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"World tour of Scotland" at www.nigelandkathyinscotland.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 27 September 2017



The Longest Season

 













One of Billy Connolly’s ‘weel-kent’ comments is that Scotland has two seasons: June and winter.

My version is that, here in Lochranza at any rate, autumn, like winter, takes up more than its allotted portion of the year. It is also the loveliest of the seasons in my opinion. When our late spring arrives the speed of the greening up of the trees - alder, rowan, hawthorn, willow, hazel, birch and ash (always the last for its leaves to open)- is remarkable. Autumn, on the other hand, is like a slow sunset in which the glowing colours of the land gradually brighten and deepen. Whilst summery weather can be elusive and winter slow to leave, autumn is the grand finale of the year. 

By the end of July, the bracken on the lower hillsides, which shoots up higher than our heads during June, begins to turn golden and chestnut at the edges. It slowly collapses, curls and crumples into itself, making walking off the path easier again. Shining scarlet clusters of berries dangle from the rowan trees after which Lochranza is named. As the sunset retreats southwards towards Catacol, dusk closes in surprisingly fast and the click and clash of antlers echoes round the glen. The necks of the red deer stags have thickened with bearing the weight of their coronets of deadly sharp points. They strut around regally, gathering admiring audiences. Meanwhile the golden eagles fly high, unobserved but no doubt observing everything. 

In November, the sun leaves Lochranza until February, its low daily journey taking it behind Lochranza’s high hills. Most people in the village know the exact dates when the sun will leave and return to their homes. Throughout the winter it can appear briefly in the bealachs (cols) between hills, and on bright days you can watch the shifting boundary of light and shade on the higher hillsides. It’s essential to dress up warm if you’re working outside in midwinter in the chilly damp and shade of the deep valley.

In March light evenings lengthen rapidly. Freak weather can take us by surprise: we have known blizzards, floods and heatwaves in early spring. By April delicate pale yellow primroses are scattered on the cliffs of the old raised beaches, turning their faces to the sky, but it is usually well into May before spring proper arrives accompanied by a symphony of birdsong. This year I tried to record the spring wildflowers that I noticed on my daily walk in Glen Chalmadale and was surprised how they changed week by week, with wood anemones and violets quickly superseded by bluebells and yellow flag iris, in turn bowing out to pinky-purple foxgloves, the exotic rhododendron ponticum and frothy creamy may blossom. It can seem that the change from winter to summer takes little more than a month. 

In midsummer the sun in the late evening suffuses the head of the glen with rosy gold light and defines the cracks on the craggy face of Torr Nead an Eoin. Turn right round and you can watch the sun descend slowly and finally disappear behind the silhouette of the Kintyre hills. For weeks the nights never get darker than a soft grey twilight.

Now, in late September, the red squirrels are busy as bees darting between trees and rustling amongst leaves as they amass their winter hoards. Starry nights have returned and when it’s a clear sky I make sure I go outside before bed to watch the slow silent circling of Cassiopiea, the Plough and the Northern Cross. One night white billowing clouds illuminated by a nearly full moon galloped across the sky on the back of a south-west wind. Yet it appeared that the stars were rushing like a twinkling river in the opposite direction and it was clouds that were stationary. On such nights, the mountains cradle the quiet of night like a church, the only sound the hushed music of water splashing its way to the sea.
 





Monday, 28 August 2017

Rivers, Seashores, Lochs and Rain



Rivers, Seashores, Lochs and Rain

 















Rain has never been far away from Arran this summer. We have had clear, warm sunshine too – it just hasn’t stayed around for long.

Here at the head of the glen in Lochranza, if you pause in your daily activity you will nearly always hear the sound of water, sometimes a gentle splash and murmur when the burn is running low and sometimes, after rain, a resonating roar as it crashes down the waterfalls in Gleann Easan Biorach and hurtles headlong past the campsite before rushing into the saltwater of the Duarchan (the head of Loch Ranza). If I were asked to define the experience of living in Lochranza it would be the sound of water.

Arran rain, fresh from the Atlantic, fills the peat bogs on top of Lochranza’s hills and sometimes they become laden to the brim and water spills over the edge of the hillsides forming new waterfalls. Water changes the landscape here before our eyes.

My favourite thing about summer on Arran is having weather warm enough to make the most of this plentiful water supply. I measure the amount of sunshine we get each summer by the number of swims I have, whether in the sea, a burn or a lochan. I confess I am a fair weather swimmer. Technically, I wouldn’t call what I do swimming: I dip, I wallow, I splash, I float- nothing purposeful. I slither into the water very, very slowly, then once I’m in I never want to get out, enjoying the tingling of cold water on my skin. North Arran’s glacial scenery of U-shaped glens has long necklaces of sun-warmed pools, where you can splash in solitude, listening to the breeze rustling the grass and the tweet of meadow pipits, and relishing the fresh tangy smell of peat. Tiny yellow tormentil flowers are like little splashes of sunshine dotting the grass.















