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8 Sep 2017

Brodick – the Trust site with it all (Part 1)

Brodick castle
So the National Trust for Scotland ‘just’ has castles and country houses. Right? Seriously wrong! I can testify to that as I’m just back from Arran.

Brodick may be one of the UK’s finest castles, but the Trust lands here also offer acres of lavish gardens, a nursery, a café and Britain’s only island country park, which boasts one of Scotland’s most dramatic mountains. And that’s not even mentioning the ace woodland adventure park they’ve just opened.

The full name of this glorious site is apposite for an island that is often eulogised as ‘Scotland in miniature’ – Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park. It has numerous strings to its charming historical bow. I started coming to Arran every year as a kid and have family here. For the last 20 years I’ve been visiting as a travel writer every summer, and the Brodick estate continues to impress me as they never rest on their laurels, always trying something new and revamping what they have.

I won’t wax lyrical too much about the castle itself, as there is plenty of information on this heritage star on this website already. Suffice to say it is a glorious Victorian timewarp awash with period trimmings that shines an intriguing light on generations of the Hamilton dynasty. It swirls in historical ghosts with connections to Robert the Bruce and Cromwell, a place that despite its island location has never been far from the heart of the story of Scotland. This year they’re doing essential fire safety and accessibility work that will help protect it for future generations and open it up to even more people.

On this visit I brought along my two wee daughters, Tara and Emma. They are castle veterans, but were immediately impressed as we wandered up from the ticket office through a walled garden alive with colour. The grounds are ideal for just strolling through (there are 10 miles of waymarked trails), as you ease along by waterfalls admiring the famous rhododendrons and a vault of epic trees. As part of the current £2 million revamp the trails are being spruced up and given better signage.

On this visit we were not here to see the castle, but to check out as much else as possible. I was leaving the family highlight to last, the new Isle Be Wild woodland adventure play area. We dropped down from the walled garden into the pond garden, an oasis alive with lilies and exotic vegetation, which you can stream through on cute wee bridges and walkways. We strolled past the lavish Bavarian summerhouse, which offers great views out over Brodick Bay.

Another fascinating building has its roots much further back. Their Bronze Age roundhouse is an impressive reconstruction that immediately strips back the years. They have regular events where you can discover how the Bronze Age locals lived their lives and even learn some of their skills. There always seems to be something on at Brodick so look out too for guided historical tours, nature walks through the grounds and all sorts of ranger-led family fun.

Isle Be Wild

Turrets aren’t just for castles

It was finally time to take the kids to Isle Be Wild. I was half expecting just a modest wee playpark like I’d enjoyed as a kid here, but oh no. This is a game changer. They’ve gone to town and created a forest labyrinth, beautifully carved in solid wood that brilliantly blends in with the lush forest.

They’ve thought of adults too, so I sat at a chunky wooden seat with a latte as I watched my girls have a whale of a time. They bashed across the rope ‘jungle bridge’, swooped down slides and hiked their way up the main tower to lord it over the forest. In short, for kids Isle Be Wild is brilliant and instantly for me the island’s number one family attraction.

Isle Be Wild

Tara and Emma try out Isle Be Wild

We spent an entire day in the grounds without even going in the castle! It was punctuated with lunch in their café where I enjoyed creamy Dunlop cheddar made from 100% Arran milk at Torrylinn Creamery in the south of Arran. It was wonderfully spiced up with a chunky chutney from Arran Fine Foods in Lamlash. The café home baking is spot on too. As we left I wasn’t as reluctant as the kids to be leaving. Not when I knew I’d be back …

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