A Showcase for earth scientists
Mountains, lowlands, dykes, sills, glens, corries, polished walls of granite, staircases of waterfalls make Arran a showcase for earth scientists. Nowhere else in Britain is there such diversity in such a small area.
Igneous rocks including granites and lavas, occupy half the island. Within the mountain masses there are two granites. The older coarse-grained granite gives rugged, dramatic scenery. All the major mountains of Arran consist of this rock. Into this granite younger fine-grained granite has intruded.
In the south, rocks from lava flows dominate the landscape. Magma injected vertically into the earths crust form narrow sheets known as dykes while sills developed where the magma flowed in a sheet between the planes of the surface rock.
Where Magna is harder than surrounding rocks it forms sills caused by erosion wearing away weaker rocks. These form steep steps in the hilly landscape above Whiting Bay. Rivers tumble over the junction between the hard and softer rocks in a cascade sometimes leading to a staircase of waterfalls. The massive bulk of Holy Isle sheltering Lamlash Bay formed from a cone-sheet sill.
Dykes appear around most of Arran - some up to eight metres high. In the north dykes cut the granite but here the granite is the tougher, and the worn away dykes form small gorges, pools and waterfalls.
The oldest of the other rock types are the schists found in north-west Arran. These underlie moors and coastal slopes flanking the granite peaks behind Lochranza, Gatacol and Pirnmill and appear in coastal cliffs. Alongside the North Sannox Burn where it passes beneath the A841 road it forms first-rate sunbathing and picnicking platforms.
A geological fault separates the Dalradian rocks and the northern granite from the rest of the island. The fault curves round the granite from the coast north of Lochranza emerging again at the coast at Dougarie. To the south of the fault, the main rocks are red and white sandstones and conglomerates, with some limestone and beds of coal. These sedimentary rocks weathered to give fertile soils.
The ice ages produced boulder clay. Thick deposits appear where streams have cut down into them and in roadside cuttings along the Brodick-Lamlash Road. The ice sheet deposited blocks of the northern granite all over the south of the island.
Local glaciers polished and shaped the glens and corries to give polished walls of granite in Glen Rosa and Glen Sannox. As the glaciers melted, debris carried dropped to form ridges and mounds called moraines.
As the ice fields retreated, vast volumes of water entered the sea. Sea level rose and coastal lowlands became flooded. As the climatic warming ended, the rise in sea level slowed, while the land freed of the weight of ice rose, raising sea beds clear of the sea.
The result of all these forces over millions of years has been to produce an island with a physical geography complex and fascinating.
Isle of Arran Heritage Museum
The battle fleet tossed expectantly at anchor, their dragon prows sniffing the breeze blowing into Lamlash Bay. By October 1263 King Haakon of Norway’s patience was exhausted. He determined to teach the troublesome Scots never to challenge his authority over the Western Isles again.
No respecter of foreign kings, the Scots aided by autumn gales defeated the king’s forces at Largs on mainland Scotland. These and other historic happenings can be explored at the Isle of Arran Heritage museum. Founded in 1976 it lies on the main road just north of Brodick. The displays include a model replica of a Viking ship of the kind that assembled in Lamlash Bay before the fateful Battle of Largs.
Before the kingly presence on Arran, man had lived and worked there for thousands of years. Arran's archaeology and geology presentation are lucidly explained. There is a genuine Early Bronze Age grave (over 3,000 years old) and the pottery food vessel found in it on display. Clachaig Man, 5,000 years old re-created by computer technology from a skull found in a long cairn at Clachaig, on Arran, in 1900, and sculpted by local artist Marvin Elliot is there.
One thing I find disconcerting about rural museums is that I have worked with many of the items. I remember the change over from oil-lamp to electric lighting and from horse-drawn farm equipments to tractors. Much to by surprise I once saw a school photo containing myself at an antique fair. For those not familiar with country living, The Isle of Arran Heritage Museum is a treasure and people like myself can simply be annoying by exclaiming, "I’ve used that and that!"
