After leaving the Selkirk Arms in Kirkcudbright, our drive across the Southern Uplands was a treat. In 20 miles we passed fewer than 20 cars, enjoyed views of Galloway’s thriving Red Kite population against rolling fields, forests and hills. An hour or so later, we re-entered the 21st century as the cars reappeared and the roads got busier.
We made the Arran ferry at Ardrossan in good time, bought some cheap petrol from Asda and enjoyed the 60 minute crossing in the sun. After two consecutive days of that strange yellow ball in the sky, we knew we were in another country. I had not been to Arran for 42 years, a week long geology field trip, and I was looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with the island.
On reaching Arran before checking in to our Lamlash hotel, we heeded for Creelers in Brodick to check out the possibilities of eating seafood that night. The place itself was unprepossessing but the owner seemed friendly enough and suggested a seafood platter to share, reminded us it was BYO ( Bring your own – no need, Asda in had thoughtfully provided a competent Albarino) and we duly booked for 8pm. Back to Brodick itself to enjoy a seafront walk and a putting competition, before continuing over to Lamlash and the Glenisle Hotel. The hotel overlooked a grass promenade on the edge of the beach with a wonderful view of Holy Island.
The Glenisle had only one room when I booked, a cosy double. Up several flights of stairs, the room was comfortably furnished in keeping with the hotels recent overhaul and whilst, we were not unhappy, it was a bit cramped. Any married man of vintage will know the feeling of always “being in the way” but this room brought a new meaning to this. As comfortable as it was, I would not want to stay more than a night or two here. The rest of the hotel was refurbished in a tasteful modern way, a sort of New England, beach hut style and well done. As time was short, we went back out to explore the southern part of the Island by car. From Lamlash we took the Ross road across the Island to the west coast through the mountains and then returned to Lamlash all the way around the coast.
After an unsuccessful attempt to find the small hotel I had stayed in in 1970 ( I thought it was in Glen Cloy ) we took our own bottle of white wine to Creelers. The seafood platter was superb. On a large stainless steel platter we were served, deep breath, Razor clam, Mussels, Langoustines, Oysters, Crayfish, Queenie Scallops, prawns, brown crab, spider crab, some unusual salmon pate, hot smoked salmon, gravadlax and half a lobster…(oh and any other crustacean who knows me). We rounded the meal off with a sweet chocolate fondant and some local Arran cheese.Back in Lamlash we sampled the 14 year old Arran Whisky in the hotel bar before turning in.
The next morning, before breakfast , I wandered on the front , enjoying a backlit Holy island in the bay before calling at the stores for a paper. When the newsagent put on a knowing smile, I realised my mistake and remembered that, as Arran is an island, we were unlikely to able to get a pawful of newsprint until after 10 am . So, armed with yesterday’s Telegraph, we sat down to breakfast breakfast at the Glenisle. The Selkirk Arms’ breakfast yesterday was an almost impossible act to follow but the Glenisle served one that would normally be as good as anywhere. Our whistle-stop tour of Arran continued with a leisurely dive north back through Brodick and along the coast through Corrie and Sannox.The view across the Firth of Clyde was beautiful and once again there were very few cars and a real feeling of peace. We stopped a few times to take in the view of the sea and as we rose up through Glen, to take a souvenir granite cobble from a peat brown burn below the impressive peaks.
Our plan was to take the 2.30 ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig and continue touring the Kintyre peninsula and Loch Fyne. But on arriving at Lochranza realised we could still do the Arran distillery tour, have something to eat and then board the earlier 1.30pm ferry. A brief detour to Catacol beyond Lochranza to see the twelve apostles cottages (each of the terraced cottages has a different shaped window) followed and then the distillery tour. The Arran distillery was founded by an ex Chivas Regal director who noted that Arran was Scotland’s largest island without a current distillery. In the Nineties a new distillery was opened by the Queen and the current products are excellent and, in retrospect, offered good value in the shop. The tour itself was informative and entertaining and included the obligatory dram of the 14yr old single malt and a taste of Arran Gold, a competitor to Baileys. Whisky distillation seems a straightforward process involving only three basic ingredients, barley, yeast and water ( less than beer !) and it is remarkable how so many subtle differences there are in various malt whiskies. Those variations can be attributed to the water, the air, the material the storage vessels are made from and what they contained previously, what fuel is used to dry the barley in the maltings, the shape of the still and so on.
