A Week on the Isle of Arran at Lochranza SYHA – 26th August-1st September

Words and pics contributed by Paul Dickerson.

Twenty-five IOG members were intrepid enough to head north of the border to Scotland and then take a short ferry ride to the Isle of Arran. With a coastline of 57 miles, some serious mountains, rolling hills, moorland, rivers, waterfalls, beaches, fantastic wildlife opportunities and traditional crafts to visit (i.e. whisky, woollens, farm produce) this was going to be a very varied trip.

The island only has three roads; one that goes all the way round and two that cut across the middle and lower half. Even though there was little traffic the pace was definitely slow due to the poor state & narrowness of some sections. However, there really was no need to rush as many of the views of the mountains & coast were stunning. In fact some of the group decided to take a number of cycle rides; one of which was to do the “top half”, a distance of around 38 miles with a very steep part across the middle section and also near the hostel. I understand that the promise of tea cakes and various other refreshments en route helped everyone get round.

the very grand and well equipped SYHA Lochranza hostel

Although the weather was typically Scottish with some rain and some shine it did not stop everyone getting out and about along the length and breadth of the island. Aside from the various cycling rides, there were ascents of the highest mountain on the island – Goat Fell (2,866 feet) (see report by Ian below – Ed.) – a circuit of the western hills, many waterfalls (made even better by the rain!!!), a fantastic coastal route around the nearby headland, walks to stone circles and numerous sea caves. The wildlife around the hostel was very tame, with deer, badgers and otters likely. A number of people went to the local whisky distillery and a few adventurous souls went open canoeing. Someone even went sea fishing from the nearby harbour and caught plenty of fresh mackerel for tea!

Stela, Sarah, Bob and Clare with Holy Island beyond.

With the relative isolation of the hostel from eateries a number of group meals were cooked and thanks go to those that did this for us as well as the helpers in the washing up etc.!

The week was finally topped off with an energetic ceilidh (right next door to the hostel) and the IOG was certainly well represented.

Thanks – Paul.

Sarah’s Goatfell Walk – Tuesday 29th August

Story and pics contributed by Ian McQueen

IOG members enjoyed a wonderful week on Arran over the recent late August Bank Holiday, organized by the tireless Paul and Clare Dickerson . The Dickersons worked very hard to give us an easy and enjoyable stay at the Youth Hostel in Lochranza, which is tucked away in the hills at the very top of Arran like a well-kept secret.

The Tuesday after the holiday was the highlight for me – a walk up Goatfell when 12 intrepid members were led by Sarah Shephard.

At 874 metres, Goatfell is only a “Corbett” (i.e., more than 2,500 ft but under 3,000) but its setting is breathtaking, forming, as it does, the crowning glory of a horseshoe stretching over several mountains linked by graceful ridges around Glen Sannox at the northern end of Arran.

“Right!” said Fred (Fred is Vicky and Justin Smith’s ten-year-old son, and the most intrepid climber amongst us). It wasn’t a piano (like in the ‘70s hit) he was trying to move; it was us lot and, although Justin did his best to curb the youngster’s desire to get to the top in five minutes, that lad really got us going and kept us smiling, y’know?!

We took the shortest route up from the village of Corrie, a path that began surprisingly with a winding stretch of tarmac. Soon, however, the forest appeared, with a track of well-made steps ascending through mountain ash, pines and heather fields; not tight packed but open and colourful. Then the views opened out and Arran’s wonderful position in the waters of the Firth of Clyde was revealed. Tantalising vistas over to the Ayrshire mainland and to the neighbouring islands of Great and Little Cumbrae and Bute helped as take our bearings. We saw Holy lsland peeping up above the village of Lamlash to the south.

“Ford!” said Fred. “Not!” said a voice at the back (probably Justin’s). “You have to get your feet wet for that.” We were now going along the valley bottom, approaching the hill proper, having left the forest behind. Brownish moorland, pierced by burns in spate from the previous days Bank Holiday rains, surrounded our path.

Alan Bourne started to cross over the central stream to our left, to follow the path up to the ridge of Meall Breac, which leads to Goatfell summit. We all clambered over and up.

Endless igneous boulders, clean, as if they’d been scrubbed to testify to the purity of the Presbyterian Scottish air, barred our way; but an excellent path threaded through them and an hour later we were having our sandwiches by the summit cairn, spoilt for choice as far as views were concerned!

On a clear day, you can see Northern Ireland from here; today, the bird sanctuary of Ailsa Craig was just sticking its rocky head up, over the parapet of the Atlantic to the south. All too soon it was back down again, but continuing along via the North Goatfell ridge, meeting the path we’d ascended in the morning to create a circle. We went around the back of the hill (where there was no path!) and slipped and slid down, then up and over to see the long familiar valley descending back to Brodick Castle and the sea. A lot of knees probably complained like mine, but Clare kindly leant me one of her walking poles, which I’ll probably be investing in ere long…

Fred was way ahead by now,  with “perfect Paul”, as he aptly described him!

Clare and ‘perfect Paul’

That night, back at the hostel, Miriam and helpers prepared a traditional Scottish meal, prefaced by yours truly spouting Burns’s Address to Something-or-Other. A mystified boy listened to my instructions. “Now, you’re a haggis-fed Rustic, and when I give the signal, you stick your knife into this big sausage…”

“Right,” said Fred.