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.
Day 4 – Kilmory to Whiting Bay (9 miles)
A couple of the group sit out the first half of this day, wisely deciding they’ve done enough boulder-hopping. As ever, the toughness of the terrain is made up for by the scenery, but it is majesty earned for the first few hours. The walk starts easily, with a stroll past an ancient (and rumoured cursed) chambered cairn and down to a sandy shoreline; with all the paraphernalia of tidal beaches to marvel at and some beautiful views of the nearby islands, including our first views of Pladda.
We soon pick up the faint trail that runs through forests of bracken, brambles, gorse, thistles, burgeoning willow-herb, hemlock and numerous other giant flora. The cliffs sit back from this forest, the odd waterfall cascading down, large rocks start to dominate the way and the path finding becomes a more focused activity for us all. This section has the true feel of a lost world, as we pick our way between and sometimes over great boulders to reach Black Cave. There’s even some deadly nightshade lurking among the rocks. We take a much-needed rest in its vast opening, the sea lapping at the fallen rock giants a few metres away. Snacks are found, monoliths to sit on and we rest in contemplation of an isolation it’s quite rare to experience.
Last year we had to wait a little while for the tides to recede far enough but this year the tides are with us and we round the point of the cliff and set our shoulders to the lengthy boulder field ahead. It’s a difficult section, not to be underestimated and we go very slowly. Once again Davey has come in to meet us and we soon split into groups to manage our way through the puzzle of inert stone and occasional track through the jumble of grass-covered rocks along the foot of the cliff. This is the last truly challenging section of the trail, once traversed the route relaxes into a meandering path through coastal wetland with rock platforms dominating the outer shoreline to our right. Sometimes there is a huge colony of seals here, we’ve seen a few at points over the last few days but the colony is somewhere else this time.
A well-earned and lengthy rest is taken at Kildonan, toilets found and the group are reunited for the second half of the day and some glorious hiking in great weather. After a short section along the road, we turn uphill along farm tracks to reach the woods that sit above Whiting Bay. The trail now undulates along forest tracks for the rest of the day, purple and pink heathers line the sandy tracks to begin with before giving way to the conifers of Glen Ashdale. Tiger beetles scurry away from us on the path, buzzards drift high and heavy in the trees and the conversation and walking flows freely. We stop to enjoy the fantastic views of Holy Island, from a strategic picnic bench where someone has stored a glass jar. Last year our group added to the notes inside, encouragements now echoed by this year’s group.
The trail reaches the Giants Graves and a final descent down to Whiting Bay. The chambered cairns sit in a beautiful vantage point and make a great rest spot before the final short section down to the van. The canopy changes to broader-leaved and younger trees, birch, and oak, as we walk down the well cut and graded path to the river and east into Whiting Bay. The group are tired but in high spirits, another day accomplished and two more to go.
Day Five – Whiting Bay to Brodick (12 miles)
Some fine walking promised today and no infernal boulders! We set off at a good pace, heading west and climbing along the river to the impressive Glen Ashdale waterfall. Although the midges are out in force in muggy and cloudy weather, the falls and the viewing platform are worth a stop. We greet someone who is working stolidly on a section of the path and the group agree to try a new route for us this year. It starts promisingly, following the map and crossing the waterfall further up for some more great views; there’s even a picnic bench. Frustratingly though, despite being easy walking the map is incorrect, and I quickly have to turn us around to pick up the signed route.
It’s a short detour and we’re soon back on the forest tracks that will take us through the woods again and on to Lamlash. It’s fairly level walking before a long descent down to the roads that run into the largest settlement on Arran and home to their seat of government. After some pavement cruising we soon reach the seafront and centre of Lamlash, where shops and benches galore look out into the bay. The magnificence of Holy Island dominates the scene. We agree a long break and wander off to shops and to benches for lunchtime speculations on the views and imaginations of Viking fleets moored ahead (and the odd ice cream of course).
The trail sticks to the built-up shoreline for a while, the centre turns into a residential road that finally becomes a track to Clauchlands Point, where a small island close to shore makes a great spot to view seabirds. We leave the coastal route here, a slight deviation from the coastal way but one that avoids more boulder-hopping and offers fine views; first from an old WWII pillbox and again, after a steady climb up the rising cliff-top, from the plateau of an old iron age fort. The weather has been patchy all day but has settled for warm and cloudy as we reach the trig point on the small clifftop hill. We take a break and soak in the views and absence of midges. We watch a paddle-steamer go lazily along the coastline, its decks bristling with passengers. One of our group reminisces about being on it as a child.
And down we go, the trail at first descending through some old and mostly felled woodland before becoming a mix of quiet country lanes, field edges and byways. We reach the outskirts of Brodick going strong, our legs have accustomed to the distances now. We meet Davey on the last road in before we hit Brodick proper; with all the bustle of tourists and traffic around the ferry terminal and its sleepy promenade leading along an array of eateries, shops, and facilities. We stop at the edge of the terminal to peruse the excellent carving that marks an official starting point for the trail, we gather round and trace our journey so far along the reliefs and accurate topography of the wood-made island to our present spot.
One more day to go, a mountain to climb and a trail to finish.