The group of buildings were previously a croft and smiddy, and include a farmhouse, cottage, bothy, milk house, laundry, stable, coach house and harness room – suitable for a rural museum.
The stable and coach house contain permanent displays. Old photographs show village life and farming methods in bygone days. The island's long seafaring traditions are remember from the days of sail, through steam powered puffers, paddle-steamers and warships, to the latest car ferry.
The smiddy is still as it was when work stopped in the 1960's, and has changed little from early 19th century. Its forges, bellows, tools and other equipment are original, and horses shoeing demonstrations take place several times a year.
In the museum’s grounds sit a collection of horse-drawn farm implements, two tractors, a Victorian post box and an old telephone kiosk. The farmhouse holds a café and special exhibition area, where displays change every year.
The museum has a custom-built archive and an area where visitors can access and search the database containing the museum inventory. Computer access and microfiche readers aid visitors in tracing family history – But not going back unfortunately to Clachaig Man.
Use of this equipment is on Wednesdays or by prior arrangement. The Museum is open every day, from April to October, 10:30am–4:30pm.
The Waverley Paddle Steamer
She comes in low and squat as if hugging the water, her twin side paddles leaving twin wakes. Approaching the quay her paddles stop before thrashing in reverse and churning the sea into green champagne. Warps hang momentarily in the air before grabbing hands place them around bollards. Not an easy ship to manoeuvre, the Waverley, the last sea going paddle-steamer in the world, relies on warping into position.
Built in 1947 and driven by 2100 horsepower generated by a triple expansion diagonal steam engine beating out its tune in Waltz time she steams at 15 knots. She breathes and exhales steam - a living, breathing creature. Her twin raked back funnels emit gentle wisps of smoke.
The Waverley has two bars, a self-service cafeteria and a souvenir shop. There are seating on the decks and two deck shelters for foul weather, not to mention the comfortable saloon seating in the bars. She takes up to 925 passengers and runs a summer schedule in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland.
I embark for a day trip from Ayr across to the Isle of Arran. Making myself comfortable in a seat aft of the funnels, I relax. This is where the engine room ventilators belch warm steam-flavoured air and the beat and hiss of the steam engines resound upwards. We thunder away from Ayr, stirring up a stiff breeze as we head across to Arran – I had chosen my spot well.
Waverley is 239.6 feet long by 30.2 feet wide (excluding the seven foot wide paddle boxes) she has a draught of 6.5 feet. The original triple expansion steam engine powers her. From a viewing gallery placed along each side of the engine room you can view the mighty engine beating out its tune. Lean over and you see the whole engine – the steam-powered pistons rotating the crankshaft driving the paddles, the valves directing the jets of steam into and out of the cylinders!
On 6th August 1974 the Paddle-Steamer Preservation Society bought Waverley for the price of one pound. They set up the Waverley Steam Navigation Co. to run the ship. Repainted in her original attractive colours her funnels are red, white and black and are hull red, black, gold and white, she has run under their flag since. Millions of pounds have been spent keeping the vessel seaworthy. Worth every penny!
Travelling at upwards of 15 knots the 17 miles to Arran evaporates. A jink of sea appears between Holy Isle and Arran, and Brodick Castle perched below Goat Fell Mountain emerges out of the early morning haze. Once more the mighty paddles thrash in reverse as we come into Brodick harbour.
Decision time – is it going to be an inspection of the castle or the museum, climb Goat Fell mountain, follow the Food or Taste Trail or find the nearest bar and sample the local beer and whisky?
Arran's Food Trail
Arran Food trail is an enticing trail full of delicious tastes and smells. Producers of the Isle’s quality delicacies open their doors to visitors. Each has a visitor’s centre explaining how each delicacy is made.
Enjoy the aromas and buy mementos of the visit straight from the producer. It’s a good excuse to sample the island’s beer and whisky and you can amaze the kids by showing them that food does not originate in a supermarket.
