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Monday, 1 October 2018

Sunday, 16 September 2018

From 12 holes to 9 to 18 then 9 again: Lochranza Golf Course’s Layouts 1898-2018

History has come full circle at Lochranza Golf Course this year with the return of Pablo Moran to his green-keeping beginnings. Pablo first came to the village from Peru in 1963 aged 17 when he was unable to speak English. He remembers how he cried for a month with homesickness. Thankfully for golf on the island it did not get the better of him.

At that time the village had long had a golf course on land situated in the head of the glen, owned by the Arran Estate. The first recorded golf course at Lochranza was opened on the 6th June 1899 – an era that would come to be regarded as the heyday of Arran golf due to burgeoning tourism around the Clyde. Many of Arran’s golf courses originated at this time: between 1903 and 1914 there were 11 golf courses on the island. The SWRI’s book ‘History of the Villages of the Isle of Arran’ reports that ‘the people (of Lochranza) opened a golf course, a new club house and new bridges over the burn for the benefit of golfers’.

The original golf course at Lochranza had 12 holes. The father and grandfather of Mr. Iain Robertson, dedicated golfer and owner of the golf course from 1988 to 2009, played this original layout on annual summer holidays. The course layout at that time did not include the Butt Field or the Sea Field. Instead, it stretched up the steep hillside to the south-east towards Narachan. An old tee from that time remains in the bracken below Broombank road end and is visible in the winter months. That tee played downhill to a green to the west of the big sycamore tree stump which would later become part of the campsite. Mr Robertson thinks it possible that the golf course at that time also extended upstream towards Ballarie Farm.  

During the Second World War the golf course was used for commando training. Traces of hut circles on the 1st and 9th fairways can still be discerned as well as a raised bank which may have been a rifle range. The Stags Pavilion became a base for the commandos. After the war, a 9 hole layout, completely different to today’s, was created. The area of the course included the present-day campsite field and the field that now contains the pond. Mr. Robertson remembers that a farmer from Catacol, whose sheep sometimes strayed to Lochranza, used to mow the fairways with the gang mowers on his tractor. The tees from this post-war 9 hole layout, now disused, remain around the golf course. When Mrs Ruby McAllister took over the golf course and campsite in 1963 the club house became a tearoom and shop.

The eighties saw a resurgence of the popularity of golf due to televised major competitions. When Mr.Robertson bought the golf course and campsite in 1988 he planned an ambitious new 18 hole layout. He negotiated with Mr. Charles Fforde, the landowner, and Mr.Sandy Sloss, the farmer, to acquire the Butt Field and Sea Field areas with the provision that the sheep could have sheltered grazing through the lambing period in April. This system remains in place today. The 18 hole layout designed by Mr. Robertson and his father included double tees and greens and a number of other new features, including the pond on the 7th hole, other water hazards and long doglegs. The 18 hole layout at par 70 presented the longest course on the island. The layout was designed to maximise appreciation of the beautiful scenic views as golfers walked the course.

Nigel and myself took over the golf course and campsite lease in 2009. A meeting of members in 2010 in the Stags Pavilion, led to a vote in favour of returning the course to a 9 hole layout and with their help we set about the changes in 2011. Essentially, today’s 9 holes are based on Mr. Robertson’s 18 hole layout.

Now back in Pablo’s care, 55 years on from when he first set foot on Lochranza’s fairways, the course, framed by the majestic hills, continues to be enjoyed by stalwart local supporters and visitors alike.

My information for this blog came from:

Mr. Iain Robertson, Lochranza Golf owner 1988-2009

Golf on Arran by James Henderson, published by Voice for Arran 2016

 History of the Villages of the Isle of Arran by SWRI Arran Federation revised in 2002

Saturday, 25 August 2018

An Old Way


‘Everyone spoke about going over the Boguille.’ (The Place-Names of Arran by Ian A. Fraser)


The Boguille is a Gaelic name for the upper part of the road between Glen Chalmadale and North Sannox. It is derived from ‘boglach’ which means marshy ground. (The ‘bo’ part rhymes with Joe and the ‘guille’ part rhymes with Billy.) Chalmadale comes from Old Norse, the tongue of the Vikings, and means Hjalmund’s Dale. Hjalmund must have decided that this deep glen, sheltered from the north wind, was a desirable place to settle- and who wouldn’t?

One afternoon recently I got dropped off at the top of the Boguille (204m). This is the watershed where burns begin flowing in opposite directions. I turned my back on the always- arresting view of the Sleeping Warrior (the ridge between Suidhe Fheargas and Caisteal Abhail), in order to walk the old way into Lochranza which descends on the opposite side of the burn from the road. It is clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey Explorer map but not always easy to detect on the tussocky high ground. As I tripped and stumbled through the long, spiky deer grass, I was rewarded by the fluttering of many vivid vermilion and deep brown Scotch Argus butterflies ahead of me.

