It breaks my heart that many visitors to Scotland have never heard about the Isle of Arran. For many years I considered it my second home. It’s an island off the west coast of Scotland, a mere hour by train from Glasgow, then a ferry ride just under an hour. Basically, it’s the most accessible island for anyone flying in and out of Glasgow or Edinburgh.
There’s a reason that it’s called Scotland in Miniature by Visit Scotland and islanders. Arran has the best of everything uniquely Scottish to offer. Rolling green hills, whisky, great food, golfing, and pretty much everything else that you can imagine. In many ways, after living there on and off for three years, it became the inspiration for the setting of my first novel.
So, my top twenty in no particular order:
1. Set Menu Lunch at Brodick Bar
This is your best value option. You can get two or three courses, then a glass of house wine or a beer. I’m not even going to guess the current price, but in ‘my day’ (a.k.a three years ago), it was around 10 pounds, so I imagine it’s still very reasonable. My tip? Go with a friend, one person order a starter, one a dessert, then you can share, getting the full three course experience. You’ll leave extremely satisfied.
2. Gorge Walking/Gorge Scrambling
When gorge walking was first described to me as ‘putting on a wetsuit and walking through a river, jumping off little cliffs, I’ll be honest and say it didn’t sound appealing. I mean, it’s Scotland – the water ain’t warm. But I ate my words. It was the most incredible, invigorating experience. Adrenaline, great views and a truly unique activity. I’m hooked and can’t wait to go back.
3. Getting Lost in the Gardens of Brodick Castle
Maybe it’s just that I discover the garden during different seasons, but I feel like the gardens at Brodick Castle are always changing. From the manicured gardens to the summer house, the adventure playground (a MUST for all families) to the forested area, it’s pure magic. In good weather, make sure to grab a cup of tea and a scone and sit outside to enjoy the view of Brodick Bay.
4. Riding A Bike To Corrie
Much to my husband’s dismay, I am not a keen cyclist. I’m not balanced, I have very little confidence next to cars and I cannot go uphill, unless I’m pushing the bike. However, a bike ride from Brodick to Corrie is completely flat. That’s right, flat. My favourite word when cycling. You can rent bikes from Arran Adventure for a reasonable price, and the trip takes about 30 minutes. My husband and I always liked to break it up with a trip to the Wineport for lunch. The food is to die for. We used to get the baked goat’s cheese and… oh my. I can still taste it. Sigh.
5. Sampling the Local Food
There is a reason that I love self-catering on Arran; it’s because then you can bring home all the delightful treats from around the island! Arran Gold from the distillery (think Bailey’s but BETTER), Arran Dairies ice cream (any flavour is phenomenal), baked goods from Wooley’s (millionaire’s shortbread and yum yums for the win), the world’s best cheddar cheese from the Torrylinn Creamery (voted the best, not just my opinion), and preserves from Paterson Arran Fine Foods. You can make yourself a pretty epic picnic from these goodies. Just make sure you walk off all the calories!
6. Music at Fiddlers’
For live music any night of the week (as well as great food and drink), check out Fiddlers’ Music Bar and Bistro in Brodick. It’s where I was lucky enough to hear my favourite folk singer, Bobby Watt, perform live.
7. Taking in the Diverse History
Arran has such interesting history. You can discover it in a traditional format by going to the Arran Heritage Museum, or you can learn as you explore the island. Graveyards are a great way to start. Wonder why there is a gravestone made from a giant boulder in the Sannox graveyard? It’s to mark the murder of a young man on Goatfell in 1889! As you drive northwest from Sannox to Lochranza, watch for the stone markings in the hills on your right. These are remnants of crofts from those who left during the highland clearances. You’ll see a marker at the Hamilton Terrace carpark in Lamlash commemorating those who left the island.
8. Guided Walks
Okay, I won’t lie, this I have not done… YET. It’s high up on my list as a must do for the next time I’m on the island. Lucy and Wally Wallace do guided mountain and wildlife walks. As someone who considers herself a beginner-intermediate hiker, I’d love to experience a mountain walk with a local who is both knowledgeable about the island as well as being able to teach me the basics of mountain rambling.
9. Stay at the Auchrannie Lodges
Despite the fact that I worked there, in no way was I asked to endorse them. My Mum and I love the lodges at Auchrannie so much that we invested in a timeshare. The views are stunning and you can sit out on your balcony with a glass of wine enjoying the rolling hills of Glen Cloy. Best of all, you can save some money on food, buying in your own (if you’re so inclined) and use the lodge as a base to explore the island. You will also have access to the leisure facilities at Auchrannie Hotel and get a discount in the restaurants. Brambles is best for dinner, Cruize is best for drinks and views from the epic balcony.
10. Hands-on Photography Workshop
Again, while I haven’t done this photography workshop with Arran in Focus on Arran, I have done a similar workshop in Edinburgh, so I can only imagine a workshop with the stunning scenery that abounds on Arran. Try doing this at the beginning of your trip to Arran, giving yourself the rest of your stay to practice and get some epic shots!
