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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Winter on Arran






















The Broad Road that Stretches

It’s almost Christmas and Nigel and I have just returned from our first big road trip in a camper van. Tracy the van is old-ish, and clatters and rattles a fair bit, but she hasn’t let us down.

Our route, loosely planned around visits to family members, took us to the Lakes, Yorkshire, the south of England, France, Germany and Switzerland, returning to Britain by overnight ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull. A good thing about living on an island (Arran or Britain) is that journeys begin and end with a boat which is the best way to really feel the excitement of landing on distant shores or returning to your own.

Camper van travel is about the journey and not the destination. This means the pleasures of the back roads, not worrying about the time, and noticing the places you pass through. If you use your camper van as a base taking pushbikes with you for small local journeys is an excellent idea.

I love camping in a tent and always have, but practically it’s problematic when days are short. Camper van travel has the pleasures of snail-like self-sufficiency: your bed, kitchen and toilet are with you at all times. Getting to grips with electric hook-ups and chemical disposal points is straightforward. Living space is better than you expect: in our van there is room for four to sit comfortably when the driving seats have been swivelled round to face the benches in the back, which also become a double bed. The only problem we found was lack of space to store gear (if you want to do activities whilst on holiday which involve a lot of gear, like canoeing) but it gives you a challenge to take less.

The van was a cosy and flexible home, even in midwinter, though we were pleased to find some campsites still open. Naturally, as campsite wardens, we believe in supporting local economies, and in any case campsites offer electric hook ups, waste disposal and level ground. There are joys to wild camping in lonely places but getting any sleep isn’t one of them in my experience- my senses won’t go off full alert. (I should never have given my drama classes the exercise: you’re parked down a dark, deserted road, suddenly there is knocking on the window. What happens next?!)

We’ve now returned to the windy western edge of Europe. Travel makes you enjoy new places and appreciate the advantages of home. We’ve paid a fortune in parking fees but on Arran there are none. We’ve tried to visit historic sites that were chained and padlocked for the winter (the battlefield of 1066 is actually surrounded by metal spikes! We sneaked a look but worried we might get strung up from the nearest gibbet if caught) but Arran’s wealth of prehistoric sites, such as the stone circles of Machrie Moor, can be freely visited the year round. It is rare to find PRIVATE signs or CCTV here to prevent access to water with canoes, unlike parts of the Lakes.

Finally, how does camper-vanning work out cost-wise, I hear you ask. Well, our tour cost less than a week in Mallorca at this time last year. It’s the kind of travel where it’s up to you to decide how much to spend as you go along.

We won’t be selling the van.


A month of mountains and mists:

Torr Nead as we set off at the top

Mountains in the Vosges at the bottom


















We stayed at the following comfortable campsites that open in winter:

www.kloofs.com (Sussex)

www.thequietsite.co.uk (Cumbria)

www.sandholmelodgeholidaypark.co.uk (East Yorkshire)

www.bluerosepark.com (East Yorkshire)

www.obernai.fr (Le Vallon De l’Ehn Camping Municipal, Alsace, France)


This is a blog I wrote back in early November:








Caught in the Rhododendrons!

As someone who is used to climbing high mountains, I had the surprising experience of finding myself stuck on a low-level walk the other day, within a stone’s throw of the chimneys of Lochranza.

I had walked along the hills behind the Whisky Distillery to the site of the hill fort above the youth hostel, before descending towards the castle. All was well until I came up against the belt of the invasive ponticum variety of rhododendrons that has grown up on the steep lower slopes behind the houses. As the village was so near by, I pressed on into the thicket. Rapidly, the vegetation became so dense that I had to wriggle headfirst downwards on my stomach under the lowest stems. There came a point when I felt I actually could not move in any direction; the vegetation was impenetrable and I was trapped in a rhododendron prison as effectively as a fly in a spider’s web! Hope came in a glimpse of the top end of Jane Nichol’s garden fence, and eventually I escaped, embarrassed and bedraggled, with scratches on my knees and ticks on my foot. Jane was kind enough not to send me back the way I had come.

The moral of the story is “Don’t go into rhododendrons without a machete”. Seriously though, it’s important that action is taken about these destructive invaders which are spreading throughout upland Britain. We are fortunate to have the Arran Trust and Arran Access Trust who work hard at both protecting the natural environment and providing safe access to the hills.

A wet October decorated the trees with moss.

