Our last day on Arran began with a visit to Brodick Castle. The current red sandstone building dates from the 19th century with some 13th century remains. It is said that a fort stood on the site from the 5th century and the numerous conflicts and wars since then have led to damage, demolition and rebuilding. The castle was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1958 and sits amidst gardens and a country park which includes the mountain Goatfell. At the time of our visit the castle itself was under renovation and not due to re-open again until spring 2019. The gardens are open, so we contented ourselves with exploring them. At first it did not look as if this would be a very peaceful experience as the lawns were being mowed and a tree being cut down with chain saws. Fortunately, this did not last too long. Below the terrace that the castle sits on is a walled garden which was built in 1817.
George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward were plant hunters and some of the plants they brought back from their expeditions are in the gardens at Brodick: there is a Plant Hunters path through some of them. Some are rhododendrons. I had always been familiar with many of them in gardens and the escapees that are in the Scottish countryside and assumed that they were all large bushes. The first time I went to India in 2009 and saw rhododendron trees in the Western Ghats I was amazed. There is at least one such tree here, but it was not quite in flower yet. Other plants were flowering:
Towards the bottom of the garden, overlooking the road and the sea is the only remaining Bavarian summerhouse of several that used to be on the site. James remarked that it looked like something from ‘The Hobbit’. Inside the walls and ceiling were decorated with thousands of pine cones.
One recent construction is a large adventure play area which the person on reception told us was not just for children. There is also a red squirrel hide. They are not native to Arran but were introduced and as there are no grey squirrels on the island, they have done well. They do tend to feed in the early morning and in the evening, so it is less likely that they will be seen at this time of year during the opening hours. There are lots of birds and we spotted this swallow near a nest in a summer house.
Some of the information boards had an interesting approach to history. One described all the conflicts the castle had been involved in and went on to say that the 18th and 19th centuries were peaceful times. I do not think that the people who lost their homes and farms or were forced to emigrate to Canada or move to Glasgow during the enclosures and clearances that the Dukes of Hamilton initiated with would regard it as a peaceful time. There was a dispute in 2017 about a display in the Arran Heritage Museum which was reported in the National newspaper. A tour guide felt that describing this as ‘an agricultural revolution’ was not appropriate or accurate but the museum did not change the display. We did not manage a trip to the museum on this visit.
Back in the town, I visited Books and Cards which in addition to these, stocks other stationery supplies . It has books and maps on Arran and Scotland, fiction, non-fiction and a good children’s section. I picked up Thorbjörn Campbell’s Arran: a history, the Rucksack Reader for the coastal walk and another book on walking. I am always happy to support an independent bookshop. Our time on Arran is coming to an end and tomorrow we will be back on the boat to Ardrossan.
Our exploration of the north of the island began by taking the road at the foot of Glen Rosa; the B880 known as ‘The String’. I have still not managed to track down how or why it acquired that name. It crosses the moors and divides – we took the road to Machrie, our first stop. Humans have lived on Machrie Moor for 3.500 years and farmed there until climate change made this impossible. Arran has numerous archaeological sites, but this is perhaps the most well-known and is also an excuse for a walk. The obvious remains are six stone circles of granite boulders and sandstone pillars but not all of the area has been excavated and there are other remains. If there are any concerns about the condition of the remains you are encouraged to send a photograph to the researchers: details on signs at the site. A track leads to them from the car park. It is just under three miles there and back and round all the stones. The first circle you come to is Moss Farm Road stone circle which is actually a cairn. The farm road used to run right over the centre.
Further on, near the derelict farm, are more circles with views over the surrounding countryside and the mountains. At one point we spotted a curlew in the distance.
Back in the car and after topping up the caffeine levels at the Golf Club Tearoom in Machrie, we continued north up the coast, spotting a seal and a rock full of shags en route.
By the time we reached Catacol, it had started to rain. Many people stop here to admire the row of cottages known as the ‘Twelve Apostles’ and they are depicted on many Arran postcards. Unfortunately, theirs is not a happy history. They were erected by the Duke of Hamilton in the 19th century to house the crofters who were cleared from Catacol Glen. It seemed appropriate that it was still grey when we arrived in Lochranza.