Our tour concluded and a short but unsuccessful gaze up to the mountains where one of Arran’s four pairs of Golden Eagles live and we drove down to the ferryport. A stretch of tarmac with 18 numbered bays and a short quay with some signs and that was it. Other facilities consisted of the village’s own public conveniences and a delightful shop/cafe , the Sandwich Station where we enjoyed fresh rolls with local venison and cheese (not together though) the Lilliputian theme continued with the arrival of the Ferry. With some 8 cars and perhaps thirty passengers the boat reminded me of a D Day landing craft but it did the job excellently and provided great views of Arran to the stern and Kintyre from the bow. I do like a good ferry and this was one of the best.
On arrival at Claonaig, which made Lochranza look overpopulated , we took the advice of a serial holiday maker for the area to eschew my plan to drive 50 or 60 miles around Kintyre and to bypass Campbeltown as a destination (which it seems everyone else in the world has in any event) and we made away across the peninsula with the hills of Islay and Jura away in the distance. The sun shone, there was no traffic and we made good time to Tarbert, an interesting and picturesque harbour. We walked around Tarbert for an hour and enjoyed the quirky shops and harbour. I had to use all my negotiation skills to avoid paying £5 to an old lady in a church charity shop who tried to sell me a slate from the church roof ( which I could not take away) That old girl would have made a top performing photocopier or Kirby vacuum saleswoman !
We pressed on northwards along Loch Fyne, stopping only to persuade a kamikaze hornet to leave the car and then drove 25 miles along a single track road on the south shore of Loch Awe. Despite the beauty and solitude, I was actually glad to reach the A619 heading south to Inveraray. The best part of this section were the clear views of Ben Cruachan, which at 1126m (3694ft in old money) is the highest mountain on my list in the UK. A fast drive along what seemed like a motorway after the drive along Loch Awe and we arrived in Inveraray. A very popular tourist spot on the shore of Loch Fyne with outstanding views on the Arrochar alps at the head of the loch, this planned town is unique. Built to order in late eighteenth century by the Duke of Argyll, it is like nowhere else I have ever seen in the UK in terms of consistency of architecture. In the sunshine today, it had a sort of party’s over atmosphere as the last remnants of armies of American, Japanese and Spanish coach parties made their final comfort stops of the day. I couldn’t help smile as a blitzkreig of elderly Germans marched straight from their coach into the towns’s only Indian Restaraunt to use the facilities. Perhaps “Onion Bhaji” means “use our toilets” in German.
This was a great few days away and I will not go into detail about the quality (or lack of it) of the so called master suite we were given in the George Hotel’s annexe, The First House. I dislike looking for fault and nitpicking but I ended up compiling a long list of the accommodation’s many faults and complaining the following morning. To be fair, the lady on reception compensated us generously but as yet I have had no response to the comprehensive email I sent them. (at the receptionists request!) The food in the restaurant was good and the service attentive despite the vast numbers of people eating and drinking. After dinner, we rebounded immediately from our visit to the public bar as a 40th birthday party had been in full swing since late afternoon and joined more sedate partygoers in the main hotel bar. A lively evening was getting underway with a fine performance by Andy Chung, an Edinburgh folk singer who knew how to work an audience. His own material was cleverly interwoven with singalong stuff from the Proclaimers and more traditional Scots favourites such as “Geordie Munro” ( New to us, but then we don’t get to many Raith Rovers home games!)