This was to be my second attempt at walking around Arran (the first attempt being in 2016, just before my 500-mile walk in Spain, an attempt which was abandoned as I was feeling much better than expected). The overall goal was the same though:
I wanted to test my long-distance walking abilities locally, before venturing further afield.
But this time, I would not be walking alone.
Walking with me would be Karen Servadei and Graham Fryatt from Kent. Graham’s son, also called Iain, is affected by ataxia too. But in Iain’s case, it is the more disabling “Friedreich’s Ataxia” which has had such an impact on his life. Iain has had FA since he was just 9 years old (he’s now 30), and has had to use a wheelchair for the last 10 of these years. This didn’t stop them all from making a fundraising climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro a few years ago though:
Very inspiring indeed!
This would be Karen and Graham’s first ever experience of Arran.
Not for me though. I spent many childhood holidays on Arran and, because of its proximity to Ayr, I witness the natural beauty of Arran every day (I can actually see it from my window; so Arran is usually the first thing I see when I open the curtains in the morning – weather permitting of course).
So I knew the stunning natural beauty that awaited my fellow walkers. What I had forgotten though, was the very natural openness, and warmth, of the people of Arran.
And, for myself at least, it will be the people of Arran who I will always remember. 99% of drivers waved and smiled as they passed. And 99% of pedestrians would smile and say “Hi/Good Morning/Good Afternoon…” as they walked by – many would even stop for a chat. This all culminated with meeting Margaret (my personal highlight of the whole trip). But more about Margaret later.
I also knew, from childhood memories, that the weather can have such a huge influence on the “Arran experience”. And the weather was to become something of a personal obsession during this trip.
The weather in Ayrshire had been spectacularly good of late (there was even one weekend when I thought that it might actually be too HOT(!) for long-distance walking).
And remember – this is Scotland. In April!!!!
For our weekend though, the weather forecast was not brilliant. True, no prolonged downpours were predicted, but rain would definitely feature at some point.
But I needn’t have worried. Instead of lugging a waterproof poncho around the island (a poncho which I used just once), I should have invested in some Factor 50 instead!!!!
Day 1. Friday. Brodick to Whiting Bay (with a break for lunch in Lamlash).
To reach Arran from mainland Scotland, you usually have to take the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Ardrossan. And as we were aiming to take the first ferry of the day, this required that my walking companions stayed in a hotel in Ardrossan on the eve of our departure (and as I live not too far away, I just travelled to Ardrossan on the Friday morning).
The ferry crossing itself, a crossing which takes just 50 minutes, was pleasantly uneventful.
On arrival at Brodick, we immediately made our way to the Tourist Information Centre (which is located right beside the pier), to meet the wonderful Cecilia who had been so helpful during the planning stages of this, rather amazing, trip.
And then the walking started in earnest.
I had deliberately ensured that we would only cover a very short distance on this first day, so that my walking companions would have a very easy introduction to walking on Arran. And as it had been 6 months since I had returned from my previous long-distance walk (in Spain), it would be a good way of reintroducing my own legs to long-distance walking too.
So the plan was to walk the 3 miles from Brodick to Lamlash; stop in Lamlash for a leisurely lunch (laid on by Chris at The Old Pier Cafe); and then walk the final 4 miles between Lamlash and Whiting Bay, where dinner was being provided by Nicola at Coast.
It was during the first stage of our walk, between Brodick and Lamlash, that we experienced rain (for the first and only time during our entire weekend on Arran). But it wasn’t really much. Heavier, more persistent, rain was forecast to hit us between 1-3pm (but I had timed our walk so that we could sit out the worst of the rain from the warmth of our cafe table in Lamlash).
It was also during this first stage of our walk that we experienced the natural friendliness of the Arran people for the first time (something that we would continually experience as we walked around the island):
While walking along a muddy track, in drizzling rain, we met a very jovial Arranite out walking with his dog. And, of course (and as was to become a rather common experience in the coming days), he stopped for a wee blether [“a chat”].
After a few minutes spent exchanging pleasantries, we continued walking towards Lamlash – under a clearing sky.
So when we arrived at The Old Pier Cafe, we had seen very few people. So it came as a bit of a shock to find that the place was absolutely packed!
