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24 Sept 2018

5 reasons to book a trip to Arran – now!

Written by Robin McKelvie
Robin McKelvie and his family in Arran
Travel writer Robin McKelvie describes his family’s latest trip to Arran, and their love of Brodick.

Ever since I was a boy I’ve loved Arran. Just as well as my parents took me there every summer! I never understand it when I meet people who have lived in Scotland all their lives, but have never been to Arran. I’m also mystified when visitors from further afield feel that they have to venture hundreds of miles away from the Central Belt in search of the ‘real’ Scotland. Arran is the real Scotland writ large – no wonder it’s often eulogised as ‘Scotland in Miniature’.

Over the years I’ve taken dozens of people to Arran and not one has been disappointed. Indeed most have booked a trip back, some before they’ve even left the island! I can think of myriad reasons to go to Arran, but here I’ve distilled it down to five huge reasons to visit this impressively compact island. Brodick Castle re-opens next year (you can explore the grounds and gardens already) so now is a great time to book your own trip to this most special of Scottish islands.

A bench with Goatfell in the background

1. Arran is Scotland in Miniature

Arran literally lives up to its well-known moniker, as one swathe of the island lies in the Highlands and the other reclines in the Lowlands. The north is a wild Highland landscape of rugged mountains, craggy ridges and tumbling glens, where you find more deer roaming the wilds than people. The south is much gentler with rolling hills, bountiful farmland and a sweep of glorious sandy beaches. It really is a microcosm of the country handily tucked into Scotland’s seventh largest island.

Children playing in front of Brodick Castle, Arran

2. Brodick Castle is back!

One of Scotland’s most beguiling castles is back with a bang for 2019. The castle has just undergone a major £1.5 million renovation programme that has made it more accessible to all and also improved the visitor experience, with a sweep of further improvements slated.

The National Trust for Scotland’s General Manager for Ayrshire and Arran, Stuart Maxwell, explains: ‘By next year we will have a new visitor experience in place that will do justice to the magnificent collections in Brodick Castle. It will again take its rightful place as a must-see attraction that lures more visitors to Arran and engages local people and visitors alike in compelling stories from the island’s long history.’

Dr David Hopes, Head of Collections and Interiors (Policy), has completed a major review of Brodick Castle’s treasures, and is excited too about the improvements: ‘Our new approach is not about the importance of these objects and the artwork in our care – we already know how valuable these items are to Scotland’s cultural heritage – but how we manage and utilise them to tell our collective stories. One of the key words used in our review was “drama” – we are going to find new and exciting ways to tell these stories.’

Looking for red squirrels from the hide in Brodick Country Park

3. See the Wildlife Big Five

Arran is a glorious island for wildlife. In fact you can encounter all of Scotland’s ‘Big Five’ on Arran. In Brodick Castle’s grounds the lavish gardens and woodland are home to many red squirrels (there are no invasive greys on Arran). The National Trust for Scotland has just built a brilliant new Red Squirrel Hide – on my most recent visit we spent a good hour right up close to these cute wee creatures, lost in their world in the forest. Break out to the Trust’s land around the castle and on Goatfell and you may come face to face with the largest land mammal in the UK – the mighty red deer.

Arran is also reputed to be home to a white stag or two, so look out for these mythical creatures. The coastline right in front of Brodick Castle is handily one of my favourite places on Arran for spotting seals – I love taking my wee girls here to spy on the seals sunning themselves on the rocks. This can also be a good place for spotting another of the Big Five, the elusive otter. Completing the quintet are golden eagles and for these I recommend the Trust’s Glen Rosa, near the castle. The crags that sweep up either side of this majestic glen are a great oasis for spotting golden eagles soaring on the thermals. If you’re lucky you may see an eagle and deer at the same time.

Isle Be Wild adventure playground in Brodick Country Park

4. It’s seriously family friendly!

I try to bring my two wee daughters over to Arran at least once a year. They love it here in the land of beaches, wee shops and wildlife at every turn. They have always enjoyed the garden and Brodick Castle itself, which offers child-friendly tours. That love ranked up several notches in 2017 when Isle Be Wild opened. This epic woodland playground at Brodick Castle is a world away from the old woodland adventure playground I remember as a boy. It’s all zip wires, high towers and jungle-style walkways, a real paradise for wee ones that does not allow a second of boredom. As a parent I really appreciate the café here, where you can sit under a canopy with a latte watching the wee ones no matter the weather.

Walking in Arran

5. World-class walking

No island in Scotland offers such an impressive sweep of walking experiences in one compact space. For a gentle stroll, the grounds of Brodick Castle are alive with trails that take you through one of Scotland’s finest collections of rhododendrons. The trails and signage have been upgraded as part of the castle revamp.

The National Trust for Scotland also cares for a lot of the wild forest, glen and mountain scenery that sweeps around the castle and, of course, Goat Fell itself. I reckon, mile for mile, this 874m high mountain offers the best views of any in Scotland. On a good day you can see hundreds of other peaks, plus Ireland and even the Isle of Man, from the summit. Stand here drinking in the views and you will definitely congratulate yourself that you chose to book a trip to the glorious island known as Scotland in Miniature!