I arrived on the Isle of Arran on the first ferry Friday morning and left on the last ferry Sunday night. Arran is an island just off the West coast of mainland Scotland. It was my first time really getting out of Glasgow and exploring what one might think of as the ‘real Scotland’ - hills, sheep, men in kilts waiting outside the ferry terminal, etc. Glasgow is lovely and interesting and is quickly beginning to feel like home, but sometimes it feels not so different from Vancouver.
The grande houses along Fenwick Road remind me of Point Grey, while the stone facades of Buchanan Street feel like Gas Town. The hipsters in Shawlands would fit right in on Main Street. The overcast skies and drizzling mornings make for rainy west coast vibes.
I took a train from Glasgow to the Coast. As I boarded the shiny red and white CalMac Ferry I thought back to all the times I’ve boarded a BC Ferry and the excitement that always lay beyond. I spent an amazing three days on Arran, hiking, strolling and sipping coffee on empty beaches.
But apart from the beautiful scenery and abundant oceans and Scottish history I’ve experienced, I also met some incredibly friendly people.
The first was a man from Nottingham, maybe about 50 but it was hard to tell. Shabbat afternoon I decided to walk along the Northeast coast of Arran, from Lochranza to a point called Laggan Cottage. A sign I read said it was about three hours - a nice Shabbos stroll. I set out and the initial stretch was sunny and flat and dry and beautiful, walking amidst dried fall foliage and open sea views. As the path turned South to head down the East coast, it got a bit rockier. Eventually the rocks grew larger, and quite slippery. There were wide patches of mud, and many of the rocks were so high I had to climb over them on my hands and knees.
Let me just say that I’m not a great hiker. I like to get out and do things, but I’m definitely not bagging Munros, as the Scots say (if you’re not Scottish, bagging Munros means climbing really tall mountains). The hike was stretching on, and although I still had plenty of time it was getting a little late in the day. I was running a bit short on water, and wasn’t exactly sure where I was heading, as the map I had was proving to be slightly inaccurate. But I had come too far and up too much steep mud to turn back now, so I carried on.
As I approached an extra large rock, I pulled up on my hands and knees, and heard a voice directly behind me. It was the man from Nottingham. He assured me that he too thought the hike would be shorter and easier than it turned out to be, but that Laggan Cottage was surely just ahead. He passed me, and a few minutes later I met up with him at Laggan Cottage. We sat and chatted while we rested our feet, and as we carried on (the sun was well hidden behind the mountain by now), he pulled out a spare map that he had and gave it to me. We parted ways, as he was hiking quite a bit faster, but would turn back every so often to make sure I was heading in the right direction, and even yelled from much higher up the hill when he saw me hesitate at a wrong turn. (For those more used to hiking in the Rockies, Scottish hills are mostly grassy, and you walk along narrow paths between the grasses, so it’s often difficult to discern the trail, but you can see people ahead for quite some way as there are no trees in the way).
Later on, once I had made my way back to Lochranza and was headed to the beach for a nice stretch, he passed by me and checked in to make sure everything had been alright.
The second interaction requires a bit of a backstory, but if you stick with it you’ll see how every little piece of it was just so to make it happen. On my third day I visited a place called Machrie Moore, where there are several stone circles dating back 4 000 years. The bus in Lochranza only runs once every three hours, so I had quite a bit of time to explore there. I headed off the main path to a side route leading to a single rock. It was a lovely rock, but as I headed back and climbed over the turnstile to the main path (there are turnstiles everywhere to keep the sheep in), a woman noticed me and said hello.
Several hours later I was on the last ferry of the night, headed back to the mainland. It was raining and quite dark, so everyone was inside, but I can’t resist an opportunity to stand on a ferry deck, so I sat outside alone. When we had almost reached the port in Ardrossan, the boat stopped and an announcement came on saying there was an issue with the port, and we would be delayed for several minutes. However, the busses, ferries and train are perfectly timed to get people from Glasgow to Arran. Even a 20-minute ferry delay would mean that we would miss the train - the last train of the night.
I headed inside to find someone to ask, when a woman stopped me - the same woman from the hike. She said she had seen me earlier at Machrie Moore, and had noticed me specifically because I had been coming in from a different path. We chatted on - it turns out that India is one of her favourite countries, and although she’s from Berlin, she’s also moved to Scotland relatively recently. In the end she offered me a ride home, saving me from being stranded in Ardrossan overnight and missing my 8:30 am assembly the next morning. On the way home we chatted all about her life growing up in West Berlin and how she had covered the fall of the Berlin Wall as a young reporter. It was quite interesting (and extraordinarily helpful), and all fell into place because we were both in the right place at the right time.
So I headed back to Glasgow, where I’ve just had a busy week at work and am preparing for all of our Rosh HaShanah programmes. It’s quite easy to forget about the peaceful sea breeze of Lochranza and the thrill of the beautiful hills. But I’ve spent all week trying to impress on the students I work with the meaning of the High Holidays, and the important work of bringing the High of the Holidays into our daily life afterwards. So I’m trying to bring the magic of Arran back to Giffnock with me. And the kindness of these strangers is an excellent reminder this time of year to treat everyone gently and stay open to the people around us.
I stayed at the Lochranza Youth Hostel in the village of Lochranza. It’s a good deal, £18.50 per night for a dorm bed (6 bunks, female-only dorms available). You also need a Hostelling International membership (£6 per year if you’re under 26, otherwise £15). From Glasgow Central, you can catch a train to Ardrossan Harbour (not Ardrossan Town), which connects with the Caledonian McBrayne Ferry to Brodick. There’s a good Co-op in Brodick if you want to stock up on groceries, since in Lochranza itself there’s only one hotel which is a bit expensive (most food is around £13), and a sandwich shop with limited hours, but nowhere to buy groceries. The hostel has a great kitchen though.
I did three hikes:
Glen Rosa from Brodick - Walk from the Ferry Terminal along the Fisherman’s Walk to the Arran Brewery. From there you start the hike up to and into Glen Rosa. The actual hike (plus picnic) took 4 hours, but around 6 hours including getting there from and back to Brodick after. It was beautiful with great views and an enjoyable hike, not too steep or muddy.
Laggan Cottage from Lochranza via Fairy Dell - The portion of this to Fairy Dell is flat and lovely, but South of Fairy Dell gets steeper and muddier. From Laggan Cottage you climb over the hill and descend into Lochranza. It took me 6.5 hours, but I went quite slowly. It’s a bit steep and muddy, but still lovely. It might be nice also to do part of it in reverse, and just climb up the the hill from the Lochranza side and have a picnic there.
Machrie Moore Standing Stones - This is more of a walk than a hike, but the stones are picturesque and an interesting bit of history. It’s quite flat, and you could probably do it in an hour, although I stretched it to 2.5 hours (for the bus schedule) and did lots of exploring of some nearby ruins.
I did all of this by public transit, as all the hikes are accessible by bus. However, the bus only runs once every three hours, so it’s definitely more convenient if you have a car. A bus pass on the island is £6.20 per day, or around £3.10 per ride (cheaper for short rides), so the first day I got a single and the third day I got a day pass (the second day was Shabbat so I did a hike I could walk to from the hostel). The whole weekend (everything, including food, transport and accommodation) cost around £80, but I definitely skimped it (on food and transport) and you could spend more easily. Make sure to check out Lochranza Castle and also the swings by the Claonaig Ferry Terminal!