It’s not even midday, but already I’ve hiked alongside a herd of wild red deer on the approach to the summit of one of the most majestic mountains in the British Isles. I’m now savouring views across to Ireland as I try to make out the Isle of Man in the distance. An afternoon awaits bashing down mountain bike trails, before a kayak paddle across a broad seal-and-porpoise-filled bay in the shadow of one of Scotland’s most charming castles. Welcome to the Isle of Arran, Active Scotland in Miniature.
It's easy to see how it got gained this nickname. The rugged outline of Arran looms into view from the bow of the CalMac ferry across from the Ayrshire coas: its northern flank lies across the Highland Boundary Fault and is a wild landscape of vaulting mountains, sweeping glens and gushing burns, alive with red deer and golden eagles – and, if you are lucky, sea eagles and basking sharks. Lowland Arran is a gentler landscape kissed by sandy beaches and rolling hills, with a charmingly wild coast featuring a trio of offshore islands, including one– Holy Isle – that is now a Buddhist retreat.
In short Arran is the perfect setting for an active adventure. Traditionally the main draw has been hiking and the Arran Hills for me offer world class walking. The most obvious target for the well prepared (always key in the Scottish mountains) is Goatfell. At 874m, the island’s highest point is a belter; I recommend doing the long, gradual ‘tourist route’ one way and bashing up or down from Corrie on the other leg, as this opens up a swathe of different scenery on a steeper, shorter route. There is a superb half-day walk on Holy Isle too. For the more adventurous there are some classic scrambles and ridge walks. If you are unsure, the National Trust for Scotland runs excellent ranger-led hikes and there is also the brilliant annual Arran Mountain Festival.
Arran Adventure – based at the island’s only resort hotel, the Auchrannie – also offer guided hiking, and myriad other adventure sports. I’ve been out sea kayaking with them on a couple of superb trips. They can sort out everything from a wee paddle across Brodick Bay, right through to an overnight camping adventure. Either way watch out for seals, porpoises and dolphins, not to mention those basking sharks and even whales in these wildlife rich waters.
Mountain-biking has only really made it big in the last few years on Arran, which is surprising as the island has the perfect terrain for it. Those not keen to off-road can just enjoy the classic road cycle right around this bijou island. The real fun for me, though, is out there in the hills, with good sections of single track, as well as wider fire tracks through the forests. The tourist information office in Brodick can steer you in the right direction. I’m a big fan of the new trails in Clauchlands, just outside Brodick, You can hurl yourself around with epic views across to the Arran Hills, and stop off at mystical standing stones and stone circles.
If you seek a thrilling experience with great views, but fancy something more passive after your hiking and kayaking then help is on hand at Ocean Breeze. Their fast RIB bounces you across the surf around Arran’s coast. Its speed allows you to get access to parts of the island only intrepid hikers can access, such as the Cock of Arran. They also offer charters if you're travelling in a group.
Some people come to Arran for just one action-packed day like the one I described at the beginning. But if you can spare a weekend or longer then you really should, taking in a Segway ride, an archery gorge walk or even an abseiling adventure. The list of possibilities on the island is as endless as your spirit of adventure.
For more Cool Places recommended places to eat, drink and stay on Arran, as well as visitor attractions, click here. Tae a look also at Robin's blogs on Mull and Skye – and be sure also to enter our competition to win CalMac ferry vouchers valid for travel through the islands.