But, when our lunch arrived, we understood exactly why The Old Pier Cafe was so busy.
The food is sensational!
And to make our first lunch-stop even better, as we sat looking out of the window waiting for the forecast rain to appear, all that we could see was that the sun was becoming even brighter. And the shadows darker.
So our afternoon walk between Lamlash and Whiting Bay, actually turned out to be a pleasant afternoon stroll in the sunshine (and at one point we even had to sit down in a bus shelter – just to take a break from walking in the heat).
Our evening meal at Coast was even more memorable. We were sat in a glass conservatory, overlooking the sea, on a glorious evening. And as there are palm trees everywhere in Whiting Bay, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that we had arrived on some Caribbean island – instead of an island off the west coast of Scotland.
And just to end our evening perfectly, Nicola (the owner of Coast, and our supporter in Whiting Bay) and her band of fellow musicians, ensured that our aching feet ended the day tapping along to some fine music.
A perfect day indeed.
I was left feeling so proud that I was able to introduce Karen and Graham to Arran when it was at its best.
Day 2. Saturday. Whiting Bay to Blackwaterfoot (with a break for lunch in Lagg).
Under a very blue and sunny sky, and after a hearty breakfast that would set us up for the day (something that we would be very grateful for later), we set off on Day 2 of our adventure.
The first part of our walk would take us along the coast before the road started to climb out of Whiting Bay. But no sooner had we crested the top of our climb, then the highlight of our entire weekend on Arran happened:
The long, slow, climb had made me rather thirsty. So I was already thinking of sitting down to a nice refreshing cup of tea when Graham, who was walking slightly behind me, suddenly shouted out “would you like tea or coffee?”. I wasn’t expecting to see another cafe until we got to Lagg for lunch, and thought that he was just joking with me. But he was rather insistent, so I walked back to see what he was talking about (I hadn’t noticed anywhere to stop, not even somewhere that may have opened recently).
But, boy, was I in for a very pleasant surprise.
A lovely lady (Margaret) was out tending to her beautiful garden and had just decided, as it was rather warm, to sit in her garden and enjoy a cup of tea. And as she watched the three of us walk by, she also noticed that we might appreciate a wee cup of tea too. So she had called out to Graham, and asked if we would like to take a break for 10 minutes and join her.
A complete stranger inviting us into her garden for tea and cake!
Margaret is a lovely lady, and wanted to hear all about our plans for Arran (and was especially happy to learn about Karen & Graham’s Kilimanjaro expedition – read up on IainsKiliChallenge, and be prepared to be rather inspired!). And in turn, we were very interested to hear about Margaret’s life, and those of her children/grandchildren.
Tea and cake (and chocolate biscuits), al fresco (in beautiful sunny weather) in a stunning location, all served by the most charming of hostesses. What more could you ask for?
Many people are familiar with the phrase “don’t forget to stop and smell the roses”, meaning that you should always remember to enjoy your life. And it is these chance interchanges with complete strangers that are my way of “stopping to smell the roses” 🙂
Spending so long chatting with Margaret meant that we now had no time to visit “Seal Beach” (where we were pretty certain to see seals basking on the rocks), and of getting to Lagg in time for lunch. As it happened, we arrived at the Lagg Hotel at 3:05pm – and they had just closed the kitchen – at 3pm! So lunch consisted of crisps and chocolate (this is when we became really grateful for the enormous breakfast we had had in Whiting Bay).
And as we had to be in Blackwaterfoot in time to catch the last bus* back to Whiting Bay, we put our heads down and picked up the pace a bit.
[*Saturday night is not the best time to try and arrange a one-night stay anywhere, so I had drawn a blank with local B&Bs, and as our only other option in Blackwaterfoot was a rather expensive hotel, we had decided to stay in Whiting Bay for two nights, and would return to the exact same spot in Blackwaterfoot the next morning, and continue walking from there].
We didn’t quite make it to Blackwaterfoot though (but we were very close – and could actually see it quite well, when the bus came).
Day 3. Sunday. Blackwaterfoot to Lochranza (with a break for lunch in Machrie).