Arran has a wealth of mosses, ferns and lichens with its clean air and warm, moist climate.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A Walk over the Saddle, Glen Sannox to Glen Rosa - October 2011

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Wild and Wet

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

From Inversnaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I’ve always liked this poem (this is just the last verse) and it came into my head with the wild, wet weather we’ve had. Outside, the burn is a foamy torrent. If you pay attention you can hear all sorts of strange sounds in it: conversations, church bells, disco music, a woman singing….

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It’s got to that time of year at Lochranza when I see more wild creatures than people in the course of a day: a late basking shark, a badger, 12 seals following my canoe, several red squirrels and countless red deer in one day last week, to be more precise. Every morning I open the curtains to see which of the golf course stags has won the hinds in the night. There’s ongoing tension between two stags who keep charging towards each other from different sides of the burn, but they stop short of a fight. The hinds meanwhile keep making a run for it. I watched one sitting down firmly some way from the herd and, of course, the stag soon arrived to get her back. When she didn’t move, he stuck out his foreleg and, Punch-and-Judy-like, struck her sharply on the head!

Deer Bath

You’d pay a lot in a 5* hotel to have a muddy wallow like this


As well as red deer, Lochranza has a significant badger population. I see their tracks in the morning raking of the bunkers; a tell-tale sign of their overnight raids to Mrs. McAllister’s garden. By the way, a comfortable place to see the local red squirrels close-up is in Val and Rino’s garden at the Stags Pavilion; you can watch squirrel acrobatics on the bird feeders over a coffee.


We’ve finished clearing the ditches and hopefully it’s helped to channel the plentiful rain out of the glen and into the sea. Rain and the Gulf Stream make Arran a lush island where all kinds of tropical plants can flourish. In fact, in the past, Lochranza’s hillsides were bare due to being churned up by cattle. Without these beasts, invaders like gorse, the ponticum rhododendron, ragwort and bracken are spreading fast- all beautiful but destructive…… a bit like the deer.

Our second season is nearly over- we close on Oct 31st. Looking back over the year we’ve been wet a lot, we’ve been blown around a lot, done smelly tasks a lot, and back breaking tasks a lot. We rarely get out of our fleeces and wellies! But……we’ve had a wonderful time. How could it be anything else when we live so close to nature?

It’s also been a joy to meet so many of you and hear your tales and enjoy sharing your experiences, if only briefly.

When the season ends we’re going motor-homing and are looking forward to being world-wanderers ourselves for a little while. I’ll keep you posted how we get on,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,


Monday, 3 October 2011


Nigel and Will- probably the last dip of the year







It’s not just the south of England that can enjoy playing in the sea in Autumn (admittedly it was ten degrees cooler here).
















Autumn Diary

Just now nature is busy ensuring its survival into next year. I came across a red squirrel the other day, so totally absorbed in hiding its horde in a tree root it didn’t notice me behind it. But it’s the clamour of the rut that dominates Lochranza life in early October. The stags are in such a frenzied state guarding their herds that they don’t eat. These red deer are wild and roam the northern hills of Arran, but belong to the Laird, and are managed, that is to say some are culled each year to maintain healthy stock and sustainable numbers. One year when culling did not take place, many deer starved to death. It’s the stags that are being culled at the present time; later in October it will be selected hinds. Out on the golf course you can regularly hear the creaking, clacking and clattering of entangled antlers as young stags practise battle. They have also gouged out new hazards for golfers in the form of round wallows: muddy pools they like to bathe in, in order to rise out of them looking dripping black and scary.

There is a dramatic shift of focus in our lives at this time too. As only the hardiest visitors come to the campsite and golf course in October, it is time to get on with hefty outdoor maintenance tasks: clearing the ditches to drain winter floods, cutting back hedges and mending fences. Like the animals, as one year comes to fruition for us, it’s time to start working towards the next.












The Mountains of Arran in September

Saturday, 3 September 2011




Ticket to Islay

A motorbike, a little tent, and a Calmac ferry ticket….. what more do you need to be happy?

Nigel and I have just returned from a two day motorbike tour of Islay – an island we missed out on our sea kayaking tour of 2009 because we got distracted by Arran. So many of our visitors travel on to Islay from here in Lochranza that we felt we simply must go and see the island for ourselves.

Getting to Islay involves crossing by ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig, then a seven mile journey across Kintyre followed by a two hour sailing to Islay. The route takes you through West Loch Tarbert and into the racing tides of the narrow Sound of Islay. On the brand new ferry, the Finlaggan, large, light windows frame the picturesque island-scapes as you travel.

