Get Coorie on Arran this Winter by Robin McKelvie

Heard all about that much-hyped Scandinavian hygge? That lovely idea of getting all cosy in winter. Well why not forget about an expensive flight off to the frozen north and instead head to a Scottish island in the Gulf Stream? Arran in winter. There I’ve said it. I love Arran in winter, easing in on the ferry under the snow-capped gaze of the vaulting Arran Hills. Then setting off on life-affirming hikes, wandering beaches where itis just you and the seals, finishing it off with a wee dram. I’ve got five ways to get that cosy winter vibe. Who needs hygge anyway when you can get seriously coorie on Arran?


1. Head off up a hill – Goatfell and the high hills can be tricky in winter unless you’re experienced with all the right gear – in that case they are a sheer joy! I prefer to stick a bit lower. One of my favourite walks is the half day hike from the pier at Brodick up over the hills to Lamlash. No, I don’t mean sauntering by the road. I’m talking cutting up via Corriegills. The target you’re aiming for it Dun Fionn, the site of an old Iron Age Fort. This is one of my favourite viewpoints on Arran with much of the island and swathes of the Firth of Clyde opening up in front of you. Once you’ve drunk in the views ease down to Hamilton Island, where you’ll often see seals. It’s a flat walk along the coast now, ending with a pint and some scran at the Drift Inn.

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2. Bracing beach walk – The drive over The String Road in winter is a spectacular one. It takes you to the relatively underexplored west side of Arran. As a kid we used to love the beach at Blackwaterfoot and I love bringing my own family here too. In winter there will be scarce be a soul with you as you walk along the sands peering out over the wildlife-rich waters of the Kilbrannan Sound. You can walk on as far as the cave where Robert the Bruce famously saw the spider try and try again. Or just cosy back along looking out for seabirds and marine mammals in search of the welcoming arms of the Kinloch Hotel, where coffee and cakes await, or a proper meal alive with local produce. It’s always a warm welcome from the Crawford family – they’ve been welcoming guests with a warm smile since 1954.


3. Wildlife and whisky – The wild and wildly beautiful northern reaches of Arran offer proper Highland scenery. I recommend making a beeline for Lochranza seeing how many of Scotland’s wildlife ‘Big Five’ you can spot en route – common seals, red squirrels, red deer, otters and golden eagles. You’ll often see golden eagles again as you drop down the glen into Lochranza. I’ve seen otters when I’ve been standing at the rugged ruin of Lochranza Castle. The red deer descend from the hills in winter too so you often see them kicking around the village, even wandering the fairways of the local golf course! It really is a brilliant time of year to see wildlife without the crowds. Afterwards tuck into lunch at CASKS Café in the Lochranza Distillery. You can even try some of the sustainable local venison. A wee whisky tasting afterwards completes the perfect coorie winter day in Arran’s north.


4. Cycle around Arran – It’s a manageable 60 mile trip around Arran. In summer it can get busy in places, but in winter there are few fewer people around. When it is not icy or snowing (a rarity on Arran given that Gulf Stream) it’s soul-stirring experience cutting south of Brodick. You can just cycle off the ferry and head straight up the hill towards Lamlash. The views are jaw-dropping as Holy Isle appears on the descent to Lamlash and keeps popping back all the way to Whiting Bay. You round Arran’s southern reaches with views of Pladda then Ailsa Craig. Out west now you work your way up the coast through whitewashed villages enjoying the views. Lochranza is your northern goal. Then it’s a stiff pull up the hills heading south in search of the beach at Sannox and cute wee Corrie. You’re Brodick bound now, which you reach with a real sense of achievement!


5. Machrie Magic – You don’t need to heft up to Orkney in winter to get in touch with your Neolithic ancestors. Not when you can commune with them in the Shiskine Valley. The prehistory standing stones and stone circles spread around the Machrie area are world class. Park your car or bike and stroll back through the millennia. With a spectacular backdrop of soaring mountains soon vaulting stones appear, sentinels from a much earlier age. It’s a humbling experience heading back in time here. I prefer it in winter with the low-slung winter light creating magic in the stones. At this time of year you’ll often have the stones to yourself. So hunker down, imagine the tough lives of ancestors and then retreat to your warm hotel with a new appreciation of life and a taste of winter unlike anything you’ll find in the Christmas mayhem of the High Street. Arran offers a sublime winter experience.

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