Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Arran Adventure

It's been a few months since I posted.  Life has been busy in the South Atlantic where I live with my wife, camera and bike. So busy that I couldn't update this blog as regularly as I would have liked. However, I have a few posts in the pipeline, so I hope to publish more soon.

This first catchup  takes me and my wife back to the UK - to the Isle of Arran in Scotland to be precise.
On the ferry, heading for Arran (the Sleeping Giant) in Force 8 seas!
Arran is a favourite island of mine, and I've visited it since childhood, when I was growing up in the southwest of Scotland.  I lived in a fairly mundane industrial town on the coast, and could, if it wasn't raining, look across 12 miles of the Firth of Clyde to the mystical "Sleeping Giant" of Arran every day.
This ferry decided to ride out the gale....
The "Sleeping Giant" nickname comes from its profile, which resembles the face of a giant lying down.  Arran's other nickname is "Scotland in Miniature", because it packs the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland into its 20 mile length.
Brodick Bay
In April, we travelled from the Falkland Islands to the UK, and to Arran for a rare break on the island. April and May can sometimes mean good weather, and we certainly were lucky, with 10 consecutive days of sunshine.  If you know the west of Scotland, you'll appreciate how lucky we were!
North Glen Sannox
The hills of Arran are a walkers' paradise, with granite mountains rising nearly 3,000 above sea level. The glens and ridges offer endless possibilities, and the chance to catch glimpses of red deer or golden eagles.
Low rainfall means easy crossings, North Glen Sannox

Ascending to the ridge, North Glen Sannox

River crossing
Arran also has a lot of historical sites, ranging from Neolithic chambered cairns and rings of standing stones, through remnants of Scotland's turbulent medieval history, to the time when sheep replaced people on the land.  The people were forcibly evicted ("The Clearances"), and many emigrated to outposts of the British Empire such as Canada, New Zealand, and possibly ending up in the Falklands.
Lochchranza Castle

The Mull of Kintyre ferry, Catriona, arrives at Lochranza

Rain clouds sweep down the Mull of Kintyre to Ireland.

The "Stavros Niarchos" training ship drops anchor in Lamlash Bay

The Rosa Burn, Brodick

Looking over Whiting Bay to Holy Isle

Tulips in Brodick Castle gardens

"Isle of Arran" with Goat Fell in distance

Machrie Moor standing stones, with wife and Julie to give it scale!
Early people may have reached Arran over 5,000 years ago, not long (geologically speaking) after the end of the last Ice Age. They built many forts, and buried their dead in cairns. They also left huge standing stone circles.
King's Cave - where Bruce met the spider!
Another visitor was Robert the Bruce, before he became king. Legend has it he hid in a cave on Arran from his enemies. As he sat there wondering how long he could continue his struggle, he watched a spider spinning its web. Each time it had almost made a thread between two walls, it broke, making it start again.  The resilience of the spider reputedly gave Bruce inspiration, and he eventually won the Kingdom of Scotland.

Southern Beech, from Chile, in Brodick Castle's Gardens

Another big old tree, Brodick Castle

Glen Rosa, a beautiful glaciated glen.

Glen Rosa camp site.

Laggan Cottage
Laggan Cottage sits in a remote spot, but there once was a thriving community here, making salt from the seawater, and even mining coal, to sell to buyers on the mainland about 12 miles east.
Sandstone Boulder
Arran also has huge appeal for geologists. James Hutton, the father of modern geology, found rock formations which did not fit into the existing theories of how old the Earth was. "Huttons Unconformity" can still be found to the north of Arran, where layers of different aged rocks are tangled together.
Otter off Kildonan beach
If you keep your eyes open on Arran, you will almost certainly see deer, and possibly majestic Golden Eagles and rare hen harriers and merlins.  In May, you may be lucky enough to hear the evocative cuckoo returning from Africa to breed in remote Scottish glens.
And despite my many visits, and knowing exactly where to find them, I had never seen a wild otter on Arran, until this year.  We were walking along a beach in the south with friends, and I optimistically said that otters were sometime spotted on the rock about 100 metres offshore.  And, as if summonsed, one appeared and started eating a fish it had caught! Magic!  Within minutes we had a crowd of people staring out to sea wondering what we were looking at!
Very nice house, belonging to friends

Soay sheep, Holy Isle
In a sheltered bay, which once housed a Viking longboat fleet before it lost the Battle of Largs (1263) and its hold over much of Scotland's western seaboard, lies Holy Isle.....
View north from Holy Isle
Holy Isle is now a Buddhist retreat where the public can attend training courses or lock themselves away from the outside world.
Pods for individual meditation
Monks meet daytrippers like ourselves arriving on the small ferry, and explain the ground rules, and what can be seen on the island.
Eriskay pony and Stephenson lighthouse

Buddhist statues.

Russian yacht in Lamlash Bay

Seal sunning, Brodick

Granite boulder, roadside near Sannox
A 55-mile road hugs the Arran coast and its undulating surface is a true test for the many cyclists who try to complete the circuit in time to catch their ferry back to the mainland!
Isle of Arran distillery, Lochranza
But for those who want to sample other delights, Arran is famous for it fresh dairy produce, seafood, venison, beef and lamb, and Arran Mustard! Oh, did I mention the distillery?  And the Brewery?
Whisky taste guide, Oystercatcher pub,  Otter Ferry, Cowal, Argyll.

Looking down from The Rest and Be Thankful
All too soon, our adventure was over, and we departed Arran by the small ferry to the Mull of Kintyre.  From there, another small ferry transported into the hidden Cowal Peninsula - a large unspoilt area normally bypassed by visitors heading to the better-known Highlands.

A final stop at the beautiful lochside Oystercatcher pub, and then one of the best views in Scotland - the aptly-named Rest and Be Thankful pass.  Indeed, we were Thankful.