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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

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