There's something cathartic about dozing off in a snug little cottage on a farm, especially if the farm sits right atop a hill, with dramatic views of hillsides smothered in gorse-bushes, sharply descending to meet a sparkling, silver-blue sea. Sleep comes swiftly, and it takes a very hungry herd of glossy black and brown cows, shaggy sheep and their raucous moo-maa chorus to rouse us from slumber.
It was a good thing too that they did, because, the clock insisted it was well past 9 a.m., the sun was playing peek-a-boo with fluffy, wind-blown clouds, the birds were setting up their melodious spring chatter, and we really needed to get a move on.
The Isle of Arran — perhaps, the most accessible of Scotland's many islands — is a mere two-hour drive plus a one-hour ferry ride from Edinburgh. Long before you reach the island, though, you see its rugged silhouette — great, big muscular hills, forbiddingly tall, intensely dark and yet, somehow very handsome! And, not unlike those flirty M&B heroes, the island completely charms you mere moments after you land, showing off its soft, gentle side.
Scotland in miniature
You see, Arran — just like Scotland — can be neatly divided into a wild North (think highlands, rocky mountains and grand, tall trees), and a pastoral, almost too-cute-for-words South (rolling hills, dotted with cows and sheep, bucolic villages, the high-streets a few feet from a well-behaved sea) No wonder, it's often hailed as ‘Scotland in miniature'!
And miniature it certainly is — 19 miles long, 10 miles wide, ringed by one major road (the A841) that cleverly links all 15 villages (scattered mostly along the coast), while another (the String road) neatly slices the island about its middle. In fact, a map of this lovely, kidney-shaped island would be just the sort of thing you would like to sketch for your geography finals!
Driving around Arran is, undoubtedly, a pleasure. The road, in places, is a slender, grey ribbon, threading its way up lonely hills, dipping into lush valleys, past hauntingly-beautiful rocky shores, alive with scores of seabirds, the rock-pools teeming with gloopey-green marine life. Almost all the villages enjoy a spectacular setting, while the prettiest of them all — Lochranza — even boasts a ruined castle, nestled among lofty hills, surrounded by the still waters of a steely-blue lake!
But, while it's a breeze to circumnavigate the island by car, it's — from what we could gather — an uphill task by cycle! Yet, there were so many cyclists, pedalling away furiously, their calves working like pistons, even as the wind and the punishing inclines plainly mocked their lung-busting effort. Since cycling on such gradients was the stuff of our worst nightmares, we chose, instead, to go for a nice, bracing walk.
A spot of exercise
Arran has walks to suit all fitness levels… those who quake at the sight of steep slopes — such as us — can choose a rambling coastal stroll; daredevils can go for Goatfell, Arran's tallest peak, at 2,866 ft. We opted to visit the ‘King's Caves', where, as legend goes, Robert the Bruce took shelter, and was inspired by a persistent spider to fight for Scotland's independence.
The walk also takes in some ancient Hut Circles, and winds its way gently up a hill. To the left was a dense forest, the floor a dark, mossy green, lit by golden shafts of sunlight struggling to penetrate the thick blanket of pine-trees. On the right, there was an especially picturesque hillside given over entirely to sheep! Since it was Spring, we saw many frisky wee-lambs, their chubby legs, twitchy pink ears and curious faces sharply contrasting their phlegmatic, cud-chewing mothers.
Admiring the views, the distant green-blue sea, clicking pictures by the dozen, we were taken completely unawares when heavy raindrops suddenly pelted down! Abandoning the walk, we raced to the car, and sped to Brodick castle, the island's magnificent indoor attraction.
Talking about the castle — and its many treasures — would take a while; besides, it might not be that very different from other palatial homes. But, the castle merits a mention chiefly for the way it's presented to visitors — for it was here that we met the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides, who went out of their way to bring history alive to adults and children alike!
It's this endearing quality — solicitous hospitality, a friend commented — that brings visitors to Scotland by the truck-load, and it's exactly why I can't recommend Arran enough…