Rugby League and the Isle of Arran - Bank Holiday weekend in Scotland

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May 1st 2010
Published: June 18th 2010
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After three years in the UK we’re getting through our ‘to do’ list of experiences but one which we hadn’t been able to make so far was the Super League ‘Magic Weekend’. To explain: every year the English Super League (ie the UK equivalent of the NRL) picks one weekend of the competition and holds all 7 games in one stadium. This used to be Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, but in 2009 Millennium was swapped for Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh.

Murrayfield was again the host for the 2010 ‘magic weekend’ and with Ariana convinced that watching four games of English club rugby league back-to-back on the Saturday was a good idea we had the makings of weekend away. Add in two days of car hire and a night at a B&B on the Isle of Arran off the west coast and we were getting quite excited about our weekend away.

So Friday night we fly into Edinburgh, catch the bus from the airport to Waverley train station and the walk through the old town to the backpackers where we stayed last July with James and Kylie. Even though it’s late we find time to fit in a pint at
Edinburgh in springEdinburgh in springEdinburgh in spring

Princess Street
a local to celebrate the end of the working week before calling it a night.

On Saturday morning the weather is fine so after breakfast we set off for a walk through the old town. Our loop of the city centre takes us a couple of hours and we grab some lunch at a city centre pub before heading off to the footy.

First up at Murrayfield is the Cardiff Crusaders vs Bradford Bulls which is followed quickly by Hull FC vs Harlequins RL. Next we watch Salford City Reds take on the Warrington Wolves before the last game of the day, Leeds Rhinos vs Wakefield Wildcats. Leeds are behind on the scoreboard all game before a chip kick over the top leads to a try in the 78th minute, handing the Rhinos the game. It’s great entertainment and a fittingly exciting end to our ‘Magic Saturday’.

On Sunday morning we’re up early and check out while the hostel’s ‘night shift’ is still on the front desk. We head back to the airport where we’d booked a hire car for the next two days. It’s a simple process and when we are handed the keys we’re told
Yep, spring timeYep, spring timeYep, spring time

New season lambs everywhere
we have been upgraded from a Ford Focus to an Audi A3! Cool.

From the airport we head west and in no time we’re passing through the centre of Glasgow before turning off and heading south through Ayreshire. Our destination is a small town of Androssen where we had planned to catch the second ferry of the day over to the Isle of Arran.

A wrong turn costs us five minutes but we arrive just in time to make it onto the first ferry of day. Bonus! As we buy our tickets the lady at the kiosk asks us when we planned on returning. We let her know Monday, and she tells us that all the ferries coming back to Androssen are fully booked! Thankfully she lets us know that the ferry on the other side of the island, which connects to the Mull of Kintyre, is not heavily booked and we’ll have no troubles getting on it. OK - so that sort of sets the scene for what we’ll be doing Monday.

And with that we drive forward onto the ferry. We obviously make it with not a second to spare because as soon as we’re
Isle of Arran, East CoastIsle of Arran, East CoastIsle of Arran, East Coast

The view north west from Broderick...
in, the tailgate is raised, and we’re off.

The journey from Androssen to Broderick takes an hour, so we lock up the car and head up to the cafeteria to grab some breakfast en route. As we tuck into our porridge and bacon butties (bacon rolls) we notice that there’s not an English accent to be heard. In our reckoning the whole boat is full of Scots and if Arran is rated by the locals it must surely be a worthy destination for us to visit.

As the ferry approaches the Arran coast we head back down and jump in the Audi. Last on means last off, but having caught the first ferry of the day we are already ahead of schedule so we’re not that bothered - plus we still beat all the bikes.

Once on Arran we pop into a supermarket, where interestingly all the aisle signs are bilingual in English and Scottish Gaelic (as opposed to Irish Gaelic), before heading off south. Our B&B that we’ve booked for tonight is in the north east corner of Arran so by heading off in a clockwise route there we’re taking the long way (well, not really that long because it’s only 90 km in total around the coast of Arran).

As we head south along the east coast the countryside is quite quaint with small green paddocks filled with sheep and the blue waters of the Firth of Clyde lapping against the shore. Ariana loves watching the shenanigans of the new season lambs as they fall over their own feet in the lush lawn-like fields.

As we follow the coastal road it eventually reaches Arran’s most southward point then curves around and starts heading back north. At the halfway point up the west coast we stop for our picnic lunch near the beginning of the walking trail to King’s Cave. After staring at the sign over lunch, curiosity gets the better of us so we put on our waterproof jackets (which we bought especially for this trip - we’re becoming more and more British all the time...) and set off to see what the King’s Cave is all about.

