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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Walking to Catacol: neighbouring village to Lochranza

You’ll find Ordnance Survey Explorer map 361 Isle of Arran useful for exploring this area as there are not many signposted paths

A crisp spring day is one of the best times for getting off the beaten track in the hills around Lochranza: it’s light into the evening and the time when bracken grows tall on the hillsides is still some way off. Don’t forget to look out for antlers that the stags have shed.

The Postman’s Path, a section of the Arran Coastal Way between Lochranza and Catacol, has benefited from recent maintenance work.  It’s a delightful airy route, reached by taking the path from near Lochranza pier to Coillemore (G.R. 925 208). Once there, head for the telegraph poles higher up and follow the path through birch woodland until you reach an open hillside with views over the Kilbrannan Sound to Kintyre. At this point you are above the rooftops of The Twelve Apostles in Catacol.

The prettiness of these Catacol cottages belies a difficult past. Once, they were known as Hungry Row due to the deprivation experienced by their occupiers. They were built in the 1850s to replace the cottages of a clachan in the glen which had been cleared to make way for deer. Each gable window has a different shape to the others, reputedly so that when the men who lived in them were out fishing they could recognise their own house from a distance. Now they are sought-after residences.

From your vantage point you can also see Catacol’s ‘canal’ which is actually a natural feature: a shingle bank thrown up by waves in stormy weather. The shingle offers varied habitats including scrub and bracken which are valuable to wildlife. Once, skiffs lay in safety in the shelter of the canal which was also used for access to Catacol’s Barking House, where fishing nets were strengthened with tannin mixture. The ruins of the barking house with its iron pots can still be seen close to the road.

The path heads down to the road where, if you turn right, you will find hearty food and drink at the Catacol Bay Hotel.

 Allow a leisurely couple of hours to walk to Catacol by this route and an hour or so to walk back if you return along the road, past the Sailor’s Grave lay-by. See how many of Arran’s sandstone milestones you can spot punctuating the roadside.

Walks from Catacol: Arran’s wildest glen and the unique Arran whitebeam trees

All walking in Catacol’s rugged terrain requires good walking boots and a map because Glen Catacol is, arguably, the wildest of Arran’s mountain glens. In Arran legend the warrior Fingal battled and defeated the King of Sweden here and Glen Catacol’s epic scenery certainly befits the tale.The name Catacol means ‘wild cat’s gully’ and at G.R.918490  you will find the Clach a Chait or Cat Stone.  Arran no longer has true Scottish wildcats but the glen is a favoured hunting ground of golden eagles. Adders are a fairly common sighting too, slithering into the heather on hot summer days. They are timid creatures but if the thought of meeting one concerns you make sure that you sing or whistle as you walk and they’ll keep out of your way. Gleann Diomhan (pronounced Jeev-an), in the upper reaches of Glen Catacol, is home to Arran’s unique whitebeam trees (sorbus arranensis) which cling precariously to existence on its barren slopes.

Catacol-based day walks:

Start your explorations at the car park at the south end of the village, where Catacol Burn pours into the sea.

The path up Glen Catacol is on the other side of the burn from the car park and leads up to Loch Tanna.

·         Glen Catacol- Gleann Diomhan - Gleann Easan Biorach    look out for Arran’s unique whitebeams and second world war aeroplane crashes (mapped in the Arran Heritage Museum, Brodick): 10 miles approx.

·         Glen Catacol- Gleann Diomhan- Beinn Tarsuinn- Loch Tanna – unusual perspectives on the Arran mountains: 7 miles approx.

·         Glen Catacol- Loch Tanna- Coire Fhionn Lochan- Thundergay – two mountain lochs : 8 miles approx.

·         Loch Tanna and back – long water slides and natural paddling pools: 7 miles approx.

·         Lochan a’ Mhill (G.R.914476) and Meall nan Damh 570m- steep climb, great views: 5 miles approx.

·         Cnoc Leacainn Dubh 230m (G.R. 917498) – this summit is marked by a trig point. It’s a short climb with the bar at Catacol Bay Hotel awaiting your descent!