The food trail extends up the east side and along the top of the island, so complete the circuit and see "Scotland in Miniature" -– there are good views across the Kilbrandon Sound.
At Lamlash, the Paterson Arran Kitchens is the home of Arran Fine Foods -- relishes, mustards, chutneys, salad dressings, preserves, and marmalades -- plenty of fruity aromas wafting around here. The company started at a kitchen in a local house in the 1970's and has been going strong since then.
Moving up to Brodick we have something for the chocoholic. James' Chocolates provides a window on chocolate making. Chocolate arrives as sacks of round buttons and leaves in sleek, glossy shapes filled with intense flavours and subtle textures. The chocolate, chock full of luxury goodness, simply melts on the palate –- irresistible!
Just outside Brodick is the Island Cheese Company at Home Farm. The tradition of farmhouse cheese making continues here. See the raw milk transforming to curds and whey and finally to the finished cheeses. Choose from Bellecreme, soft cheeses including crowdie, fromage frais, crème fraiche, sour cream, and goats milk Goat Fell crotins. Also a range of flavoured cheddar's plus an extensive range of British cheeses.
By now you will have built up a thirst. There is no better way to slake it than by a glass of Arran Blonde, Arran Light or Arran Dark beer at the Arran Brewery. The raw ingredients are barley, wheat and hops. A viewing gallery give a chance to experience the sights, sounds and smells. That smell of hops will prepare you for sampling the finished products at the gift shop.
Moving north and around the tip of the island to Loch Ranza, the Arran Distillery close to the sea loch and Loch Ranza Castle is a must see for malt lovers. The tour starts with an audio-visual presentation about the origins and production of the 'water of life', in the mock 18th-century crofter’s inn. A guided look around the distillery and sampling the produce follows. Do ask them why they sited the distillery in the windiest part of the island and how often the roof has blown off.
The distillery began in 1995, and already the whisky it produces is attracting international acclaim, with expectations that its single malt, when mature, will become a classic. There 's also a restaurant providing excellent food and is part of the award-winning Arran Taste Trail.
ISLE OF ARRAN DISTILLERY
Whisky had not been distilled - legally - on Arran for over a hundred years - 160 to be more accurate - before this distillery was established in 1995. The distillery offers tours - four pounds - through the day along with a large café and gift shop. The day I was here, the distillery was playing host to a large number of Scandanavians who might have been taking advantage of lower taxes to snap up whisky at its source, though truth be told, British taxes and prices do not seem to be that much of a deal. I am not quite sure of which official Scottish whisky region that Isle of Arran falls into. It seemed like a Lowland whisky to me, unpeated as it was, very different to the whiskies found nearby in Campbelltown or on the island of Islay.
Arran’s highest peak - 874 meters/2866 feet - dominates the skyline from both Brodick and the Scottish Ayrshire mainland. It serves as a magnet for many would-be modern day versions of George Mallory. They clamber off the ferry at Brodick and set out to walk around the bay, beginning their climb at Cladach, next to Brodick Castle. Some cheat and take the bus to and from Cladach thus saving 6 km/3.75 miles and 1 meter of gain from their 17 km/10.5 mile and 875 meter gain route. The main route up Goatfell is a smaller version of the Appian Way, stones laid out making your way obvious. Only as you gain the final eastern ridge does the gradient finally become a factor. On top, there is a trigonometric point with a view indicator pointing out the many sights you can see both on the mainland, in the islands and off over to Northern Ireland. That is unless whipping clouds aren’t blasting over the top of the peak at the same time as your visit - as was my fate. If conditions allow, the immediate mountains and glacial valleys to the north and west invite further exploration. Or use them as a more interesting avenue up Goatfell, itself.