We visited visit the castle and spotted some red deer in a derelict garden. James had to make a pilgrimage to the distillery which was opened in 1995 and is definitely on the tourist map with coaches arriving and leaving during the short time we were there.
As we reached Corrie with its sandstone coastline, I went looking for something I had read about in The Scotsman last year: The Bath of Arran. It is carved out of the rock and dates from 1835. A Doctor McCredy who lived on Arran (but was originally from the mainland) is said to have used it to cure his patients with saltwater therapy, having been told it made you live longer. The bath is about 12ft long by 5ft wide and 5ft deep and could accommodate several patients at any one time.
It fills up daily by the tide and has man-made steps down into it. Apparently, some tourists have tried it, but we were not tempted. There is a video on YouTube of some swans enjoying it. I followed the instructions in the article: go to the southern part of the village: opposite the house with red railings stop in the passing place and drop down to the shore to your right. It was then time to head back to the cottage to relax and then enjoy our evening meal at a restaurant in Brodick
After driving across the country from Edinburgh, we had some time to kill in Ardrossan before we needed to check in for the ferry to Brodick so went to Castle Hill where the remains of Ardrossan Castle stand.
It is fenced off, so you cannot explore the ruined keep closely. It was constructed in the 13th century and owned by Clan Barclay. The castle was partially destroyed in the wars of independence, rebuilt in the 15th century and finally partly demolished by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers in the 17th century. There are also the remains (only a few inches of wall) of the old parish church surrounded by some graves on the hill. There was probably a church here before 1226. It was destroyed in a storm in 1691 and the new church rebuilt down in the town centre. There is a children’s playground. Families were starting to arrive as we had to leave to get to the port.
My 1960’s 25th edition of ‘The “Contour” Book of Scotland’ gives the price of taking a motor car on the Ardrossan and Brodick ferry as £3.05 to £6 with return fares from £5 to £9.35. The hour-long crossing now costs £47.90 return. On such a fine day I had to spend some time on the deck looking at the approaching island and catching only a brief glimpse of a harbour porpoise and some gannets diving.
We were only the second vehicle off the boat in Brodick and headed to the Co-op to stock up. At the ATM I spotted the first of several Buddhist monks I will probably see over the next few weeks. We hope to visit Holy Island on this trip where there is a Buddhist Community and I am staying for a night in the guest house at the Samye Ling monastery at Eskdalemuir on my walk in a few weeks’ time. The sun and warmth meant an ice-cream on the sea front was in order and I was watched closely by this gull.
Until it was time to settle into our cottage at the end of the road in Glen Rosa, we had a walk along part of the coastal path (The Fisherman’s Path) on the beach near the Cladach Centre. I found some sea glass and enjoyed the views of Goatfell and out to sea.
Kelpies were mythical water horses which could transform into humans. However, artist Andy Scott also based his work on the heavy horses which supplied the industry of the area including drawing the barges on the adjacent Forth & Clyde canal. Duke, the downward-looking Kelpie is 26.5m high and Baron, the upward-looking one is 30m high.
I remember heavy horses still being used by a brewery in Stirling in the 1970s. We lived in Falkirk for a year in the 1960s and I have not really been back since. The Kelpies were completed in 2013 and I have driven past them on the M9 but this was the first time we paused to walk around them. On a cold winter morning with the snow-covered Ochil Hills in the background, they were not busy at all.
We had spent the previous largely grey and wet day driving to Perthshire with only a few breaks in the weather. At Tebay, the ducks, resplendent in their breeding plumage, looked as if they were walking on water as just below the surface it was still frozen. On the north slopes of Shap the sun appeared briefly, and a rainbow stretched over the motorway. For once we were passing our usual turn-offs to Edinburgh and continuing north into Perthshire where I grew up. Just before Doune we stopped off at Deanston Distillery for the obligatory photograph and sampling. My clarinet teacher was from Doune. I played in the county wind band and in the early 1970s, some of us played at the wedding of Lord Doune’s daughter which took place in the medieval castle. It has since become more well-known as it has been used in some films including Monty Python’s and Game of Thrones.
