The beautiful west of Arran calls Gaby Soutar to chase a precious childhood memory
When it comes to Arran, I’m usually a Whiting Bay girl. Growing up, though, we always holidayed to Blackwaterfoot – dad liked to play golf at Shiskine Golf Club.This was great, but later in life my head was turned by the east of the island. That is, until my mum reminded us of something.
“The sunsets on the west are so amazing,” she said, and I had a flashback to looking out over ombré skies. Cue a planned nostalgia trip to the other side of the island. After a quick search of the Cottages & Castle website, which features more than 500 Scottish properties, we discovered a house to suit our party, Moinadh, which sleeps ten people.
On a flat grassy expanse (according to a Gaelic-speaking friend, its name translates as moor land), this sturdy whitewashed house overlooks a rocky bay down to the Firth of Clyde. We’d been greedy, as our party of five were rattling around this place, with its family bedroom, two doubles, a den with a futon, and boudoir with two singles.
There’s loads of living space too, including a country kitchen with a large table and cupboards topped by malt whisky boxes. This connects to a dining room, then a comfortable lounge with a woodburning stove (logs are included) and, finally, a big conservatory (opening out onto a patio with picnic table) that provides the perfect vantage point to watch one of those sunsets. This is a relaxed house, not done up or modern, but homely, with loads of family photos hanging on the walls and well-loved jigsaw puzzles a-plenty.
The bedrooms, bar one double, are upstairs. The two children in our group, aged five and two, loved their sunny family room, with its open outlook to the water and the hills, a bunk and two single beds.
Out the back, there’s a good sized lawn for racing about on, though it’s a bit of an adventure to get down to the rocky beach – over a stile and through a marshy bit. We opted for some less messy child-friendly activities, including a visit to outdoor centre, Balmichael, which is a five-minute drive away. It’s recently been taken over by San Franciscan, James L Clark, who has extended this family play centre into his own Disney empire in miniature.
We loved the inflatable bouncy pillows – bigger than any in the EU, apparently, and way better than a castle. I nearly slipped a disc when attempting air splits.
There are also colourful pedal tractors, some of which seat four, Flintstones style, and a tyre fringed track to race them on. Much slapstick hilarity was had when sliding down the new Little Goat Fell on grass sledges. The children descended this slope very sedately but the heavier adults went like lightning, usually crashing at the bottom. This place also features a donkey, loads of ducks and, oddly, a zorse – a cross between a zebra and a horse – who just does her own thing, but can be waved at. There’s also a small ice-free outdoors ice rink, Arran’s only cinema, and a cafe, The Old Mill, should you be feeling caffeine deprived.
Fun, but for something a little different, visit the Victorian estate that is Brodick Castle. We had a picnic in their adventure playground, with olive-studded focaccia bought from the Blackwater Bakehouse and garlicky Arran Cheddar. Digest first, then have a shot on their flying fox, or the spiral slide.
Afterwards, wander round the lushly beautiful gardens – some walled, and others a bit wild. Apparently, this place holds three national rhododendron collections that flower in almost every month of the year. There are summerhouses to shelter in, and a pond that was full of transitional tadpoles.
Next time, I’ll visit the castle itself while child-free, as the kids clattered round at high-speed, trying to find the hidden stone “bogles” they’d been instructed to track down in each room. I caught a glimpse of some beautiful portraits, a cream wood panelled corridor, crystal decanters in the shape of animals, a herd of mounted stag heads, some quirky enamel snuff-boxes, plus copper pots and thistle emblazoned shortbread presses downstairs in the kitchen, before we we spilled back outside through the cafe. Exhausting.
Back to the house, where, after a long busy day with small people, we only just managed to stay awake for one of those sunsets. From the Moinadh conservatory, it was rather beautiful. It may even have convinced me to go west again next year.
• Moinadh is available through Cottages & Castles, www.cottages-and-castles.co.uk from £915 per week and sleeps ten. For more information or to book a stay call 01738 451610. Brodick Castle, Gardens and Country Park (www.nts.org.uk). Admission £12.50 for adults, £29.50 for a family, £9 concessions. Balmichael, String Road, Shiskine (01770 465072, www.balmichael.com). Admission £6 for children, £4 for adults.