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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Winter Solstice in Lochranza

Whilst mainland Scotland has been having a truly Arctic winter, being a small island has meant that Arran hasn’t suffered such extreme conditions. Arran has kept being a brown blob on the BBC weather map when most places are blue. It’s been easy when walking along the coast to distinguish the other snow-free islands of the Clyde against the white backdrop of mainland. The CalMac ferries have been sailing with serene regularity, whilst road traffic chaos on the mainland has made headlines daily. Today, however, after some heavy snowfalls, everything here is white.
In early December much of Lochranza goes into its famous sunless period which will last through January. The sun never quite makes it on to the campsite, as it circles low behind Torr Nead and Meall Mor. The north-facing cliffs along the coast have curtains of icicles. There is a sharp division between sunshine and shade which works its way across the hillsides as the day goes on. You might think that being sunless would make it gloomy, but it’s more as if there is a golden ceiling just above your head. And it might be the winter solstice but the sparkling frosts seem to lengthen the days.
The herds of deer are high up on the hillsides now as there is nothing left to eat on the golf course. It’s already being another tough winter for wild things.

Nigel and I would like to wish you a very happy, safe and warm Christmas.
The photograph shows the lunar eclipse just before dawn on December 21st.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Bog Standards

“You’re very lucky to live here.”

I’ve heard that a lot this year and, now as the season closes, I wholeheartedly agree. It’s strange to look back at how it wasn’t the beauty of the place and the wildlife all round that I noticed at first, but that human and animal waste, shall we say, had come to dominate my life. If I wasn’t batting deer poo off the golf greens, I was waving a loo brush in the ladies.

Repetitive daily task that cleaning toilets is, I have to say that in eight months of it, without respite, I haven’t had to deal with anything unpleasant lurking in the depths- if you know what I mean. Clearly we have considerate visitors.

Toilet cleaning has given me other, darker insights into human nature. For example, sometimes callers come when I am mid-mopping. They will ask, with disdain at my lowly status, if they can speak to the owner. I cheerfully introduce myself then get my revenge by shaking their hands with my Marigolds still on.

Everyone should do a stint of toilet cleaning in their lives! Then we’d be eternally grateful for the great service toilet cleaners do us. Facing a dripped-on seat when you’re dying for relief can ruin anybody’s day.

I’m ashamed to confess that I have had the experience of toilet-cleaning rage. It happened in the height of season when, despite barricading myself in the loos with closed signs, one passer-by after another clambered over them the minute I was occupied in a closet, without so much as a “Please, I’m desperate!” The bowls got a furious pounding with the loo brush that day!

Nigel and I are now polished and practised toilet cleaners, who swish through the toilets in no time. And there can’t be many toilet cleaners who can step outside and straightaway see eagles and red deer.

We are lucky to live here!

Have a wonderful time in the winter months.

Hope to see you next year.

Kathy and Nigel

Saturday, 16 October 2010


It’s five in the morning. I’ve just been outside, having been lying awake for sometime listening to the raucous bellowing of a stag outside the caravan window. You’ve heard of swimming with dolphins- well, at this time of year, here you get to camp with stags roaring close by. Just bring ear plugs if you want some sleep. Outside, the sky is black and peppered with billions of twinkling silver and gold stars. The solid outlines of Torr Nead and Meall Mor edge the sky. Winds are whooshing about in Glen Chalmadale and Gleannn Easan but it’s calm down here and I can distinguish many stag voices calling round the village in answer to the one who’s woken me up. A few motorhomes are staying on site and I can’t see any lights on so I’m hoping everyone else is still fast asleep.

It’s coming to the end of our first season now. We close on October 31st until March 1st. Anyone holidaying in Arran now truly sees the tourist season end in a blaze of autumn glory. Visitors come back daily with reports of something special, including today “We saw the northern lights from the pier last night” and “We saw a basking shark passing Pirnmill….”. I myself saw a little colony of common seals basking on the rocks at Newton shore and red squirrels scurrying about all over the place. But it’s the daily soap opera of the deer that dominates our lives: the chases, challenges, tussles and, of course, the desperate groanings and defiant bellowings.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Red Deer on the First Day of Autumn

There aren’t many human visitors on site now, but it’s all happening with the red deer. It’s 8pm and almost dark. In the last light you can see two deer on the skyline. Sitting in the caravan with the lights off makes a brilliant wildlife observation hide. A massive, magnificent, dark-coloured stag with many points on his antlers has come down from the hill on to the site to exert his authority over the hinds. There is something primeval about him, as though the forest has come to life. He has scared away the young males and is pursuing a small herd of hinds with this year’s calves right past the caravan window. The calves are watching him curiously but warily. He lifts his head and roars a groaning, grunting, mooing roar, no doubt directed at the stags over the burn.

