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Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Isle of Gigha

Last Saturday Nigel and I stood on the hefty bulk of Meall nan Damh in Glen Catacol and, between sharp showers, looked beyond the slender waist of Kintyre to the little island of Gigha off Kintyre’s west coast. We have happy memories of kayaking around Gigha three summers ago and thought it would be interesting to see if it is possible to have a day trip there from Lochranza.

Here are the facts for you so that you can make your own mind up.

The first ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig departs at 8.15 am and the last one returns from Claonaig at 7pm in the evening. On a clear day, the crossing of the Kilbrannan Sound is a delight and takes half an hour. From Claonaig it is about 20 miles to Tayinloan by road from where you catch the Gigha Ferry. The first sailing is at 8am and the last back to Tayinloan at 5.30 pm. This crossing takes 20 minutes.

Gigha is 8 miles long and best explored by foot or bike. As a foot passenger on the ferries, the fares are very modest; taking a car is much more expensive. However, I never begrudge money spent on the ferries – they are the life blood of the Highlands and Islands: keeping communities alive, people in employment and holidays in one of the most beautiful countries in the world possible. The ferries are my favourite way to travel.

Gigha has many charms which include secluded beaches, close- up views to Islay and Jura, the lush Achamore gardens, a welcoming hotel, and a delightful art gallery. It is one of several Scottish islands that are owned and run by a Community trust. If you wish to live there, a decision whether to accept you or not is made by the community based on majority vote. The island certainly has an atmosphere of enthusiastically embracing the future, rather than, like many picturesque parts of Britain, simply preserving villages and landscapes as picture postcard scenes.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

April on Arran: To Whet Your Appetite

That’s whet not wet. Actually, much of April so far has been gloriously sunny and everyone has been treated to beautiful clear views with bright blue skies and a blue and green sea. There have also been surprising wildlife sightings: Mr and Mrs Hall looked into a golden eagle’s eyes as it flew up from below the ridge where they were sitting, and a whale swam past the butcher’s.

April’s a good time for walking- before the bracken and heather have started to grow. At last I have found the Real Fairy Dell (see photo), decked with primroses, violets, tangled creepers and overhanging mosses. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t exist! It’s also lambing time for the hill sheep and earlier I watched a ewe giving birth on a 60 degree slope. Her floppy newborn lamb tipple-tailed downhill then lay helplessly upside down for a while. I daren’t interfere in case his mother rejected him. She began to alternately lick and kick him and I left her to it. When I returned from my walk he was sitting, head up and blinking in the sunshine.

My friend Joyce gave me a Battlefield Band CD for my birthday. It includes a song called “The Arran Convict” which has a refrain of “I wish I was back on the Lochranza ferry…. breathing the spray and the sweet island air”. It’s lovely to be here in April and not having to wish. (It also includes the line “I remember Lochranza…..when the rain from Kintyre was a sheet without end”, but we won’t think about that whilst the sun’s shining!)

We’ve even had sunset suppers outdoors. Our favourite Arran foods for these occasions include:

Sausages from the Arran Butcher

Smoked salmon pate from Creeler’s with Wooley’s oatcakes

Honey mustard from Arran Fine Foods

Island cheeses

Arran whisky from the Distillery

Arran Blonde beer from the Brewery

Suddenly the days seem so much longer and last night we kayaked round Pladda island supervised by seals. As the evening drew on, the waves got choppier; early signs of an Atlantic front heading this way, the first we have seen in some weeks.