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Issue 43 - Adventures on Arran

Scotland Magazine Issue 43
February 2009


This article is 9 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Adventures on Arran

Our roving Editor travels to the west coast island of Arran.

Welcome to another great issue of Scotland Magazine! This issue’s regional focus is on the delightful region of Ayrshire, part of Scotland that is close to my heart and one that I have visited often. But I only went to Arran for the first time recently and just fell in love with it.

I had been invited over by Arran Fine Foods, purveyors of Scottish oatcakes and delicious biscuits, chutneys and sauces. As well as a factory tour we visited a man called Robin Gray, a chef trained under Raymond Blanc, who now grows beetroot and squash on the shores of Whiting Bay (pictured).

Robin supplies no end of posh Scottish restaurants with their salad leaves and trendy veg, while growing things like beetroot and elephant garlic for Arran Fine Foods to transform. The island’s own brewery and distillery also supply some raw material, so that all the produce of Arran is combined to best effect.

(The Vintage Marmalade with Arran Malt Whisky is particularly good).

This is all part of living on a small island – businesses tend to rely on each other for tourism and trade, perhaps more than they would do on the mainland.

Take the distillery, for instance.

The production of whisky is one of Scotland’s most traditional and archetypal industries, but the Arran distillery is actually quite young.

Very recently it celebrated the first bottling of its 12 year old single malt; an important milestone for one of Scotland’s few remaining independent distilleries. The resulting spirit is sublime: creamy with a leafy, hazelnutty character.

What I like best about Arran is its sense of energy, looking ahead into the 21st century without losing its historic identity. It’s well known that Arran is called ‘Scotland in miniature’ but you won’t appreciate how true this is until you’ve visited: apart from a distillery and local brewery, it has at least one of everything else traditionally associated with Scotland.Wild mountain tops, quiet villages, a castle, craggy cliffs, sandy beaches, standing stones and a history rich with ancient Celts, Christian settlers and Viking invaders.

But be aware: steeped in history the island might be, but you could well experience a rude awakening to its more modern side if you’re on the ferry and find yourself part of a navy training exercise, as I did.

We were on our way back to Ardrossan and I had gone up on deck to look about a bit (and maybe try a quick Kate Winslet impression...), when a Royal Navy helicopter appeared, circling us. Hearing the sound of the rotors, a crowd appeared from the bowels of the boat. As the ferry chugged along at 15 knots or so, the Sea King hovered above us, dropped a couple of men onto the deck with a stretcher and picked them both back up again on a rope. The whole process only took 20 minutes or so, but was absolutely exhilarating for everyone standing on the boat – only 30 feet or so below it.

The wind and the noise overwhelmed every sense and we were covered in a light sea spray.

When it was over and I could finally release my grasp on the hand rail, I’ll admit I was looking rather less like Kate Winslet and a bit more like Edward Scissor Hands. I also thought I had been wearing a scarf...

On my way to rejoin the Arran Fine Foods team, I asked one of the crew if this had happened before.

“Oh aye,” he shrugged. “About once every couple of weeks.” Perhaps, readers of Scotland Magazine, you see this sort of thing all the time. But I don’t and it thrilled me more than I can say. What’s more, on the way out to the island we saw a submarine. An actual submarine. Sliding through the water like a sinister bullet. Which, as well as being seriously cool, is also quite a regular occurrence for the waters around Arran.

So what I’m saying in a roundabout sort of way, is that though there are other ways out to the island, don’t take them. But do make sure you go. Arran’s got all the best bits of the rest of Scotland PLUS helicopters and submarines – and it doesn't get better than that...