Travel review: The Isle of Arran

Brodick, Arran'Brian Chapple
Brodick, Arran'Brian Chapple

Every little girl likes jewels. And four-year-old Flora is no exception.

Except instead of collecting diamonds and rubies, Flora concentrates on travel jewels and she has just got back from discovering a real gem.

Glen Rosa, looking to Cir Mhor.

Glen Rosa, looking to Cir Mhor.

The Isle of Arran is known as the “jewel in Scotland’s crown’’ and its not hard to see why. The landscape is picture perfect, the beaches unspoilt and uninhabited and there is a real old-fashioned family feel to this lovely place.

Even the sail across from the mainland port of Ardrossan in Ayrshire to the island’s capital Brodick is a joy. Operated by CalMac, there are regular crossings and the one hour trip is a great way to relax as you sit and admire the water as you sail across.

And the great thing is that as everywhere is accessible by good transport links, you can leave the car behind in Ardrossan and either cycle, walk or take the bus.

Minutes after disembarking you are on the high street in Brodick, a mixture of hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and shops. There is great fun to be had at the old-fashioned mini golf too and of course breathe in the sea air as you tuck into candy floss and ice cream.

With the summer being kind this year, we opted for a spot of camping. Not being a great tent family, we found the perfect solution. The National Trust for Scotland owns the historic Brodick Castle and in the grounds three camping pods have been erected. Each are of a different size and sleep between two and four adults.

Eco-friendly, the pods have been constructed of wood with an insulation of sheep’s wool and the roof is made of special material to ensure when it rains, you don’t hear it!

And there is a special layer of foil in the roof to ensure when it is hot, the pod doesn’t overheat. The pods are spacious and fully carpeted and come complete with a small fridge and heater. And the French doors and small window provide the air needed when it is warm.

Inflatable mattresses can be hired, but no bedding or towels are supplied. Being over 40, my only slight criticism is that the mattresses were a bit thin for my creaking back and although there was a blind for the doors, there was none for the window, which means you all wake up early!

But the bad bits were certainly outdone by the fun of the pods, which have a patio too and a barbecue so you can pretend to be a real camper. A fully equipped kitchen and toilet and washing facilities are only a stone’s throw away in the Shore Lodge Hostel, which also has a lounge and free Wi Fi.

And for prices ranging from £35 for the smaller pods to £45 for the larger ones, you can’t go far wrong, especially since the site is yards from the beach and also just below the castle and its impressive gardens.

Flora, Ruaridh (7) and I had great fun trying out the barbecue and the peace and quiet of the island was a real joy.

Once out of the pod, there is much to see and do. For the more adventurous there is Goatfell, Arran’s highest peak at 874 metre. It takes a few hours to climb, but the views from the top are said to be worth it.

Thankfully for my old knees. Flora and Ruaridh were more interested in testing out the beaches. With red hot weather, we enjoyed two lazy mornings on the sands of Sannox, accessible by the famous “stepping stones’’ and Blackwaterfoot, where the brave duo stripped right off and dived into the icy waters!

Having spent many a childhood holiday on Arran, the small village of Lochranza is my favourite. As you drive down into the lovely village, you are greeted by the castle, which dates back to 1200 and was the basis for the Tintin adventure “The Black Island’’. The castle nestles next to Loch Ranza which was as still as a millpond when we visited, with lots of small yachts bobbing up and down in the harbour. There is a tiny ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula and the village is also home to The Isle of Arran Distillery.

What is wonderful about Arran is that wherever you drive, you spot couples with their deckchairs on isolated beaches enjoying the views and every now and then in the middle of no-where there are a couple of swings and bench so the oldies can enjoy the views as the youngsters burn off a bit of energy.

A tour of the island will take you from the small, but picture postcard perfect villages of Corrie and Sannox, the bigger spots of Lamlash and Whiting Bay to the tiny Pirnmill and Catacol Bay.

Each place has its charm and draw and as we left Brodick aboard the tiny Isle of Arran boat, both Ruaridh and Flora stopped counting the shells they had faithfully collected, turned back wistfully and asked “when can we go again Mum?!’’

Factfile:

Accommodation: Camping is a great and cheap way. Shore Lodge Camping Pods, owned by National Trust for Scotland, are based in the grounds of the beautiful Brodick Castle on The Isle of Arran. For more details, log onto www.nts.org.uk/Holidays/Specialist-properties/Base-Camps

Activities: The Isle of Arran is a haven for outdoor pursuits from walking to cycling, but there are plenty of attractions too. For more information, log onto www.visitarran.com