Circumnavigating Arran – June 2019

I figured Arran would be a good place for a few days paddling. It’s pretty convenient to reach, yet still feels like you’re far away from regular life, so, setting off from North Yorkshire at 03:30, I planned to take the 08:20 ferry from Ardrossan. Leaving the car there meant I could walk the kayak onto the ferry for the price of a standard foot passenger, and it allowed for the option of making the crossing back to the mainland by kayak, should I decide to extend my trip.

On arriving in Brodick, it’s a very short portage from the ferry terminal to a small launch beach and after a quick breakfast in the glorious sunshine, I took to the water. Turning right, out of the bay, the water was perfectly smooth and very quickly I reached Holy Island, where a few people were already out enjoying the water from the nearby Outdoor Centre at Lamlash. There’s a Tibetan retreat on Holy Island, which looked idyllic in the sunshine and I paused for a minute to listen to the grasshoppers stridulating, feeling distinctly like I could be somewhere in the Mediterranean.

It was at this point I realised my skin was starting to feel a bit singed, and having left my sunscreen in the car, I was going to have to buy some. This meant hugging the shore near the villages trying to spot any shops, and whilst I was there, I might as well stop for coffee. One thing I’ve since come to realise, is how much an art gallery resembles a café from the outside, and Arran seems to have plenty of art galleries! After been drawn in for several fruitless landings, I gave up altogether on the idea of coffee, and ultimately sunscreen. I would just have to cover up instead.

An increasing easterly breeze pushed me around the headland at Kildonan, which offers stunning views of the tiny island of Pladda, with Ailsa Craig to the South. Ahead I could see Kintyre and Sanda, and in the far distance I could make out the headlands of Northern Ireland! I hope when I’m on my journey around Ireland next year, the weather stays good enough for me to make out Arran on the horizon.

Arran has some impressive geology and along the south coast, basalt and dolerite dykes extend a fair way out into the water. Navigating them requires attention as they lie close to the surface, yet are not especially obvious with the sun reflecting off the water. Feeling pretty tired after my early start, the sandy beaches between the dykes looked inviting. I decided this might be a good place to camp and landed to take a closer look. A fantastic flat rock step offered shelter from the wind and so I set up camp. The temperature was still very high and there wasn’t a hint of chill in the water, so a glorious swim, with Ailsa Craig on the gleaming horizon, was absolutely blissful. Afterwards as I sat on the beach drying out, I watched two otters play and catch fish, completely unphased. Such a great day!

By the morning the wind had picked up and a south easterly 4-5, occasionally 6 would push me around Drumandoon Point into the lee of the island. However, I spent the day chasing the lee, as the wind veered throughout the day and was either following or making its way down the glens and across my beam. The following sea meant I had to concentrate a little harder, but I rocketed along the coast and made good time. I’ve previously reported how the NDK Latitude harbours a bit of a cheeky attitude when the sea gets lively, however I can now confirm that the fully loaded Latitude is as steady and reliable as you would want, yet is still fast through the water.

A coffee break at King’s Cave, reputedly once a refuge of Robert the Bruce, provides a spectacular look at the raised shoreline eroded thousands of years ago by the waves and, beyond here, the road lies close to the coast all the way to the north of Arran. Secluded camping spots are few and far between, however I managed to find a rocky foreshore just where the road rises away from the coast, which could have been a million miles away. The highwater mark was evidently above my proposed pitch, however with some time still to go before springs, I figured I’d have a few metres to spare at high tide. Saturday’s forecast looked good early on, increasing to force 6 with strong wind warnings in place later, and so I prepared everything ready for an early start.

A glass like sea provided easy paddling and I passed by the pretty village of Catacol with its dramatic glen and the ‘twelve apostles’ – a terrace of cottages built for the crofters who were cleared from the land, in the hope that they might earn a living as fishermen. I passed by Lochranza, just as the first early ferry was setting out for Cleonaig, and leaving Newton Point, the wind began to pick up and the forecasted thundery showers could be heard rumbling away to the south. The northern coast of Arran is the most remote, divided from the road by mountainous terrain. A landing here would be rocky, however I decided that without any sign of the lightning storms immediately nearby, I would continue onwards. There are a couple of very remote cottages on this coastline; I’m sure only accessible via the water or a very steep hike, but the scenery here is stunning, with rust coloured, Dali-esque rock formations around every point and panoramic views across the Sound of Bute.

Now in a race against the thunderstorms, I paddled on for a good 20km before stopping for a quick break in Sannox. The wind was now at my bow and the first fat raindrops were beginning to fall. Still no sign of lightning though, so I figured it was safe to continue. Despite the headwind, I was able to tuck into the shore and allow the tidal stream to assist my journey past the very pretty village of Corrie. I’d made excellent time and around midday I paddled in towards the darkening sky over Brodick. Normally I’d have crossed the bay, but didn’t fancy the exposure in a thunderstorm, so decided to hug the shoreline once again. Now at low tide, the beach I launched from was just a mass of steep exposed rocks, so I opted to egress at the slipway a little further along the seafront. Looking back out across the water the storm clouds were forming in crazy breaking waves above Goat Fell and the lightning was commencing, putting paid to any thoughts of making the crossing back to the mainland. Still I was very happy with my journey, 92km in total, Arran is stunningly beautiful and well worth a visit.

One thought on “Circumnavigating Arran – June 2019

  1. Excellent. This has been on my to do list for a while, you have inspired me to actually make plans to do it this year rather than just talk about it!


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