Negotiating rough island roads on a motorbike is never easy but it’s always worth it. Little used roads take you through out-of-the-way places and give you glimpses of island life: highland ponies dozing; cows paddling at the edge of the sea; fields of geese, and seals singing on rocks. Islay is lovely in an understated way, with whitewashed villages huddled round harbours, and farms and fields that seem little changed in many years, though the island used to support a far greater population than it does now. On a motorbike you smell the whisky distilleries before you see them. You feel the place, you don’t just see it.

Islay was an important political centre in medieval times when the culture of Dalriada, which included the more southerly Western Isles and Northern Ireland, was a powerful influence in Scotland. If you think of the sea as the main highway it becomes comprehensible why such a now remote island should be a busy cultural centre then. Today Islay still has a thriving Gaelic culture and takes pride in traditional skills such as peat cutting, evident from the public notices in village shops.

Islay has two campsites- one at Port Charlotte, and another at Kintra Farm where we camped amongst the dunes, and watched a radiant pink setting sun tumble from a low grey sky. We ate our favourite camping meal of corn beef hash cooked on a Trangia. Later on, when it was dark, we watched lighthouse beams sweeping the sky.

Happiness.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


Exploring Glen Catacol

Arran’s mountains are amazing. When you first see Arran across the Clyde, the mountains look too impossibly big to be on an island. And when you first look up into Glen Sannox, the jagged mountain ridges look straight out of a Lord of the Rings film set.

Arran’s glens are awe-inspiring too. To the west of Lochranza you come to glacier-scoured, U-shaped Glen Catacol, home to golden eagles, adders and the unique Arran whitebeam trees. As you walk up the glen there is a powerful sense of natural forces sculpting the landscape here and now. Wherever you are you can hear water. The burn glides over flat granite rocks into pools descending to the Kilbrannan sound. As you head higher towards Loch Tanna, the landscape is almost reminiscent of the Alps with recent gorges carved out by heavy rain, clear water and white rocks. The most striking feature up here is the long slide of the burn and the giant Allt nan Calman waterfall plunging to join it. With its steep hillsides and lush climate, Arran is an island of waterfalls and the Allt nan Calman has to be one of the most spectacular.

Eventually you arrive at a broad, boulder strewn col overlooking the expanse of Loch Tanna. Routes from here lead to Coire Fhion Lochain, down to Loch Iorsa and Dougarie, or over Beinn Tarsuinn to Lochranza. It’s rocky and heathery terrain, but whichever route you decide to take you will be sure to have these wonderful mountains and glens at the north end of Arran all to yourself.

Loch Tanna and Glen Catacol is one of the routes offered on this September’s Arran Mountain Festival programme. Have a look at: www.arranmountainfestival.co.uk

Wednesday, 10 August 2011



Arran’s Flowers

Driving to Brodick can be a dangerous business, and I don’t mean because of the infamous potholes. The trouble is that the scenery’s so distractingly lovely that it’s positively hazardous. The other day it was the spectrum of colour on the roadside that snatched my attention, with red fuchsia, fiery montbretia, creamy lace meadowsweet, golden honeysuckle, and spires of purple loosestrife, all tumbling in luxuriant.disarray

The glorious vegetation of Arran can sometimes be overlooked because it’s easy to have close up encounters with wild creatures here, but there are not many parts of the British Isles where you are likely to find so much variety so easily; you can find me consulting my wildflowers book on most days. Seeing the common wildflowers in abundance is, for me, like meeting friends from my childhood, when they were often integrated in my outdoor games:-

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Ten Activities for Children with Flowers, Weeds or Grass

(Before intensive farming methods in many places made flowers less plentiful.)

1. Make daisy chain necklaces.

2. Test if someone likes butter. Hold a buttercup under their chin. If there is a reflected yellow glow (there always is!) they like butter.

3. Make rose petal scent by squashing them in a jam jar with some water.

4. Impress others by grasping a nettle in your bare hands. (Make sure it’s actually a deadnettle, but the other person doesn’t need to know that.)

5. If you get it wrong and get stung, find a dock leaf to rub on the sting and soothe it.

6. Tell the time with dandelion “clocks”. Every puff to blow the seeds away is equivalent to an hour.

6. Make grass squeal by holding a split blade between your thumbs and blowing hard.

7. Stick strands of chickweed onto someone else’s back secretly.

8. Have a battle with sticky burrs.

9. Pick some grass with dangly seeds then chant “Here’s a tree in summer, (show the grass) here’s a tree in winter, (push the seeds off between thumb and fingers and hold them like a bouquet), here’s a bunch of flowers, (throw the seeds in the air), here’s your April showers”.

