Arran and Holy Isle

The Isle of Arran is today’s goal.  We’ve seen its west side over the last few days, but now we’re going to the eastern shore.  It is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde and its economy is nowadays largely based on tourism.  I’ve heard Arran is sometimes called the jewel in Scotland’s crown, as it’s got majestic mountains, pretty villages, challenging cycle rides and walks of all lengths and difficulties; the varied Scottish landscapes can all be enjoyed here.

Our sail was good.  We started out at 8am, going north and I helmed for the first hour.  I much prefer to practice up here, where there is plenty of space.  The winds were southerly so we sailed downwind to begin with, past green mountainsides with pretty villages and Lochranza with its castle.  On the northern side of the island the winds were very variable, running down the very high mountainside, and when we got to the east, we had to do a very large tack, half-way to the mainland and back, before reaching Lamlash.  There were some large visitor buoys available, but without any catching rope.  So Dominic backed on to the buoy and I had to lie down on the bathing platform to thread a rope through the ring.  (Not that pleasant, and I had visions of falling in and getting dragged under the platform and into the running propeller.)  It took a while, involved much head scratching and many ropes, but eventually we were moored on properly, with the boat facing the right way!  There must be a better way.

Stats: distance 39.9M, underway 6hrs 13 mins, average speed 6.4 kts, max speed 9.3 kts

The jagged mountains of northern Arran.

Our friends Toby and Janette arrived here last night, and we’ll spend the next few days exploring the area together which will be great fun!


Saturday, 15th June: Holy Isle – Island of the Water Spirit

Holy Isle seen from Lamlash

Today started early… the swell affected us badly with the mooring buoy banging on the hull, so as soon as it got light, Dominic was up “I’m moving this boat off this mooring buoy!”.  So we anchored away from the mooring buoys, and slept in a little.  Toby and Janette also moved their boat, across to the anchorage at Holy Island.  We followed suit at lunchtime and then we all went ashore to go for a walk.

Holy Isle has a long history as a sacred site. The Celtic Christian hermit St Molaise lived on the island at the end of the 6th century, and there is evidence of a 13th century monastery.

Holy Isle and the Centre for World Peace and Health

Holy Isle is nowadays owned by the Samye Ling Tibetan Centre.   More information on this very interesting place here:  Holy Isle    You can come here for retreats and they run a variety of courses, but day visitors are welcome to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and take walks along the paths.  This is what we did; we went on a fantastic walk, first to the top of Mullach Beag, 232m above sea level.  The path then slopes down a bit and then up again to the crest of Mullach Mor which is 315m high!

It was a very challenging walk.  Not only is it very steep in places; we had to literally scramble on all fours at times.  The peaty soil was wet and slippery, and some parts of the path is loose scree.  The path down was very steep, and at one point there were signs to stay on the path as there are hidden crevasses nearby.  Once we got down from the mountain on the southern side of the island, we joined the coastal path back to the Centre.  3hrs 15m of hard work and a few rather scary situations.  And we all have knees and backs and other body parts that may not be in quite perfect condition, but we did it.  Go us!

Dominic and Toby admiring the view – no, the boats!
Harestail Cotton
Heather in bloom
View from up high towards Lamlash
Janette and Dominic on their way down, with the Inner lighthouse well below
Quite tricky getting down
Retreats on the hillside
Mullach Mor shrouded in mist – we were there!!

There is abundant wildlife on and around the island, and also Soay sheep, Saanen goats and Eriskay ponies that are now feral, and live undisturbed in their own herds.  We were very lucky to encounter some of all three of these mammals.

We also saw Common Gull baby birds feeding on the beach under their parent’s watchful eye!  And it was amazing viewing the large Black-backed Gulls from above, and how they use just the tip of their wings to adjust their flight.

What a lovely afternoon!


Sunday 16th June: Father’s Day

Breakfast on our boat, and a long pub session and tasty food in the sunshine with views to both a pretty garden and Holy Island over the water.  Despite having none of our children with us, it was a pretty good Father’s Day for Dominic!

Happy Father’s Day to Dominic!
A lazy afternoon in the sunshine at the Pierhead Tavern, Lamlash, Arran


Monday 17th June: Brodick Castle and Arran Heritage Museum

The weather forecast wasn’t brilliant, with rain, thunderstorms and hail forecast for the middle of the day.  But this didn’t stop us.  Dominic and I picked up Toby and Janette from their boat.  It was choppy and windy and we all got very wet before we even got to the pier.  There we had to drag the RIB up the slipway, as we didn’t want it banging against the concrete of the pier head all day.  We got to the bus stop on time, and got one bus to Brodick Ferry Terminal, and then another to the northern end of the bay and Brodick Castle.  We had a much needed cup of tea / coffee in the Visitor Centre.

Brodick Castle
The Walled Garden with amazing views over Brodick Bay

There has been a fortress on the site since at least the 5th century and it has been a strategically important castle ever since.  The castle has seen much warfare, has been rebuilt and expanded under an array of different owners, until it was developed in the 19th century by the Hamiltons into the Victorian stately home we see today.   We explored the grounds the best we could without getting too wet in the intermittent rain showers.  It’s a fantastic site, with moss covered conifers intermingled with brightly flowering fuchsias.  We sat for a while in the rather unusual Bavarian Summerhouse, situated high on a cliff with views over the bay.  It is completely covered inside with conifer cones and other natural materials in various patterns.  It would in fact be a very good place to sit and read!  Though I did think it a bit weird; makes you think of Hansel and Gretel and other scary stories.