Even before the additional distance (we had stopped a mile or so short of Blackwaterfoot on the previous day), this was planned to be our longest walk (some 17 miles). But as I had easily been walking a similar daily distance in Spain, it seemed like an easy possibility.
We had actually stopped in Kilpatrick the previous day and, although we could actually see Blackwaterfoot from there, the road layout meant that we walked a longer additional distance than expected – closer to 2 miles more.
By the time we had walked as far as Machrie Golf Course, we decided to stop and have some lunch (rather than continuing on to our planned stop at Pirnmill, which was still some distance away, and run the risk of arriving there too late to eat).
And our third (sunny) day was to be the day when we saw the most Arran wildlife. Seals, deer, a vole, peacocks (not native) and a couple of fighting male grouse. Karen was most excited when we saw a red squirrel just before we got to Pirnmill.
We did eventually stop at Pirnmill too (but just for a wee break) and, if the truth be told, this was about as far as I felt that I could now comfortably walk. But as I had made arrangements to stay and dine at Castlekirk (a B&B/art gallery housed in a converted church) in Lochranza (courtesy of the wonderful Vicki Hudson who runs Castlekirk, and who has been so supportive since I first contacted her almost a year previously), I felt that I really should push on.
However, when we arrived in Catacol Bay, 3 miles short of Lochranza, I knew that I couldn’t take one more step.
Day 4. Monday. Lochranza back to Brodick.
I was expecting to see some SNOW when I woke up in Lochranza.
All through the weekend, I had been following various weather forecasts. And the general consensus was that the weather would deteriorate at some point. But this deterioration never happened. If anything, the weather just got better.
However, all forecasters were saying that snow would fall on the hills of Scotland on the Monday morning. Even down to very low levels. Which meant that the hills between Lochranza and Brodick were very likely to see some white stuff.
But not a single flake fell (I have seen a video, taken 1 day later though, which does show snow falling in Brodick – so we got out just in time).
Sunburn on the Saturday, followed by snow on the Tuesday? Welcome to Scotland!
I had also decided that, after my ordeal the previous day, we should travel between Lochranza and Brodick by bus. Walking any further, just wasn’t an option now.
So what did I learn?
Quite a lot actually.
I can now comfortably, and enjoyably, walk for up to 10 miles each day.
Between 10 miles and 15 miles is possible. But it feels like really hard work, and definitely isn’t good for me physically.
Anything over 15 miles, even a single step, just isn’t going to happen. It’s no longer physically possible.
I expect that these distances will increase slightly as my body gets used to walking over long distances again. And when I do walk abroad, I have numerous “rest days” planned, in between the “walking days” – so my body will have plenty of time to “rest and recover”.
Luckily, I have already arranged for daily walking distances of just 10km (about 6-7 miles) on my next walk. Which is along the (very flat) towpath of the Canal du Midi, in France.
Photograph: Wikipedia Creative Commons
And my lasting memories of Arran?
Without a doubt, the friendliness of the people!
Having spent numerous holidays on Arran, I was already aware of the stunning beauty that awaited us. What I wasn’t expecting (and Arran isn’t that far from the mainland) was the almost universal friendliness of the people we encountered along the way. Epitomised by our meeting Margaret just outside of Whiting Bay.
[One thing that I did learn though, which wasn’t all that positive: When we first arrived at the Tourist Information Centre in Brodick on the Friday, I discovered that tourism on Arran receives no state funding. None. Not from Westminster. Not from Holyrood. Not even from the local council (North Ayrshire Council). All of these bodies should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves! So, as a potential visitor, don’t expect to see any flashy ads anytime soon. But take it from me, and from Karen and Graham who were first-time visitors – you will absolutely love Arran!]
Yes, I do the “walking”. But it is only with the support of some very kind and generous people that I am able to organise these walks in the first place.
So, as well as thanking every single person who smiled, waved, stopped for a chat (or even invited us in for tea and cake), I want to thank three people in particular:
And, as always, I want to thank Hi-Tec for donating the very light walking boots that make walking, not just possible, but a continued enjoyment.
Thinking of visiting Arran? Then your first port of call should be VisitArran – who also operate the Tourist Information Centre, which will be the first building that you spot when the ferry docks in Brodick.