THE oasis in Scotland I head to every year is the Isle of Arran, a mercurial escape that more than deserves the “Scotland in Miniature” acclaim.
It’s also somewhere that constantly changes to keep tempting repeat visits.
My relationship with Arran goes back to when my parents took me “doon the watter” every year. These days history is repeating itself as I take my own daughters, 10-year-old Tara and seven-year-old Emma, to Arran. Handily they love it just as much as I do.
You would think I would get bored of Arran, but there is no chance of that. I’ve been back twice this autumn, once with my two wee girls and again with a South African couple who were blown away by the isle. A crucial part of the appeal for me is that Arran really is the country in microcosm.
The north lies above the Highland Boundary Fault and sports vaulting peaks and tumbling glens, while the south is more rolling hills and sandy beaches. Nowhere is anything less than spectacular on Scotland’s seventh largest island.
I also love that Arran’s old favourites never change. We savour the great beaches and shallow waters at Blackwaterfoot and Kildonan. Then there are the mystical standing stones and stone circles of Machrie Moor, which never lose their timeless appeal. Neither does rugged Lochranza Castle or Robert the Bruce’s cave (where he is said to have seen that spider), which still fires up my imagination.
Getting to Arran’s myriad attractions is all part of the fun. The isle is ideal for cycling and also for walking. The 65-mile Arran Coastal Way has recently been recognised as one of Scotland’s Great Trails. It is backed up by one of the finest hill walks in Scotland, up to Arran’s highest point, Goatfell (2,866ft), plus some top-notch ridge walks and scrambles.
Wildlife viewing is a McKelvie family favourite too – Arran is world class for wildlife. On our latest family trip we spotted all of our ‘Arran Big 7’. In the air we spied gannets, oystercatchers and mighty golden eagles, on land red deer and red squirrels, then seals all over the coastline. The highlight was a glimpse of a basking shark at Sannox.
Stirred into the Arran mix too are those constant changes. Take Brodick Castle. Rather than rest on its remarkable historic laurels, the National Trust for Scotland is revamping the castle (to re-open spring 2019) and has already boosted the lush grounds with new signage and the Isle Be Wild woodland adventure park, which my girls adore. I love the new red squirrel hide that they have just added too. It is one of the best places to see these cute creatures on an island not blighted with grey squirrels.
Just down the road at Arran Aromatics things have moved on too, but the appeal is the same. The new owners have rebranded the toiletries and beauty products as ‘Arran Sense of Scotland’, but they still stock a great range. For families they also offer spellbound kids the chance to conjure up their own colourful soaps and candles.
This always engages my girls and puts a big smile on their faces, as well as giving my wife and I peace to shop. Pushing further north into those Highlands we come to Lochranza Distillery. I recommend taking a tour of this award-winning distillery and enjoy a glorious whisky tasting.
My last stop was Ormidale Park. Here I found one of Scotland’s newest football teams, Arran FC, playing their first cup game against a mainland side.
Head doon the watter and I reckon you will be beguiled by “Scotland in Miniature” too, whether it’s your first or your 15th visit.