Lying between the Kintyre Peninsula and the Ayrshire coast, the Isle of Arran is a wonderful microcosm of the Scottish mainland. With such a diverse landscape, there are walks to suit all aspirations – from rugged expeditions in the northern peaks to pleasant wildlife walks on the quiet beaches that fringe the rolling farmland of the south.
This guide contains 40 of the best walks on the island. Some will occupy you for a few hours, some will take all day and some can be linked together to form wonderful multi-day adventures. The start points for all the walks can be accessed by public transport.
96 pages / 105mm x 148mm / step inside the guide
The Isle of Arran is often referred to as ‘Scotland in Miniature’, thanks to the Highland Boundary Fault which divides the island into Highland and Lowland landscapes with towering granite peaks in the north and rolling farmland in the south. This geological variety has made Arran a Mecca for geologists who visit the island to study intrusive igneous landforms such as sills and dykes as well as sedimentary and metasedimentary rocks. Palm trees overlooking peaceful sandy bays and coastal caves behind raised beaches offer plenty to tempt those seeking a contrast to the rugged drama of the Northern Hills.
This guide offers 40 moderate walks exploring every area of this compact island, from the classic ascent of Arran’s highest summit Goatfell to more sedate strolls through shady forests and wild heather moorland. Despite being the largest island in the Firth of Clyde (at 432 square kilometres), the island is compact and easy to explore and many of these routes can be combined to create longer walks making use of public transport. The routes in this book are divided into five sections, each of which is introduced by a summary giving an overview of the area and a map showing start points.
Although termed moderate walks, many are on unmarked paths and faint tracks that are rough underfoot. Appropriate footwear should be selected – the route description can help you decide. The sketch maps are just that – planning aids that should be supplemented with more detailed mapping such as that by the Ordnance Survey. Conveniently, the whole island fits onto a single map – either the OS Landranger sheet 69 at 1:50,000 scale, or OS Explorer sheet 361 at 1:25,000. The weather on the west coast of Scotland is notoriously unpredictable and even a short walk can quickly become a major epic when the conditions change – with that in mind it is important to pack wind- and waterproof clothing and adequate warm layers to allow the walk to be completed no matter what the weather. Many of the walks are suitable for accompanied children – some are even pushchair accessible – but a few of the walks listed are more suited to experienced walkers: judgement should be exercised.
All walks are easy to reach using Arran’s excellent and well integrated public transport network – though the narrow, rough roads have taken their toll on the local buses! Arran is connected with the mainland by two ferries, one from Brodick to Ardrossan and the second from Lochranza to Claonaig in summer and to Tarbert in winter. A timetabled shuttle service connects Lamlash to neighbouring Holy Isle in summer, with less frequent crossings for the rest of the year.
The bus service is scheduled around the arrival and departure of the main ferry crossings, and buses will generally wait for a delayed ferry. This has little real impact on the laid-back nature of island life, particularly when you realise that Arran only has three roads. The 90km-long coast road – declassified for a third of its length – circumnavigates the island, only venturing inland to climb the 200m-high pass located between Sannox and Lochranza.
The other two roads run across the island from east to west; the main one from Brodick to Blackwaterfoot is called The String and the minor road running from Lamlash to Lagg and Sliddery is known as The Ross. The bus runs around the coast road and The String, picking up and dropping off on demand – every walk in this book can be accessed using the bus and there really is no need to bring a car onto the island. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gave walkers rights of access over most of Scotland away from residential buildings, but these rights must be exercised responsibly and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code should always be followed in order to maintain cordial relationships with landowners. Keep dogs under strict control at all times and take care not to disturb birds nesting above the high-tideline on the beaches in breeding season (April-May). If walking in the autumn months, it is particularly important to make use of the Hillphones service to avoid disrupting the annual red deer stalking that takes place in the north of the island (snh.org.uk/hillphones).
Arran is a haven for wildlife – especially birds – with more than 200 species recorded on the island, including eider, peregrine falcon and golden eagle which are often seen soaring from the hills above Arran Distillery in Lochranza. Red squirrel can be seen darting through the canopy on woodland walks, and coastal visitors include otter, seal, harbour porpoise and even basking shark. Walkers in the Northern Hills will soon become familiar with the red deer herds, and the observant will often be rewarded with sightings of adder and common lizard. If rarity is measured by numbers alone, Arran is home to some of the most endangered tree species in the world in the form of three species of Arran whitebeam protected within an enclosure in Gleann Diomhan. Less than 300 cut-leaved and Scottish whitebeam were recorded as mature trees in 1980, and the Catacol whitebeam was represented by just two specimens when discovered in 1997. Now monitored by Scottish Natural Heritage, a third whitebeam is rumoured to have been eaten by deer, hence the high fences!
Arran has been inhabited since the early Neolithic period, a race of farmers leaving evidence of their passing in the form of faint field systems and somewhat more obvious stone circles, standing stones and cairns. Whilst their exact purpose is unknown, it is safe to assume that these stone circles had some kind of ceremonial function, and the best examples are the six stone circles located on Machrie Moor. There is a particular concentration of Clyde cairns (a form of gallery grave), consisting of a rectangular or trapezoidal stone and earth mound encasing a chamber lined with larger stone slabs. Remains found inside the chambers suggest that these structures were used for rituals as well as simply for internments. There are good examples known as the Giants’ Graves overlooking Whiting Bay. Gaelic-speakers from Ireland colonised the island in the 6th century and turned it into a centre of religious activity.
During the Viking Age in the 11th century, Arran was part of the Sodor (South Isles) of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, under the direct rule of Magnus III of Norway. Much later, in 1237, the Scottish isle broke away from the Isle of Man and became an independent kingdom before being ceded to the Scottish Crown a few decades later as a result of the Treaty of Perth. Evidence of Arran’s Viking past can be seen in the form of a huge grave south of Lamlash at Kingscross, where finds included whalebone, iron and bronze hardware and a 9th-century bronze coin. Brodick Castle dates from the 13th century, originally a seat of the Clan Stewart before passing to the Boyd family in the 15th century. A tumultuous past saw it captured by English forces during the Wars of Independence before it was taken back by Scottish troops in 1307.
It was damaged by English ships in 1406 and then by John of Islay, the ‘Lord of the Isles’, in 1455. At the end of the 15th century James III granted Brodick Castle to James Hamilton, 1st Lord Hamilton, and his son, confusingly also called James, was made Earl of Arran by James IV in 1503. The Hamilton family remained in residence for several centuries, overseeing a gradual population growth before Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton, embarked on a devastating programme of Clearances in the 19th century. Alternative land and accommodation was promised in Canada for each adult emigrant male, with half their fare being paid for by the Duke. Whole villages were displaced and the Gaelic culture of the island devastated. A memorial to the displaced families has been constructed on the shore at Lamlash, paid for by a Canadian descendant of the emigrants.
Arran is only a small island and in the summer months accommodation can be in short supply. It’s essential to book in advance and keep an eye on the busy event schedule which can wipe out the entire accommodation stock in one swoop.