With trousers firmly tucked in my socks to avoid ticks in these haunts of the red deer herds, I descended gently. The path is crossed at intervals by rills and rivulets which splash down to the burn, Chalmadale Waters. Arran is a mountainous island and (normally) a wet island, so its tumbling burns and waterfalls are plentiful and are wee microcosms of biodiversity and charm.

Along the track I noticed evidence of old road construction in the form of rock slabs. Around the sheep-nibbled grass yellow tormentil flowers twinkled starrily and filmy pale blue harebells nodded. Meadow pipits flitted through the whins and stonechats chattered (as they do!) It is a bonny route, away from road traffic, with the view down to Glen Farm lying ahead. Once at the bottom of the track you come to farm buildings and a ford from where the path rises again past Glen Farm and traverses the hillside to Narachan before descending to the head of the loch by Lochranza Golf Course.

The walk took me little more than an hour and on an August afternoon I passed not a soul.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Desperately Seeking Hutton’s Unconformity


Where IS Hutton’s Unconformity? A question we are often asked and one that is not easy to answer because, to the untrained eye, the rocks which comprise the unconformity don’t appear to be much different to the rest of the gnarled, grey, sea-bitten rocks that edge Arran’s northern coastline.

The issue of whether Hutton’s should be marked by a sign has been the subject of much discussion. Many think a sign would look intrusive in such a natural landscape. Many others believe that some kind of interpretation is vital if visitors are to fully appreciate the significance of the site. In fact, James Hutton himself is the remarkable ingredient in the story. In 1787, a time when Christendom believed the world was created in 4004 BC, Hutton, a lively and inquisitive man, farmer and soil-improver, came to Arran, looked at the formation of the rocks and recognised that the Earth must be much older than prevailing wisdom asserted.

Hutton applied modern scientific methods and reasoning to comprehension of the Earth’s history. Walking along the coast towards the Cock of Arran, he observed that younger sedimentary layers of sandstone lay above older Dalradian schists: this is the unconformity. He deduced that titanic processes of erosion and sedimentation, of uplift and great heat, must have created the world over long periods of time. His discovery made him come to be regarded as the father of modern geology although initially he faced outrage and accusations of blasphemy from some members of the church.

How to Find the Unconformity


From Newton Point (GR 931515) follow the Coastal Way. At first the path crosses grass then rocky ground. It’s about 1km to Hutton’s Unconformity.

Look up to your right for a long tree-filled fissure that makes a vertical line down the hillside. Hutton’s Unconformity is in line with this, in the rocks by the sea.

Eventually you come to a stone slab bridging a ditch (GR 936521). Stop here, don’t take the right turn of the path inland. Hutton’s Unconformity is on the sea side of the stone slab bridge. Look out for the two types of rock lying adjacent to each other, despite belonging to different geological ages. Notice how they slope at different angles.

A fun, educational way to learn about the local geology is to visit Lochranza Centre and do their geocaching trail (www.lochranzacentre.co.uk). I also recommend purchasing ‘Arran: Landscapes in Stone’ by Alan McKirdy, £7.99 from the Book and Card Shop in Brodick.‘The Arran Naturalist’, commemorative edition, £3.00, is also of interest if geology captures your imagination. It contains an excellent article about Arthropleura, a 2m long millipede, whose footprints from 300 million years ago remain clearly visible on rocks near Laggan. We sell this booklet in reception. You can also find out more about Arran geology at Arran Heritage Museum, Brodick.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Round Arran On Cloud Nine 

Friday 8th June 2018

On almost any day of the year there is sure to be someone circumnavigating Arran.  They may be walking the Coastal Way, negotiating the road’s ups-and-downs by bike, car or bus, or perhaps paddling a kayak.  One bright morning recently we decided to see how long it would take to circumnavigate the island on Cloud Nine, a 6.3 metre RiB, anti-clockwise and sticking to a steady 18 knots.

We leave Lochranza pontoon on a high tide having enjoyed breakfast at the Sandwich Station. Pulling out into the choppy waves and invigorating breeze of the Kilbrannan Sound we turn south-west, passing Catacol’s white cottages tucked like toy houses under the bulky rounded hills of the north-west of the island. If we see any floating plastic, we lean over the side and pick it up.

From a sea level point-of-view you can truly appreciate what a mountainous island Arran is, with its settlements squeezed onto narrow shelves of flat land. You also realise how there is a great deal of impenetrable terrain on the island, with steep rocky wooded cliffs tumbling into the sea, so steep in fact that it makes you wonder however anyone ever imagined a road round the edge might be  possible. You also realise that this is an entirely lovely island and scenic from whichever degree you look at it from.

