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Sunday, 14 July 2019

Old Tales of Lochranza and Skipness

A half an hour ferry journey connects Lochranza with Claonaig on Kintyre. From Claonaig it is two miles along the scenic shore road to the remote village of Skipness. In the past, both Lochranza and Skipness were locations of strategic importance. Both villages had imposing castles which still dominate their local landscapes today. Both are in the care of Historic Environment Scotland.

Skipness’s pretty cottages look across the Kilbrannan Sound to the mountains of Arran. Using the ferry for a day out on Kintyre, you can explore Skipness Castle, St. Brendan’s medieval chapel, with its carved tomb slabs, bask on the sandy south-facing beach, enjoy eating at the ever popular Skipness Seafood Cabin (open end of May to end of September, not Saturdays) and visit the Skipness Smokehouse shop.

Not much more than a century ago, the settlements in the mountains of West Scotland were more easily connected by seaway than road. Folk tales of Arran tell of marauding by the inhabitants of Kintyre on Arran’s west coast, with men carrying off women and sometimes Arran women carrying off men. In the book ‘Skipness, Memories of a Highland Estate’ by Angus Graham, who was writing about his childhood in the early 20th century, local folklore is remembered. One story tells of the surprise of Skipness villagers when a baby fell out of the sky into the fields, apparently dropped by an eagle which had snatched it up on Arran. Remarkably, the baby was fine and the villagers took it back to its parents on Arran by boat. Another tale is of a stag swimming from Lochranza to Skipness. I can believe this because once I saw a stag swimming north off Newton Point. I thought it was a floating tree.

Another of Angus’s tales tells how a woman arrived in Skipness from Lochranza carrying a bundle of cloth. Inside was a baby, apparently conceived on a jaunt over to Arran by a Skipness man. As he was used to bringing up orphan lambs, he made a good Dad and the baby thrived. The baby became Mrs. Higginson, who recorded Kintyre folklore. My favourite of her tales involves the gruagach of Skipness Castle- a small green figure with a great head of wild hair. This gruagach would appear and disappear at will and would help a widow, Mrs. Barton, to clean the castle after dark. She liked to kneel at Mrs. Barton’s lap to have her unruly hair brushed. However, one night she found a man asleep in Mrs. Barton’s bed and he had made it very untidy so she thrashed him almost to death. Who knows what costly mistakes you could make in castles after dusk?

The Book of Arran Two by W.M. Mackenzie tells of a different strange creature: the Meileachan or The Bleaters. Like the Gruagach, a Bleater could be helpful in tidying up the household at night. However, a Bleater could also be peevish and easily insulted (I’m like that if I do too much housework!) You have to throw a cloak over a Bleater to get rid of it.

The Book of Arran Two gives you insights to the past you would never imagine. It tells how, in the lawless times of early 17th century Arran, there was much ‘theft, slaughter, murder, mutilation, witchcraft, and sorning.’ Sorning? I was curious to know what sort of terrible crime sorning was. I learned that it is ‘imposing oneself as a guest without invitation for an indefinite period’. I know that guests who outstay their welcome can be annoying, but they must have really gone a step too far to be on a par with murder and mutilation!

On a less dramatic, but still on a magical and enchanting note, this year at Brodick Castle you can discover a Fairy Trail of tiny and enchanting fairy houses. You are most likely to find them if you have a small child with you.

If, like me, you like old tales, old books and folklore, contact  Johnston’s Arran Bookroom in Lamlash: heather@johnstonsarranbookroom.co.uk

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Our New Van

We have just returned from a short trip in our new Swift Basecamp caravan.

We first noticed the small (5m x 3m) Basecamp caravan appearing on the campsite last year. Whilst we love tent camping - the simplicity of it and the sense of being at one with nature- inclement weather can bring a camping trip to a premature end. It was the description of the Basecamp as a ‘camping crossover vehicle’ which roused our interest and tempted us with the thought that it could enable us to survive bad weather for longer. But would we lose the simplicity of life in a tent?

Our two night trial trip was to the friendly and well managed Machrihanish Holiday Park on nearby Kintyre, travelling via the Lochranza-Claonaig ferry. Our first impression of our new van was that it is something of a Tardis. Perhaps it’s the panoramic front window that makes the indoor space embrace the outdoors. Two comfortable benches fold away easily to accommodate large outdoor gear items when on the move. At night the benches convert into a wide double bed. I was taken with the practical design of the storage baskets that lift out for packing and slide in for the journey. The LED lighting was economical and the solar panel meant we didn’t need a hook-up. The Basecamp also comes with a sizeable and sturdy Vango awning which will be useful for longer trips with more outdoor gear - and if we’re hankering after tent camping we can always sleep in it! After two days, we were impressed with the caravan’s combination of sophisticated technology, simplicity and ease of management. We can’t wait for our next trip!

