THE morning of 6th May 2017 found me blinking at the sun’s harsh glare as its rays danced and sparkled across a vivid blue sea. The sky was azure, dotted here and there with fluffy clouds and palm trees stood proudly in front of the B&B in which I breakfasted. Mountains rose from the island’s interior. Had I somehow travelled to St Lucia by mistake? A glance at my breakfast plate disabused me of the notion. No, this was definitely Scotland.
The weather was merely role-playing tropical but that still meant that I would shortly be as fried as my comestibles. My skin doesn’t really get the concept of tanning. Burning, on the other hand, is as easy as ABC…
…Ambulatory Barbecue Charcoal, that is.
Smothered liberally with sunscreen in a vain attempt to fend off the inevitable, I wandered along Brodick seafront obtaining water and snacks along the way.
The Arran Coastal Way initially followed the A841 up a hill but quickly branched off down the side road to Strathwhillan (Srath Chuilinn).
This tiny hamlet is basically a suburb on the edge of Brodick, spread out along the one lane and surrounded by fields. After not very long, the lane came to an end and then I too was surrounded by fields in which concerned sheep regarded my progress with suspicion and quickly moved away. Would I try to eat their lambs, they wondered?
As I gave the retreating sheep a backwards glance, my eyes slipped to Goatfell rising majestically in the distance. This was my cue to rise rather more awkwardly and clamber over stiles between fields as I followed the waymarks that led me away from Brodick.
A couple of fields later, the path plunged through a small copse of trees and emerged onto an access track beside the farm of North Corriegills. To my right, the track headed off to connect to the road network; ahead it led down to the shore. The Clauchland Hills formed the skyline.
Flanked by intense colour, the track wound down to a scatter of cottages near the water’s edge. Not only was the gorse in bloom — a riot of vivid yellow — but below and around it bluebells grew thickly. It was quite enchanting, though a closer examination revealed not the off-white anthers of the common bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) but the blue ones of the invasive Spanish bluebell (H. hispanica) or their hybrid H. × massartiana.
The track was fairly short and soon ended at a stony beach. For the next section greens, greys and browns would predominate as the path towards and around Clauchlands Point wallowed in a salt marsh dotted with rocks.
As it approached the headland of Clauchlands Point, the path changed not so much in quality as proportion, minimising the marsh and maximising the rocks. It became an undulating route, winding over and between them not dissimilar to the previous walk’s An Scriodan boulder fields.
Rounding the Point
Dodging around a party of elderly ramblers, I emerged from the rocks to gain a level grassy path that conveyed me towards Lamlash Bay. Glancing back, I saw that Goatfell still watched over my progress.
The path led onto a track that turned into an actual road as it rounded Lamlash Bay.
The bay is dominated by Holy Island (Eilean Molaise), which is basically one big water-surrounded hill.
The island has been a religious site since at least the 6th century, when Irish-born St Molaise of Leighlin lived there as a hermit in a cave. A monastery was built on the island in the 13th century but was later abandoned. Today, it is home to a monastery again, though probably not one of which Molaise would approve — in 1992 the island was bought by Tibetan Buddhists.
Facing out towards it is the village of Lamlash, which is what passes for Arran’s capital. It is home to the local offices of North Ayrshire Council (though Arran was historically in Buteshire) and to the island’s hospital and secondary school plus a population of similar size to Brodick’s.
Its English name derives from the mangling over time of ‘Eilean Molaise.’ In Gaelic it is known as An t-Eilean Àrd, meaning ‘the high island.’
No Take Zone
The northern part of Lamlash Bay comprises Scotland’s first No Take Zone, established in 2008 as an area of sea and seabed from which no sea fish can be removed by any method.
I didn’t plan to take any fish from the area but I hoped that, as one of Arran’s principal settlements, Lamlash might offer up certain other amenities, such as toilets and a tea shop or café. I was about ready for that vital fuel of walking, the mighty Cup of Tea, plus a slice of cake if I could get one. My stomach gurgled in anticipation, having earlier been denied lamb.
Old Pier Café
The Old Pier Café furnished me with both the much-desired tea and a truly excellent slice of Victoria sponge. Though thoroughly modern inside, judging from the pictures on its walls it had existed as tearoom or café on that site for at least as long as I had been alive and quite possibly a lot longer still.