- Mountain Climbing
- Hiking and Walking
- Historical Travel
Holy Isle, so named as it was home to the Celtic St Molas, sits in Lamlash Bay and is accessible by a small ferry from the pier in the middle of Lamlash. We didn't have time to go there unfortunately but if you leave early enough it is apparently possible to climb its peaks before returning by the last ferry of the day. The north end of the island is home to a Tibetan Buddhist monestary & retreat
At the south end of the Island is the village of Kildonan and probably the best beach on the island, which seemed to be fairly popular. The village is reached by leaving the main road round the island, onto a narrower road. There is some parking at the side of the road where steps lead down to the beach and then the road winds down to the main part of the village which has a village shop, hotel and camping ground.
Also from here you can see the tiny island of Pladda and Aisla Craig in the distance
When you reach the falls themselves there is a wooden viewing platform which juts out from the hillside over the burn to give a great view over the falls. I was surprised how tall it was - over 140 feet in height, falling in two drops to a plunge pool below. Much more impressive that I had expected and most definitely worth the walk to get there [about 1.5 miles].
Our final morning on the island was spent walking to Glenashdale Falls. They are reached by walking through woodland, alongside the Glenashdale Burn. You can begin this walk in the village of Whiting Bay near the shore, and walk in a circuit. We chose to park our car a bit closer, at the top of the very steep hill and just on the edge of the woods which made for an easier walk. We had a ferry to catch so didn't have enough time to do the full circuit. If you do you can take a slight detour from the main path to see the "Giants Graves" which are in fact Neolithic chambered tombs. They sit up on the hillside which makes it a more strenuous walk than sticking to the main path.
Along the path there are one or two spots where you can view the Falls
our next stop was in the north of the island at the beautiful village of Lochranza. This was definitely my favourite of the villages, so picturesque and seemed very quiet. The houses are stretched out right around the side of the sea loch with the backdrop of mountains that cover the north [Highland!] of the island. Lots of beautiful views to soak up!
On the outskirts of the village is the Arran Whisky Distillery which has a visitor centre and guided tours
On the shore of the Loch, on the end of a short peninsula, sits the ruins of 16th century Lochranza Castle which was once a hunting lodge for Scottish Kings before being owned by the Campbells and Montgomeries. After having fallen into disuse and eventually disrepair, its now owned by Historic Scotland
It wasn't so nice a day when we were there so we just had a quick look around the formal walled gardens but it would be nice to spend more time there and also exploring the woodland walks etc on a sunnier & drier day. The country park stretches from the shores of Brodick Bay to the mountain tops above and contains over 10 miles of trails. lots to keep you occupied if its a nicer day :)
Although we DID still manage to consume some Arran Dairies ice cream from the castle cafe, despite the distinctly non ice cream like weather - highly recommend it!
Brodick Castle & Country Park
It was raining when we arrived on Arran so we decided to head for Brodick Castle first so we were indoors. Its owned by the National Trust for Scotland so if you are a member [or member of an affiliated organisation] entry is free.
You tour the castle by yourself but there are guides in every room to answer your questions and boards that explain the purpose of the rooms and give details of whats in them. I don't know if its a new thing for the NTS in general or just here, but they had "junior" boards and we found they had more interesting information for us too even of they are aimed at children!
The castle was previously owned by the Hamilton family who were Earls of Arran and was primarily a hunting lodge, which explains the huge number of stag heads in the hallway! The oldest parts of the castle date from the 16th century although there has been a castle of some kind on the site since the dark ages.
Well worth a look around!
the town of Brodick was our base during our 2 nights on the island. It worked well for us as we had minimal travel after arriving on the island and plenty of local amenities, including a decent sized supermarket which we needed, being in a self catering apartment.
Just outside of Brodick are a few of the islands tourist attractions - Goatfell & Brodick Castle but also some we didn't end up visiting this time like Arran Aromatics, Arran Cheese factory, brewery and the Arran Heritage Museum. We chose to tour the island since we had good weather, but it was good to know we had plenty options if the weather hadn't cooperated.