Our website

Visit our website at www.arran-campsite.com
and our Blog of our
"World tour of Scotland" at www.nigelandkathyinscotland.blogspot.com

Monday, 10 October 2016

Meall Mor, 496m, Lochranza

A Walk up Meall Mor, 496m, Lochranza

I climbed Meall Mor last week, tempted by a day of dazzling, rainwashed clarity with slanting golden sunshine sharply defining every rock and bronzing each blade of deer grass. Meall Mor is the hill behind the Distillery that I look up at from my computer desk. Its name means the big hill but because Gaelic has specific names for different shaped hills and mountains (a useful aid to navigation) the name more precisely describes a rounded hill with peaty hues.
I love the routine of preparing my rucksack for a hill walk: food, flask, compass, map, whistle, hat, spare top....  I’ve always been more a prepared-for-all-eventualities packer than a minimalist. I also love walking by myself: you notice so much more than when you’re interacting with others. It’s not as if I’m going far; I will be looking down at the campsite all the way.
I set off up Gleann Easan Biorach, turning off the path as the glen broadens to scramble up steep grass, bog and heather in a bee-line for the summit. I measure my plodding progress against the cliffs of Torr Nead an Eoin behind me. The first part of any Arran climb is nearly always almost vertical and I find myself moving through the seasons: down in the glen, the heather is purple whilst higher up it has faded to papery pale brown.
Even when the slope eases the terrain remains rough: tussocky and boggy. I can see two or three small groups of red deer, each with a stag, two hinds and a youngster. We haven’t had the huge congregration of red deer on golf course this year that we have always had in the past so I’m pleased to see these little herds rutting as normal up here. There was a significant cull of red deer last winter in the interests of a healthy herd which seems to have made the survivors more timid. When they see me the stags bolt but the hinds stand their ground by their offspring.
My route can only be described as a slog. From the campsite the top of the hill looks pudding-shaped and proportionately a short climb compared to the rest of the hill but that is a trick of the eye known as the foreshortening effect; the top section is much farther than it looks. I pass the stones of sheilings where in centuries past villagers stayed whilst minding their cattle on the summer pastures. I am pleased that muscle memory of many mountains climbed keeps my legs pushing on up, but I’m also glad of my walking poles which give me an extra pair of legs.
Moving slowly I notice what’s underfoot: blood red sphagnum moss and jigsaws of lichens patterning granite rocks. Meadow pipits pause on boulders. Tough heather roots tenuously bind a narrow crumbling mat of soil lying on the bedrock. A stunted but bright blue flower looking like a tiny exotic jewel catches my attention in a hollow close to the summit: something to look up when I get home.
I’ve often thought that there is something other-worldly about summits but as I approach the top of Meall Mor I am awe-struck as an eagle flies past me at eye level, perhaps three metres away. Here then gone. I can hear a bee meandering round the cairn and notice a butterfly flitting through the heather. All the way up, the Sleeping Warrior- the mountain ridge of Caisteal Abhail and Ceum na Caillich- has been a slumbering presence on my left hand side. Now Arran’s mountain ridges are revealed to their full extent with the wet slabs of A’ Chir shining silver. I wander across to the second summit cairn from where a peregrine falcon takes off. I feel blessed.
My descent path will be across the spongey plateau that lies between the hill and Coillemore to the north. The rain that collects here through wet winters tips over the rims of the hills above the village so that the whole hillside becomes a sequence of cascades. I can see the hills’ shadows spreading over Lochranza now, early dusk in these shortening days. The stags are sending their roars rolling round the glen so that it’s hard to say where they begin. My OS map tells me place names that show some things haven’t changed: Creag na h-Iolaire (crag of the eagle) is nearby, but it also tells of things that have changed: there is no longer Doire Bhuidhe (yellow oak thicket) on this route.
I descend carefully looking forward to a shower, a meal and putting my feet up and leave the high places to the wind, the deer and the starlight.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

September 19th 2016

The MV Catriona - a low carbon hybrid vessel- takes over from the trusty MV Loch Tarbert on the Lochranza-Claonaig route

Friday, 9 September 2016

Carol, Alan and Oscar

Carol and Alan Haddington will be well-known to many of you reading this blog. Since September 2012 they have come to Lochranza two or three times a year to look after the campsite and give Nigel and myself opportunities to get a break. From April this year, they have been assistant wardens here, living in their elegant Elddis Affinity 550 caravan with Oscar their 10 year old chocolate Labrador. In their mainland lives Carol is a nurse and Alan was an architect until retiring last year.

We’re delighted that they will be returning to Lochranza next spring, but before they leave us for the winter months I asked them a few questions about their summer season working here:

Me: What do you enjoy most about being a campsite warden?
Carol & Alan: Meeting people most of all, but also the work in general because it’s varied. Alan: I also enjoy the logistics and planning.
(My comment: Careful planning about where to situate arrivals is important to ensure that everyone has a positive experience. The daily site plan needs regular updating as people change, extend and sometimes cancel bookings.)

