Throwback: Hiking on Arran

Amongst the photos that I recently discovered on a hard drive in my storage unit are some I took on a hike around the isle of Arran that I did shortly after leaving school in 2006, with my brother Isaac (the one that now contributes detailed reviews of hiking kit to this blog…)

Anyway, since I have some decent photos of the hike and can remember at least some of the details, I thought I’d share them here.

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Arran, for those that don’t know, is an island off the west coast of Scotland, in the Firth of Clyde, and almost on the same latitude as Glasgow, or very slightly south. I had never visited before, but my Glaswegian grandfather used to visit often on holiday as a child and had taken my mother and uncle there, so when I was on the lookout for an interesting hiking trip, Arran was recommended to us.

One advantage is that it is relatively accessible, being only a short train (and ferry) journey from Glasgow, which is well served by trains and planes from London and elsewhere.

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So young, and so lacking in expensive technical gear.

Hiking-wise, Arran is great. Although small, it is relatively uninhabited in the mountainous centre and the highest mountain, Goatfell is, while only 874m high, a decent hike with some great views. Not to mention that if you start from where the ferry arrives at Brodick, you are starting at sea level, so you get to get to enjoy all 874 of those metres to the full.

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We did a three-day hike staying in B&Bs along the way:
Day 1 – Brodick to Corrie via Goatfell
Day 2 – Corrie to Lochranza
Day 3 – Circular hike starting and ending at Lochranza and taking in the Arran distillery

Although not enormously demanding (Brodick to Lochranza is only about 20 miles total) this made for a really pleasant hike taking in a lot of what Arran has to offer – walking through midge-infested woods, scrambling up exposed scree slopes, and hiking round an exposed coastal path and sheltering in a cave for lunch.

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Arran is also well-equipped with B&Bs, small hotels and youth hostels, all of which cater to the hikers that make up the majority of its visitors. The pubs we visited were also welcoming, friendly and extremely well-equipped with whisky which is always a plus…

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Back then I didn’t have a jetboil, I had a heavy but efficient Swedish Army stove that burnt liquid paraffin.

Given that a lot of my blog posts nowadays focus heavily on kit, it’s kind of funny to look at how basic most of my kit was – some old cargo pants, cotton t-shirts (gasp!), a surplus army smock, fleeces and a raincoat. To be fair, though, it was summer and I don’t ever remember being cold. In fact, looking back, I did have a reasonably decent array of layers and with the one exception of wearing cotton tshirts there was nothing particularly wrong with my clothing system aside from it being old and battered. Which just goes to show that a) even at 18 I knew better than to climb a Scottish mountain without proper kit (including a map, compass, and a stove, I might add) and b) you don’t have to spend a fortune on kit to be able to hike safely. It just helps…

Indeed, if I changed anything I’d probably take less kit. Even allowing for the fact that we were out for four days, there was no real reason for me to have a full-size backpack stuffed with it. It’s the usual inexperienced hikers tendency to want spares of everything and extra kit ‘just in case’. If I did the hike again, I reckon I could do it with hardly more kit than I took on the Presidential Traverse or my one-day Snowden hike, other than some changes of shirts and underwear. Sure, I might not have clean kit to change into to go to the pub but it’s hiking country, they expect that…

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I’d love to go back to Arran one of these days, and I’d happily re-do the same route we did. It would also be fun to try circling the whole island, which I reckon could be done in only three or four days of average hiking. I’d also be keen to ditch the B&Bs and try wild camping, which is much easier in Scotland than in England, and there are a tonne of places where we could have pitched a basha or small tent along the route.

If you’re looking for an interesting hiking trip in Scotland, I definitely recommend Arran. Oh yes, and visit the distillery. When I was there they had only just released their first 10 year old after opening in 1995, so by now they will have added an 18yr old to their range. The tour is also brilliant.

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