Thursday, July 30, 2009

Arran for Glasgow Fair Weekend

Entry for 28 July 2009:

After the EFT Level 1 4-day intensive course was over, I needed to collapse for a day, which is exactly what I did, taking advantage of the 4-day Glasgow Fair Weekend. The next morning, however, we got up early and caught the train to Adrossan for our next Saturday Adventure. From Adrossan, we took the ferry across the Firth of Clyde to Arran.

It was a lovely, mostly sunny morning as we approached Brodick, the main town on Arran. We could see Brodick castle sticking up through the forest on the north side of the bay, and above, Goat Fell disappearing into the low-hanging clouds. We’d been meaning to visit Arran for ages, but it is difficult to do much there in a day, we were unsure about where to stay and how best to get around etc etc. Thus, we went along primarily on a scouting expedition, with a contingency plan of seeing if we could find accommodation and extend our stay. Fortunately, the tourist information place was able to find a place on the other side of the island, possibly the last room for two on the island, which we’d be able to reach by the somewhat infrequent Arran bus service.

Having re-organized our Saturday Adventure into two days, we spent most of the first day at Brodick Castle, with it 47 heads of deer running up the stairwell, a ghastly sight that nearly put us off the whole thing. It’s another magnificently-furnished-originally-military-castle-converted-over-the-centuries-into-a-stately-mansion kind of castle. The Dukes of Hamiliton apparently strongly favoured hunting and sports, the theme of much of the art found within the place, but the kitchen does feature a nice collection of Victorian household gadgets, many of which I recognized from my mother’s kitchen. Brodick Castle also has very nice gardens, but unfortunately much of it is currently suffering from some kind of fungal blight, which put them off limits to our exploration.

On the way back from the castle, I found in one of our guidebooks that there are three standing stones between the castle and the town of Brodick. However, finding the Brodick Stones required some creative trail-following, and Diane expressed grave misgivings about the possibility of our getting lost on the way on a strange island. Fortunately, the standing stones turned out to be not far from the exit road from the castle, although they stood in the middle of a wheat field behind a hedge, making it difficult to get to them. (Scottish law on public access doesn’t give you permission to trample the farmer’s crops…) After that, as we walked into town, we spied a sign advertising meals at the Armadale Hotel, so we made a dinner detour, before continuing on to meet our bus.

The bus rumbled up over the centre of Arran on what the locals call the String road. We were heading for the little village Shiskine, so when we got there we stood up and moved to the front of bus, at which point the bus driver immediately stopped the bus to let us out. We got out, discovered no bus stop within sight, and watched the bus drive away through the rest of the village, which extended for half a mile in front of us. Later, we found out that unlike Glasgow buses, Arran buses stop pretty much wherever you want them, so the driver had just assumed that we wanted off at the near end rather than the far end of the town. We walked along the main road for about 10 minutes, until we came to the B&B that we had booked.

The owner, whose name was Derek, was glad to see us and showed us our room before going off for the evening to a folk music event. We went for a walk around the town, starting up a trail to a nearby iron age fort, but gave up because we were going to run out of light if we continued. We went back to the B&B, I watched the sunset, and then we pretty much collapsed.

The next morning, when we went out to the breakfast room, there was an early morning rainbow across the valley. Another couple, from Edinburgh, was staying at the B&B, and we ended up talking to them for quite a while, before they left; then we talked to Derek for a while, and he filled us in on local byways such as how the bus system works. Diane is a social tourist; for her, the people are at least as important as the sights along way.

After that, he kindly drove up the coast road a few miles and dropped us off at the trailhead for our real destination: The Machrie Moor Stone Circles.

A mile or two inland, and up the west coast of Arran a bit from Blackwaterfoot, the Machrie Moor Stone Circles are a major Neolithic/bronze age ritual site, as old as anything we’ve seen so far in Scotland. We climbed over the stile and followed the well-marked trail. First, there was well-manicured ancient site that was either a burial cairn or the remains of a stone circle. Then we passed a single standing stone on our left, and a bracken-covered tumbled-down cairn. Finally, coming over a low ridge we found before us an impressive stone circle, and to our left and a bit down the hill the ruins of an old farm. Then, to the right, we saw that there was another stone circle in the middle distance… and another … and another… and another: six stone circles in all. We stood there, amazed, pointing them out to each other. We had had no idea that there would be so many! We had been chasing single standing stones in farmers’ fields, after all, and now we were confronted by a plethora of stone circles, in various states, a mixture of standing stones and fallen, red sandstone (like our flat in Hyndland) and granite, some (“the Famous Three”) as much as 10 feet tall.

We spent a long time wandering around these 6 circles, studying the sign in order to place all of them, taking photos of them and of each other standing in front of or peeking out from behind them. There were other groups of visitors, not a lot, actually, given how spectacular the site is, but many of them came and went while we poked about, trying to absorb as much of the ancient vibe of the place. Finally, we tore ourselves away from the site and walked back out to the road.

Arran buses only come every 3 hours or so (they are coordinated with the ferries), and at this point we had a good 90 minutes to wait for the next bus. We walked north along the coast road a couple of miles, until we came the village of Machrie, which seemed to consist mostly of a golf course and a café. There we grabbed a quick, late lunch, spoke for a bit to a former EFT students named Pat (who later mailed us a recommendation for her favourite accomodation on the island) and were outside on the road when the 15.06 clockwise coast road bus trundled along. We got on, and the bus wound its way up the coast and around the top of the island.

When we arrived back in Brodick, the ferry back to the mainland was waiting. As we approached Adrossan, another rainbow appeared in front of us, a low, multicoloured arch. We slept very well that night, having travelled many miles and centuries, on one of our alltime best Saturday Adventures. We experienced only a small part of the island, but now have a pretty good idea of where to stay and how to find our way around. We are looking forward to taking visitors there for further exploration.

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