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Friday, 20 October 2017


Living where we do we cannot help but be keenly aware of nature: the direction of the wind, the shapes of the clouds, the state of the sea and the rises and falls in temperature, and every so often we experience something both beautiful and unusual. This happened on the evening of Thursday 5th October.

Nigel and I were driving home over the Boguillie at about half past eight at night, descending towards the sharp bend of the Witches Bridge in Glen Chalmadale. The full Harvest Moon was a massive silver sphere rising above the Ayrshire Coast behind us. The only artificial light came from the windows of Glen Farm and our car headlights.

Suddenly a ghostly white pillar reaching to the sky appeared ahead of us so we stopped the car and turned off the headlights. As we watched, it arched over the glen. ‘It’s a white rainbow’, I said. Gradually, we could discern faint gleams of the colour spectrum adorning the arch.

Back home I googled this beautiful and eerie phenomenon and learned that we’d seen a moonbow. We’d been in just the right place at the right time in the right conditions: a dark night sky and a full moon, two hours after sunset, rain falling opposite the moon and us facing away from the moon.



We recently learned that we are riparian custodians. Although the term sounds like a warming winter pudding or maybe an ancient Roman senator it actually means that we have a responsibility to keep our ditches clear so that rainfall in the valley can flow without obstruction into the sea. It is one of our major autumn jobs on the golf course. We clean them out carefully by hand so as not to unduly disturb the mini-ecosystems and the slippery toads, glossy beetles and wee silvery fish which inhabit them. It’s always a satisfying job and we were glad to complete it before ex-Hurricane Ophelia kickstarted the storm season.

The End of an Era

Goodbye to Lady Jean Fforde who died aged 96 years earlier this month and whose devotion to her beloved island of Arran was beyond question. Descended from the great Scottish families of Hamilton and Montrose, Lady Jean’s childhood was spent in Brodick Castle. Indeed, for centuries her ancestors owned the entire island. Later in life, she gave the castle to the National Trust for Scotland in lieu of death duties but she continued to stay on Arran. As she said herself ‘There can be few people who have had their home in one place all their lives as I have.’ She was personally involved in many island charities and organisations and always took a keen interest in island life. Her autobiographical book ‘Castles and Catastrophes’, available at the Book and Card shop in Brodick, describes in lively style the great changes she lived through, beginning with the era of the grand Scottish sporting estates. I enjoyed it enormously. The land around Lochranza is owned by her son, Charles.


Chalmadale Waters, Lochranza

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Longest Season


One of Billy Connolly’s ‘weel-kent’ comments is that Scotland has two seasons: June and winter.

My version is that, here in Lochranza at any rate, autumn, like winter, takes up more than its allotted portion of the year. It is also the loveliest of the seasons in my opinion. When our late spring arrives the speed of the greening up of the trees - alder, rowan, hawthorn, willow, hazel, birch and ash (always the last for its leaves to open)- is remarkable. Autumn, on the other hand, is like a slow sunset in which the glowing colours of the land gradually brighten and deepen. Whilst summery weather can be elusive and winter slow to leave, autumn is the grand finale of the year. 

By the end of July, the bracken on the lower hillsides, which shoots up higher than our heads during June, begins to turn golden and chestnut at the edges. It slowly collapses, curls and crumples into itself, making walking off the path easier again. Shining scarlet clusters of berries dangle from the rowan trees after which Lochranza is named. As the sunset retreats southwards towards Catacol, dusk closes in surprisingly fast and the click and clash of antlers echoes round the glen. The necks of the red deer stags have thickened with bearing the weight of their coronets of deadly sharp points. They strut around regally, gathering admiring audiences. Meanwhile the golden eagles fly high, unobserved but no doubt observing everything. 

In November, the sun leaves Lochranza until February, its low daily journey taking it behind Lochranza’s high hills. Most people in the village know the exact dates when the sun will leave and return to their homes. Throughout the winter it can appear briefly in the bealachs (cols) between hills, and on bright days you can watch the shifting boundary of light and shade on the higher hillsides. It’s essential to dress up warm if you’re working outside in midwinter in the chilly damp and shade of the deep valley.

In March light evenings lengthen rapidly. Freak weather can take us by surprise: we have known blizzards, floods and heatwaves in early spring. By April delicate pale yellow primroses are scattered on the cliffs of the old raised beaches, turning their faces to the sky, but it is usually well into May before spring proper arrives accompanied by a symphony of birdsong. This year I tried to record the spring wildflowers that I noticed on my daily walk in Glen Chalmadale and was surprised how they changed week by week, with wood anemones and violets quickly superseded by bluebells and yellow flag iris, in turn bowing out to pinky-purple foxgloves, the exotic rhododendron ponticum and frothy creamy may blossom. It can seem that the change from winter to summer takes little more than a month. 