These deer are not tame, although the hinds and calves are very people-tolerant. We do not feed them. I guess they’re around so much because this was their home, before ever there was a campsite- and the golf course has juicy green grass as well!

We regularly see unusual and amusing insights into red deer life. The other day I saw two stags sitting down, absolutely motionless, being pecked all over by jackdaws. The deer clearly didn’t want to move as they were enjoying it so much. The birds were probably de-ticking them.

Monday, 6 September 2010


This has been a week of special moments. Walking along the coast back from Laggan to Lochranza on Tuesday, I found the prehistoric giant millipede tracks there, in a rocky cleft by the sea, at last, after much looking! 320 million years old and clearly visible!

Another ancient discovery followed on when Nigel and I went to a meeting of the Arran Natural History Society. This involved an interesting talk by a ranger whose job it is to identify ancient trees in Ayrshire. He told us that he records trees whose girth is greater than three metres. We measured the campsite’s huge sycamore as soon as we returned. It is over five metres, making it a tree that must have witnessed many human generations coming and going at Lochranza.

I have also had some sudden unexpected glimpses of Arran’s beautiful wildlife. First of all, yesterday morning, a camper drew my attention to one of the eagles soaring above the campsite, its wings catching the golden rays of the rising sun. Then today, walking in Glen Catacol, first a black adder wriggled across the path ahead, then an adder a little further on.

The stags are moving closer to the campsite now. The rut approaches. Last night a heavy mature stag was standing underneath the Stags Pavilion sign board. Wonder if he was aware that Teddy was serving venison on the other side of the glass?

Finally, I have seen the Sleeping Warrior properly: visor, chin, chest and all. Here’s a photo at sunset from the top of the Boguillie Road. Can you see him too?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

So long summer………………

17th August

The reason I haven’t blogged for ages is that campsite life has been hectic and today is the first day I’ve had some spare time in weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m lucky to live and work in as beautiful a place as this, but I have to confess to a degree of jealousy of holidaymakers who have come to stay here. It’s great to meet so many new and interesting faces, but I want to be out there camping and exploring the island too, and, in summer, as campsite owner, I simply can’t. Maybe we could live in our little tent …..after all, it was camping here on the start of our sea kayaking tour last summer that brought us here.

Though we’ve just had a gorgeously warm and sunny weekend (see picture of me swimming in Coire Fhion Lochain, which was slightly less chilly then the sea at Blackwaterfoot the day before) there are signs of Autumn now. As we look across to Kintyre and the setting sun, the point the sun goes down appears to be moving daily southwards, and now there is black darkness at night again. We’ve had meteor showers, just like in “Local Hero”.

I don’t think midges have been excruciating many times this year at all. I can only remember one evening when people playing golf looked more like they were practising martial arts. All sorts of research about midge dietary preferences keep being reported on The News. The latest is that you’re more likely to get bitten if you’re tall because midges fly two metres up. Hmmm. My own theory is that they like hot food, just like we do. I’m cold-blooded and clearly not appetising to them. Whatever the theory, we remind ourselves that, along with the rain, they are Scotland’s natural defences. Just think! If it was sunny all the time the whole world would want to holiday in Scotland.

Scotland is not at all like England, and it’s whenever I go to concerts and ceilidhs I notice it most. I love the way everyone joins in and dances with total abandon, enthusiasm and lack of inhibition –all generations together mostly. It’s as if music is the life-blood of Scottish people. Rainy Julys are made up for by fantastic atmospheres at community events. One of these was last Friday when Corrie had its own version of UpHellyAh, recreating the Scots battles against the Vikings (see photo).

Also see Jamie making the past live at Lochranza Castle (I mentioned him in a May blog) You can visit his website: www.claymorekiss.co.uk

Saturday, 24 July 2010

On Rain, Golf and Whisky

Almost three months of sunshine had brought about empty burns and parched ground until last week when Nature remedied matters with a flash flood in Lochranza. Torrential rain streamed off the steep hillsides and the dry ground failed to absorb it.

