Why Arran is Scotland's number one island for a family holiday, by Robin McKelvie

16 Aug 2022

When I was a wee laddie my mum and dad sailed me doon the watter to the Isle of Arran for a holiday every summer. And now it’s a tradition I carry on each year, bringing my two daughters for an escape to this deeply special island. Why? Well let me run you through our most recent trip to Arran – three days filled with joy, real adventure and great food.

Within minutes of arriving off the ferry – we saw five pods of porpoises en route, much to the delight of 14-year-old Tara and 11-year-old Emma – we are tucking into locally smoked salmon wraps at the Little Rock. This lovely wee café on the waterfront overlooks the crazy golf that harks back to my boyhood holidays.

Things have changed a lot on Arran since I was a kid, though. And keep changing too. There are always plenty of new things on Arran every year. We hop on Lamlash Cruises with Grant – it’s very much first name terms on Arran - for their new boat trips around Holy Isle. It’s a glorious way to see this special island, which is owned by a Buddhist community. You can land and check out their Centre for Global Peace and Health, but we’re content to ease around the island looking out for the trio of wild animals its nature reserve is famous for. We’re not disappointed as there they are – Saanen Goats, Eriskay Ponies and Soay Sheep. The porpoises and seals that take an interest in us are a bonus, delighting the girls.

Back on terra firma we’re bound for the only resort in the Scottish isles – Auchrannie. I’ve watched as this old dame has been transformed over the years into a two hotel oasis alive with two swimming pools, myriad eating options and a spa. We get a lovely executive room that is ideal with bunk beds in separate rooms for the girls. We dine well too at their Cruize restaurant with local produce weaving into the eclectic menu.
If you thought the only way to get active on Arran is by hefting up Goatfell prepare to think again. You can now hire paddleboards or e-bikes, bash off mountain biking with a guide and kayak with a flurry of companies. It’s no exaggeration these days to say that Arran is an adventure sports lover’s dream.

The next day we get active hooking up with the Lochranza Centre. Their expert guide Chris kits us out with all the gear and then it’s off to North Glen Sannox to get wet and wild. We clamber into rock pools, scramble up waterfalls and leap into mountain-fresh pools. The girls love it too – as does all of our group with kids and big kids alike whooping with delight.

Lunch is a snatched takeaway sandwich at Lochranza Distillery. They have the lovely Casks Café too where you can tuck into venison burgers as you survey the mountains the deer hailed from. I recommend a tour of this superb distillery and also visiting the new (2019) Lagg Distillery in Arran’s south, which is currently conjuring up some peatier malts. Both are surprisingly family-friendly too.

In the afternoon we hook back up with the Lochranza Centre. Rory and Abby take us out canoeing in Lochranza Bay. It’s a sublime experience cruising along under big skies watching the golden eagles soar on the thermals as mountain peaks soar all around. Very Arran! Being on the water offers a unique perspective of Lochranza Castle too.

Dinner is a sheer delight and proper fine dining at a restaurant that would more than pass muster in Edinburgh or Glasgow. With young chef Timur Jay Ünal at the helm the Brodick Brasserie is a brilliant place to dine. We could savour the epic six-course tasting menu with matching wines, but I opt for seared scallops in a langoustine beurre blanc, cured ham and marinated apple, before a main of Gigha Halibut, pea and truffle puree, leeks, morels, pea gnocchi, dill split butter and a Granny Smith-tinged crispy oyster. A bottle of Meursault proves the ideal accompaniment, before a delicious mascarpone and Gran Marnier mousse dessert. The kids love their ‘posh dinner’.

Our last day starts in unusual style as we head to the Old Post Office. I only knew of this friendly place due to their laundry, but now they offer a luggage service too. So if you’re catching a late ferry you can leave your bags here while you enjoy a last visit to the beach in Brodick.

We’re making the most of our last day – we always make the most of every day on Arran – at the COAST Marine Discovery Centre. I know the lovely team here from a great trip on one of the new snorkelling trails I did with them last year. You can sign up for your own guided snorkel experience – highly recommended! We check out Scotland’s first Marine Protected Area (MPS) visitor centre and learn about the pioneering work they do preserving and protecting all manner of marina life in the local waters. The ever-welcoming and positive Jenny fills us in on all the latest happenings.

We never leave Arran without visiting the Arran Art Gallery. The range of artwork here really is superb and we’ve got more than one piece from the gallery hanging on our walls. Nick Giles is one of the most famous of the resident artists and Suzanne tells me about the other talents who are resident and also sprinkled around the island. She talks too about how inspiring a landscape Arran is and I cannot agree more as I gaze out the window across Whiting Bay.

Our last stop is another cracker – the Glenisle Hotel. Here Colin welcomes us warmly and shows us to a table overlooking their lovely sunny garden. Upstairs are stylish rooms in this well-designed boutique hotel, but we’re here for lunch. They often have langoustines on from just outside in Lamlash Bay. I’m going old school and celebrating the Arran of my childhood with fish ‘n’ chips and my girls do the same. Here’s to an island built on the solid foundations of decade upon decade of doon the watter tourism, an island that still somehow manages to keep reinventing itself. Haste us back next year!

Mckelvies Gorge Walking
Arran Ferry
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