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Friday, 22 March 2019

21st March: First Day of Spring - Lochranza Campsite is Open

It’s one of those days with a low grey sky mingled with a misty sea, when Kintyre is a smudgy outline between them, which does not immediately beckon me out of doors.

It’s been a rainy week or two resulting in waterfalls bursting and spurting out of Lochranza’s hillsides. I pull on my wellies and head out to enjoy them. The first thing I notice is birdsong rippling through the air in cascading notes, rich, flutey whistles, irrepressible twitterings, repetitions and clear, commanding refrains. Underlying the tunes is the harmonious bass roar of rushing rivulets spilling down stones, down through the glen, down into saltwater at the head of the loch.

I walk up the track to Narachan, looking down on cottage roofs and looking up into the cleft of Gleann Easan Biorach where dark cloud is gathered. Even so, there are signs of spring everywhere on this first day of spring: butter-coloured celandine and glistening clumps of frog spawn in the wet pasture. Raindrops tremble on mossy branches. Opening buds colour the bare twigs of their trees: alder branches are crimson, the hawthorn branches fresh green and the sycamore buds are pale delicate shells cracking apart to reveal new life and leaves.

Waterfall Walks on Arran

All over Arran there are waterfalls because the island is a steeply mountainous place attracting high levels of rainfall. The most well-known of Arran’s waterfalls is Glenashdale Falls which you reach from the south end of Whiting Bay (GR 0472530). These falls are a high, narrow spout plunging dizzily down through lush woodland. I understand that the direct path is closed for forest operations at the present time but the Falls can still be reached from the route by the ancient cairns known as the Giants’ Graves.

At the south end of the island, Eas Mor Falls above Kildonan, splash and froth over rocky sills. A circular walk from the car park (GR 019217) takes you on a well-made path by tree-lined pools to viewpoints where the loveliness of the waterfalls is suddenly revealed.

Nearer Lochranza, the North Sannox Burn (GR 994468) thunders in spate down from mountain-rimmed Coire nan Ceum all the way to the sea. A good path with viewpoints has been made by Arran Access Trust.

In wet weather, every glen, ravine and cliff has its own waterfall. As always in the mountains, it makes sense to wear boots with good grippy soles if you venture into steep, wet terrain. Using a walking pole can also help prevent a slip.

The photos below show Chalmadale Waters, the burn which forms a natural boundary to Lochranza Campsite.

Friday, 8 February 2019

The Joys of Tents, the Pleasures of Pods

Nigel and I like to think of ourselves as camping purists. Certainly, I never sleep better than when I’m lying on my Thermarest in my small Vango tent, drifting into dreamland whilst vaguely conscious of small creatures rustling inches from my face in the grass outside. Sometimes I’ve even had encounters with creatures attempting to get inside my tent, including hedgehogs, a fox, farm dogs, and, like many other visitors to Lochranza, stags. As campers who refuse to admit defeat whatever the weather, it’s important to us, if not to other, more sensible people, to occupy the last tent standing in a storm. I love the symphony that is a wet night in a tent, with wind and rain flapping the flysheet, drumming raindrops and rattling poles. I love sitting on the grass in sunshine, waiting a good quarter of an hour for the water in the Trangia stove (bought 1977) to boil. Camping fills up our senses, but does a camping pod?

I first noticed camping pods in Eskdale in the Lake District more than thirty years ago. I didn’t know what they were and guessed they were pigsties (albeit very attractive ones). From modest beginnings, camping pods and glamping pods have become a travel success story. However, we must not confuse the two: a camping pod is to a glamping pod as a canoe is to a luxury yacht. If you’re a camping purist like us, you seek neither luxury nor glamour on your holiday. Whether you’re camping or glamping though, you normally still have to go outside to the loo. This may give you a privileged view of a star-spangled night sky, or, on a rainy night, it may mean damp pyjamas
The first time we stayed in a camping pod I was surprised how much I enjoyed it: it was as simple, basic and cosy as a tent and I still got to hear the rain at night pattering on the roof, lulling me to sleep. It also had the advantage that I didn’t have to wear three fleeces, a woolly hat and my walking socks in bed. 

Here are some other advantages of camping pods over tents:
·         Heating and lighting- useful early and late in season
·         Well-insulated for warmth
·         Curtains to help you sleep on light midsummer nights
·         Less to pack and less to carry meaning that you might even not need to bring your car over on the ferry. Also, there is less to clean and dry when you get home. 

At Lochranza Campsite we have four camping pods: Alder, Birch, Hazel and Rowan, named after trees that grow around Lochranza.  You can find a description of each pod and book online by following this link: http://www.arran-campsite.com/index.php/camping-pods. The pods are situated on the southern edge of the campsite with the burn, Chalmadale Waters, winding behind them. Each pod’s back window frames the magnificent crags of Torr Nead an Eoin.

