THE ISLE OF ARRAN – A SMALL PART OF SCOTTISH HISTORY
The Isle of Arran is a Scottish island located in the Firth of Clyde, not far from Scotland’s western shore. The island is only about 20 by 10 miles in size, and there is only one road that encircles it and another that goes straight through the center. Despite its diminutive size, Arran has earned the nickname “Scotland in Miniature” for the wealth of attractions it offers. Mountains, castles, rivers, distilleries, and stone circles all come to mind when people think of Scotland. All of these and more can be found on the Isle of Arran.
The island is split down the middle by the Highland boundary fault, which creates a stark contrast between the windswept mountains in the north and the rolling farms and moors in the south.
GETTING TO AND AROUND THE ISLE OF ARRAN
Due to its status as an island, transportation information is paramount when considering a visit to Arran. Two of Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferries operate between the mainland at Ardrossan and the island of Brodick. Ardrossan is conveniently located a mere two hours from Edinburgh and only an hour from Glasgow.
TRADITIONAL SCOTTISH CASTLES
The Isle of Arran has three castles, all of which are equally spaced and which showcase various states, making it the perfect microcosm of Scotland. The ruins of Kildonan Castle hold to a cliff at the southernmost tip of the island.
The MacDonalds abandoned their once-mighty fortress in the 16th century, and today all that remains are a few shattered walls.
Lochranza Castle, though in ruins, still makes an impressive sight on a small promontory that juts out into a sea loch in Arran’s far north. This old Royal hunting lodge is now owned by Historic Scotland and is open to the public for free throughout the summer.
The beautiful scenery is noticeable even from a distance. Just picture a fleet of longships, preparing for another coastal raid, anchored on the beach next to the castle.
The third fort on Arran is Brodick Castle, which is still a grand home thanks to the National Trust for Scotland’s preservation efforts. The fortress has been occupied by the Dukes of Hamilton since at least the 5th century.
MACHRIE MOOR STANDING STONES
There are numerous archaeological locations on the Isle of Arran, but one stands out above the rest. Six stone circles of various sizes, all equally fascinating, make up the Machrie Moor Standing Stones. Although it may look like a tiny version of Scotland, some of the stones here are nearly 5 meters in height.
If the massive size and remote location of these stones don’t impress you, perhaps the truth that they were erected between 3,500 and 5,500 years ago will. While we may never know the true significance of these circles, locals have developed their own stories to explain them.
Fingal’s Cauldron Seat, a smaller double circle, can be found to the left of the larger stones. The stones were supposedly used by a mythical Gaelic hero as a makeshift kitchen while he prepared dinner.
When Fingal’s loyal dog Bran began begging for food, he tied the animal up using a small hole he drilled into the corner of a stone. If you take the time to investigate, you can still locate the hole that has been there for thousands of years.
You can park for free in a small lot just off the main road and then stroll the flat, 30-minute distance to the cluster of stone circles.
Arran is home to several stunning but often overlooked cascades that are easily accessible on foot. Glenashdale, toward the island’s southwestern tip, is home to a pair of thunderous waterfalls. A wooden platform, suspended precariously over the edge, appears after a brief walk, providing an unparalleled vantage point of the raging waterfall below.
If you continue up the same circular route, Glenashdale has one more trick up its sleeve. The Giants’ Graves are the remnants of two Neolithic cairn burials located in an open area with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
Size of the monuments is alluded to in the appellation. Inhabitants could have been 22 feet and 7 feet tall if the tombs were constructed as stone boxes.
North Glen Sannox, further north, is a low-level walk along the side of a succession of tumbling falls rather than a single large waterfall. As you progress along the trail, the impressive features and breathtaking backdrop will continue to amaze.
While the Fairy Pools on Skye are always bustling with tourists, this trail on Arran is just as beautiful without the crowds.
It takes about two hours to get to Glenashdale and the Giants’ Graves from North Glen Sannox. Large, open parking lots are conveniently located near each trailhead.
THE OUTLAW KING’S CAVE
Arran’s shoreline is interesting because it is an island. Despite the abundance of coastlines and cliffs, none of them compare to King’s Cave. Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, reportedly spent the winter of 1304-1305 here. The king’s reign got off to a bad start when he started loosing battles left and right and had to go into exile.
According to a well-known children’s tale, King Duncan was contemplating quitting the battle for Scotland while sitting in this cave on Arran. The arachnid was attempting to spin a web, but it kept falling and having to start over.
The spider took the risk, completed the web, and encouraged the King of Scots. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, goes the proverb, so the thinking goes.
The 2-hour round-trip hike around King’s Cave is a circle path. The cave’s entry gate is no longer barred, so visitors can enter at any time of the year.
SCOTCH WHISKY DISTILLERIES
There are two places on the Isle of Arran to try Scotch Whisky if that’s why you traveled to Scotland. The spirit produced at the new southern Lagg Distillery cannot yet be bottled as authentic Scotch. However, to the north, you’ll find the renowned and award-winning Lochranza Distillery.