It stood, as its name suggested, beside the Victorian pier and slipway from which a regular summer foot ferry crosses to Holy Island.
The immediate vicinity of the pier is pretty much the only part of Lamlash where buildings are clustered on both sides of the road; most of the rest of the village is strung out along its landward side, facing onto the bay.
Of particular note is Hamilton Terrace, built in 1895 and named for the 10th Duke of Hamilton (who commissioned it). Designed by prominent architect Sir John James Burnet (1857-1938), it’s not your typical Victorian terrace. Well, not much like those in London anyway.
Highland Clearance Monument
Close by Hamilton Terrace was a small monument made of standing stones that commemorated the Highland Clearances. This 18th and 19th century phenomenon saw landowners evict crofters from their smallholdings, combining the farms and enclosing common land to create larger, more profitable estates. The Dukes of Hamilton were no exception and numerous farms and villages were emptied across Arran. One village near Sannox saw 86 crofters emigrate via Lamlash to Canada in 1829.
The monument was installed in 1977.
Towards Kingscross Point
As I headed south through Lamlash, I acquired an ice cream and the first painful hints of sunburn to come. The bay curved around towards Kingscross Point — the closest point between Arran and Holy Island — and the coast path became an indistinct trail along the shore.
Not only is walking across from Kingscross Point not possible but walking to it proved slightly more arduous than expected.
The path meandered between the shore and the wood that lined it and while the shore was covered in shingle and rocks, many of which were dangerously slippery, the woods were boggy and full of the scent of wild garlic. I nearly slipped over and broke something several times on the beach — although with my sense of balance that’s an omnipresent threat anyway.
Fortunately, the sections of path that ran through the wood were much easier than they might have been. Stupendously easier. So easy in fact as almost to be cheating.
My easy boardwalk non-adventure ended with a steep climb up a decidedly narrow and non-cheaty section of mud path. Towards the top of the coastal slope, this transformed into a flight of steps that deposited me about 40 m higher than the shore (I guess this means I’d levelled up. Woot!)
Keen Committee Lady
Some wandering about quiet country lanes and access tracks followed, during which I met a very nice lady who used to be on the Coastal Way Committee and seemed very keen that I agree just how bright the gorse was this year.
It was, I duly agreed.
I figured, as I continued, that having climbed up from the shore, the Arran Coastal way would now approach Kingscross Point from on-high rather than at sea level. I was wrong.
The point takes its name from a local tradition that Robert the Bruce landed there when he visited Arran. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Local legend also says that he mistook a distant fire for a signal that his followers were ready to rise up and thus crossed back to Ayrshire prematurely.
Holy Island’s Inner Lighthouse is one of two, the other unsurprisingly being named the Outer Lighthouse. While the latter faces out to sea, the Inner Lighthouse shines out over the narrow straight at Kingscross.
It was built as an oil-burning light in 1877 but converted to gas in 1898 and then electrified and automated in 1976. I sat and looked at it across the water as I paused to eat the sandwich I’d been carrying since Brodick, then slathered on more sunscreen, determinedly maintaining the pretence that it would stop the spreading scarlet.
From its new low point, the coast path immediately started once again to rise, climbing towards a cairn and the remains of a small fort or dun.
Known locally as the Viking Fort, the dun is about twice that age but the Vikings no doubt made user of it, as attested by the excavation of a Norse ship burial right next door. Not that I’d want to carry a longship up that hill; they must have been cursing whoever had that bright idea.
The path headed, via a copse of trees, through a field containing three horses, who were very interested in visitors. I let them harass a group of other walkers while I shamelessly slipped past.
Between Two Points
The path then descended through another small wood—the floor of which was a carpet of wild garlic flowers — and deposited me on a beach. I was now entering Whiting Bay, which is said to be another instance of English name-mangling (from ‘Viking Bay’). Its Gaelic name is Eadar Dhà Rubha meaning ‘between two points.’
Whiting Bay is Arran’s third largest settlement, meaning I’d now visited the top three in one day. A café-cum-general store sold me a refreshing cool drink, which I slurped as I plodded through the village.
