Giant post about Arran (2005-05-29 - 8:41 p.m.)
I'm absolutely shaking with exhaustion, but I have to post anyway because I'm so excited about Arran. MAN WHAT A GREAT WEEKEND.
Arran, for the uninitiated (ie me, up until about a week ago) is an island in the Firth of Clyde, west of Glasgow. Technically it's part of Ayrshire (Ayr being the bit of the country Burns was born in). Having discovered I had a four-day weekend I wanted to do something interesting with it, preferably involving an island, and Arran was recommended because it's easy to get to and good public transit around the island. It WAS easy to get to - train to Glasgow, train to Ardrossan, ferry to Brodick on the island. It's only about three hours total travel, give or take 45 min or so of waiting around at train stations and ferry terminals.
I ended up spending just the one night there (despite the long weekend) because of the lack of accomodation on the island for the long weekend. As it turned out, I feel like I crammed enough in to more than make it worth the trip. I started out in Brodick, with a trip to see Brodick Castle. Turns out it's not a "proper" castle so much as a large house, but if it's called a castle I'm usually interested, so it was all good. The other problem was that it's not run by Historic Scotland, so sadly I had to pay an entry fee. At least I got the concession for being under 26!
Brodick Castle was a bit of a hike from the ferry terminal - about 2 1/2 miles. It was a pretty nice walk, despite the rain, and cut through the local golf course. The castle itself is set in extensive and lovely grounds. I hit the castle first because it was raining like crazy. The first thing you are greeted by is a collection of 87 stag heads glaring at you as you go up the staircase. (More like going up the stares than the stairs, with all those glass eyes following you about!) (sorry, very tired and the puns are slipping out).
Anyway, castle exhibit was the main floor, with the rooms set up to look more or less as they did around the 1900s when the 12th Duke (or something) lived there. It was good in that there was a live guide in every room, plus little laminated cards about the room (though the children's one had WAY more interesting facts than the adult one! It was all devoted to the pedigree of the furniture, which I don't find remotely interesting). Highlights included: The giant bathtub and shower, with settings labelled "bathe", "shower" "plunge" and "douche". I have no idea what the difference would be between those, except maybe the "bathe" setting.
The "secret" door into the main bedroom, so the maid could get in to turn down the beds without going through the sitting room.
The Victorian bed-reading stand - a very useful piece of furniture; I wish I had one! It's fully adjustable up and down, and flips over so it can be used from either side of the bed. I bet it doubles as a breakfast-in-bed tray as well.
The many, many chests of drawers and desks and cabinets with hidden compartments. What a great idea - there was one writing desk in particular that I would love to own, with about twelve secret compartments and a lovely ink-stand on the top. (Why is a raven like a writing-desk?) It seems that the Duke and Duchess had a passion for little doors hidden behind intricate carvings, or maybe it's just an Edwardian thing.
The painting of the duke's official piper (as mentioned in the Rough Guide) - he won tons of medals for piping and dancing, and touring the Queen around the Highlands. Then he got a "grouse bone injury" to the throat and was told not to pipe for a year. He couldn't resist - and died at the age of 56. Let that be a warning!
Anyway, despite being more of a stately home the castle was well worth a visit. The grounds were pretty amazing too. Despite the fact that it was alternating between drizzle and full-on rain, it was a really nice walk. The island has a sort of rain-forest feel with a lot of lush green vegetation, and the gardens had a huge number of rhododendrons and ferns. The rhododendrons are a problem, though - they've been imported and have taken over the island, but they're poisoning the ground and killing animals that eat them. Bizarre. I thought they were beautiful at first but after I read that they just looked sinister. (An entire Roman army was wiped out after eating honey made with rhododendron flowers!)
There was also a bizarre summerhouse with the inside entirely covered with pine cones laid out in patterns. Very odd. I ate my lunch there, though, since it wasn't wet!
Then I went for a hike around the Brodick Country Park and headed back into town, exhausted. I think it must have been about six or seven miles total walking. The ferry was late getting in, which meant the bus going to Lochranza from Brodick was late too, since it links up with the ferry. I was standing in the rain waiting till I could get on the bus when the girl in front of me turned around and offered me a Pringle and a slug of whisky. How could I say no?
It turned out the entire group of them were drummers who had performed at the Beltane festival on Calton Hill, which sadly I had missed as I was in Spain. They were great fun and I sat in the back of the bus with them all the way to Lochraza, as they drummed on the bus seats and ate crisps.
Turns out that one of the guys, Sandy, has a house in Catacol, the next town down the coast from Lochranza. They were staying the night and invited me along to hang out. So I got out in Lochranza (to find a deer guarding the gate to the B&B - it let me get within two meters before running away!) and sorted out my accomodation before walking over to Catacol to visit. The rain was horizontal and the wind so strong I could barely walk, but the thought of company was nice so I pushed on. Turned out to be worth it - Sandy's house is one of the Twelve Apostles, a local landmark (cottages set up by the landlord during the Clearances to get the crofters off the land).
They were just eating and gave me a big plate of brown rice and vegetarian chili, which was AMAZING. Then we just sat around and talked and sang. Chandra had her acoustic guitar and an amazing voice - it was so random, but such a wonderful evening.
Then I had to walk back in the rain, (which I found out later was a two-mile walk) in absolute pitch blackness. No light anywhere, except over on Kintyre across the water. It was eerie but really cool. Dead silent, too - it was about 1 am and the island felt completely empty.
Sandy invited me to stay over the next night, since I couldn't get accomodation, but I figured that would be trespassing too much on the hospitality of someone I met randomly on a bus. Almost wish I would have crashed with them, though - the B&B had a plastic cover under the sheet and I kept sliding off the bed! And you should have seen the decor - it leant heavily in the direction of plastic flowers, pictures of cutesy children with huge heads and enormous eyes, and lots of prissy little dolls covered in frills. Whew. Happily, the huge cooked breakfast made up for it.
Today I got up, ate a LOT, and headed for the hills. I saw Lochranza castle, which I really liked because it's a ruin. It was originally a 13th C hall castle (a hall, a chamber and a cellar) but was converted in the 16th C to a more usual style of castle. Very tumbledown and atmospheric. I liked it a lot.
Then I circled the bay, taking in most of Lochranza (a very spread-out sort of town, with all the houses in a line along the loch). I headed upwards to the Cock of Arran (and I won't make the obvious jokes), which is the most northerly point. There was a wonderful view from the top, though it was a very boggy climb.
Almost out of time! After the climb, I was pretty much exhausted, so I took the bus entirely around the island, taking in pretty much every single town. And then I got back on the ferry and the train and here I am! What a crazy weekend, though. Tomorrow it's off to St Andrews...
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