The Kildonan Hotel overlooks Pladda Island. In the distance (just to the left of the island) is the misty shape of Ailsa Craig. The hotel garden is dominated by a circle of sculpted stones.
From the hotel, I stroll back up to the road to begin my day’s walk. The view is familiar – with Bennan Head across the pretty bay – and I remember this is where I met the hen party last time I was on Arran!
I keep stopping to look at the sea, because this area is supposed to be a good spot for seals and otters. Sadly I don’t see any, and I’m soon overtaken by a couple of hikers. I wonder if they’re walking the coastal path too?
I reach the point where the coastal path splits into two alternative routes. You can either stick to the shore, which is covered in boulders and impassable at high tide. Or, you can follow the road as it curves inland and climbs over Bennan Head.
I’ve already decided to follow the road, because I had my confidence dented by a fall on the last occasion I walked along a rocky Arran shoreline. But, when I see the couple ahead of me striding out along the coast path, I’m really tempted to follow. But I resist. (Anyway, I didn’t check the tide times before I set out, and so have no idea whether I could get around Bennan Head or not.)
It’s a steep climb up the hill… but I soon join the ‘main’ road, where I am rewarded by an easy walk with stunning views.
It’s a bright day, and I point my camera into the sun to take photographs of Pladda Island.
The road is narrow and has no pavements, but the traffic is very light. I make rapid progress.
After 2-3 miles of road-walking, I see the Arran Coastal Way sign on a telegraph pole. It’s pointing down a track to my left, and I realise I’ve gone over the top of Bennan Head.
I’m bored with road walking by now, and decide to head back down to the shore. If I’m careful, I’m sure I can negotiate the rocks. Anyway, the track looks very inviting, leading straight down towards the sea. Hard to resist.
The south part of Arran is extensively farmed. Mainly with livestock. I pass fields of sheep on my right, and a great view across to… is that the Mull of Kintyre? Yes. I think it is. Oh, no. Now, I have that damn song looping through my brain!
To my left is a field of cows and their calves. The mothers give me menacing looks, but I’m safe behind a wire fence. Luckily, so far on Arran, I’ve not had to walk through a herd of cattle.
[I’ve recently been working with a group of people who were very badly injured by cows. I’ve put together a blog and website for them at www.killercows.co.uk. Listening to the horror stories of the people who’ve been attacked has done nothing to reduce my own fear of the critters!)
A red post-office van drives past me – I have to climb onto the verge to let him through. I really love seeing these friendly vans. They’re as much part of the British countryside as our hedges and green fields. It’s such a reassuring thought that, no matter how isolated your house or farm, the post is always delivered to your door.
The track leads through a farm. A collie leaps to his feet and greets me with a volley of barks and growls. I stop. Oh, no. Am I going to be bitten again!? But then I see the dog is chained up. Phew. It’s safe to continue.
Beyond the farm, the track deteriorates. Mud. Inglorious mud. And, worse still, evidence of cattle – soggy mounds of cow pats and hoof prints. I struggle along this slippery, gloopy surface. I can’t escape the mud, with a cliff wall to my left and a steep drop to my right.
What really worries me, of course, even more than the mud, is the prospect of meeting a group of cows on this treacherous route…
The final part of the track is the worst bit. Recent rain has washed away the path and I slip and slide down a slope of liquid mud, testing the depth with my walking pole, but still managing to fill my boots with the stuff. And then there’s a stream to wade through, before I reach the comparative solid-ground of the shoreline.
I’m glad to be out of the mud. But now I have a mass of boulders to navigate!
Scrambling across the boulders turns out to be safer than walking on the grass at the top of the shore, which is treacherously cut-through with deep channels.
I come across a blackboard. Guinness. Maybe it once stood outside a seaside pub? Did a giant wave wash it away? Or perhaps some drunken reveller threw it into the water? Has it come all the way from Ireland?
Further on, making slow progress, I come across the cows. Luckily they are too busy eating to take any notice of me. I stick to the boulders until I get safely past them.
A sign points back to Brennan Head and the Black Cave. I’m sorry to have missed the cave. It’s supposed to be the biggest on the island. For a moment I consider going back, making my way along the shore, to take a look… but the terrain is tough and I don’t really have the heart to retrace my steps. So, I decide to carry on.