The golf course looked like an extension to the loch but Dunkirk spirit was much in evidence with everyone helping each other and the Village Hall and the PGL Centre opening for people who had got very wet. The deer meanwhile headed up to the hills.

The waters quickly subsided leaving us with a major operation of fencing repairs. The sheep seized the opportunity to run back into the golf course, and Mr. and Mrs. Mahers, two of our camping survivors, found some of their belongings in the loch near the castle several days later.

It has been an unusual year: a long, snowy winter; a drought and then heavy rain, but Scotland has been looking like itself again with strands of mist curled round the hills. The verdant green of grass and bracken is dotted with the delicate purples and blues of heather and harebells.

Talking of weather, people who go out in it whatever it’s doing are golfers. I have revised all my preconceived ideas about golf since I arrived in Scotland. I didn’t realise that golf had developed as a sport which worked in the wild Scottish coastal scenery. I had no idea that when you hit the ball, you can’t see the target. And I definitely didn’t expect it to be so hard to play. Local Golf Pro Dougie Bell is now giving lessons on the golf course (including to Nigel and myself). He swings the club with graceful nonchalance and the ball flies way over the trees lining the burn. To get the ball airborne, never mind in the right direction, is my current target.

Golf isn’t an exclusive sport in Scotland; everyone enjoys it- a bit like whisky. Incidentally, the Isle of Arran distillery had an open day at the beginning of the month with lots of free tasting. I have to admit, a drop of whisky fire in my veins when we arrived here in the icy weather of February went down very well, but on a sunny warm afternoon in a carnival atmosphere and surrounded by the Lochranza hills, it made a lovely summer drink too. Skerryvore played in the Village Hall later in the day. I’d travel a long way to see this band but having them in the same village was a treat beyond all my expectations.

As I write this it’s afternoon and blue sky has pushed yesterday’s clouds away. The site is very quiet after the rain and outside our caravan a little herd of deer, with hinds, last year’s young and a little calf, are flat out fast asleep. Further down the golf course, four stags are having their version of a hot tub party. They are sitting together in a bunker on the golf course so that you can only see their splendid new antlers above the rim.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Summer Solstice

It’s the Summer Solstice…..

…… and it hasn’t been truly dark here for weeks. It hasn’t rained for weeks either up at this end of the island, and the golf course greens are more like yellows. It’s been warm enough to tempt us for a swim at Laggan whilst kayaking along the coast from Sannox back to Lochranza. Laggan Cottage (only accessible by sea) now has a resident, a writer called Paul Story. You can find copies of his novel on the hillside by the cottage for you to pick up when you’re walking past.

Red Deer News! We now have two little red deer calves on site.

I’m not keen on very tidy, formal gardens but I do love Brodick Castle Gardens with their sense of teetering on the edge of wildness; lush, colourful and full of surprises. I went to a guided tour there last week. Amongst many fascinating facts I learnt about the plant shown on the photo (forgotten its name though) which grows for five years, flowers, explodes and dies and, as it dies, it shoots out seeds which sprout up and begin the cycle again.

Arran has some brilliant community gatherings and festivals. We’ve had the Wildlife Festival in May and the Folk Festival in June. Coming up on July 3rd is the Whisky Festival, across the road at the Distillery. There is going to be a ceilidh in the evening with Skerryvore and I, for one, can’t wait. Nigel and I saw the band playing in Achiltibuie Village hall two summers ago. The stirring sound of their bagpipes went soaring over the sea to the Summer Isles. They’re very talented and very energetic.

If you’re a mountain lover, it’s going to be the Arran Mountain Festival from the 17th to the 20th September. Find out more about the walks and talks on the website: www.arranmountainfestival.co.uk

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Summer days

The Spring Bank Holiday week was sunny, hot and busy.

The island has exploded into colour with yellow flags along the roadsides, bluebells and pink campion.

The stags’ new antlers are now sprouting up rapidly, thick with “velvet”.

Otters have been frolicking at the sea’s edge, munching on fish.

A lot of people tell us that they would like to run a campsite, so we thought it might be interesting to post:-

A typical day in our lives

First week in June 2010

7 am Plan the day’s tasks. If fine, it’s going to be golf course work on the greens and fairways.