In midsummer the sun in the late evening suffuses the head of the glen with rosy gold light and defines the cracks on the craggy face of Torr Nead an Eoin. Turn right round and you can watch the sun descend slowly and finally disappear behind the silhouette of the Kintyre hills. For weeks the nights never get darker than a soft grey twilight.

Now, in late September, the red squirrels are busy as bees darting between trees and rustling amongst leaves as they amass their winter hoards. Starry nights have returned and when it’s a clear sky I make sure I go outside before bed to watch the slow silent circling of Cassiopiea, the Plough and the Northern Cross. One night white billowing clouds illuminated by a nearly full moon galloped across the sky on the back of a south-west wind. Yet it appeared that the stars were rushing like a twinkling river in the opposite direction and it was clouds that were stationary. On such nights, the mountains cradle the quiet of night like a church, the only sound the hushed music of water splashing its way to the sea.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Rivers, Seashores, Lochs and Rain

Rivers, Seashores, Lochs and Rain


Rain has never been far away from Arran this summer. We have had clear, warm sunshine too – it just hasn’t stayed around for long.

Here at the head of the glen in Lochranza, if you pause in your daily activity you will nearly always hear the sound of water, sometimes a gentle splash and murmur when the burn is running low and sometimes, after rain, a resonating roar as it crashes down the waterfalls in Gleann Easan Biorach and hurtles headlong past the campsite before rushing into the saltwater of the Duarchan (the head of Loch Ranza). If I were asked to define the experience of living in Lochranza it would be the sound of water.

Arran rain, fresh from the Atlantic, fills the peat bogs on top of Lochranza’s hills and sometimes they become laden to the brim and water spills over the edge of the hillsides forming new waterfalls. Water changes the landscape here before our eyes.

My favourite thing about summer on Arran is having weather warm enough to make the most of this plentiful water supply. I measure the amount of sunshine we get each summer by the number of swims I have, whether in the sea, a burn or a lochan. I confess I am a fair weather swimmer. Technically, I wouldn’t call what I do swimming: I dip, I wallow, I splash, I float- nothing purposeful. I slither into the water very, very slowly, then once I’m in I never want to get out, enjoying the tingling of cold water on my skin. North Arran’s glacial scenery of U-shaped glens has long necklaces of sun-warmed pools, where you can splash in solitude, listening to the breeze rustling the grass and the tweet of meadow pipits, and relishing the fresh tangy smell of peat. Tiny yellow tormentil flowers are like little splashes of sunshine dotting the grass.

Arran does not have lazy deep rivers –water tumbles down its steep mountain slopes from summit to sea in no time. This type of burn is called uisge in Arran Gaelic. The island does have a handful of small lochs all reached by walks up into the hills. Loch Garbad is silent, surrounded by coniferous forest, Urie Loch and Loch Tanna are high up on the moors, lonely and lovely. Coire Fhionn Lochan, cupped in the western mountain range, is icy cold with little golden gravel beaches. The water of each loch tipples out into waterfalls: Loch Tanna flows into wild Glen Catacol and Loch Garbad into the woods of mossy, magical Eas Mor.

Arran’s rocky coastlines are distinctive- a tumult of varied rocks bear witness to long ago volcanoes and a journey across the planet from the Southern hemisphere. Each individual rock has its own geological story to tell. Sandy stretches of beach reveal themselves at low tide, smooth and shining. I follow the sun for my sea swimming:  An east-facing beach for morning and a west coast beach for basking in the golden glow of evening. Now at the end of August, the sea temperature is about as warm as it’s going to get this year and I’m crossing my fingers for some warm late summer sunshine and a last chance for outdoor dips before Autumn chills the water.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

Lochranza Loos

Lochranza toilets re-open! 

Nestling under wooded cliffs as you head west out of the village, Lochranza public toilets overlook the beautiful Kilbrannan Sound. If you’re a reader of the Arran Banner weekly newspaper you will be aware that the closure of the island’s public toilets earlier this year was highly controversial and local people and visitors alike protested vociferously and persistently. North Ayrshire Council, like many other councils, had had to make tough decisions about where its financial priorities lay.

All this summer the small village communities on the island have attempted to resolve the issue and make provision for the basic needs of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the island. No one wanted anyone to stay away for fear that there would not be a toilet should they need one.

In Lochranza, Tony Baboolal, a retired doctor got together a small band of volunteers to get the village toilets open again. As usual, the practicalities were straightforward, but sorting out the legalities has slowed things down. Recognising that the toilets are needed now, Tony and the Lochranza Loos group have decided to get the toilets open and not delay matters further by waiting to refurbish them. This will come later. For now, they are small and basic but serviceable.

Donations will be much appreciated to help with the running costs.