More info:

On walking up to Loch Tanna in my blog of August 2011

On Lochranza’s barking house in my blog of March 2014

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


A week ago:

I found a large jellyfish in the middle of the golf course. It must have been deposited by a high tide helped by a high wind.

The weather for the previous week had been windy enough to make my ferry crossing a stomach-heaving experience. However, we have had worse windy spells in our five years here. There was the unusual May storm of 2011 that turned all the tender young leaves brown. They stayed brown all that summer. The New Year 2012 storm lifted roofs off at this end of Lochranza. Nigel and I sat the night out in the Ford Ranger listening to banging and crashing in the dark. And then, unforgettably, there was the March blizzard of 2013 that left much of Arran deep in snow and without electricity for several days.

When it’s windy our cabin groans and judders like the timbers of a ship. It’s hard to concentrate: I find myself wondering whether it’s better to sit tight or to go outside and keep hold of the roof. It makes me think of Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Storm on the Island’ which describes the tension and unease of waiting for a storm to subside in terms of battle:-

We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo.
We are bombarded by the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.

And I relate very much to Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Wind’ which captures a sense that even the ground is moving:-

In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,
Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons. 

Here at the north-west end of Lochranza we have some shelter from the prevailing south-westerlies, but the winds that whip through the gaps in the mountains can come from two directions at once. If you think of how the flow of a river over boulders forms eddies, currents, stoppers and rapids, it’s easy to visualise how the Atlantic winds behave when they meet the Arran mountains. Gales accelerate downhill like waterfalls and force their way through narrow passes like water chutes.

Today (a week later):
Lochranza  in serene mood and Nigel and Kevin getting lots of work done in the sunshine.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Tips for Easter Holiday Planning

At this time of year the weather plays cat and mouse with us- we leap out of bed to a sunny morning, get the paint pots out and then........it rains! 

With Easter being early this year I have two recommendations for you if you’re planning to camp. The first is to bring your thermal base layers and the second is to bring your wellies. It’s not that Arran’s muddy- it isn’t, it’s a rocky island, but it is like a giant fountain. After rain, burns burst out all over the place. It’s also like a giant sponge with mossy, boggy areas that hold a lot of water. It’s not a problem if you’ve got your wellies on.

If you’re coming to Arran for the first time, please be prepared to step ashore into a different world that isn’t ruled by the clock. You’ll notice the difference in flexible and unhurried Arran Time when you get here.

You’ll also notice you’re not on the mainland as soon as you start driving off the ferry.
This is what you WON’T find when driving on Arran:

·         Traffic lights (unless temporary for repairs)
·         Roundabouts
·         Pavements (except in some villages)
·         Road lighting (except in some villages)
·         Rush hour (though little traffic queues head out of Brodick following a ferry coming in)
·         Road rage (except when someone hasn’t adjusted to Arran Time)

These are some of Arran’s road-user groups: 

·         Red deer
·         Hill sheep
·         Otters
·         Red Squirrels
·         Badgers
·         Cyclists
·         Walkers
·         Children playing

Please look out for the safety of all of them when you are driving. From the ferry you have two route options: going clockwise or going anti-clockwise. Once you’ve set off consider whether the driver behind wants to go a little bit faster than you, in which case pull over and let them pass when it’s safe to do so. The island perimeter road comprises 55 beautiful but rugged miles with an advisory speed limit of 30 mph for most of it (see March 2012 blog for touring round the island). You can also choose to park up your vehicle for the duration of your holiday and use the island buses instead – a week’s Arran bus pass was only £19 last year. This option liberates you from worrying about finding a parking place as parking on Arran is limited. Another helpful service that means that you don’t have to use your vehicle is both the Brodick Co-op and Pirnmill Stores will deliver your groceries to you if you spend more than £25.

In winter here we batten down the hatches and hope the roofs stay on. With spring in the air we feel like bears coming out of hibernation, happy to feel bright sunshine beaming right down onto the grass again. Time to get on with that painting!
 Mossy woods

They thought I was the farmer! They are now looking disappointed as I didn't have a sack full of feed with me.