Real mountains, lovely scenery, mostly quiet roads.
If you listed the most attractive features of Scotland, then tried to squeeze them all on to one medium size island you'd end up with Arran. The island is cut in half by the Highland Boundary Fault, a geological division which makes the north rugged and hilly, whereas the south is more gentle and lower lying. Arran within a small area has many aspects of the beauty of Scotland as a whole, from high peaks inviting hill walkers and climbers to peaceful sandy bays with palm trees growing in the warm climate of The Gulf Stream. Wildlife includes deer, pheasant, otter and eagle frequently seen in the hills. There are over 100 species of birds. There are colonies of seals near coastal caves, trails and pathways to mysterious Bronze Age Stone Circles, plus a number of museums and of course Brodick Castle. The name Brodick comes from the Norse words, meaning broad bay. Arran means peaked island in Gaelic.
Brodick Castle: This has been occupied by a stronghold of some kind since the fifth century, when the kingdom of Dalriada was founded by the Irish. In 1503 the castle and Arran was given by James IV to his cousin, Lord Hamilton. Parts of the present castle date from the 1588 during the ownership of the 2nd Earl of Arran who was the guardian and regent of Queen Mary. The castle was occupied by Cromwellian troops after the first Duke was executed during the Civil War in 1648 and the second died in battle just three years later. Brodick Castle eventually passed into the hands of Mary, Duchess of Montrose who revitalised the gardens. Since her death in 1957 it has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland. Inside are paintings, works of art and furniture from. One of the rooms is known as Bruce's Room but it is unlikely that Robert the Bruce actually stayed in it. The gardens which have lots of rhododendrons are well worth walking round, the castle of course has a tea room (no admission charge for tea room).
Lochranza: This village by the sea on the northern tip of Arran is surrounded by hills. There is the ruin of a 14th century castle, a former hunting lodge of the Scottish Kings, a golf course, campsite, hotel, gallery and post office. A ferry takes you to Claonaig on the Kintyre Peninsula on the mainland opposite (part of the National Cycle Network). A distillery opened in 1995 - look out for the copper pagodas.
Ferry Times phone: 01294-463470 to confirm times or visit www.calmac.co.uk
Continuing round we pass pretty Catacol Bay. While the road on the east coast was lush and sheltered, the road on the west is more exposed, but has a beauty of its own as it runs past long gravel beaches with the Kintyre Peninsula opposite. Seals are often seen here. The road is flat where it runs beside the sea; there are a few short hills between Machrie and Blackwaterfoot.
Starting at Lochranza in the morning the tea room at Pirnmill is probably the right place for morning coffee. Alternatively the golf club at Machrie, seven miles on, can usually provide some. At Machrie a minor road with good views connects to the String road, enabling you to cut the corner to go to Brodick.
Just south of Machrie, off the coast road, immediately after Machrie Water, is Machrie Stone Circle. This Neolithic monument is along a rough track. It is impressive and stands in a fine location. Just south of this is another historic remnant, the King's Cave, with its legendary association with Robert the Bruce, King of Scots and victor over Edward II at Bannockburn. It also has Pictish and early Christian carvings. The caves are in a cliff, isolated from the sea by a raised beach. The next village south is Blackwaterfoot, western end of The String road. It has a hotel that does bar lunches, a small harbour and a food shop. The hotel has an indoor swimming pool that is open to passers-by.