Brodick Castle itself is very large, and you’re allowed into quite a few of its rooms.  I didn’t much like the huge number of stags’ heads displayed downstairs and all up the staircase; evidence of its earlier use as a hunting lodge.  You can view both some of the private apartments and the main reception rooms.  The grand piano made me think of Elizabeth playing while Mr Darcy is sitting there, watching her with admiration and growing love in his eyes…  There are an enormous amount of artefacts on display, but to be honest, this is not what most caught my interest.  In order to save the wood flooring and the carpets, National Trust for Scotland (I assume) have somehow made a photographic copy of the flooring and carpet for visitors to walk on.  It wasn’t until Toby pointed this out to me that I even noticed that this was the case.  It even feels like a carpet, and the carpet part is thicker than the wood flooring part.  What a fantastic idea!  I also really enjoyed the Victorian games arcade, though I didn’t win the Grand National!

We had missed the midday return bus, so walked a bit along the road until we happened upon a pub serving lunch.  Perfect!  We then braved more rain/sun/cloud and kept walking to the Arran Heritage Museum.  This is housed in what was originally the site of a small school.  As well as the 1940s schoolroom, you can now enjoy the croft and smiddy, a 19th century cottage, bothy, milk house, laundry, stable, coach house and harness room.  There are also informative exhibits on the geology and archaeology of Arran, as well as social and military history.

It was a really interesting, but brief visit.  We were all cold and wet, and happy to get on the bus and eventually we got back to Lamlash.  And of course then we had to drag the very heavy RIB back into the water, while it was raining.  Again.  It was very nice to get back on the boat and dry out!

Amazingly, later in the evening we saw not one, but two double rainbows!  And the moon was particularly beautiful, sitting big and almost red over the water.  It is now dark, but I can still hear seabirds squawking.


Tuesday, 18th June: Doing Nothing Much

Toby and Janette are off to Loch Ranza today, and we will do our own thing.  We decided to have a day of doing nothing much.  We did order a few books and a small dinghy to be delivered to Ardrossan, where we’re going next.  Dominic got the drone working and got it flying, though it started raining immediately!  At least he knows it works.

So many things we see here remind me of growing up in northern Sweden, and it makes me wistful.  The flowers along the road in Carradale were just the flowers you’d see at this time of the year – ‘midsummer flowers’.  Here on Arran you can see active logging taking place on the mountainsides and the timber lorries go back and forth on the road here in Lamlash.  Again, this was a common sight (and noise!) for me growing up, as our village was on the through road going north.  And the timber lorries would rattle going empty north, and thunder fully laden going south. We’d also get all the cars with people going up to ski and walk in the mountains, on Saturdays, when it was changeover day in the rentals.


Wednesday, 19th June: Enjoying life on Holy Isle

We had planned to go to the Giants Graves’, two chambered tombs today.  But what with the rain forecast, and the buses, and the Forestry Commission doing work there, we decided to just take the RIB over to Holy Isle.  And this was such a good decision.  We had a whole morning of walking, wandering, watching, listening and relaxing on this wonder of land.  We took the path to the north side, as far as you can go (there is a conservation area on the east side), and then we walked along the western side as far as you can go, and had our picnic sitting next to the outer lighthouse on Pillar Rock Point.  It has a proud sign saying it was built in 1905, by Engineer D A Stevenson.

For over one hundred and fifty years Robert Stevenson and his descendants designed most of Scotland’s Lighthouses.

We found St Molaises’ Cave, a sandstone cliff overhang.  The dry-stone wall in front is believed to have been higher then, probably 8-10 ft.  You can see that it may have been quite cosy in there!

I washed my hands in the Healing Spring.  I giggled at the sign next to it, telling us that the water does not meet the EU standards for drinking water.   But that’s not why I didn’t take a sip.  You could see the midge larvae enjoying a good swim!  I still felt better afterwards.

It is easy to feel a part of nature on this island.  You hear the water gurgle through the cracks in the rocks on its way down towards the sea. Birds of all sizes are in the air, dive into the bracken, nest on the rocky beach.  We saw baby oystercatchers, and stopped to admire.  The parent allowed us for a bit, then made it very clear that we were not wanted, so we moved on.  The feral sheep check you out, but then ignore you to keep eating.  Some of the lambs were playing, bumping each other with their little horns.  I sat on the sun warmed rocks and enjoyed just being.


2 thoughts on “Arran and Holy Isle

  1. Interesting blog. We saw Brodick Castle years ago. We didn’t have time to see Holy Isle this time as we wanted to push on through the Crinan Canal while the weather was good. Sounds a nice place. We might go back there for a look sometime. In Barra at the moment, waiting for the high winds tomorrow. Good time to catch up on the blog. Went cycling around the island yesterday.


    1. Barra, how exciting, you’ve made it across! We’re luxuriating in Portavadie marina for the night. We decided to give the £55 pounds spa a miss though and had a drink in the very friendly but posh bar instead. And it’s been a calm night so we’ve both slept well; been a while since I had a good night’s sleep! We’ve talked to Crinan Canal and they’re raising the water level for us on Wednesday, so that’s where we’re off to next!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s