It is my final day walking on Arran. And may be the last for some time, as I must get home for my middle daughter’s wedding, and then be around for my eldest daughter and the birth of my first grandchild.
Luckily, it’s another beautiful day. The bus is full of round-the-island sightseers, and the driver is surprised when I ask him to drop me off on a corner in the middle of nowhere.
This is the point where the Arran Coastal Way leaves the road, and heads along the shore, around Imachar Point, for a few blissful miles of true coastal walking.
At first the going is easy along the grassy foreshore, with the water of Kilbrannan Sound on my left, and cliffs to my right. I walk past a series of small caves.
But the route soon becomes more difficult to navigate. I climb over rocks, and push my way through overgrown brambles. Sometimes, it looks impossible to get through, and I’m forced to clamber about on hands and knees…
… but I always find a way over or around the obstacles, somehow.
In fact, it’s wonderful walking. I know I must soon rejoin the road, so I’m determined to enjoy the wildness of this section. Great views of the Mull of Kintyre across the water.
I guess the long finger of the Mull creates a barrier, and shelters Arran’s western shore from the winds and waves of the Atlantic. In fact, today the sea is gentle and there is barely a breath of wind. But a washed-up buoy reminds me of the power of the waves, and I realise it would be a totally different kind of walk on a stormy day.
A sailing ship catches the sunlight on its sails. What a beautiful view!
I come across another of those strange little abandoned graveyards. I love the lichen covered stones and the weathered inscriptions, many of which are unreadable. An idyllic place to rest your bones.
Onwards. The cliffs to my right give way to flat areas of grass and fields. I’ll be rejoining the road soon.
There’s a foul smell, and I nearly stumble over a decaying carcass. Not much flesh left on the bones. It’s big. Several feet in length, and with a long protruding snout at the front end. Must be a sea creature. Maybe a dolphin?
The vertebrae are chunky and the creature – whatever it was – must have been powerful.
Just beyond the skeleton is a little dinghy. I’ve seen remarkably few boats on Arran, and this one is too small for serious fishing. I guess it’s probably used by locals to check on crab or lobster pots.
My coastal path ends in a little park with a set of swings. I’ve seen a handful of these grassy places along the coast road – tiny pocket-handkerchief spaces with play equipment for the local children.
I join the road. From here the Arran Coastal Way follows tarmac almost all the way up to my destination, which is the ferry port of Lochranza, on the northern tip of the island.
There is nothing much along the route. The next village I will come to is called Pinmill. No… I check my map… it’s called Pirnmill. I’ve been mispronouncing it all this time! Is that it in the distance ahead?
I soon drop down off the tarmac and follow the beach, where the receding tide has left a good stretch of sand. And here I see a few other people walking, the first I’ve seen since I got off the bus.
I reach Pirnmill, where a lone guy is sitting on a concrete slipway and is sipping a hot drink from his thermos. What a great place for a picnic. I realise I’m getting hungry.
Pirnmill consists of a cluster of houses, a café, and a village shop. I feel bad about not using the café, but I didn’t know if there would be anywhere open for food along the route, and so I’ve brought my own picnic with me today.
I decide to pop into the village shop for a can of coke, but the young woman manning the till is just putting up the closed sign. Oh dear! I was looking forward to a cold drink. Don’t worry, she says, she’s just popping to the loo. Will reopen in 5 minutes.
Refreshed after my picnic, and my can of coke, I set off along the road again.
On my right, I pass a little building made of corrugated metal. I notice the bell outside (to the left of the photo below) and assume it’s a school, until I see a sign and realise it’s a church.
Onwards, following the road, as it twists and turns alongside the shore. There is very little traffic and, although I usually hate road walking, I really enjoy this stretch.
The landscape seems empty, with sea to my left and high ground covered in vegetation to my right. The map names places along the way, hidden farms I presume. South Thundergay, Mid Thundergay, and then – guess what – North Thundergay.