You would not choose a RiB ride for comfort- it can be jarring and you are exposed to the weather-  but RiBs are strong and stable on the water. It is best, even on a hot day, to wear warm protective gear because hypothermia sneaks up on you unawares. A hat or cap and sunglasses are essential. In colder weather we wear immersion suits.

On the RiB dashboard is a chart plotter with down-view depth sonar. The graphs on the screen enable the driver to see the shape and depth of the seabed. Round the coast the seabed is treacherously uneven with underwater volcanic dykes jutting out from the land a particular hazard. We look out for marker buoys and cardinal markers which are placed to guide shipping. When you go right up to them you find they have intriguing names such as Iron Rock Ledges. We also look out for lobster buoys so that their ropes do not get tangled in our propeller. We let Belfast Coastguard know about our voyages and can communicate with them by radio if necessary.

Reaching the point where the Kilbrannan Sound opens out into the North Channel the sun is rising higher and sunlight flashes off the waves. The new distillery stands high on the island’s south-west corner . Northern Ireland is a misty line on the horizon, the surprising pyramid of Ailsa Craig ahead. Whenever I see this giant rock, it is always rising eerily out of the mist. The gannets are diving.

When you want to make landfall, a RiB needs a sandy sloping beach to pull upon or a pontoon.  Arriving in sheltered Lamlash Bay we pull up beside the harbour wall but need to keep a close eye on the boat due to the falling tide. We couldn’t possibly pass the Old Pier Tearoom without calling in though.

After Lamlash, we are in the Firth of Clyde – one of the most famous maritime routes in the world. It’s flat calm on this side of the island, the sea more like a lagoon, and it’s much easier to see wildlife. Approaching the last lap of the Sannox- Lochranza coast, the mountains of Glen Sannox look like one of Tolkein’s mythical landscapes. And right at that moment we hear the puff and hiss of vigorous blowing through air holes and see five big broad black gleaming backs gliding purposefully north through the water, their fins thin and upright like sea-tattered masts. We turn off the engine and keep our distance. We don’t know what these creatures are but think they could be minke whales. Cloud nine indeed!

 Then it’s back to Lochranza Pontoon where we started. The boat will need a hose down.
 Our circumnavigation was 100km in length and the journey took us three and a half hours.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Wild Flowers of Arran

Long, cold winters can have a silver lining: ice and frost delay the growth of bracken giving wildflowers a longer window of opportunity to bloom in spring. Some of these plants have shared the earth’s history for a very long time. Did you know that the common horsetail grass existed 400 million years ago? I know it now from joining in the Arran Natural History Society’s Wildflower Identification Walk with enthusiastic and very knowledgeable guide Sarah Cowan in lovely Glen Rosa. Sarah began the walk by informing us that she had identified more than three hundred species of plant just in our immediate vicinity.

Sarah’s sharp eyes picked out many wee species flourishing quietly in hidden places. In the past, most of our ancestors would have known the names and properties of a wide array of plants because they had uses. Sarah informed us how bracken was actually encouraged in order to make potash for whitening linen, as well as stuffing bedding and making glass. Ribwort plantain was rubbed on the skin to be a midge repellent and fragrant valerian was used as an aid to sleep. Bog myrtle still makes a delicious but highly intoxicating beer whilst ling heather can be a great pan scrubber. Distinguishing your heathers can help you keep your feet dry on a hill walk because bright bell heather’s roots form a mat which stops you sinking into bog.

It is always surprising to learn how much the wild landscapes of Britain and their ecology have been influenced by human beings. Sarah told us that the widespread hawthorn was, surprisingly, not native to Arran but introduced at the time of the 18th century enclosures as a means to demarcate land. Brambles and rosehips are likely to be found growing where cottage gardens used to be, as well as hazel for building. Nettles nearly always flag up a place where humans have been active in the past.

To appreciate the beauty and variety of wildflowers you have to look closely and attentively. Apparently, in the Gaelic some grass names are described as grey and blue, not green as you might expect. On looking closer, we agreed that some of the grass stems had a grey-blue sheen, begging the question does language respond to what we perceive or is what we perceive determined by language?

As our short walk neared its end we all came to a standstill at the sight of a flowering creamy Scottish burnet rose spreading over the banks of the burn. Sarah said it had not flowered since 1994 and must have benefited from the cold winter and warm, dry spring. Nearby, deep blue milkwort, bright pink lousewort and sky-blue germander speedwell were bright splashes in the grass attracting the pollinators as well as the insect-eating butterwort and delicate heath spotted orchids. All this natural treasure on a slow stroll of a few hundred metres!