Me: What do you like least about being a campsite warden?
Carol: Dealing with people who ignore advice because you can see that they have made a situation worse for themselves.
Alan: Yes, dealing with people who break the rules. (Doesn’t happen too often fortunately.)

Me: What are your favourite things to do on Arran when you’re not working?
Alan: Eating. I love getting out sampling the local food and drink.
Carol: Two special days out for me were firstly doing the King’s Caves walk and secondly going to Skipness- we went over as foot passengers on the Lochranza-Claonaig ferry and walked along the coast to the Seafood Cabin, enjoying the views of Arran.

Me: Has living in a caravan for more than four months been a problem?
Alan: Only tripping over Oscar.
Carol: I miss a bath but we get to go swimming at the Auchrannie regularly.

Me: What changes have you noticed since you first came to the campsite?
Carol & Alan:  Continuous improvement.
Alan: Being here for the summer I’ve noticed the changes in the people who come to the campsite at different times of year, for example there are lots of families in large tents in July. Now, in September, there are a lot of couples and some solo travellers in motorhomes and caravans.

Me: Would you recommend being a campsite warden?
Carol: You’ve got to love dealing with people.
Alan: You need to do your research and go in with your eyes open. Living an outdoor, active life changes you. You notice the influences of the weather and the time of day more.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Games and Puzzles of Inchmarnock

 Inchmarnock from the Kyles of Bute. It is the tiny island to the left of the boat.

If you stand at Lochranza pier looking north, the hills of Kintyre, Cowal and the Isle of Bute form a continuous horizon on the opposite side of the Kilbrannan Sound as it meets with the Sound of Bute. But if you look at a map of the same area you will see that the land is actually slashed by long north-south oriented sea lochs that make for lengthy journeys round by road unless you have a boat. From the 6th to the 9th centuries AD this area was part of the sea kingdom of the Dal Riata encompassing north-east Ireland and the Isle of Man; a kingdom in which water was central, and land peripheral. It was also a frontier area of the cultures of Gael, Briton and Pict.

Amidst the tribal conflicts, havens of peace, prayer and learning could be found, where monks led industrious, humane and creative lives in the Celtic Christian tradition. From our Lochranza perspective the location of one such haven, the tiny island of Inchmarnock to the west of Bute and the east of Arran, is only clearly visible when its cliffs glow yellow gold at sunset. It’s uninhabited now, except by organically farmed cattle.  About ten years ago, the island’s owner, Lord Smith of Kelvin, commissioned an archaeological excavation of the island which yielded some surprising finds. Who would have thought that monks and their novices spent so much time gaming for example? The slate gameboards discovered by the archaeologists were engraved with criss-cross lines for games of hnefatafl (a chase game), alquerque (a war game) and merels later to become known as nine men’s morris. Shells were probably used as counters.
Inchmarnock, like Kilmarnock, is believed to have been named after an Ernan who may have been an apostle of St Columba on the Isle of Iona. Indeed, like Iona, Inchmarnock was found to be rich in distinctive ecclesiastical remains which include stone crosses as well as the inscribed slates. It has been suggested that from about AD600 Ernan’s foundation was a kind of elementary school where novices learned literacy, compass work and design, writing on slates in Gaelic, Latin and Ogham (Old Irish).

The excavation dug up further intriguing puzzles such as a slate bearing both a male and a female name. Could this be unusually early evidence of female literacy? Then there is the matter of the drawing scratched on slate known as the Hostage Stone. Dispute focuses on whether it depicts slave-raiding or an ecclesiastical procession. A warrior appears to be leading a priest or small figure with a drooping head who is clutching what looks strangely like a handbag!

You can see these fascinating finds for yourself in the Bute Museum, Rothesay, and at the same time learn of another captivating story from Inchmarnock. In recent years a farmer ploughing at the north end of the island discovered a Bronze Age cist. It contained the skeleton of a woman of status who was buried on the island 3,500 years ago with her beautiful jet collar necklace and a flint knife. Bone analysis showed that she lived on a land-based not marine diet and that she was born locally. She was about 25 when she died; her height 5’ 4”. She was buried in the usual crouched position of the time with her head turned to the right. Such detail can suddenly make the long-ago past seem just one moment away. 

Looking over the sea to Inchmarnock now, instead of seeing a low-lying, windswept, deserted island, I see a home, shaped by people who worked hard and crafted the possessions they would treasure, who made and played games, and who, in their worship would have lifted their eyes to the familiar views of Arran, Cowal, Bute, Ayrshire and Kintyre that we share. 