Check toilets- clean? Enough handtowels? Loo rolls?

8.30 am Take it in turns in Reception, dealing with bookings, payments and enquiries- as well as talking to our visitors.

10 am One of us works on the site, the other deals with correspondence, orders, accounts, sees callers and welcomes golfers.

12.00 Quick lunch.

12.30 pm until 2 pm Clean the showers, toilets and reception building.

2 pm Carry on site maintenance and improvements. More letters, e-mails and phone calls. Following up marketing strategies.

4 pm Take it in turns to be in Reception welcoming arrivals.

6.30 pm Cook and eat our evening meal.

Hope for a walk, a game of putting or a kayak paddle.

Keep in touch with our families.

Bath much appreciated after so much outdoor work.

10 pm Walk round the site to make sure all’s well. Check toilets again.

A Perfect Day Out on Kintyre

When you live on an island and everywhere you look across the sea there are other islands as well as the mainland, it makes you restless to get on a boat and see what these far off places are actually like when you get there. We’ve still got lots of Arran to explore but as we live so near the Claonaig ferry service we seized an opportunity and a hot day to go across to Kintyre as foot passengers with pushbikes.

The sea was looking tropically turquoise as we boarded ship. In half an hour we were pedalling along the Kintyre coast looking at Arran’s dramatic mountain shapes from a different angle. The pretty coast line had little sandy stretches and rocky fringes, splashed with yellow birds foot trefoil and pink thrift. We stopped for a coffee and ice lollies at the Post Office in the sleepy village of Skipness, then carried on under leafy oaks and beeches to explore the well-preserved Medieval castle and chapel. A ringed plover scurried bravely around us, pretending to have a broken wing in order to lead us away from its nest.

We had lunch at The Seafood Cabin. Sitting in the garden of vivid pink and orange rhododendrons eating smoked salmon and salad under bright blue skies couldn’t have been a nicer way to pass a summer’s afternoon.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Summer’s here. Outside the caravan, the leaves of the huge sycamore are filled with the murmurings of bees and the cuckoo has been making its presence known since half past two this morning. We’ve just been out paddling in our sea kayaks, passing porpoises along the coast. There are still no midges and this, believe it or not, is a bad thing. It has set back the breeding of swallows and bats. In fact the whole food chain right up to the great raptors is affected.

Over the last week, it has been the annual Isle of Arran Wildlife Festival. The varied programme has been delivered by volunteer experts with a passion for their subjects. As I’m fortunate enough to see deer, red squirrels, golden eagles and seals in my daily life here, I opted for sessions about the less obvious but equally wonderful forms of nature on Arran. For example, I had never before stopped to examine the variety of mosses that can grow on one tree stump, looking like miniature star-tipped forests through a hand lens. The photo shows Arran’s unique whitebeam trees in Glen Diobhan. As a bonus, on this particular session, we met one of Arran’s unique black adders slithering along the path.


We have also been treated to a living history performance by Jamie, who entertains and educates audiences about the romance, passion and bravery of his highland ancestors’ history. With a mixture of story-telling and weapons display, he mesmerised a sizeable audience of young children, staying at the PGL centre, for an hour and a half. He swung claymores and axes around their heads, whilst they gazed at him with instinctive trust. He also demonstrated the versatility of the plaid (the original outdoor gear and bivi tent all-in-one). With his wild hair and fiery energy you can certainly believe you’ve gone back two or three hundred years when you meet him.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Spring is in the Air

After the long, cold winter that has affected the whole of the British Isles, this spring seems very special. At one point, I wondered if I’d ever wear less than four layers of fleece again, so getting summer t-shirts out is a relief. The hillsides are covered in primroses and violets, and swallows are building nests in our shed. A local cuckoo and a peacock that’s living wild round here spend all day trying to shout louder than the other. The red deer have suffered over the winter, but juicy green grass shoots are making them very playful and alert again. Last year’s youngsters prance about and wallow in muddy hollows on the golf course. The little black-and-white-faced lambs are similarly mischievous and enjoy using the old barrels on the campsite to be kings of the castle. We spend a lot of time sweeping deer and sheep droppings off the fairways!

The big event of the last week is that Lochranza Golf opened for the season. We’re really grateful for the support and encouragement of local golfers. Of the many new jobs we are getting to grips with, we both agree that we are finding the art of green-keeping absorbing beyond anything we expected.

