I'm in the Scottish Isles and it's not even midday, but I’ve already hiked to the towering summit (alongside a herd of wild red deer) of one of the most magnificent mountains in the British Isles: Goatfell. Now, it's all about taking in the impressive views across to Ireland and trying 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: Brodick. Welcome to the activity-laden Isle of Arran, dubbed Active Scotland in Miniature.
It's easy to see how it got gained this nickname. Arran's rugged outline looms into view from the bow of the CalMac ferry across from the Ayrshire coast: 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're 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's now a Buddhist retreat.
In short, Arran's the perfect setting for an active adventure. Traditionally the main draw has been hiking, with the Arran Hills offering world-class walking. The most obvious target for the well-prepared (always key in the Scottish mountains) is Goatfell. At 874 metres, 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, because this opens up a swathe of scenery on a steeper, shorter route. There's a superb half-day walk on Holy Isle too. For the more adventurous, there are some classic scrambles and ridge walks. If you're unsure, the National Trust for Scotland runs excellent ranger-led hikes and there's also the brilliant annual Arran Mountain Festival.
Arran Adventure – based at the island’s only resort hotel the Auchrannie – also offers guided hiking, boating and myriad other adventure sports. I’ve been out sea kayaking with them on a couple of superb trips. They 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 is big on Arran: the island has the perfect terrain for it. Those not keen to off-road can just enjoy a classic road cycle right around the bijou isle. But the real fun for me, 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, where you can hurl yourself around with epic views across to the Arran Hills, and stop off at mystical standing stones and circles.
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 you really should, taking in a Segway ride, an archery gorge walk or even an abseiling adventure. The list of possibilities is as endless as your spirit of adventure.
For more Cool Places recommendations, take a look at Robin's blogs on Mull and Skye. And for more general north-of-the-border information and accommodation options, check out our guide to Scotland, where we feature the likes of St Hilda Sea Adventures – Scottish Cruises.