Arran, the small island off the west coast of Scotland, wouldn’t normally be on my summer holiday bucket list. I tend to like my breaks to be top-up-the tan hot, with a side of Latin culture. But this is clearly not the year to be jet setting overseas with the Government adding and removing new countries to its travel quarantine list on a weekly basis.
Like many people, I decided to look closer to home for my recent break, but choosing precisely where to go was the first hurdle. Cornwall had announced it was full, as was Bourton-on-the-Water – the tiny village known as the 'Venice of the Cotswolds' that has been besieged by tourists since lockdown lifted.
I wanted plenty of breathing space, so opted to head north to Arran, the pocket-sized Scottish island that’s home to a mere 5,000 people. The island also has a personal connection – it was where my late Glaswegian grandparents used to take various members of the Holland clan during childhood.
Dubbed 'Scotland in Miniature' by locals thanks to its granite mountains, ruined castles, caves, snaking single-track roads dotted with sheep, wooded glens, impressive waterfalls, windswept shores and whisky distillers, Arran is reached via a 55-minute ferry ride from the port of Ardrossan, to the southwest of Glasgow.
Sensing the opportunity for a family reunion post lockdown, I was met on the Scottish isle by my mother, aunt, uncle, cousin, her husband and three sons under five. I checked into Driftwood, a cottage in the sleepy village of Corrie on the island’s south side where the view across the Firth of Clyde was spectacular and you could see pods of dolphins bob in the water over breakfast.
The first day was spent exploring baronial Brodick Castle, where Prince Rainier of Monaco spent many a childhood holiday. A National Trust for Scotland property, Brodick Castle is most visitors' inaugural port of call and was the seat of the Dukes of Hamilton for hundreds of years. Usually, its turbulent history – dating all the way back to the Vikings – can be retraced inside, although not during the time of Covid-19. So admiring it from the outside, we tramped through the well-kept gardens and delightful woodland trails.
Arran’s rawer, wilder north shore is worth a visit, and we hired cars to spend a day spotting red squirrels, magnificent deer and other wildlife. When the sun deigned to make an appearance, we stayed put on the island’s south side, enjoying the peaceful palm-tree studded seaside resorts of Lamlash, Whiting Bay, Laggs and Kildonan.
Regardless of the weather, every day involved a walk of some sorts for Arran offers a wonderful variety including Glenashdale Falls, a short scenic hike from Whiting Bay; the King’s Cave at Drumadoon Point, where Robert the Bruce famously encountered his spider; and the gorgeous heather-cloaked Coire-Fhionn Lochan.
With three wee ones following in our wake we gave Goatfell, the highest point on Arran at 2,866 feet, a miss but seasoned walkers (and those without kids in tow) may want to ascend to the summit. The walk, I’m told, takes anything between five and eight hours but persevere and the reward is 80-degree views of the Clyde, Kintyre, Ayrshire, and, on a clear day, the coast of Ireland.
It is the beauty and depth of Arran’s landscapes that inspire local artist Rob Stevens, who moved to the island from Buckinghamsire in 2017 with his wife Jane for “a complete lifestyle change”. Rob built his studio, Gobhlach Art Studio, alongside the couple’s home in Pirnmill.
“Arran provides constant inspiration and, measuring just 20 miles long and 10 miles wide, the island never feels too crowded or too remote,” the artist, who taught Fine Art at the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe for 30 years, revealed.
Surprisingly. wherever you go on Arran you’ll find fabulous food and restaurants to rival those of London, celebrating the best ingredients on the island. At The Drift Inn, we marked Mum's 70th birthday by feasting on a seafood platter featuring fresh locally-caught haddock, scallops and prawns, while at the Brodrick Bar and Brasserie, I gorged on silky tagliatelle with Arran mushrooms in a creamy sauce. Other culinary highlights included velvety smooth Arran ice cream, served in cones or cups, and wax coated Cheddars, piled high on oversized oat cakes, that can be purchased from The Arran Island Cheese Shop.
Next door to the award winning cheese shop, lies Arran Aromatics, which is once again open for business, and is where we stocked up on naturally scented soaps and lotions named after Arran beauty spots like Lochranza, Glen Lorsa and Machrie.
With ceilidhs (a night of traditional Scottish music and dancing) currently off the cards due to coronavirus, evenings revolved around a quiet whisky at the charming (dog-friendly) Corrie Hotel. One evening, as I sat looking around at the smiling faces, it struck me that this was the first time in years that the family – scattered around the UK – had spent some simple quality time together.
What’s more, there was no mad dash home to beat Grant Shapps’ clumsy quarantine clampdown thanks to the island’s super strict health and safety protocols – we got through an awful lot of hand sanitiser – which have ensured an almost non-existent cornoavirus rate on Arran soil.
When we left, just a few days ago, we felt happy and refreshed, island life having restored our spirits. I may have dreamt of sun-kissed South America but Arran turned out to be far from a consolation prize; my Scottish staycation an unlikely break that I will always look back on with fondness.