Our stroll takes along the edge of a pine forest before dropping us onto a pebbly beach which leads us past several smaller sea caves to King’s Cave. Apparently Robert the Bruce stayed hid
Coastal viewsCoastal viewsCoastal views

Looking north from the path to King's Cave
out here in the 14th Century when he was on the run from the English, and hence the name...

Anyway from King’s Cave we continue on down the beach before the path heads back uphill, through the pine plantation forest and back to the car park. Total distance according to the sign post for our loop was three miles.

Back in the car a further 20 minutes of driving gets us to the tiny village of Pirmill. We pull into our B&B and are met by a fantastically friendly Scottish lady who shows us to our room.

With the rain setting in we figure that we should look for something to do indoors. At first it seems like a mean feat (seeing as we’re on an ‘outdoors’ type island), but then flicking through our GB guidebook we note that we’re just down the road from the Isle of Arran whiskey distillery. Now there’s an idea.

A short drive gets us to the northern side of Lochranza where we find the island’s only, and Scotland’s newest, whiskey distillery. When we head inside and are relived to find that we haven’t, for a change, missed the last tour
Lochranza castleLochranza castleLochranza castle

Isle of Arran
of the day.

Third time lucky it seems, and as a double bonus we are the only people on the tour! After a brief overview we head into the distillery proper and our personal tour takes in the whole whiskey making process from its beginnings as malted barley to the final product, single malt Scotch. It is quite impressive. Best of all at the end of the tour we are treated to a ‘wee dram‘, and Arran Malt is good stuff. Not quite a typical Islands malt, or Lowlands either... but very smooth all the same.

After our tour and tasting we return to Pirmill and grab dinner at the local restaurant. After a terrific meal we return to the B&B and call it a night.

Monday morning we get up early and consequently we have time to fit in a drive to Broderick and back before breakfast. Our hour-twenty trip allows us to spot some of the Island’s wildlife (notably deer and red squirrels) and it also means that we complete our coastal loop seeing as it was Broderick where we landed about this time yesterday.

Returning to the B&B we have time for breakfast
Scottish West CoastScottish West CoastScottish West Coast

Looking back at Isle of Arran from the roof of Skipness Castle
before throwing the bags into the hire car and heading for the first ferry sailing of the day at Lochranza. This time we’re not the last on.

Thirty minutes after driving onto the ferry we’re driving off onto the Mull of Kintyre. The first road sign we face as we leave the ferry carpark says left to the B8001 or right to Skipness and Skipness castle. We don’t have to be back to Edinburgh airport until 7pm tonight, so castle it is.

It never ceases to amaze us just how many really old, non-touristy sites exist in the UK. Arriving at Skipness Castle the plaque explains that its original construction dates back to the thirteenth century. It’s still largely intact, it’s old, but we’re the only ones here (with the exception of the hundred or so sheep in the surrounding fields).

We have great fun climbing all over the castle, winding our way up its internal staircase and onto the roof where there is fantastic views back over the water to the brooding mountains of northern Arran.

Stoked with our little discovery we head back to the car. Pulling out our road map we make a
Skipness CastleSkipness CastleSkipness Castle

At the end of a dead end road on the Mull of Kintyre Skipness Castle is possibly the most remote place we've been in UK yet.
plan for the day. We’re currently halfway down the Mull of Kintyre and it’s midday. We’ve got around seven hours to make it back to Edinburgh Airport to catch our flight tonight so we decide that we should go for a bit of a look around. So the plan is: head north along the west coast to Oban then turn east and head through the Loch Lomond NP before heading back south to Edinburgh.

So that’s what we set off to do.

The skies are clear and the temperature is in the high teens and so the drive and views up the west coast are absolutely magic. At Oban we stop for late-ish lunch at one of the seafood restaurants on the harbour. Oban is famous for its seafood and having rushed through last time we were here we thought it’d be a good chance to give it a try and we aren’t disappointed.

Afterwards we head a little further north before turning out east towards Loch Lomond National Park. The roads are certainly busier than we expected but once we get in the eastern side of the park things quieten down and the scenery is once again front and centre.

We travel west to east through the national park before turning south and heading over the Forth road bridge and on to the airport.

It’s been another fantastic trip to Scotland. It was great fun to watch the footy on Saturday, tour around the Isle of Arran and then pack in a full day’s driving through the central part of the country before finishing up our early May Bank Holiday weekend. And to top it all off we’re heading back to East Midlands with a litre of duty free Isle of Arran single malt!


11th July 2010

Loving the sound of this Magic Weekend of footy business! And how good are the fish and chips in Oban?!! YUM!

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