocky cliffs, and hidden away in the luxuriant vegetation.It was a magical afternoon.

We continued driving west, and where trying to work out what other islands were coming into view. There was a huge one, very clear, that shouldn’t have been there! Then we realised we were looking at Northern Ireland, just 18 miles away! Heading up the east side, we found a great wild camping spot on a little car park almost on the beach. Heavenly.

Next day was much greyer, and again all day rain was forecast. (We had still managed to dodge it so far!!)

It was still dry, so we headed off to do a walk inland at Machrie, across the bogs and moor to the remains of 6 stone circles of standing stones that were burial chambers for ancient civilisations here about 4000 years ago.

It was remote and beautiful, with the mountains all around, and the grey, lowering clouds really added to the atmosphere!

Returning to Boris, we continued along the coastline to Lochranza, a very pretty harbour with an almost artistically positioned ruined castle.

The rain had still held off, so we decided to do a 4 mile walk over the northern headland to the Fairy Dell and return along the coast. It was a beautiful walk, but at the top of the hill we turned to look back…. and could no longer see the coast we had driven up that morning. A wall of Scotch mist was rolling towards us!

We headed on, with more urgency than before! The rain hit as we were halfway back, giving our waterproofs a good testing! Thankfully they were up to the job!

Returning to Boris, we discovered he had become a shelter for some sheep, and then we spotted some unusual players at the golf course!

We joined the queue at the ferry ramp, and caught the afternoon ferry to Claonaig on Kintyre.

Kintyre is technically a long promontory of the mainland, but only joined by a tiny bridge of land at Tarbert, so it feels like an island. The southernmost tip is the Mull of Kintyre, immortalised by a certain song! Despite the rain, we stuck to our plan to drive right around. The scenery was lovely, but not very photogenic in the mist! We did stop at a bird observatory and see nesting oyster catchers and eider ducks!

Our goal was Big Jessie’s cafe on the west coast, a Britstop where we hoped to spend the night. Arriving at 5.30pm, we were again parked adjacent to the beach, with Oystercatchers, sandpipers and gulls calling on the rising tide. Jessie’s cafe is a great example of isolated communities having to adapt to survive. A really excellent cafe that does breakfasts and dinners for some of the local accommodation, welcomes campervan who will mostly eat there too, and appeared to act as a transit point for deliveries and parcels to the neighbouring island of Gigha. It would have been rude not to sample the food.. and we had superb fish and chips, and of course a local brew!

We knew next day was very, very wet so we opted for a lie in.. and then a Jessie breakfast as brunch to set us up for the day! In fact, the brunch was so amazing, we didn’t eat again all day!

Mine was a speciality called Gigha Rarebit. I asked for bacon on the side, and was served a mini cooked breakfast.

It was certainly Chris’ first ever breakfast that included Haggis!!

Despite the rain, we enjoyed Kintyre. We left through Tarbet, stocking up in the Coop en route, and heading North to the Crinan canal. This pretty canal was built in 1801 as a short cut for Clyde ships heading to the Scottish West coast and islands.

It is very much in use today, although mainly by leisure boating.

The area south of the canal is wild and remote. The rain stopped and we did a fabulous walk down the hilly Taynish peninsula and achieved a great ‘first’ for us both… we saw not one, but two sea otters. Fantastic. Sadly no photos though! Then we visited Knapdale Forest which was the site of the much publicised beaver reintroduction. We had an excellent evening guided walk with the 2 very enthusiastic rangers. We held a beaver skin, and saw their webbed feet, and incredibly dexterous ‘hands’.

We saw their lodge, a dam and lots of gnawed trees!

Interestingly, beavers are vegetarian, and will crop trees for both food and lodge building, but they do not destroy them. They effectively coppice them, leaving them for long periods to regrow. They also only build dams if absolutely necessary, for example in times of drought, to conserve water. A fascinating evening .. but it was too windy to spot the beavers themselves!

We enjoyed another peaceful night, this time sheltered in the forest!

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