Somewhere along here, I pass another little patch of green grass with swings…
… and further along is another small graveyard.
The stone wall around the cemetery makes a great place to balance my camera for a quick self-portrait.
On the bus this morning, the lady in front of me was phoning home, and telling her elderly father what a wonderful time she was having on Arran. “It’s beautiful. We camped beside the beach. You’re allowed to camp anywhere you like in Scotland.”
So, when I come across a caravan by the side of the road, I assume it’s a family on holiday who are enjoying the freedom of parking-up wherever they want. But, as I get closer, I realise the caravan is a wreck. Smashed windows. Gutted interior.
What a shame! It looks almost brand new too. I wonder if the caravan was wrecked by bad weather, or by vandals, or if it was trashed somewhere else and simply abandoned here. A mystery.
Onwards. I’m approaching the northern tip of Arran, which is far more mountainous than the south. Love seeing the purple slopes above the bright blue of the sea.
A few cars whizz past. And a bus. A string of motorbikes. Oh, and a few cyclists. What beautiful weather, and a great day for cycling round the island.
The road has swung inland to cross a little river (Abhainn Mor) via a bridge. Now I’m following the shore of Catacol Bay and ahead is the hamlet of Catacol, where a row of pretty white houses lines the road. Behind the houses is an impressive hill.
The Arran Coastal Way leaves the road at Catacol and climbs over the hill, sticking to the high ground until you reach Lochranza. I’m tempted to follow the official route because the views would be amazing… but my own rule is to stick as close to the coast as is legal, safe, and reasonable. That means sticking to the road.
I dither for a few minutes. Should I take the high way, or stick to the low way?
It would be a shame to miss the views. I go up a little track to the spot where the footpath branches off, goes over a stile, and begins to climb the slope. Oh dear. The path up there looks horribly overgrown. In fact, I soon lose sight of it among the waist-high ferns. And perhaps there are cows up here… I hate cows.
I don’t want to ruin the end of a splendid walk by losing my way or by being terrorised by cattle.
So, in the end, I decide to stick with my rules and follow the coast road instead. It’s very pleasant walking, despite the occasional traffic.
Only a couple of miles to Lochranza, and I make rapid progress. Soon I’m at the ferry port, where I’ve left my car in a nearby parking space. There’s the bus stop (on the right in the photo below) where I caught the bus this morning.
Also to my right (but just out of the photo) is a little toilet block. A sign outside explains the council is no longer funding the public toilets on Arran, so a group of local residents have set up a scheme to keep the toilets open. They are asking for donations.
How short-sighted to close the public toilets on a tourist island like Arran! But I guess the council is horribly strapped for cash, and closing toilets must seem like an easy option. I drop a £5 note into the donations box. It’s the most I’ve ever paid to spend a penny!
There are several cars waiting for the ferry, including some foot passengers and a few cyclists too.
Here it comes. On my next visit, I expect to be taking this same ferry and going over to the Mull of Kintyre. But not today.
The ferry unloads with surprising efficiency. The last people off are the cyclists.
I walk a little further on into Lochranza. It’s a beautiful place, with a sea loch (called, surprisingly enough, Loch Ranza!) surrounded by mountains, and a splendid castle on the far side.
My ferry back to the mainland is actually booked for the day after tomorrow. But the forecast tomorrow is for relentless rain, so I’ve decided to take a day off walking and visit the Arran distillery instead. I’ve worked out I can do the trip there and back from my B&B using the bus. And that means I can relax and enjoy plenty of whisky tasting! It seems an excellent way to spend a rainy day.
[Postscript: visiting the distillery was, indeed, an excellent way to spend a rainy day. I did the tour, and then the “guided tasting”, and travelled back to my B&B in a very merry mood, toting a couple of new bottles of whisky in my rucksack.]
Miles walked today = 9.5 miles
Miles around Arran Coastal Way = 56 miles
Total around coast of UK = 3,575 miles