10. Pick buttercups and daisies, clover and forget-me-nots, on the way to school so that your teacher can put them in a jam jar on her desk.

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Arran also has some fascinating areas of ancient woodland. It’s not widely known, but I learnt from Scottish Natural Heritage recently that the twisty, wind-swept oak woods on Arran’s west coast are truly rainforest: the Celtic rainforest. A high proportion of European mosses, liverworts, lichens and ferns can be found in these woods. In addition, the island is home to three types of unique whitebeam tree. So if otters and eagles are proving elusive, remember that Arran has lots of amazing wildlife that might be hidden away, but won’t hide from you.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Hefted

“Nigel, there’s a deer outside the window eating your canoe boot.”

Two years ago we would never have thought that this kind of remark would become the stuff of our everyday conversation. You certainly experience nature at close quarters when you come to Lochranza.

One evening last week Nigel and I went for a dip in the sea near Dougarie. The beach was covered with moon jellyfish waiting for the tide to rise. The water was warm and we swam in the reflections of the sunset.

Arran is such a natural paradise it is easy to understand why many Arran folk say that they are so strongly attached to the island that they cannot bear to leave it.

This made me think of the term “hefted” which is used in Northern England. It describes the way that sheep and cattle, which come from stock bred in the same area for generations, will stay in that place without fences and return instinctively to it. Maybe people can be hefted too.

The red deer of Lochranza must be hefted to the locality. They head up onto the hilltops at times but they are just keeping an eye on the place from higher up I suspect. Most summer days find them snoozing in some cool marshy spot on the golf course; most summer nights munching grass around the tents.

The hill sheep of Lochranza seem also to be hefted. After lambing, Sandy the farmer takes them off the golf course onto the open hills. One particular ewe though, along with her two lambs, is particularly attached to the golf course. She bleats pitifully when sent off and has many secret strategies to get back in, including sneaking in behind cars when campers arrive. She is instantly recognisable by her exotic set of four curving horns and she has taught us not to underestimate the brains of hill sheep.

Okay, it’s probably the juicy grass that bonds the deer and sheep to Lochranza, but who’s to say that they aren’t aware that, like us, they’re lucky creatures to be alive in a place like this?


An unhappy sheep- separated from the golf course.

Deer photos by Lance Ostler and Les Gibbon

Friday, 24 June 2011

Meeting the Neighbours: CalMac’s Five Ferries Ticket

Arran’s nearest neighbour is Kintyre- a long protective arm of land to the west- and it is mainland. At Lochranza we also look out over the Kilbrannan Sound to the Cowal peninsula, which is mainland too. On maps it looks like a fist of stubby fingers about to nip the Isle of Bute. However Bute is spared by the narrow channels of water around it that are named the Kyles of Bute.

Nigel and I have an ongoing debate about whether you can tell if you’re on the mainland or an island if you can’t see the sea. Cal Mac’s Five Ferries ticket was a means to explore this question as well as to get to know the neighbours.

The early ferry from Lochranza took us to Claonaig on Kintyre- an area marketed as “the mainland island” due to its atmosphere of remoteness and the fact that the sea is always in walking distance. But road signs show the mileage to Glasgow and remind you that you’re on the mainland and can travel in straight-ish lines instead of circles. Tarbert (where you catch the next ferry to Portavadie) has a lively atmosphere of comings, goings and passings through, with brightly painted houses round a busy harbour. West Loch Tarbert and East Loch Tarbert almost connect the Atlantic and Loch Fyne here, but a low rocky ridge remains firmly in place keeping Kintyre attached to mainland Scotland.

We stopped at Tigh-na-Bruaich on the pretty, wooded Cowal peninsula (marketing slogan: “Argyll’s Secret Coast”) and explored the Kyles of Bute in our kayaks. This is sailing country with boathouses of all shapes and sizes tucked in along a coastline of little rocky bays and islands.

The next ferry crossing from Colintraive involved a three storey vessel to Rhubodach on Bute. From mainland solitude we found ourselves in island bustle and urban traffic at Rothesay, which is like a little Glasgow afloat in the Clyde, with its stolid Victorian architecture making the moated medieval castle look small. The splendid Victorian toilets at the pier have won awards. However, Bute, like Kintyre and Arran, has contrasting east and west sides, and lonely beaches with views of Arran’s Sleeping Warrior mountain skyline weren’t far away.

