The schools finished up for October break in 2020 and we were up early, car packed full, as we headed west for a quick ferry journey to take us to the island of Arran. One of Scotland’s larger islands, it’s also one of the most accessible and as we were soon to find out, one of the most child-friendly.
I’d visited Arran many, many years ago, on a hen do, we didn’t leave Brodick (I don’t think) and we had a very nice time. Enough said… It’s perhaps most accurate to say I felt like I was visiting Arran for the first time.
We headed south, as we were staying just outside the village of Kilmory – our first impressions were of the beautiful coastline, so many access points to beaches and really cute little villages along little winding roads. Once we’d settled in, we headed to our nearest beach, the views of Ailsa Craig (a small rocky island jutting out of the water) and over to the west to Kintyre, were just stunning. The light was amazing, the sea looked very inviting and the air felt fresh and clean. We ran around the beach delighted for the change of scene – I was so happy to be away from my ironing basket for the first time in a long time – it felt like we’d been set free.
The next day we were up early, excited to explore. We arranged to meet some friends who were on the island for the weekend for a walk up Goatfell, Arran’s highest peak. The weather was beautiful, one of those autumn days when the light is golden and everything looks good. It was a decent trek and although the summit was in the clouds, we were treated to some really stunning views from below the cloud line. The hill itself is a big one, towering at 2866ft above sea level, so if you fancy giving it a go, make sure you are well prepared, as the weather is changeable. And don’t allow your ten year old son to run ahead and disappear into the clouds and head to the summit alone wearing only a t-shirt. I have a few new grey hairs and the ten year old had made a few new friends on the summit. They were all very kind to a frazzled mum asking if they’d seen him as they descended.
“Oh yes he’s on the top – he’s on great form. You do know he’s only wearing a t-shirt?” said one kindly couple, dressed themselves for Everest.
“Thank you, yes he does have a jumper tied around his waist!” I replied
“You’ve got a future mountaineer or hill runner on your hands”
“hmmmm, indeed” I smiled through gritted teeth.
There were a few more encounters like this until we tracked down Bear Grylls Junior and gave him a strict talking to, though I could see from my husband’s face he was secretly proud being a keen hill runner himself.
We managed a (thankfully) uneventful descent, and finished off a very rewarding day with lots of pizza and ice cream.
The next day we headed to Brodick Castle and Gardens, the estate lies on the edge of the island’s main village of Brodick. It was a bit overcast but the autumnal orange, red and yellow leaves were shining in the wet and the weather didn’t dampen our spirits at all. We decided to explore the gardens first – what a treat! They were wonderfully laid out, lots of little paths that children love to run around (the grounds were enclosed by a wall, so I could rest easy that Jonah couldn’t repeat the antics of the day before and go AWOL). I could have happily wandered around those gardens all day, there were sculptures, ancient trees, sea views, quirky garden houses and lots of exotic and unusual plants. I’d love to return in spring and summer – I’m sure they are a joy at any time of the year.
Everyone was feeling in need of a bit of a warm-up, so we grabbed coffees and hot chocolates and found the adventure playground. The playground was a brilliant ewok village and catered for all ages of children. There were a few parts not open due to current restrictions, but even without them, our kids aged from 3 to 12 all had a lot of fun. As it was mid-October and Halloween was around the corner there was a Tattie Bogle trail around another part of the garden! If you don’t know what a tattie bogle is (you’re probably not alone!) it’s a Scottish scarecrow and children decorate them for Halloween. The visitors and locals had done an amazing job and according to the friendly ranger we spoke to, there were more to come. There was also a fairy house trail, which is there permanently; it was really magical weaving through the trees, perfect for keeping little ones engaged and on the move.
Later we popped in for a look around the castle, it was very interesting; in particular the kitchen (recreated to look like it’s preparing a magnificent feast) and a grand staircase with all the stag heads were very impressive.
After a final wander round the gardens, we headed off in search of a late lunch.
Over the next couple of days the weather became a bit “Scottish” so we chilled out, played board games, watch DVDs and walked on the beach in our waterproofs.
The weather cleared and we were ready for a fun-filled day. Bright and early we arrived at Bellevue Farm at Blackwaterfoot for a farm visit – we were all super excited. Farmer Ailsa Currie gave us a fantastic tour of the farm and introduced us to all the animals including newest arrival a little ginger piglet called Magnus – he was off the cuteness scale! Poppy and Jonah bottle fed the hungry pet calves and all three children ventured into the hen run to feed the chickens. Ailsa has a real varied gang of hens – it was great to see all the different breeds. We met Peter the sheep – quite a character, the donkeys, the pigs and three beautiful alpaca girls and an alpaca baby! (More on alpacas later.) And finally we met Tabitha the much-loved and very pretty Shetland pony. In addition to the farm tours and a successful farming business, Ailsa and her family have two self-catering cottages, which we all agreed would be a brilliant place to spend a week. During lockdown they have been developing a barn area (for when the weather gets Scottish) – it was great to see their plans and they are on schedule to open in the spring.
We headed down to the beach for a picnic lunch and a walk with Teddy our Border Terrier, though there was also the option of The Tee Room at Blackwaterfoot Golf Course, which offered a delicious lunch menu and magical sea views, which we visited on one of our rainy days.
After lunch (I promised you more alpacas), we headed along to Arran Alpacas at Balmichael to visit Tom and Emma Jessop and the alpaca boys. Set in a beautiful inland spot with stunning views, Tom gave us a compelling introduction to alpacas before we were introduced to our allotted boy (Poppy got paired with leader of the pack Dougal and Jonah took Glen for a walk). Merle was a bit too small, but she had a chance to hold the lead and say hello. The trek took place in the surrounding fields, armed with a paper bag full of alpaca treats the boys were very compliant and were happy to wander around the paths. They are beautiful animals, really gentle and child-friendly and the set up at Arran Alpacas was really thoughtful, with lots of attention to detail.
They have self-catering accommodation in the form of glamping pods, which looked excellent fun (all the glamping pods had their own Halloween pumpkin). It looked like my kind of glamping with lots of home comforts including a private wash hut (with loo and shower) and a portable pizza oven you could hire to make your dinner.
One of the real treats travelling around the island was the wildlife, during our trip we saw seals lounging on the rocks as we drove past the many beaches and one even popped his head up as we were walking on the beach beside the play park in Brodick. We also spotted otters, playing in the surf as we had coffee and cake at Whiting Bay. We glimpsed lots of unusual birds and red squirrels. Along with brilliant beaches and standing stones, it felt like there was something interesting to see around every corner.
Brodick itself is a lovely village with a super book shop and a few cute gift shops and a supermarket to pick up supplies. Along the sea front there was a crazy golf course, tucked in behind was a brilliant café called Little Rock, which also had a deli and with amazing take-away and heat-up-at-home Thai and Indian food, which we enjoyed several times during our stay. There is also a local museum on the outskirts of Brodick; the café was highly recommended and there was a chance to feed the local ducks, which I’m sure would have gone down a treat – it’s on the list of next time we visit.
We were a happy bunch heading home having had a great time on Arran, we had such fun and felt very welcome. There was so much more to explore and visit, I am already plotting our next trip to include the north of the island.
Visit Arran have great ideas on what to see and do as well as places to eat out and accommodation. We found their site really helpful when planning our trip.
www.visitarran.com @VisitArran (facebook and twitter)