I was expecting to meet other coastal walkers, but since I left the road, I’ve met nobody.
It’s a beautiful day and a beautiful walk. But I can’t relax to enjoy the views, because I must concentrate on my footing. The ground remains treacherous and, with no phone signal and nobody around to help, I worry about a nasty tumble.
It’s a relief to see some sand ahead. Good!
I climb down the low cliff and onto the beach. Such a wonderful and dramatic landscape, with rocks, sand, blue sea, and the distant Mull of Kintyre.
My boots are still covered in filthy mud, and my socks are wet with the goo that has seeped over the top of my ankles. So, it’s a relief to wade in the clean water of the sea. I splash through the waves – like a naughty toddler – not caring how wet I get.
Now, off the boulders, I can really relax and enjoy the walk. The sand is ridged by the waves. Love the textures.
Lines of rocks lead into the sea. Pointing towards Ailsa Craig.
To my right, a waterfall pours out of crack in the cliff, and splashes down the grassy slope. It’s not marked on my map, so maybe it’s only a temporary cascade after a rainy few weeks.
I see other people ahead. Strollers and dog walkers. I must be getting close to the village of Lagg.
I pass a couple who look like serious walkers. I wonder if they’re walking the coastal path too? Since I’m going the “wrong way” around the island, I expected to meet far more people. Where is everyone?
My way forward is barred by a little river. Torrylinn Water. Apparently there are stepping stones somewhere here, visible if the tide isn’t too high and the river isn’t running at full spate. Stepping stones? I can’t see them.
Actually, I probably could just wade across – my boots and socks are already soaking wet from paddling in the waves. But the official coastal path turns inward at this point, and, I’m going to follow it up to Lagg, and then walk back along the road to find my car.
But I don’t want to leave this lovely beach yet. So, I sit down on the grassy bank at the top of the sands. Time for a rest and a drink.
Suddenly – thump – a stick lands on my lap. What?! Who is throwing things at me? Ah, here’s the culprit.
The dog is eager to play, and won’t leave me alone. I throw the stick down the beach, but that turns out to be a mistake. The dog just keeps bringing it back and flinging it in my lap again. I guess he (or she) could keep this up all day!
“Lottie. Lottie!” A woman appears and manages to drag the dog away. I’m amused by the name. My daughter has a dog called Lottie, a springer spaniel, who is similarly obsessed with fetching sticks.
I finish my snacks, and balance my camera on a rock. Time for a self-portrait.
The coastal path leads up the slope. It’s a gentle climb and with only a small amount of mud. No cows this time!
On the way up, I come across the Torrylin Cairn. It’s an ancient burial site, 5,000 years old.
An information plaque explains how the bodies were left outside until wild animals stripped the flesh of the bones. This was thought to release the souls of the dead. The remaining bones were important symbols of fertility, containing the essence of the ancestors. They were carried inside the cairn and stored in piles, mixed up with all the other bones.
I spend some time photographing the cairn. It’s not as dramatic as the Giant’s Graves, but still amazing to think it has survived all this time.
Continuing along the path, I end up walking through a lovely wooded section. The trunks are so pale that, at first, I think they must be ash trees. But the foliage looks like sycamore leaves. It’s both eerie and beautiful.
The path joins the road at the Kilmory Stores. But the shop is shut. I check my watch… crikey, it’s 5:30 pm. My walk today hasn’t been very long in terms of miles, but seems to have taken me hours. Well, I wasn’t rushing.
Next to the Kilmory Stores is Toby’s tearoom. This is definitely shut. In fact, it’s for sale. I take a photograph of the sign and inadvertently capture another self-portrait with my reflection.
Luckily, the Lagg Hotel is open. I’m hungry after my walk, despite eating my snacks, so I pop in for a cream tea. And a piece of shortbread. (Well, I am in Scotland, so I must have shortbread. It’s compulsory.)
I eat my cream tea in the garden, where midges dance around my head. Luckily, I don’t get bitten. Everybody has warned me about the Scottish midges, but I’ve had more trouble in the Peak District!
Miles walked today = a pathetic 8.5 miles
Miles around Arran Coastal Way= 28 miles
Total around coast of UK = 3,537 miles