Finally, the ticket took us to Wemyss Bay. We had enjoyed getting to know the neighbours and stopped in Largs for Italian icecreams at a ridiculously early hour, before heading homewards on the Ardrossan to Brodick crossing. As we drove up the coast to Lochranza we surveyed the now indistinguishable mix of long lochs, islands and mainland where we had just been. There was as little traffic on the Lochranza road as usual and certainly no traffic lights, no roundabouts, no white lines, no advertising hoardings- in fact nothing that reminded us of anywhere else.

I get excited about journeys on Calmac ferries and seeing different Scottish ports (sometimes just a slipway and a heated Portaloo!) but the distances we covered were not large and certainly do-able by sea kayak. Alternatively you can cycle or even walk the route using the ferries. Don’t hurry though- you’ll find a lot of unique places to explore along the way.

The photos show:

Tarbert

Kayaks in the Kyles of Bute

View of Arran from Bute

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Storm

Hard on the heels of my last blog about The Humming Tree, came the destructive face of nature in the shape of violent storm-force winds that bombarded West Scotland on May 23rd. The trees, in full, lush summer leaf, suffered. At Lochranza, for most of the day, the gales funnelled down the loch from the north-west and and down Gleann Easan from the south-west , sounding like approaching express trains, and colliding on the golf course, whirling and gusting. Occasional explosions were the crashing down of trees. The deer lay as flat as hearthrugs, chins to the ground. If I see them behaving like that again I’ll know it’s time to worry about what’s heading over the Atlantic.

The trees which bore the full brunt of this battering are now brown and even bare from the burning salt spray. However, I am assured by Rab Logan from the Forestry Commission that they will compensate for this trauma by going into frantic seed production to ensure their future survival. And the blackened bracken will actually allow for more diverse new growth on the hillsides.

After a year of extreme winter temperatures, followed by an April that saw us outdoor swimming, then an unseasonally wild and windy May, I wonder how future historians will regard our time now? Are these just wobbles in the weather or the harbingers of significant climate change?


Better weather arrived for our Texas Scramble, sponsored by Arran Distillery, on the Bank Holiday.


Monday, 16 May 2011

Mr Dickie

It’s not good for business when a camper arrives at your door with an antler lodged in his stomach and blood pouring out.

This is Mr. Dickie, who tours in a beautiful Morgan, having a practical joke. The stags are losing their antlers and he had some tomato sauce. For a moment, we had a big fright!

Camping

For me, longings to go camping are for its simplicity: you eat, you sleep, and you carry on your journey. It’s all about hours passing whilst one pot meals come to the boil on the Trangia. It’s about going to bed when it gets dark, with the smell of earth and grass in your nostrils and ears alert to all the minute scufflings of small creatures around the tent. It’s about being snug in a sleeping bag as wind and rain give the tent a battering.

My first tent was a Vango Force Ten which endured twenty years of British mountain weather and even then would have kept going but I decided it was time for a new one. Meanwhile my Trangia is now 35 and still as good as new. It is therefore astonishing to me to find new camping gear in our dustbins on a regular basis, thrownaway because it’s wet or slightly damaged. Nigel and I usually fish them out however and now have an interesting collection of cast-off tents.

I miss going camping now I run a camping site all the summer season. The first time I came to Lochranza Campsite I was a visitor, about fifteen years ago. I remember unzipping the flysheet one morning to find three antlered heads looking down at me, tempted by the porridge in the dog’s bowl. So, nothing’s changed with the deer. The children made up a song called Rudolph the Greedy Red Deer set to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

You never know, one of these days you may well find me shaking the creases and musty smell out of our Vango Equinox and pitching it down by the burn, taking great pride in the careful selection of a level pitch and making sure I peg the flysheet out so that it’s completely taut and smooth. With summer nights approaching…. what could be better?

The Humming Tree

The great big campsite sycamore has become The Humming Tree again this spring with busy wild bees murmuring all day long in its leaves. It’s lovely to watch the faces of wonderment as people pass under it, which makes these lines from The Tempest come into my head:

"Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again…




Photo by Sarah Godfrey

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Islands

I never get tired of examining the Cal Mac map of its Scottish Island Hopscotch routes. The names of the ferry ports rival the shipping forecast for poetry: Scalasaig, Castlebay, Eriskay, Stornaway, Berneray, Fishnish………

Britain is an island of course, but it doesn’t normally feel like it. Climb one of the mountains of Arran and you can see its edges all around you.

