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Published: July 14th 2014
Motorhome News from Scotland 2014
Isle of Arran & Glasgow
Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway
June 2014 A sudden change of mind - twice!
We are drawn northwards across the border once again, beyond that bold boundary of the Empire the Romans built, Hadrian's Wall, and on into the land of tartan kilts, great stone castles, Auld Lang Syne, fine Malt Whisky and Robbie Burns. It's a fact that more Scots have chosen to live their lives scattered across the far corners of the world than in this land of vast horizons, towering mountains, wild open heather moorland, industrial mayhem - and mid-summer midges, seeking a new life and opportunity. I guess that’s why we love it so; it offers us space and freedom from the crowds.
It's an eight-hour drive from our East Anglian home, through Gretna Green and beyond into Ayrshire on Scotland’s west coast, arriving in the early evening. With a summer’s light still in the sky we strolled the gardens of Culzean Castle, south of Ayr. Designed by Robert Adam for Lord Cassillis in the 18th century, Culzean is far from
being a fortress, rather more a flamboyant extravaganza, a stately home, far beyond the romance and faded memories of warring kilted Clans, Robert Bruce and Bonny Prince Charlie, that help to cast our images of Scotland.
The sun is still high late into the evening this far north in mid-summer, fine and warm enough for us to enjoy our evening meal alfresco, looking out over the sparkling waters of the Firth of Clyde towards the misty grey silhouette of the Isle of Arran shimmering on the horizon. We have a secret passion for the remote character of islands, their wildlife and their special people; the pull of the magnet, the meeting of opposing poles that tears at the heart strings and rules the mind. Arran has eluded us over the years, as much off the beaten track as those to the north of here which have given us such pleasures past: Faroe, Shetland, Orkney, Harris and Lewis, Uist, Mull and Islay; strewn like pebbles cast from the hand of Celtic giants along Scotland's west coast.
It is not possible to enter the realm of Ayrshire without succumbing to the influence of Robert Burns. ‘Robbie’,
Scotland’s answer to William Shakespeare, was born along the coast here in the little town of Alloway, now an impressive upmarket village suburb of Glasgow a few miles south of Ayr. For admirers of this revered Scot, it's possible to visit the tiny cottage where he lived his early years and where a number of his most famous tales are set. That famous bridge over the River Doon, the 'Brig o' Doon', has been saved from demolition a number of times it's said, its handsome stone arch spanning the meandering river, enabling us a brief insight into the mind of the great man and the lasting delight of his many poems and stories which only a true Scotsman would knowingly comprehend. Across the road stands the rather grand Burns memorial, a structure more befitting a King than a poet, but none-the-less worthy of the pilgrimage.
A wee way to the north of Alloway stands Royal Troon Golf Club, its impressive clubhouse tempting us to peek inside and ask the question to which we already know the answer. A round of golf on the Championship course here will set you back a mere £180, that's about £2 a
whack if you're an average player. Average we might be, but I think we’ll give that a miss. It’s only a game.
We were quickly becoming bored of the monotonous strands of roadside houses and shops on the tendrils of Glasgow by mid-day on our first full day of this Scottish fling. We had ventured northwards along the suburban Ayrshire coast; Ayr, Prestwick, Troon and Irvine, and up to the ferry port of Ardrossan, where our two minds met with but a single thought - Islands; freedom, quiet roads, space to breathe, spring flowers on heath and moor, peace, and wilderness.
The temptation finally proved too great for us to resist; that hazy outline on the horizon across the water was drawing us ever closer, the hand of fortune reaching out to us once more. We were just in time to catch the 3.15 pm. ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick on the Isle of Arran, arriving there within the hour. That’s the beauty of motorhoming as we know it, let go the handbrake and fly! You might be surprised to learn we have not been to Arran before, so this is new territory for
us. If you would like to join us, grab your sunhat, walking boots, bucket and spade and we'll be off.
It’s possible to drive around this pleasant island in little more than a couple of hours, it’s just 20 miles from top to bottom, there are few roads and some are somewhat narrow. But we’re here to smell the roses, to walk the hills and shores and perhaps play a little golf, so we’ll be taking our time. Our travel guides tell us of Arran’s varied landscape; a ‘Scotland in miniature’ the book says, an island with a rich and fascinating history and a population of less than 5,000 these days, mainly scattered along the island’s eastern shores from where 21st Century civilisation beckons a few miles over the water.
Scotland’s islands all offer some spectacular walking and Arran is certainly no exception. There’s the strenuous challenge of Goat Fell, a popular choice at a mere 3,000ft, or the more gentle hike up the winding footpath of Glen Sannox, a classic glacial valley, beside the crystal burbling waters of the rock-strewn burn. Beyond the town’s fringes Scotland offers the right to roam, to venture
off the beaten-track into the wilderness and savour nature at its very best.