Well, I say ‘village’ but the plural might be more appropriate. In similar manner to Arran’s other settlements, Whiting Bay is linear, spread out along the edge of the bay. As one travels through it one passes through several named districts — Auchencairn, Knockenkelly, North and South Kiscadale and Largymore — all of which were originally separate tiny hamlets.
Whiting Bay Pier
A ferry to Saltcoats in Ayrshire was established in 1790 and that kicked off Whiting Bay’s merger and transformation into a resort and port of call for the Clyde steamers.
A pier was built in 1901 — Arran’s longest — to service the steamers and ferries without recourse to using small boats as shuttles.
Whiting Bay remained an important port of entry to Arran until 1954, when the ferry to the mainland ceased calling there, instead going only to Brodick. That spelt the end of the good times and the pier was closed in 1957 then dismantled in 1964 with only a short jetty now gracing the seafront. The boats that once called there are nothing but a distant memory.
As I wandered through Whiting Bay, I saw my first milestone of the day, a simple cylindrical affair with the numeral 10 engraved deeply in the top. There are many such milestones on Arran’s roads, relics of the completion of the coast road in 1851; they are numbered clockwise from Brodick’s Old Quay.
Leaving Whiting bay
As I left Whiting Bay, the coast path returned to the shore where, I knew, it would scramble its way across another boulder field.
I was thoroughly enjoying my walk but in no mood for clambering over rocks so I stuck resolutely to the road instead. It had ceased to be the A841 at the southern end of Whiting Bay, so I figured it should now be fairly quiet. This assumption was immediately tested by two drivers in quick succession — and I really do mean quick — who were apparently dead certain that no one would be walking on that road.
Well, they were certain; it was nearly me that was dead.
Having avoided automotive fatality more through luck than the judgment of anyone involved, I continued more cautiously as the road climbed slowly and bypassed Dippin Head.
Dippin itself was a tiny hamlet through which I passed almost without noticing. A quarter of a mile or so beyond it, I came to a turn off for the coastal village of Kildonan.
A is for Accident
Looking at the road signs, I could clearly see where an A-road designation had been erased — it had originally been the A843, then part of the A841 from the late 1920s before being declassified in the early 2000s — and decided that I’d quite like to leave this former A-road with its near-homicidal motorists.
Approaching the Village
The narrow lane to Kildonan dropped gradually over half a mile, losing the 120 m of elevation that the ex-A-road had gained since Whiting Bay. It meandered lazily down towards the village, at one point passing a small car park, in the carefully manicured verge of which I saw this:
Kildonan’s solitary standing stone is no more than about three feet tall and was said to have been part of a circle destroyed when the road was built through it.
Turning about, I could see something altogether larger sticking up on the horizon, far out beyond the nearby isle of Pladda.
Of course it isn’t. It’s Ailsa Craig, which I’d not seen since my Girvan to Ayr walk. The much closer isle of Pladda (Pladaigh), also seen in the photo above, takes its name from the Norse for ‘flat Isle’ and is privately owned.
Its lighthouse dates from 1790 and was the first light on the Clyde to be commissioned by the Commissioners of the Northern Lights. It was designed by Thomas Smith (1752-1814), stepfather of lighthouse engineer Robert Stevenson (1772-1850) and founder of an engineering dynasty —several of Robert’s own sons and grandsons also designed lighthouses though notably not his novelist grandson Robert Louis Stevenson.
Pladda Lighthouse was automated in 1990, having been manned for two hundred years.
Moving on from the standing stone, I came to the village of Kildonan (Cill Donnain), which is named for the late 6th century Irish monk St Donan who is said to be buried there.
The village had a castle, built by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles but which was in the ownership of King Robert III by the time he died in 1406. He passed it on to his illegitimate son, John Stewart of Ardgowan but in 1544 it was acquired by the Hamilton Earls of Arran in compensation for an attack on Brodick.
It didn’t have long left, however, for in 1588 the Earl of Sussex, who was also Lord Deputy of Ireland, raided Kintyre and the Isles in response to Scots encroachment on Antrim. Kildonan Castle was burnt and appears in no records thereafter. A sad end for one of Arran’s three strategic fortresses (the others being Lochranza and Brodick).