First-time visitors to the Isle of Arran appear to be driven by two compulsions. The first is to go round it (by one means or another) and the second is to climb to the highest bit (Goat Fell). This gives a reassuring sense of boundaries. I know because I did it too. These days, living on a small island, my mountain climbing is measured, not by Naismith’s Rule, but by the ferry to-ing and fro-ing down below: “Oh look, there’s the ferry coming,” I say, and a bit later “ There goes the ferry,” and a bit later “Oh no, not the ferry,” (aware of the embarrassing truth that I’m walking very slowly).

The main fact of life about islands is that you can get stuck on them.

Nigel and I got stuck on an uninhabited Scottish island once, on a sea-kayaking trip. Never assume that just because you’ve planned something it can’t go wrong- especially where the sea’s concerned. We had failed to understand that a force 5 or 6 forecast constitutes good weather in Northern Scotland. In the end we faced a choice between crossing choppy seas and being attacked repeatedly by great skuas, which flew at our heads with military precision. We decided that the sea was marginally less vicious, and fortunately lived to tell the tale.

So- living on an island is all about living with the knowledge that there are times when you can’t get off. And there are not only no 24 hour supermarkets on Arran but no food deliveries at all when the ferries don’t sail. The Sunday papers get to the village shop at Pirnmill about 12.30; which actually is a very good excuse for a long lie-in.

From Arran you can see lots of islands, small and big: Pladda, Ailsa Craig, the Cumbrae, Inchmarnock, Islay, Jura, Bute ... even Mull, all waiting in the sea suggesting all sorts of tempting possibilities. And that’s another thing…. in island life your most useful possession is a boat.

Scottish island in April. The water’s lovely!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Golf from the Grass Roots

Over the past year Nigel and I have undergone an amazing (or so it seems to us) change. Instead of being somewhat daunted by the responsibility of running a golf course, we find we love it.

Lochranza Golf Course has its assets that are also its challenges. It’s dominated by huge shoulders of mountain in three directions, and in the fourth opens out to the castle and the sea. Sometimes the sea floods in at the lower end of the course, leaving tide lines of debris. The golf course grass is irresistible to red deer who make mud baths, not to mention droppings that have to be swept up. Until May, the lease is shared with hill sheep and as I write this, little black-faced lambs are appearing everywhere.

What then has brought about the change in us? Of course when you find yourself in the deep end it takes a while to start swimming, but I think it’s got more to do with that, by working with it, we are getting to know every corner of the course intimately, as well as the trees and plants, birds, animals and insects it supports. It’s satisfying and rewarding work; you can see progress when you’ve cleared a ditch or shaped a fairway to make it pleasing to the eye and an enhancement to a good game of golf. Now when I look at golf courses I see the skill of green keepers.

So, although we’ve been here a year, working on a golf course is still a bit amazing to Nigel and me. It wasn’t part of our career and lifestyle change wish lists, but all I can say now, with the benefit of a little experience is, if you love the outdoors and the land, I’d strongly recommend it.

Replacing a dated and crumbling bunker with a more natural looking turfed hollow.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Och, it’s nothin’

This is my favourite saying in Scotland. I have now heard it said many times. Just when it’s raining so hard you think it can’t get any harder- but it does- if you complain about the weather to a Scot you’ll be told: “Och, this is nothin’ ”. It’s a big tribute to Scottish resilience. This week I remarked on the number of trees that blew down in the gales of early February. Apparently, this was nothin’ compared to most winters. Question is: is it a comforting statement or not?

After the dazzle and glitter of snowy December, we have experienced a succession of Atlantic depressions in February. The air is filled with the sound of water rushing down steep hillsides. Otherwise, the only noise you hear is an occasional car shifting gear up the Boguillie Road. The north of Arran exploded into being as a volcano way back in geological time, reacting to the fateful collision of Scotland and England on their slow paths from opposite ends of the world. The steep hillsides are a reminder of the island’s dramatic beginnings.

At the campsite, we’ve been painting everything that doesn’t move ready for March 1st opening. We’ve had lots of bird visitors in the meantime. Today’s callers have been a buzzard, a treecreeper, a dipper, a wood pecker, a heron and a curlew (helpfully aerating the grass).

Rino and Val are busy moving into the Stags Pavilion cafĂ© next door. We are looking forward to seeing what’s on the menu in 2011.



Signs of spring: the burn behind the campsite











Last day of February: here comes the sun!