Early one Friday, the Virgin express pulls out of Euston and takes me whizzing up to Glasgow. A swift train to Ardrossan and an easy hop-skip-jump onto the ferry to Arran makes this one of the easiest Scottish commutes I’ve ever done. The ferry is packed with young climbers, kids on their way to adventure weeks, and ageing men slung about with golf clubs. (Arran boasts 11 golf courses, of varying sizes). A mere 55 minutes later and we are pulling into Brodick in the early evening. Brodick, from Broad Vik, meaning ‘broad bay’ in Old Norse, has very little to connect it to its Viking past, but the Coop does a good line in cheap beer and we load up for the first part of our walk. Our first wild camp is on an iron age fort, uninterrupted by anything other than bird calls. Not a ripple on the sea. Dinner is rehydrated wolfish casserole and a Cobra. The view is of Holy Isle, once a place for monks, now a buddhist retreat.
The south of the island is characterised by what would generously be described as a path and in reality is more like a field of boulders. Without a 15kg pack, these would have been a joyful doddle. At least the sun kept beating down as we picked our way across, core muscles clenched and legs extended with semi-balletic grace. An Arran blonde beer greeted us at the end of nearly every day. At Blackwaterfoot, we took a breather in the Kinloch Hotel, washed some socks and enjoyed fat chaffinches and gin and tonics on the terrace. The final three days were much longer and harder, taking us clockwise to Lochranza past a glassy sea, royal caves, an ancient burial ground and pretty little almshouses. As we breasted the northern coast, a very boggy part took us past the cock of Arran (somewhat unimpressive), deserted Scottish cottages and the most perfect wild camp spot I’d ever seen. But we pushed on past it, with an idea that we might make a 20 miler back to Brodick – something we didn’t achieve. With the pub closed, my foot in pain, and no bus for an hour and a half, the penultimate day was a bit of a drag. However, the Glen Rosa campsite, about 2 miles outside Brodick, was a beautiful place to bed down one last time before heading up to Goat Fell the following morning. For this part, we left our packs back in the camp and as a result practically ran up the “mountain”. I later discovered that I had made this journey before, aged four.
In total (and we took our time) the journey lasted 6 days. Our longest day (Blackwaterfoot to Lochranza) was nearly 18 miles. Our shortest, on a particularly sultry afternoon, was 3 miles… Though we had intended to wild camp all the way round, we did slightly break our resolve with a night or two in a hotel. At this point, I’m going to mention how epic the Lochranza hotel really is. First, it was simply there, after 18 miles of slog, with a hot bath, one remaining room and a decent bed. Second, its whisky list is about four times the length of the food menu. The bar is simply covered in whisky bottles. It was impossible to photograph them all, but, well, you get an idea from the picture below.
Scotland in June always seems to be spectacular. Few crowds, long days, bright light and sparkling sea. As we walked round the island, the only rain we had was during the night when we were tucked up in our tent – as soon as we wanted to wake up, the rain stopped! There’s little for the real wild seekers here, Arran being fairly populous and popular with day tourists and gold enthusiasts alike. However the Arran Coastal Way seemed to be unheard of among most of the locals we talked to, and the idea of walking it also struck them as odd. Which makes it a very achievable, reasonably affordable microadventure that balances comfort (in the form of readily available beer and hotels if you need ’em) with challenge (in the form of Goat Fell, boulder fields and long days on your feet).