We drove back towards Dunblane on the road my school bus used to take. One of the farms we passed has now become a red kite viewing centre which will be worth a visit at some point. We were heading to Dunblane to spend a night in Cromlix House just north of the town. The name Cromlix has existed in various forms since the 15th century although there is evidence of human settlement on the site before this. The Chisholms, several of whom were bishops of Dunblane before the reformation had a castle on the site as late as 1723. A marriage in the 16th century introduced the Drummond name which became Drummond Hay in 1739. A later marriage brought the estate into the Eden family who still own much of it, a reminder that only 500 people own most of the land in Scotland. The hotel is in what was initially built as ‘Cromlix Cottage’ in 1874. It was destroyed by fire and in 1880 was rebuilt. There is no sweeping staircase in keeping with the ‘cottage’ theme. The house was enlarged between 1880 and 1903. It was converted into a hotel in 1981 and we spent the first night of our honeymoon there in May 1987. It closed in 2012 but in the following year was purchased by Andy Murray and it opened again as five-star hotel in 2015. It has a Chez Roux restaurant and is situated in the hamlet of Kinbuck amongst the hills and woods that I love. Unfortunately the weather did not allow any wandering around them. It remained cold with snow and sleet showers during the rest of our weekend.
There are still no trains north of Carlisle due to the Lamington Viaduct repairs and the replacement buses increase the journey times. I managed to slip away from work and catch an earlier train out of Lime Street Station than I had originally planned. At least part of the journey would be in daylight. By the time we got to Wigan North Western, enough sun had penetrated the glowering clouds to produce that wonderful golden hour of light before sunset beloved of photographers. It made even the station and the adjacent rather utilitarian car park glow.
At Preston we were kept waiting a driver whose arrival was delayed by floods. I finally finished reading Great Plains while on the train. I was pondering that I had already known something about the native Americans, the explorer and settler trails across the region, its geography, wildlife, the farmers trying to make a living there and the dustbowl. From the book I learnt more about the Mennonite settlers and something else that had not occurred to me: it is the location for several nuclear missile silos. In Carlisle, I was waiting for the bus to Edinburgh with a guy from London who had also been on my train. He said that he had just started work for Railtrack and that he had never been this far north before.
On Wednesday I had work to do, a day of coffee and statistics. In the evening, I attended a Burns Night celebration at the Scottish Arts Club. I met several new people (including some of the botanic artists) and enjoyed some great food. We were entertained by several members with the toasts, some of Burns songs and some by James Hogg. At the end of the evening I got back to the flat by taxi and was physically exhausted but my mind was racing with ideas and plans for more creative work of my own. The first few blossoms are appearing on the cherry tree outside the window but from Thursday evening through Friday and into Saturday we were treated to gales, snow, hail and sleet showers, the remains of storm Gertrude which battered the eastern USA a few days ago. The snow on Saturday morning lay long enough for all the local children to be out on the Meadows building snowmen but it melted soon after when the sun emerged. The blossoms have survived the onslaught.
One winter treat in Edinburgh is that the Scottish National Gallery puts on a display each January of Turner watercolours. Although he never ventured further than Europe, here is one entitled ‘Falls near the source of the Jumna in the Himalaya.
Saturday evening saw us having dinner in Katie’s Diner in Bruntsfield. There are only six tables and it is decorated with Americana including photographs of New York taken in the 1950s, musical instruments and also some more local colour from several Jack Vettriano prints. At night the castle is lit up and glows almost orange.
This morning it was time to head home so we wandered through the borders with flooded fields being enjoyed by swans and geese and some snow on the Lammermuir Hills but very little further south. Between Greenlaw (one of only two towns in Scotland to have a village green) and Kelso, we came across Hume Castle. It is closed in winter and all you can see from the road are the 18th century walls which hide a much older keep. I made a note to re-visit in the summer. Just before we got to Kelso on the B6461 I saw a sign that said ‘Bookshop’. We did not explore further as it was unlikely to be open on Sunday but something else for the return visit.
We were soon descending towards Carlisle, the border and lower altitudes. Snow-covered Cumbrian hills appeared above the cloud but fog and rain were with us for the rest of the journey.