[This was my final day of walking on Arran, and I completed this section in October. Due to various reasons – and partly due to my reluctance to ‘finish’ with Arran – I’ve only just got round to writing it up!]
The forecast predicts rain and winds, but nothing like the gales of yesterday. Just as well, because today I’m about to tackle one of the hardest stretches of the Arran Coastal Way – the north coast.
I confess to feeling nervous. This part of the Coastal Way has a reputation for being rock-scramblingly tough. Seven to eight miles of difficult walking lie ahead, and with no easy route off the path once I start. Can I really do this?
Luckily, when I arrive in Lochranza, the sea looks calm, the sun is shining – and I immediately feel optimistic. Yes, I can do this.
I spend a few minutes strolling around the remains of Lochranza Castle, where I’m greeted by an overenthusiastic dog, who leaves me covered in muddy paw prints. Never mind. I love dogs and I’m already mucky from several days of walking. A bit more mud doesn’t really make much difference.
I look towards the mouth of Loch Ranza, where the ferry from Claonaig is arriving. Next time, I will start my walk from over there… although I’m sorry to be leaving Arran, I really am looking forward to moving on and tackling the Mull of Kintyre.
I round the apex of the loch. First walking along a road…
… past one of those plain little Church of Scotland chapels…
… and then past a doctor’s surgery. What a place to have a practice! You would have to be good at everything – minor surgery, delivering babies – as the island could be easily cut off during winter storms.
Now I’m back on the shore again, and the wind blows fierce in my face. Raindrops begin to spatter around me. Oh no. The forecast was right, it IS going to be a day of rain and wind after all.
I rarely use my waterproofs, but I know a combination of wind and rain can be lethal – as my near-brush with hypothermia taught me in Wales when I walked to the aptly named bay, Hell’s Mouth.
So, I sit on a handy bench and pull on my waterproof trousers. Can’t resist a self-portrait, although I do look a bit like the Michelin Man in my outfit!
Wrapped and snug, I continue down the road. A few cottages and houses here, including one with a US Mail post box outside, which seems very incongruous in this Scottish setting.
Somebody has constructed pictures of crabs in the grass, using local pebbles.
I’m fighting against the wind, now. Just one more house to go, and the road peters out into a track.
After leaving the last house behind, I pause and look back at Loch Ranza and the castle. I’ve got 8 miles of wild coastline ahead. There’s still time to change my mind and abandon this walk…
The track becomes a path. I reach Newton Point, where there is one of those directional compass things on a stone plinth.
The quotation on the compass does little to subdue my anxiety. ‘The traveller may perhaps be somewhat fatigued with his protracted journey as, on a still summer evening, he rounds Newton Point.”
I don’t like the sound of “protracted journey”, nor “fatigued”. And this isn’t a “still summer evening”, but a wild and windy autumnal day… oh, dear.
Luckily the coast ahead doesn’t look too intimidating. Flat and grassy. And, now I’ve rounded the point, the wind is no longer blowing in my face, instead it’s blowing me sideways.
The rain has stopped, and I sit down to take off my waterproof trousers. Hate the things.
Now the ground gets increasingly boggy, my pace slows as I negotiate pools and mud, and my new-found confidence disappears. Then, ahead, I see a group of figures. Other walkers?
No. As I get closer I realise a couple of workmen are repairing the path. Or rather, they’re laying a proper path, levering up huge slabs of stone and rearranging them to form a dry walkway.
It looks like hard and dirty work, and not ideal weather either. They’re also doing it manually, without diggers or lifting equipment. Arran men are a tough breed!
The wide area of grass narrows and becomes a rocky strip between hills and sea, while the ground underfoot becomes firmer. I begin to make faster progress.
I know I’m approaching the most northwesterly point of Arran, although it’s hard to tell when I reach it, as the shore curves gently round and there are no natural landmarks. But I reckon this spot (in the photo below) is possibly it.
Turning the corner seems very significant. From now on the wind will be behind me, helping to blow me along.
I soon reach another area of flat grassland, where a few cottages and boats pulled up on the shore. Doesn’t look like anyone lives here permanently (there is no road access) but nearby fishing equipment suggests local fishermen use it as a temporary base.
I check my map. This place is called Fairy Dell. Lovely name.
Beyond the flat grassland, the shoreline changes to a steep and rocky slope. I see a white notice fixed to a rock, and it becomes a beacon as I make my way towards it. But, when I reach it… it’s blank, apart from the mysterious number “6”.
The path along the shore has disappeared among the stones. Where is the Arran Coastal Way? Ah… there’s a fingerpost. And it’s pointing up the slope.
The next section of path is beautiful, but it does involve some tortuous scrambling up and down rocks.
The official website says this is a good place to spot dolphins and basking sharks. To be honest, I’m too busy concentrating on finding somewhere safe to put my feet, and I rarely take my eyes away from the ground in front of me.
Really don’t want to risk spraining my ankle (of worse) in this remote spot.
I don’t stop to take many photographs either, because the light is dull and my progress is excruciatingly slow without additional photo-stops. In fact, I begin to worry about finishing the walk before dark… and then the ground flattens out somewhat, and I can speed up.
I come across some wonderful sandstone formations. Looks like a patch of the Arizona desert washed up on the north coast of Arran!
I spot a couple of women walkers, sitting in the shelter of a rock, eating their lunch. Give them a wave.
Check my map. I think this place is called the Cock of Arran. No idea why. (Can’t help a schoolgirl snigger when I read the name!)
Looking back along the coast, the sky is dark over Kintyre. There is definitely more rain heading my way. Onwards.
I pass another couple of walkers coming towards me, and we pass each other on the path with a brief greeting.
Interesting that all the walkers I’ve met so far have been women. Nobody else is walking alone, though.
Somewhere to my right is somebody’s cave. I can barely read the name on my map. Ossian’s cave? I take a few minutes to try to find it, but I never spot it.
The path becomes rugged again and I realise I’m tired and hungry.
I hunker down with my back to a rock, sheltering from the wind, and eat my packed lunch. I never carry much with me – just some nuts, a piece of fruit, and a muesli bar. But I always feel better after a brief sit down and a snack.
[To be continued…]