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Friday, 28 June 2013

Heading West

At the campsite we watch the setting summer sun drop down behind the purple moors of Kintyre, and in Lochranza, the coast of this mainland peninsula is closer to us than any villages of Arran apart from Catacol. Back in the days of seafaring peoples, in the fifth and sixth centuries Arran, Kintyre, Knapdale and Bute were all ruled as part of the sea kingdom of Dalriada which encompassed Argyll and Northern Ireland. In this way, the summer ferry between Lochranza and Claonaig continues a longstanding relationship, and this year Calmac are offering a Kintyre link between Brodick and Campbeltown too, making round tours of Arran and Kintyre an appealing possibility whatever your mode of getting about.

The closest point between Arran and Kintyre is the three mile stretch of the Kilbrannan Sound between Imachar on Arran’s west coast and the picturesque fishing village of Carradale half way down the east coast of Kintyre. When Nigel and I paddled this route in our kayaks earlier this month, we were delighted to see a large sign pointing to a hilltop tearoom as we hauled our boats up onto the beach. We hadn’t expected to be able to sit munching homemade cakes in a sheltered garden with a croquet lawn whilst enjoying views of bulky Beinn Bharrain and the Arran hills. The tearoom, by the way, was The Green Tearoom and Observatory (www.greenroomteas.co.uk).

Our second day out this month found us and Nigel’s motorbike on the Lochranza-Claonaig ferry with a view to touring some of the long, remote peninsulas in this part of Scotland. The fourteen miles of rough single track road between Claonaig and Carradale couldn’t have been a prettier start to the journey with cascades of colourful wildflowers tumbling down the banksides.

We know that many of you who stay with us travel on to Carradale Caravan and Camping Site. It has a delightful approach alongside a river which glides under leafy, mature trees. The site itself is tucked behind sand dunes and next to a south-facing beach, with views of our Arran mountains again. It turns out that Carradale hasn’t got just one café that offers fabulous home baking but two, and we enjoyed lunch at Nellie’s café at the west end of the village where you can also find bikes and buggies available for hire so that all generations of a family can get from one end of the village to the other with ease (www.carradalebikesandbuggies.co.uk).  

Though towns like Tarbert have all the fun, bustle and business of small ports, some parts of Kintyre seem almost more serenely remote than some islands. And Kintyre might be mainland but it’s only just hanging on by a thread of rocks between East and West Loch Tarberts. Yet great names of history have stood in this place before you including Somerled Lord of the Isles, St.Columba and Robert the Bruce. (Oh, and Paul and Linda McCartney.) A profuse scattering of standing stones, hill forts and Neolithic burial cairns across the landscape add to a sense that important events of long ago times are only a little beyond reach.

If you’re planning to explore Kintyre you can read more about it in some of my earlier blogs:

What do Campsite Wardens do on Holiday? Oct 2012
Isle of Gigha  April 2012
Meeting the Neighbours  June 2011
A Perfect Day Out  June 2010

Of course Kintyre also offers an alternative, relaxed and scenic route to reach the Isle of Arran.

Monday, 3 June 2013

One Day Clad in Mist……
It’s been a busy bank holiday week for me here so instead of writing a blog I thought you might enjoy a couple of extracts from old literature about Arran.

The first extract is from The Isle of Arran in the Beautiful Britain series. It was written in 1912 by Rev. Charles A Hall and it’s available at The Book and Card Shop (on the seafront in Brodick) as well as at the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum:-

Rev. Hall comments how “One who knows the island intimately and is under its spell can readily sympathize with that Arran devotee who, nearing the end of his earthly career, prayed, “Let me die with my face towards Arran”.”

He also describes the island’s changing moods: “Arran is a sea-girt land, clad in greys, purple, russet, and green, with its rugged granite peaks, its noble glens, its cadent burns and comfortable-looking whitewashed cottages……. One day clad in mist; another bathed in sunshine; now gloomy and threatening; to-day warm and grateful; to-morrow gale-swept, with the erstwhile trickling burns so swollen by torrential rains that they rush thunderingly, carrying boulders and debris in hurrying, scurrying haste to the sea.”

Some of the vocabulary in “The Isle of Arran” has become dated, but the picture of Arran painted in words remains very recognisably the Arran of today whilst much of the human planet has changed beyond recognition since then. The sinking of the Titanic, the First World War and votes for women (in Britain) all lay in the near future in 1912.

Malcolm Higgs stayed here last summer, and now lives on Bute. He shared his interest in ancient history by passing on to me an extract from the Lyra Celtica, an 1896 collection of translations from early Gaelic poets. The introduction to the Lyra Celtica describes Arran as Arran, no longer Arran of the many stags, but still one of the loveliest of the Scottish isles, and touched on every headland and hill with sunset glamour of the past.” As you know, stags feature strongly in daily Lochranza life so it is interesting to learn that this was not the case 117 years ago.

The following extract is from a translation of the Lay of Arran by Caeilte, an Ossianic bard:

Arran of the many stags- the sea impinges on her very shoulders….. Skittish deer are on her pinnacles, and blackberries upon her waving heather; cool water there is upon her rivers, and mast upon her russet oaks…..

Smooth were her level spots- her wild swine they were fat; cheerful her fields, her nuts hung on her forest hazel’s boughs, and there was sailing of long galleys past her…… at every fitting time delectable is Arran!”

I have left out the blood thirsty bits about hunting but viewing landscape from a perspective of food supply is a surprising one today.

Finally, it strikes me in reading these old texts that the superlatives of 21st century tourist literature are nothing new: Arran was making writers strive to do justice to its beauty in the long distant past too.