Is a camping pod camping? I would say so, except for the backpacking aspect. Arguably, pods offer the best of camping and none of the hardships.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Happy New Year! Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!
Today (11th January) is New Year’s Eve in the Old Scottish calendar. Bliadhna Mhath Ùr (Happy New Year in Gaelic). 

Already, the days are noticeably a little lighter and the patches of the campsite touched by sunshine are a little larger. The darkest days of the year have past, but is winter still to come?

Lochranza takes its name from the bay around which its white cottages and villas straggle. The bay, an inlet of the sea, has been a useful anchorage for boats throughout centuries.  The name Lochranza derives from the Gaelic and Norse meaning ‘loch of the rowan tree river’. The rowan tree or mountain ash can cope with high altitudes and harsh climates, and ancient folk wisdom regards it as giving protection to a place from enchantments. 

I realise that being protected from enchantment is not necessarily one of your essential holiday requirements. However, if you are looking for the beauty of Scottish mountains, lochs and sea and lots of wildlife you will enjoy Lochranza. Our online booking opens on February 1st. We strongly advise early booking especially for the last week in May, and the whole of July and August. If you have visited us before, you’ll find plenty of old faces to welcome you back and some new ones as well.

If you like to plan your holiday to coincide with Arran’s festivals 2019 here are dates for the mountain festival and the folk music festival:-
Arran Mountain Festival 17th-20th May www.arranmountainfestival.co.uk
Arran Folk Music Festival 7th-9th June www.arranevents.com

I’ll keep you posted about the other festivals as I hear about them. Do watch this space.

Wishing you good health and enchanting travelling in 2019.

Kathy and Nigel, and Lochranza Campsite Staff


‘If winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’ (Shelley)

Monday, 1 October 2018

Sunday, 16 September 2018

From 12 holes to 9 to 18 then 9 again: Lochranza Golf Course’s Layouts 1898-2018

History has come full circle at Lochranza Golf Course this year with the return of Pablo Moran to his green-keeping beginnings. Pablo first came to the village from Peru in 1963 aged 17 when he was unable to speak English. He remembers how he cried for a month with homesickness. Thankfully for golf on the island it did not get the better of him.

At that time the village had long had a golf course on land situated in the head of the glen, owned by the Arran Estate. The first recorded golf course at Lochranza was opened on the 6th June 1899 – an era that would come to be regarded as the heyday of Arran golf due to burgeoning tourism around the Clyde. Many of Arran’s golf courses originated at this time: between 1903 and 1914 there were 11 golf courses on the island. The SWRI’s book ‘History of the Villages of the Isle of Arran’ reports that ‘the people (of Lochranza) opened a golf course, a new club house and new bridges over the burn for the benefit of golfers’.

The original golf course at Lochranza had 12 holes. The father and grandfather of Mr. Iain Robertson, dedicated golfer and owner of the golf course from 1988 to 2009, played this original layout on annual summer holidays. The course layout at that time did not include the Butt Field or the Sea Field. Instead, it stretched up the steep hillside to the south-east towards Narachan. An old tee from that time remains in the bracken below Broombank road end and is visible in the winter months. That tee played downhill to a green to the west of the big sycamore tree stump which would later become part of the campsite. Mr Robertson thinks it possible that the golf course at that time also extended upstream towards Ballarie Farm.  

During the Second World War the golf course was used for commando training. Traces of hut circles on the 1st and 9th fairways can still be discerned as well as a raised bank which may have been a rifle range. The Stags Pavilion became a base for the commandos. After the war, a 9 hole layout, completely different to today’s, was created. The area of the course included the present-day campsite field and the field that now contains the pond. Mr. Robertson remembers that a farmer from Catacol, whose sheep sometimes strayed to Lochranza, used to mow the fairways with the gang mowers on his tractor. The tees from this post-war 9 hole layout, now disused, remain around the golf course. When Mrs Ruby McAllister took over the golf course and campsite in 1963 the club house became a tearoom and shop.

The eighties saw a resurgence of the popularity of golf due to televised major competitions. When Mr.Robertson bought the golf course and campsite in 1988 he planned an ambitious new 18 hole layout. He negotiated with Mr. Charles Fforde, the landowner, and Mr.Sandy Sloss, the farmer, to acquire the Butt Field and Sea Field areas with the provision that the sheep could have sheltered grazing through the lambing period in April. This system remains in place today. The 18 hole layout designed by Mr. Robertson and his father included double tees and greens and a number of other new features, including the pond on the 7th hole, other water hazards and long doglegs. The 18 hole layout at par 70 presented the longest course on the island. The layout was designed to maximise appreciation of the beautiful scenic views as golfers walked the course.

Nigel and myself took over the golf course and campsite lease in 2009. A meeting of members in 2010 in the Stags Pavilion, led to a vote in favour of returning the course to a 9 hole layout and with their help we set about the changes in 2011. Essentially, today’s 9 holes are based on Mr. Robertson’s 18 hole layout.

Now back in Pablo’s care, 55 years on from when he first set foot on Lochranza’s fairways, the course, framed by the majestic hills, continues to be enjoyed by stalwart local supporters and visitors alike.

