I got a terrible shock when an otherwise normal colleague told me she doesn’t like Arran.
My reaction was so defensive that it made me realise how much I love it.
Nobody puts that Scottish island in the corner.
I suppose, like everywhere, there are bits that are less appealing than others, but how can anyone not be charmed by the mist over Goatfell, the Twelve Apostles in Catacol, Corrie’s sheep sculpture on the pier, the Bavarian Summerhouse at Brodick Castle and, most of all, the tranquil Whiting Bay, where we stay for a week every year?
This area is notable, among other things, for the large Victorian villas that line the sea front.
For our millionth visit, we rented one of these, Grahamfield, a new property for Scottish holiday rental company Cottages & Castles.
It’s a whitewashed house, two doors along from a place we stayed at five years ago. That makes it ten doors along from the Burlington Hotel, where we spent our summer eight years ago, and, just a bit further along from yet another holiday rent from even further back.
Yes, it’s fair to say we’ve been around.
So, how does the latest accommodation measure up, for our group of three adults and two children? Pretty darn good. All freshly painted in cream colours, this house features a comfortable living room with two sofas, a cupboard full of board games and giant telly (with Netflix, yay), because it WILL rain at some point, if not all points.
They’ve got an upstairs sea view king size double bedroom, with a view out to the front garden and the water. Bagged it.
There’s also a boudoir with queen size bed, and the kids commandeered the comfortable twin room.
You’ll also find a single room downstairs, for snorers and other outcasts.
We spent most of the time in the downstairs kitchen and dining space, doing jigsaws, and unbagging whatever treasures (apart from the sand eel, because he wouldn’t be caught) the children had captured on the beach outside, using the luminous bandy nets and buckets, provided.
Not too much has changed on the island since last year. There are rumours of a coffee roastery opening in Whiting Bay, but we couldn’t get a whiff of it. At least our beloved cafe, The Coffee Pot, with their ridiculously huge and bargainous “scampi salads”, is still going.
Further along the road, at Lamlash, we rediscovered The Old Pier Teahouse, which must have new owners to explain its fresh lease of life.
The cakes are amazing, with creations such as the Clyde Puffer (a fruit loaf made using an Arran Brewery oatmeal stout), a chocolate truffle creation, Tunisian polenta cake, giant bundts, homemade sausage rolls, cherry tarts and other amazing Bake-Off standard stuff.
For more gluten, we also took a pilgrimage to our favourite Blackwater Bakehouse at Blackwaterfoot, and ordered the usual rosemary and olive focaccias, but also the most frangipani loaded almond croissants I’ve had in my life.
One of the men who work here, while wearing a kilt, was loading cucumbers into a giant Kilner jar, and said that they’re unofficially branching out into fermented food and pickles. It’s good to have something to look forward to next year. For now, it’s back to the ranch with our spoils.
You can always work it off if you stride up to the Glenashdale Falls or the Giants’ Graves, probably the best walks from Whiting Bay. The kids (four and seven) were scared, despite all the good work the BFG did for tall people, and shut down any talk about Giants’ Graves (in reality, the remains of neolithic tombs), so the waterfall section of the walk it was. You’re almost guaranteed to see a red squirrel en route. Apparently, there are no greys on Arran, so their auburn cousins thrive.
There’s a cottage at the start of this walk, with lots of feeders strung up, and it seems to be a popular hang-out for these perky-eared critters. We saw one, doing its limber acrobatics. The rest of this 90 minute perambulation was punctuated by wafts of wild garlic, frogspawn sightings, and a walk along “the plank” – aka the vertiginous viewing platform – for the customary annual “vomiting a waterfall” photograph.
For more outdoor fun with small people, Brodick Castle (the castle itself is closed until April 2019, but the grounds are open) launched its Isle be Wild Playpark last year. It’s sort of like an Ewok village, with ramps and towers. There are flying foxes for little ones, and a version for bigger kids, plus swings and slides.
Buy the kids an Arran Dairies Ice Cream from the little on-site hut, then let them work off their sugar rush. It’ll pay off later on, when they’re fast asleep in bed and you’re slumped in front of the big telly at Grahamfield.
Prices range from £750 to £925 for a week at Grahamfield, which sleeps up to seven, see www.cottages-and-castles.co.uk
Admission to Brodick Castle’s grounds, including the new Isle be Wild Playpark is £7.50 per adult, £15 per family, see www.nts.org.uk for more information.