To explore the Argyll and Cowal coasts and the Clyde islands by boat from Arran you can:
·         Buy a Calmac Five Ferries ticket that takes you from Arran through Kintyre, Cowal and Bute
·         Take a summer sailing on the Waverley paddle steamer
·         If you’re a kayaker, follow the Argyll sea kayaking trail. Lochranza Centre, Arran Adventure and Lamlash Outdoor Centre all offer kayak tuition and trips
·         Ocean Breeze RiB Tours offer powerboat wildlife-watching trips around Arran
·         You can catch a ferry from Lamlash to Arran’s Holy Island
More information about Inchmarnock:

Inchmarnock. An Early Historic Island Monastery and its archaeological landscape
by Christopher Lowe 2008
The Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland: Edinburgh

Above: The Waverley paddle steamer and the Lochranza-Claonaig Calmac ferry approach Lochranza Pier. Below: Approaching Arran from the north

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Scottish Midgies: Science and Myth 

Black widow spiders, scorpions, crocodiles, grizzly bears, great white sharks, tigers, pythons.... I could go on listing fearsome creatures but none of them seem to inspire as much dread as the Scottish Highland midge (Culicoides impunctatus): a creature 1.5 mm long that successfully deters visitors but does little actual harm unless you’re unfortunate enough to be someone who suffers an allergic reaction to their bites. The Highland midge does not spread disease to humans, nor is it a fixed feature of Highland Scotland in summer. In the cool, breezy weather we’ve had for the last month here on Arran the midgies simply haven’t emerged. Fact is they don’t like bright sunshine or rainy days, windy days or cold. That leaves still, dull weather to bring them out, and the low light of dusk.

I’m not gloating but intrigued by the fact that, according to research, I am one of 20% of people who isn’t troubled by midges even though I work outside and go camping in Scotland in summer. My personal theory used to be that this was probably because I am rarely hot and chilly skin must present an unappetising mouthful to a hungry midge but new research by Dr James Logan broadcast in the BBC Scotland’s The Secret Life of Midges supports findings that some people do get bitten less, it’s a genetic trait and it is connected with smell.  Not sure whether to be pleased or not now.

Scottish Natural Heritage recommend that “The best method to avoid being bitten.. is to use a repellent and to recognise the conditions when midges are most likely to be active and avoid going out in them”. At Lochranza, we rarely notice midges before June or after the middle of September. According to SNH there are two annual peaks of midge activity, one in early summer and one in late summer; one of those must have occurred here on June 7th. We’d had a heatwave for three weeks and that particular day was unusually sticky and humid. The campsite was very busy so the washrooms were as full of moisture as the Botanic Gardens whilst the windows and doors were open to let the air in. Result: midge heaven! Next morning Nigel and I were confronted with an extensive clean-up job of dead midge bodies, like tiny black grains of sand, stuck to the walls and sinks. We’re relieved to report that we haven’t had another challenge like that since.

A first experience of the miniature acupuncture that is the tiny pin-prick nips of the midge can be the worst. Their biggest impact on human life seems to be on windless, warm summer evenings when they make it difficult to sit outside.  Sitting by a smoky campfire on the beach can be a solution as is going for an evening walk- you can move faster than they can. Covering up your skin is a good idea, but be aware that midges find their way to your tender exposed bits such as eyelids and ear lobes. Many retail outlets on Arran, including ourselves, sell effective midge repellents (with natural ingredients) and midge nets. Different products work for different people. A head net in your camping kit makes sense for times when the wind has dropped, you’re cooking outside on your camping stove and a cloud of midges is rising as one from the ground. 

There is scope for more scientific research still to be done on midges and their role in Highland ecosystems, especially in terms of what they eat and what eats them. It is known that they live in boggy, damp land, stay close to their breeding sites and that it is only the breeding females that sometimes require a blood meal. One of my observations is that whenever we get a Trip Advisor review that mentions midges (not too often thankfully) it has always been when the site is full and the weather fine. I suppose both campers and midges emerge more in good weather but are fair-weather campers more likely to complain about midges? Could it be that there are more people in tents (and more vulnerable to midges) rather than in vans in good weather? Is the smell of a lot of human bodies in one place a powerful draw to midges?

Would the world be better without midges, ticks, fleas, maggots, wasps and other detested insects? Only for we human beings probably.  In fact a Scottish summer without them to me would be strange. They belong amongst the heather and the bracken, the peaty pools and the bubbling burns. But if you really can’t bear the thought of them there’s always midge- free Spring and Autumn to pay a visit to Scotland.

 We're encouraging bugs at Lochranza Campsite! Kev has been building and placing these bug hotels around the site. Find out more on Kev's Lochranza Golf facebook page.

Even when it's not midgey, we love these midge candles by Totally Herby. They smell lovely and the pillar candles really do last for the 40 hours that's promised.

SNH Information and Advisory Note Number 290
‘Biting midges in Scotland’

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Our new reception building
We’re really pleased with our new reception building.

Thanks to Keith and Steve of Wintech Modular Projects Limited for all their hard work installing the building in a very wet winter.

The new laundry. Facilities include washing machine, tumble dryer, spin dryer and handwashing sink. There is also an outdoor washing line.

The new office.  We like how warm and spacious it is. We have maps and walking guides for sale and plenty of midge products. We also sell icecreams, chocolate, frozen bread and UHT milk cartons.
DVDs can be borrowed.

Basecamp. In here there is information about the area, books and magazines, a fridge and a kettle. There is also a drying cupboard for wet boots and outdoor gear.
We also have a spacious new toilet and shower room for anyone with mobility issues.
Also new! A cooking shelter outside the new reception building. Thankfully, it hasn’t  been needed much yet because the weather this May has been so fabulous.