My information for this blog came from:

Mr. Iain Robertson, Lochranza Golf owner 1988-2009

Golf on Arran by James Henderson, published by Voice for Arran 2016

 History of the Villages of the Isle of Arran by SWRI Arran Federation revised in 2002

Saturday, 25 August 2018

An Old Way


‘Everyone spoke about going over the Boguille.’ (The Place-Names of Arran by Ian A. Fraser)


The Boguille is a Gaelic name for the upper part of the road between Glen Chalmadale and North Sannox. It is derived from ‘boglach’ which means marshy ground. (The ‘bo’ part rhymes with Joe and the ‘guille’ part rhymes with Billy.) Chalmadale comes from Old Norse, the tongue of the Vikings, and means Hjalmund’s Dale. Hjalmund must have decided that this deep glen, sheltered from the north wind, was a desirable place to settle- and who wouldn’t?

One afternoon recently I got dropped off at the top of the Boguille (204m). This is the watershed where burns begin flowing in opposite directions. I turned my back on the always- arresting view of the Sleeping Warrior (the ridge between Suidhe Fheargas and Caisteal Abhail), in order to walk the old way into Lochranza which descends on the opposite side of the burn from the road. It is clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey Explorer map but not always easy to detect on the tussocky high ground. As I tripped and stumbled through the long, spiky deer grass, I was rewarded by the fluttering of many vivid vermilion and deep brown Scotch Argus butterflies ahead of me.

With trousers firmly tucked in my socks to avoid ticks in these haunts of the red deer herds, I descended gently. The path is crossed at intervals by rills and rivulets which splash down to the burn, Chalmadale Waters. Arran is a mountainous island and (normally) a wet island, so its tumbling burns and waterfalls are plentiful and are wee microcosms of biodiversity and charm.

Along the track I noticed evidence of old road construction in the form of rock slabs. Around the sheep-nibbled grass yellow tormentil flowers twinkled starrily and filmy pale blue harebells nodded. Meadow pipits flitted through the whins and stonechats chattered (as they do!) It is a bonny route, away from road traffic, with the view down to Glen Farm lying ahead. Once at the bottom of the track you come to farm buildings and a ford from where the path rises again past Glen Farm and traverses the hillside to Narachan before descending to the head of the loch by Lochranza Golf Course.

The walk took me little more than an hour and on an August afternoon I passed not a soul.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Desperately Seeking Hutton’s Unconformity


Where IS Hutton’s Unconformity? A question we are often asked and one that is not easy to answer because, to the untrained eye, the rocks which comprise the unconformity don’t appear to be much different to the rest of the gnarled, grey, sea-bitten rocks that edge Arran’s northern coastline.

The issue of whether Hutton’s should be marked by a sign has been the subject of much discussion. Many think a sign would look intrusive in such a natural landscape. Many others believe that some kind of interpretation is vital if visitors are to fully appreciate the significance of the site. In fact, James Hutton himself is the remarkable ingredient in the story. In 1787, a time when Christendom believed the world was created in 4004 BC, Hutton, a lively and inquisitive man, farmer and soil-improver, came to Arran, looked at the formation of the rocks and recognised that the Earth must be much older than prevailing wisdom asserted.

Hutton applied modern scientific methods and reasoning to comprehension of the Earth’s history. Walking along the coast towards the Cock of Arran, he observed that younger sedimentary layers of sandstone lay above older Dalradian schists: this is the unconformity. He deduced that titanic processes of erosion and sedimentation, of uplift and great heat, must have created the world over long periods of time. His discovery made him come to be regarded as the father of modern geology although initially he faced outrage and accusations of blasphemy from some members of the church.

How to Find the Unconformity


From Newton Point (GR 931515) follow the Coastal Way. At first the path crosses grass then rocky ground. It’s about 1km to Hutton’s Unconformity.

Look up to your right for a long tree-filled fissure that makes a vertical line down the hillside. Hutton’s Unconformity is in line with this, in the rocks by the sea.

Eventually you come to a stone slab bridging a ditch (GR 936521). Stop here, don’t take the right turn of the path inland. Hutton’s Unconformity is on the sea side of the stone slab bridge. Look out for the two types of rock lying adjacent to each other, despite belonging to different geological ages. Notice how they slope at different angles.

A fun, educational way to learn about the local geology is to visit Lochranza Centre and do their geocaching trail (www.lochranzacentre.co.uk). I also recommend purchasing ‘Arran: Landscapes in Stone’ by Alan McKirdy, £7.99 from the Book and Card Shop in Brodick.‘The Arran Naturalist’, commemorative edition, £3.00, is also of interest if geology captures your imagination. It contains an excellent article about Arthropleura, a 2m long millipede, whose footprints from 300 million years ago remain clearly visible on rocks near Laggan. We sell this booklet in reception. You can also find out more about Arran geology at Arran Heritage Museum, Brodick.