11. Kildonan Beach
Now, I might be in the minority here, but Kildonan beach for me will always be the best beach on Arran. I find it ridiculously romantic. The rock face is so rough and worn down by time, and you have to climb down through them to reach the beach (unless you walk the long way round…). You can see across to Pladda, a teardrop shaped island with a little lighthouse. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the ‘hole’ in the rock wall, which you can climb up to and sit in. It’s built for two.
12. Kayaking Adventure
Provided the waters aren’t choppy, it is an absolute dream to get in a kayak and explore the Arran coastline. I’ve personally done this with Arran Adventure, but it looks like there is now another option with Arran Outdoors, so I guess it’s really about where you want to go, the price and what level you’re at.
13. Taking a Digital Detox in a Yurt
This was a new discovery for me in 2016. I’ve always wanted to stay in a Mongolian-style yurt, but didn’t exactly want to travel to Mongolia to do it. I also wanted to take a digital detox from my devices and social media, so staying in a yurt at Runach Arainn was right up our alley. With a chimney in the centre of your yurt, you’re kept nice and toasty. It has a camping feel, but with all the amenities you’d need for comfort (think bed, pillow, sheets and kitchen table!).
14. Exploring the Arran Art Gallery
I suppose it’s because the island and its views are so inspiring, but Arran has a plethora of incredible artists. This is why I can’t make a trip to the island without visiting the Arran Art Gallery in Whiting Bay. It all depends on where your budget is, but there’s something for everyone. While I can rarely afford originals, I almost always go home with a print or even a postcard of work from a local artist.
15. Glorious Glen Rosa
When you think of Scottish hills, it’s just like Glen Rosa. Two large hills on each side and a pathway in the valley between. You can cycle it or walk. I prefer to walk and take in the beauty. On a warm-ish day, bring a swimsuit and you can swim in the blue pools past the bridge. Just make sure to bring a WARM towel and a sweater for afterwards. It’s also a great place to bring your dog for a walk, a picnic lunch or just sit on one of the rocks and take in the view.
16. Relaxing Spa Time
I blame my time working at Auchrannie and the associated staff discount for my current love of spas, particularly ASPA at Auchrannie. I’ve tried a number of beauty treatments, but the mud wrap and the hot stone massage were definite highlights. Another favourite would have to be the Indian head massage. Book in advance, especially if you’re visiting during school holidays.
17. Lochranza Whisky Distillery
I do not drink whisky. Repeat, I do NOT drink whisky. That said, the tour that is offered at the Arran Distillery in Lochranza is phenomenal. You learn all about the process, the history of whisky on the island, and even get a sneak peek at the barrels of whisky that are aging for the royal family. At the end you get to taste some Arran Malt, but my choice was the Arran Gold cream liqueur. Much better than Bailey’s in my humble opinion. The drive to Lochranza is stunning as well.
18. Ormidale Folk Night
I may be partial to this because it was a regular date in the early days of my husband and I’s relationship, but folk night at the Ormidale Hotel is just some good ol’ relaxed fun. Hidden at the back of the Brodick football field is the Ormidale Hotel and pub. With tables shaped like the island itself, the atmosphere is casual and oozes local spirit. Sundays are for folk music, but there are plenty of other activities on throughout the rest of the week.
19. The King’s Caves
Rumoured to be the spot where Robert the Bruce had an encounter with a spider, the King’s Caves have an air of mystery to them. The hike to the caves is moody, going through thick woods that hush the sound of the waves. When I was little I thought the fairies were hiding in those woods. Along the pebbled beach, people built towers of stones in tribute to loved ones, or just to mark the experience. If you’re lucky, go on a weekday and you might just have it to yourself.
20. Cocktails at the Douglas Hotel
I love a good mixed drink and the Douglas doesn’t disappoint. Enjoy a decadent dessert and a cocktail while soaking in the view of Brodick Bay, Goatfell and the classy interior design of the Douglas. If you’re planning a romantic getaway, the rooms at the Douglas are pretty spectacular as well!
Where to Stay?
I worked at Auchrannie for a number of years. The Spa Resort is by far the most family-friendly place to stay on the island and they’ve won a number of awards at the Thistle Awards (Scottish tourism awards). Every year they up their game for families. They’ve got a massive sports complex including indoor pool, play barn for little ones, teen zone, and Arran Adventure is on your doorstep with plenty more activities to keep the kids off their devices and making memories.
From the bar to the rooms, the Douglas Hotel oozes sex appeal. The design is stunning, the views to die for and the food is delicious. Very conveniently located, too. A night or two away with a loved one would be very memorable at The Douglas.
I adored staying at Kevin’s AirBnB in Lamlash. You could get 6-8 people (perhaps more!) in this lovely cottage. Beware, it is situated up a VERY steep hill, but that’s what rental cars are for. If you’re travelling without a car, it is still doable (I did it!), and it means you’ll earn your pudding. And let’s be honest, you can’t beat a view like this of the Holy Isle.
Two great options that I’m somewhat familiar with. Friends have stayed at the Lochranza Youth Hostel on the north end of the island and loved the common space and social atmosphere. For a quieter but more centrally located budget option, check out the Brodick Bunkhouse.
For those who have had the luck to visit Arran, what are some of your favourite things to do?
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