Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ISLE OF ARRAN, SCOTLAND

Ailsa Craig and Plodda lighthouse

My first full day in Scotland was driving round the Isle of Arran. The day started out misty and moody.

From Brodick, the main town on the island, I headed south through charming villages filled with palm trees, believe it or not! The sea was calm and steel grey. My husband, who had often sailed these waters was hoping to see a huge rock in the Firth of Clyde called Ailsa Craig; most Canadian submariners know it well. Sure enough it was still there, a dark triangle in the mist. The coastline here is rocky with pink sandy beaches and the smell of the sea is strong. Looking south is a line of cliffs (right) that loom out of the mist.

Arran's roads are country lanes, some with passing places. The speed limit is 30mph (50kmh) and I rarely got into third gear, let alone changed up into fourth!! The roads were windy with many blind corners and, if I met a big truck, I stopped while it manoeuvred past me. Cyclists were in abundance and caused me much concern. But traffic was light most of the time. And, I remembered to drive on the left and change gear with the door handle!!

Blackwaterfoot on west coast of Arran
I stopped often to take photos and as I went along the light improved. Rounding the southern end of Arran, the countryside changed from lush trees to rolling moorland. The road ran along the sea and Kintyre was on the other side of the channel, a blue misty land. The moors were washed with purple and gold – heather was in bloom and bracken turning to its autumn colour. Here too the beaches were sandy and long. I saw a huge Curlew with a beak as long as its body, herons, swans, and a kestrel. Gulls and cormorants were abundant.

The road north wound down into Blackwaterfoot, a village on the west coast of Arran. There is a links golf course that runs along the sea, a peninsula that you cannot reach by car, and more sandy beaches. We pressed on through Machrie and stopped at Café Thyme after a hair-raising drive up a one-car wide lane with grass growing in the middle. Saw a single standing stone here and got close enough to a flock of sheep to take a picture of a black-faced ram. The cafe had a view across to Kintyre and served wonderful home-made cuisine. I only had some tangy lemonade, which was superb.

Lochranza Castle
The village of Lochranza in the north lies around a deep inlet that has a medieval castle standing guard on a spit of land. Behind it, hills smudged with purple reached to the sky.

I missed the restaurant where we were to have lunch and drove on through the pass to the island's east side. The mountain called Goat Fell was a craggy line to my right and the moors swept up from the road. It was here that I was able to get into third gear in my little Suzuki. Once back on the coast road on the way south to Brodick, I was back in second gear and winding along with very little margin for error on my left. The sea would have swallowed the car whole!