Arran’s great delight is its diverse landscape, a bevy of pocket-sized picture postcard pleasures all within an hours drive from any point, from the dramatic heather-clad hills rising in true Highland fashion to the north, to the gentle rolling pastures and rock-strewn shores of the south. We’ll take home many fond memories of Arran; the lighthouse on Pladda with the pudding basin outline of Ailsa Craig across the dazzling sun-washed water, chambered cairns, ancient forts and Bronze-age stone circles, searching for otters along the rocky beach beyond Bennan Head and a wonderful hike up to the spectacular Glenashdale Falls inland from Whiting Bay amongst many.
In June great strands of purple fox-gloves and red and white dog-roses line the hedgerows, orchids grace the marshes and cotton grass flutters in the gentle breeze across the moor. If you are lucky you might glimpse a Hen-harrier hanging on the wind above the hills, red deer grazing the lower meadows as evening approaches and hear the unmistakeable song of Skylarks as they flutter as tiny dots in the sky above your head.
Shiskine, in the lee of The Doon
But not a sign of a wandering haggis.
Shiskine Golf Club at Blackwaterfoot is particularly memorable, set in the shadow of yet another Doon, this one a massive rock escarpment rising abruptly from the shoreline. Shiskine is a most interesting 12 hole course with fabulous views and worthy of a visit on a still day. Scotland has many 9 hole courses and there are some superb examples, particularly links courses around the coast, but a 12 holer is somewhat rare even here. The closest to this we have seen was a 7 hole course above the Arctic Circle, somewhere in Norway if I remember correctly. I have long advocated that golf courses should be of this sort of length; 12 or 13 holes. It's about here when concentration wanes, particularly as the years pass by with ever increasing speed, and the ball takes on a mind of its own! There are seven golf courses on Arran; some would not really pass muster amongst our friends back home, but don't let that put you off should you venture this way with a bunch of sticks in your hand for there are indeed some great delights too. One other
we loved was the nine-hole Corrie Golf Club; extremely friendly, a bit on the nanny-goat side, very tricky in parts particularly in the wind, and perfect holiday golfing.
The commercial value of motorhomers is not lost to those who live and work on the Scottish islands. Whilst it is usually our habit to use campsites wherever possible to support the local community, we will occasionally stray off the path to 'free camp' in some remote spot where locals will not be inconvenienced by our presence overnight. There were one or two such delights on Arran; a view to die for by the beach looking out over Kilbrannan Sound towards Kintyre and another Forestry site near Sannox to the east. You don't get views like this from your average hotel window!
But commerce comes at a price. There's no longer a shop in the island's northern village of Lochranza and I guess that unless some bright and enterprising individual has set himself up with a mobile shop, inhabitants must now travel back to the little shop in Pirn Mill six miles away, or the 14 miles to Brodick, for their essential needs.
Living on an island
does not come cheap as we discovered in the Outer Hebrides a couple of years back, but the life of an islander surely presents so many rather special pleasures that more than compensate. The Arran population is bolstered by new money today, retirees and second-home owners, particularly along the eastern fringe within easy reach of the outside world as the younger element continues to move away to the mainland to find gainful employment.
Alcoholics and whisky lovers amongst you will want to visit the Arran distillery, a short walk from the ruins of Lochranza Castle, to sample their rather good malts - and in particular, their Arran Gold cream liqueur. ‘Pour me another please, Janice’. There is cheese on offer here too as one might expect of an island striving to be self-sufficient; an amazing selection at the Torrylinn Creamery in Kilmory - don’t miss it! And those Brits amongst you will most certainly have sampled Arran potatoes sometime in your lives. The fame of the Arran potato lives on across the world: the Arran Pilot, Arran Chief, Arran Victory and Marris Piper all originate from the fertile lowlands of this tiny isle. I guess there’s a
clue somewhere in the name!
Arran proved to be an island blessed with sunshine for us during our brief stay. The island’s wild open countryside and vast horizons left us breathless with joy and our expectations fulfilled; those few glorious days seemed like a month. Our love of remote Scottish islands will surely never fade, for every one holds fond memories of friendly people with time to spare, a rich history, dramatic landscapes and an abundance of wildlife to tuck in our pockets.
Rather too soon the mid-day ferry took us back to the mainland, to the gentle hills of North Ayrshire, sheep and cows on rich pasture swathed with bright yellow buttercups and red seed-heads on whispering grasses, red campion and dog-roses in the hedgerows and purple foxgloves sweeping across the moors below cloudless skies. Ten minutes into a walk at Lochwinnock RSPB Reserve, we discussed the prospect of a visit to Glasgow, a City neither of us know particularly well and have certainly not visited for many years. Janice pointed out that there was a railway station across the road from where we were parked. ‘It’s twenty minutes to Glasgow Central from here’, she
observed. And there begins another chapter. Yet another change of plan!
Within an hour we were cast amidst the noise and bustle of Glasgow; the heady hum of traffic, busy shoppers and well-dressed beggars, outlandish buskers, chic to punk, scruffy to swish, fine stone buildings side-by-side with graffiti-washed walls, derelict properties sprouting buddleia from decaying roofs and fluttering banners promoting the forthcoming 2014 Commonwealth Games. Cosmopolitan and functional from head to toe.