Kildonan is a quiet village, slightly out of the way on account of its position off the main coast road. In recent years, it’s lost its school and village shop and one of its two hotels.
The Kildonan Hotel, built in the 17th century and amongst the oldest licensed inns in Scotland, remains to dominate the village.
The road came closer to the shore and curved around the small embayment called Port Buidhe (‘yellow port’). The rest of Kildonan was strung out along this road and beyond it loomed Bennan Head and another boulder field.
Village Hall & Chapel Bell
Kildonan may have been losing village amenities at an alarming rate in recent years but one thing they’ve managed to hang onto is the village hall. With pub and chapel both consigned to history, it’s the only real centre of community they have left. Mounted just outside it in a purpose-built section of wall is the old chapel bell.
The writing on the bell reveals that it was presented to the village by the Clark family.
The Clarks were wealthy Paisley industrialists who were originally suppliers to the linen industry until they made a vast fortune by developing workable cotton thread at a time when Napoleon’s blockade had made silk thread too expensive for most purposes.
Up or Over?
As the road reached the end of Kildonan and climbed its way tortuously back to the main road, I cottoned on to the fact that I had to choose between that climb and a clamber over inconvenient rocks. I quickly concluded that I would put up with up better than I would get over getting over. And so, up I went.
Bennan Head & Beyond
Southern Coast Road
The main road, when I reached it, had calmed down considerably not to mention largely straightened out. Unless I relented and headed for the shore, I would be on it for the next four miles dodging the occasional car and being baa-ed and moo-ed at from neighbouring fields.
A litany of farm names rolled slowly past: Levencorroch, Southbank, East & West Bennen and Shannochie.
The Coastal Way Beckons
Near to the latter, I saw a sign pointing from the road to the shore as part of the Arran Coastal Way’s high-tide diversion away from Bennan Head. It seemed that, by taking the road, I had taken that diversion and now it was offering me the chance to rejoin the coast after the unwelcome rock scramble. I thought about it. I thought again.
‘Oh, why not?’ I mused. I set off down the farm track indicated, watched by curious cattle and sheep. I got maybe halfway.
Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!
Two farm dogs, one a chilled-out collie and the other some small yappy thing, came bounding up the lane to investigate. The collie barked and wagged its tail weakly. The yappy thing changed up a gear to snappy. I saw it making for my ankle and decided offence was the best defence, advancing on it equally belligerently.
It backed off, startled, and dialled back down to yappy and I realised, with a sinking feeling, that it planned to keep up the yapping for the three-quarter mile distance it’d take to get back to the shore. Worse, its constant excitement was starting to get to the collie, which joined in experimentally with some barking.
The stubborn part of me thought I should just ignore them and stride onwards. The part of me that had already had way too much sun, decided it wasn’t worth the headache. Pausing only to threaten the yappy thing one more time as it tried to have another go for my leg, I turned about and went back to the road. Even so, the barking persisted for a while.
Sticking to the road had the benefit of being the shorter route by far and it wasn’t too long before I was entering Kilmory (Cill Mhóire, ‘Mary’s Church’).
Kilmory is actually an agglomeration of three small settlements with Kilmory itself being the smallest but as it has the church it gets to name the whole thing. The part of the village I was actually entering was the hamlet of Torrylinn, known for having a Neolithic chambered tomb and for being the home of this:
Torylinn Creamery was established by the Milk Marketing Board in 1946, when WW2 rationing was still in effect and the provision of plentiful foodstuffs was a prime government concern.
It manufactures cheese in the Dunlop style, a mild buttery semi-soft cheese a bit like cheddar but different. Dunlop originates from Ayrshire so given that Arran is in North Ayrshire these days, that seems an appropriate style.
The road led through and beyond Torrylinn, dipping amid a small wood into the valley of Kilmory Water. Directly beyond the bridge across that stream was Lagg (An Lag, ‘the hollow’) and my destination for the day — the Lagg Hotel, an old coaching inn built in 1791.
A bath, a drink, dinner and bed all beckoned; plus smearing myself liberally with aloe vera in an effort to look less like a tomato.
This time: 20 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,803 miles