Isle of Arran
It is fair to say that the Isle of Arran, situated between the Kintyre Peninsula and North Ayrshire on mainland Scotland, is a real walkers paradise. Lonely glens, sweeping moorland, dark forests, fine coastal scenery and majestic mountains can all be found on the island which at its greatest extent is no more than 20 miles long and 10 miles wide. The mountainous north is separated from the moors of the south of the island by the Highland Boundary Fault. It is no wonder that Arran is sometimes referred to as ‘Scotland in miniature’.
The vast majority of people visiting the island arrive via the ferry from Ardrossan. Few such visitors, as they sail across the Firth of Clyde, can fail to be struck by the outline of Goatfell rising dramatically above the small port of Brodick. At 874m (2866ft) Goatfell is the highest summit on the island; it is also, by some margin, the most accessible and frequently visited of Arran’s peaks.
While the view of Goatfell from the approaching ferry is special the view from the summit is even better for encircling Goatfell to the north and west is a mountain scene that rivals anything I’ve seen elsewhere in the British Isles. Particular mention needs to be made of the steep granite pyramid of Cir Mhor and the dramatic cleft of the Witch’s Step below Caisteal Abhail, whilst the relatively benign appearance of A Chir belies the fact that its summit is only attainable by climbers or very experienced and competent scramblers.
On the western side of the island, away from the mountainous terrain surrounding Goatfell, there are the Pirnmill Hills, a fine group of less dramatic but equally rewarding summits. Separating the Pirnmill Hills from the Goat Fell range are the long, lonely valleys of Glen Iorsa and Glen Catacol both of which I have, unfortunately, not yet had the opportunity to explore.
The southern half of the island largely forsakes the dramatic mountains of the northern half in favour of large tracts of forest and moorland. Again this is an area I have not yet had the opportunity to explore though I hope to do so next time I visit the island. Special mention must be made of Holy Island the small island sitting in Lamlash Bay. Holy Island, which features a Buddhist community and a women’s refuge, can easily be visited by a short 10 minute boat trip from Lamlash. The short walk up to Mullach Mor (at 314m the highest point on Holy Island) and back along the coastal path is not to be missed.
I have a special affinity for Arran. As a child I enjoyed an extended family holiday on Kintyre in a cottage looking directly across Kilbrannan Sound to Arran. In my teens, long before I took up hillwalking as a serious hobby, I spent a week on Arran with my father and younger brother walking, cycling, canoeing and sea fishing. I next visited Arran for a day with my wife in 2004 on a day trip from where we were staying in Ayrshire and enjoyed a nice woodland walk on the lower slopes of Goatfell. It was at that point I made an extended visit and an ascent of Goatfell a high priority and so it was we returned for a full week in the autumn of 2006.
On our first walk of that holiday, on the summit of Beinn Bharrain in the Pirnmill Hills, we met a 70 year old lady out walking the mountains on her own with the biggest camera I’ve seen out on the hills. She told us that she’d fallen in love with Arran a long time ago and had been coming back every year for about 40 years. Who can blame her.