At this time of year the Kintyre peninsula’s verges are a carnival of wildflowers: bluebells, thrift, bird’s foot trefoil and wild garlic. Peaceful, lush pastures are grazed by Friesian and Ayrshire dairy cattle, Atlantic rollers unfurl onto long sandy beaches and sea birds on missions pause before launching off to Northern Ireland or Ailsa Craig. We walked up to the Mull of Kintyre at sunset (414m) and surveyed the gilt sea lapping the lands of the ancient kingdom of Dalriada. The following day we walked at low tide on the causeway to Davaar Island from Campbeltown where paintings can be found in a sea-hollowed cave. There is a three hour window at each side of low tide for a safe crossing.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Walking Arran’s North-East Coast (9.5 miles)

Heritage, rocks and wildlife

This stretch of Arran’s Coastal Way takes you along a rugged coastline rich in geology and history and with ever-changing views up and across the Clyde to the Isle of Bute, the tiny island of Inchmarnock, Cowal and Kintyre. On days when the Clyde is like a wide skein of sky blue silk, you may see porpoises, basking sharks and even minke whales cruising purposefully along this special coastline.

Walk directions

Catch a bus from Lochranza to the lay-by opposite the road down to the North Sannox Pony Trekking Centre. Walk down the road past the pony trekking centre, to the North Sannox picnic area, site of the Lag nan Sasunnach (Grave of the Stranger).  Above you are the slopes of Torr Reamhar, once an Iron Age hill fort. Current thinking is that these forts (which can be found right round Arran’s coast) were designed to be impressive spectacles rather than homes, the intention being a show of intimidating power.

Take the trail northwards from the car park. As you walk you are treading on raised beach: in West Scotland the land is still rising in a rebound from the crushing weight of the glaciers of the last Ice Age. You will notice tall white navigation beacons as you walk, which represent measured miles. Ships built on Clydeside used to trial their top speeds using these markers. A couple of miles into your walk you pass through the landfall known as Fallen Rocks.

At grid reference 998488 look up to your left (before the measured mile marker) to see a diagonal path heading uphill into a hidden hollow.  At this point you can deviate from your route to the ruins of the communal farm of Laggantuin and get a sense of how the people of Arran lived in past centuries. Their longhouses  had rough stone walls and low roofs made of heather thatch. Each living room had a central hearth with farm animals kept in the byre at the far end of the building. More than fifteen families and a hundred people lived in this way on this coastline up to the end of the 18th century. One of these folk was Malcolm MacMillan who was grandfather to Daniel MacMillan, who set up the publishing house, and great-great- grandfather to Harold MacMillan, Prime Minister. The people of North Sannox, Laggantuin and the Cock Farm were to make up the largest group of emigrants to Canada from the island during the period in Scotland known as the Clearances. Look out for the traces of their lives in the ridges of the runrig farming system, the ruined workings of a cottage coal industry and salt pans in the area after Laggan Cottage.

The section between Laggantuin and Laggan Cottage is flat, grassy and easy-going. At Milestone Point you cross the Highland Boundary geological fault which divides Highland and Lowland Scotland. Laggan Cottage makes an excellent stopping-point for enjoying your sandwiches and the views. At this point, an alternative path heads inland up and over the hills to the south end of Lochranza. Continuing beside the sea, you are walking in the footsteps of the giant millipede Arthropleura which tramped this way on his many legs 300 million years ago. His fossilised trail remains. (Find out more at Arran Heritage Museum Geology section and the Lochranza Geology Centre.) As you continue you are stepping on different sections of geological time. Notice the changing textures and colours of the rocks dipping and tumbling into the sea. New geological discoveries are regularly being made along this intriguing coastline.

Further along, look out for Ossian’s Cave (grid reference 963517) Take care if you wish to explore its dank and dark interior! The entrance is a narrow slit above a low ledge and in summer it can be hidden by leaves and bracken. If you scramble inside, crouch down to find interesting markings on the walls which include a sailing ship- perhaps drawn by an islander of two centuries ago, waiting apprehensively to leave everything familiar and cross the Atlantic for Canada.

Curving round the coast from the point known as the Cock of Arran, a scrambling challenge awaits you at another section of fallen rocks:  the chaotic conglomeration of  An Scriodan. Choose your footing carefully as you cross it; everything after will feel like easy walking.  At Fairy Dell Cottage you have the option to head up and over the hill past the Whins (crafts and icecreams) or continue round the coast, passing the famous, but not particularly obvious, geological feature known as Hutton’s Unconformity (http://lochranzacaravanandcamping.blogspot.com/ July 2018).

When you reach Newton Point the tantalising view of Lochranza Hotel and the Boguille Bar lies ahead of you. Unfortunately, there is no quick way across the waters of the bay and you have no option but to walk round the head of the loch on the Newton Road.  Of course, the extra distance will make your beer taste all the better!

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