This was a whistle-stop tour for us, an impromptu waltz into the unknown, a brief scan through the touristy brochures for City sights, galleries and museums, and the main attraction for us lovers of all things arty, a closer look at some of the gems of Glasgow’s renowned Art Nouveau architect and artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 - 1928).
Points of interest are spread far and wide across the city and with limited time we took to the touristy hop-on, hop-off open top bus, sweltering on the sandwich-packed upper deck in the mid-day heat, as a means to getting the most from our time.
There’s much to see from the top of a bus. A single crane stands proudly
Glasgow Central Station
A Charles Rennie Mackintosh moment!
beside the Clyde in the swish Clydebank redevelopment, a relic from Glasgow’s glory days as a maritime powerhouse, a mini ’Sydney Opera House’ concert hall, a tall ship, and the award winning Riverside Museum now stand where the sound of hammer on steel once rang out across the river. There’s time for a quick stop at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, a glance over the shoulder to see Tennant’s Brewery pass by, the University complex, the Mackintosh entrance to Central Station, families with picnics on the lawn beside the beautiful glasshouse in the Botanical Gardens, and revelling mid-day drinkers across the road at a converted church. And not to be missed, the Hunterian Gallery and Museum, to see the most wonderful reconstruction of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s house, its stunning interior so beautifully furnished in every detail it left us reeling. A grand master indeed.
In a last ditch attempt to savour the delights of the Mackintosh era we opted for afternoon tea at the Willow Tea Rooms in the city centre. We dashed the final mile of our Glasgow Day there on foot, arriving in time to find a sign roped across the stairs to the entrance. ‘Sorry, last orders
4.30’. We were ten minutes too late, bitterly disappointed, and gasping! Not to be totally outdone, we moved the sign aside and climbed the stairs for a furtive look at the diners; cheerfully chatting over their bone-china teacups and cream cakes in the gentile ambiance of the fine Mackintosh interior for which his now famous high-backed chairs were originally designed. My mother was a teenager during the 1920’s, a time of dramatic change following the First World War, with hopes of a new life expressed across the world through such beautiful art and architecture.
And so it was. Tea in the comfort of our modest modern motorhome back in Lochwinnoch before raising anchor for the south again, out through South Ayrshire's winding country lanes busy with tractors and heavy machinery, making hay in glorious June sunshine across the gentle hills and dry-stone walls of Dumfries and Galloway.
It’s many years since we were last here on the Mull of Galloway, the most southerly point of Scotland. A short stretch of water separates Scotland from Northern Ireland here and at its tip stands the Stephenson lighthouse, designed and built by Robert Stephenson, the grandfather of
...or is it Sydney?
that other Stephenson we all surely know, Robert Louis Stephenson, of Kidnapped and Treasure Island fame. Along the cliff-tops, fulmars, gannets, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes spread their wings, and just off-shore now, a hand-full of puffins bob up-and-down with the swell of the water. Small pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies can be seen chasing their shadows on the marshes and the distinctive Mountain Argus flutters by along the coastal cliffs. This is Scotland.
Strange as it might seem, we came across a story of interest to our American friends, here in Dumfries and Galloway. There’s a little cottage on the Arbingland Estate at Kirkbean on the northern shore of the Solway Firth, where John Paul Jones, considered by some as a father of the American Navy, was born back in 1747. A tiny museum celebrates this Scotsman's nautical exploits against the English on British shores around the time of American Independence. His body now lies in a vast marble tomb at the Annapolis Naval Academy in the United States. I really had no idea that the British Navy ever came under attack from America so close to home. And under the command of a Scotsman indeed!
Before we finally took
our leave for another year there was one more Scottish castle to see. King Edward I of England popped into Caerlaverock to take a look at the castle way back in 1300, so we were in good company. He came across the border from the south with 3,000 soldiers and laid siege to this delightful triangular moated castle. It’s now cared for by the Scottish National Trust, a little worse for wear after so many battles between the Scots and English over so many years, but it is surely one of the gems of its period and one you should not miss should you pass this way.
For reasons better known to some politicians they're seeking Independence from England here in Scotland in a month or two, proposing to turn the clock back more than 300 years at the stroke of a pen. We chanced to meet a smartly attired greying gentleman whilst at Caerlaverock and talked a little about the history of the castle. Unsure of the gentleman’s leaning on the subject of Independence, I winked and threw him the bait. “I’ve heard a rumour the English Army is massing once again just across the border in Cumbria,”
Say 'No' to Independence
The lady of the house told us a neighbour changed this sign to read, KNOB!
The warring clans will yet rise again.
“Hopefully”, he replied with a wry smile.
Nobody has asked me for my opinion of course, and certainly dear old Winston Churchill would surely have had something to say on the subject were he here today. I can hear his voice above the mighty roar of the canon and bagpipes;
"We'll fight them in their castles and we'll fight them in the glens."
We’ll leave you with that thought.
The Grey Haired Nomads
Scroll down for more pictures - And Todd came too!
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