Nigel has been busy building a new bridge on the golf course and fixing the various tractors that seem to have suffered, like the deer, with the long, hard winter. He also had to repair the static caravan that we live in when visitors are on site as the floor collapsed. At the same time a sheep got stuck on a crossbar underneath it. We rescued it unharmed but I did keep worrying that I would step out of bed one day onto a sheep’s head peeping up from the floor!


Nigel and I did a wonderful mountain walk today: the Beinn Nuis, Beinn Tarsuinn and Beinn a’ Chliabhain circuit from Glen Rosa. Walking’s fantastic right now: long, fine days (it’s light till ten, you have the mountains to yourself and no midges or tall bracken to battle with).
Being on Arran’s mountain ridges is like wandering in a high up rock citadel, with weird granite shapes, patterns, walls and towers. All around you are jagged peaks and spiky ridges.
Here are two of our pictures:

Sunday, 4 April 2010

4th April
It’s Easter Day and it’s a bright and breezy spring day after a wintry week! Last Monday, by breakfast-time, I had seen six red squirrels racing about in their usual lively fashion. I thought they must be waking up for spring but now I think they must have sensed the wintry storm that was on its way. In December it was nice to have a “proper” winter but, after hearing the new born lambs bleating pitifully in the sleet and gales on Tuesday, I shall be glad to see no more snow for a very long time.

Campsite Star Awards of the week go to the campers without electric hook-ups who chose to brave out the pre-Easter weather, and also to the caravanners who thought they had electric hook-ups but didn’t due to power cuts, and who sat by candlelight saying how great it was to be tucked up inside listening to the wild weather outside.

A striking difference I have noticed to mainland life is attitudes to rubbish. In mainland life, you don’t think twice about getting rid of your clutter. Here, there is no such thing as clutter- just things that will have a future usage, you just don’t know where, when or how. You don’t throw anything away. The campsite has sheds full of this valuable rubbish. Nigel has enthusiastically adopted island philosophy and made an electric distribution board cupboard out of an old fridge carcase.

Monday, 29 March 2010

28th March

Yesterday I was picking up wood on the golf course and I accidentally picked up a water vole. I put it down and it sat there quivering, looking at me with big eyes. After a while it felt brave enough to run for cover in a heap of turf. Water vole numbers are declining rapidly in Britain so I was delighted to see one.

Today Nigel and I walked round to Catacol then climbed up Meall Mor (496m), the big hill that stands behind Lochranza. We saw lots of red deer as we climbed the steep heather, though not before they saw us. Their brown and cream coats blend perfectly with the heather stalks and pale grass. The pictures show views down to Catacol and to Lochranza Campsite from Creag a Mhadaidh.

Friday, 26 March 2010

26th March 2010

Nigel and I began our new lives as owners of Lochranza Caravan and Camping Site a month ago today.

Until this week, the weather on Arran has been settled and beautiful, with glorious sunshine by day and temperatures plunging into the minuses by night.

Sea and sky have been vivid blue and the mountains dazzling white. It has been a wonderful month for winter walking or night-time star gazing (which is the positive option when it’s just too cold to sleep!) One night in February, before the site was open, the pipes froze. Washing in the burn first thing in the morning was a highly efficient way to wake up!

When we have not been tidying the campsite ready for spring, I’ve fitted in some walking. This photograph shows what it looked like up around Loch na Davie in early March. It was hard work kicking steps through the deep snow but worth it for the breathtaking sights.

To the left you can see down to Laggan from Fionn Bealach on a day when the views stretched out to the Paps of Jura and beyond. There was no wind and no sound. I didn’t meet anyone else out walking but I did pass lots of red deer. The deer on Arran seem to have fared better in this harsh winter than their Highland counterparts.

Regular visitors to Lochranza campsite may remember Rim, Iain’s greenkeeper, who has moved to Invergordon this year. We have turned his old lodgings in Reception into a campers’ lounge, which we hope will be a useful addition to site facilities. When Nigel and I undertook our sea kayaking tour of Scottish Islands last summer, camping in a small tent throughout August and September and cooking entirely on a Trangia camping stove, we really appreciated sites that offered this kind of refuge, even if it was just a corner of a barn. August last year was very wet and it was great when we could spread our maps out comfortably.