The Isle of Arran is often called ‘Scotland in miniature’ and, in many ways, its Coastal Way is a ‘Thistle trek in miniature’. The trail has it all; unique wildlife, a geological kaleidoscope formed by volcanoes and ice, Gaelic culture and history, pristine beaches and mountain ascents. All packaged into 65 miles of beautiful, challenging trekking.
I had the great privilege of leading our first hike along the Way in 2021 and this year saw another hardy bunch – Jim, Val, Alison, Sue and Helena – return with us to take on the trail in all its colourful, undulating and boulder-hopping glory.
Day 1 – Sannox to Lochranza (9 miles)
The day begins with a short drive to Sannox, a final fiddle with our packs and a deep breath. We are underway, across stepping-stones and skirting the beach; walking under blue skies and cliffs that were once under water. We make slow progress at first as I insist on stopping us every few minutes to point out the abundance of flora and fauna on this part of the trail. We check out frog-hopper nymphs – cocooned in bubbles (which they blow from their backsides) – clinging to the stems of various plants, we sample wood-sorrel, smell wild garlic and delight in the red and black cinnabar moths that flit delicately around us as we walk.
Before long the route opens up, precipitous grassy slopes of long-fallen cliffs dominate to our left; a solid shoreline and platforms of sandstone push out into the sea ahead of us. The contrast of red rock, blue sky and shades of seaweed and floral greenery make a vibrant scene as we head on the path to Laggan cottage. We pass a cheerful group of boys, lunching in its shade on their gold DofE expedition, before heading on to our own lunch on a small beach between sea-carved rocks by the remains of old salt-pans.
The precise location of Ossian’s cave eludes quite a few people and as we start off again we come across a group of walkers, some of them fighting through the undergrowth on the slopes above us, in grim search for it. Having eluded our group the previous year, this year we are determined to find the cave and we help check a few potential sites. At one Sue helpfully and calmly points out a giant hole concealed by rocks and ferns as she gently and gracefully slides out of sight into it.
Finally! It transpires the cave has a neat track cut through from the path, running up through the bracken to a gap in the rock face. A few of us clamber in for a quick look and to check out the supposedly 18th century carving inside. We discover later that there is an even bigger cavern behind the one we explored, one for next year’s group to pioneer.
The walk continues, the dense undergrowth along these shores lends a humid, jungle-like feel to the Arran coastline freshened by the seas and wind. We reach the only real challenge of our day, the An Scriodan rockfall; a tumble of giant stone from an old cliff, through which a path of sorts has been set. We go slowly, taking care to pick out the path with its various and slightly implausible-looking steps that once discovered suddenly make sense as an onward route. I don’t even stop the group to show them plants, so everyone knows I’m taking it seriously.
It’s a short introduction to some of the more challenging walking to come and the group progress well through it and we enjoy a break on the beautiful beach that lies at its end; a beach backed by woodlands where an entrance to the fairy kingdom is rumoured to be accessible. If you are interested in the Fae realm, for less effort, I would suggest walking in from the direction we are now headed. We finish the day rounding the Cock of Arran and Newlands Point through a flat and lush landscape – already we have reached the northernmost point of the island – and arrive at the delightful inlet village of Lochranza. Davey meets us at the point and walks with us to the welcome sight of the minibus. No deer on the small golf course or seals in the bay this time but we were to be compensated for their absence the next day…