Arran does not have lazy deep rivers –water tumbles down its steep mountain slopes from summit to sea in no time. This type of burn is called uisge in Arran Gaelic. The island does have a handful of small lochs all reached by walks up into the hills. Loch Garbad is silent, surrounded by coniferous forest, Urie Loch and Loch Tanna are high up on the moors, lonely and lovely. Coire Fhionn Lochan, cupped in the western mountain range, is icy cold with little golden gravel beaches. The water of each loch tipples out into waterfalls: Loch Tanna flows into wild Glen Catacol and Loch Garbad into the woods of mossy, magical Eas Mor.

Arran’s rocky coastlines are distinctive- a tumult of varied rocks bear witness to long ago volcanoes and a journey across the planet from the Southern hemisphere. Each individual rock has its own geological story to tell. Sandy stretches of beach reveal themselves at low tide, smooth and shining. I follow the sun for my sea swimming:  An east-facing beach for morning and a west coast beach for basking in the golden glow of evening. Now at the end of August, the sea temperature is about as warm as it’s going to get this year and I’m crossing my fingers for some warm late summer sunshine and a last chance for outdoor dips before Autumn chills the water.


 




Saturday, 5 August 2017



Lochranza Loos

Lochranza toilets re-open! 

Nestling under wooded cliffs as you head west out of the village, Lochranza public toilets overlook the beautiful Kilbrannan Sound. If you’re a reader of the Arran Banner weekly newspaper you will be aware that the closure of the island’s public toilets earlier this year was highly controversial and local people and visitors alike protested vociferously and persistently. North Ayrshire Council, like many other councils, had had to make tough decisions about where its financial priorities lay.

All this summer the small village communities on the island have attempted to resolve the issue and make provision for the basic needs of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the island. No one wanted anyone to stay away for fear that there would not be a toilet should they need one.

In Lochranza, Tony Baboolal, a retired doctor got together a small band of volunteers to get the village toilets open again. As usual, the practicalities were straightforward, but sorting out the legalities has slowed things down. Recognising that the toilets are needed now, Tony and the Lochranza Loos group have decided to get the toilets open and not delay matters further by waiting to refurbish them. This will come later. For now, they are small and basic but serviceable.

Donations will be much appreciated to help with the running costs.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

It's not all Par and Handicaps


It’s not all Par and Handicaps

What can you do together on your family holiday that everyone can enjoy from the youngest to oldest and whether it’s sunny or raining? The answer is a short distance from your camping pitch: golf! Only preconceptions that golf is difficult, expensive and you need a lot of specialist gear will stand in your way because golf has reinvented itself from what it was twenty years ago. Courses have become havens for wildlife and clubs have made learning to play affordable. Everyone who has played golf knows: it’s a great experience and it’s addictive!

Some of today’s best Arran golfers honed their drives on Lochranza’s wide green fairways. Lochranza Golf has golfing options: two putting greens, a nine hole pitch and putt course and a nine hole golf course. We have plenty of clubs for hire and we do not require bookings.

Playing golf is a journey: at Lochranza the course flows down the flat floor of the glen where the burn, Chalmadale Waters, meanders across it. It lies in the heart of the glen and as you play there is every likelihood that you will see red deer stags and soaring golden eagles. Eventually you reach the head of the loch and see the sea and the castle. As you play, decisions have to be made –safe or ambitious- and challenges attempted.

There are lots of variations you can add to the game to encourage children to play such as working in pairs with one ball and taking alternative shots. Some children are spurred on by competition whilst some are stressed by it and prefer working as a team.

Our multi-day holiday passes are great value! For example a three-day pass gives you unlimited play for three whole days and costs £30 per adult and £15 per junior.

There are six other golf courses on the island (one a day for a week’s holiday) and all welcome visitors. Each one has its own character, challenges and beautiful location. You can find out more about them at www.golfonarran.com


Norway in Miniature



Arran is well-known as Scotland in Miniature (because the North has Highlands scenery and the South has Lowlands scenery) but perhaps it is Norway in Miniature too. I opened my June copy of The Great Outdoors magazine from Arran Active in Brodick and saw Cioch na Hoighe as it appears from Sannox. Except it wasn't. It was a peak in Norway.

The top two pictures are in Norway.
The bottom one is Cioch na h-Oighe in Glen Sannox.

No wonder Vikings ruled here till the 13th century,
and Sannox is a Viking name, though Cioch na h-Oighe- the maiden's breast - is from the Gaelic.






Sunday, 18 June 2017

Powering to Portavadie

Click this link for a lovely account of a holiday getting out and about on Arran at the end of May, including a trip up Loch Fyne. It's written by Emily Mawson who is a travel journalist based in Zurich-







Wednesday, 14 June 2017


We’ve got a Gold Award from Green Tourism

We’re thrilled to bits to have received a Gold Award from Green Tourism.

This is what the Assessor said: “Lochranza Campsite does well securing the GOLD award at first grading attempt. Kathryn and Nigel have clearly put in a lot of effort to reduce some of the bigger potential impacts of the site, engage with other island organisations/ charities, and also give a really green experience to guests. Local information is outstanding. Much time has obviously been spent creating information on walks, local food and drink and wildlife- encouraging guests to hopefully spend more time on the island (and use low carbon transport). A more efficient boiler and building is in place, combined with low energy lighting and also low flow showers, taps and toilets, helping to reduce significant potential wastage”.

Businesses are assessed for the award using criteria relating to nine sections: management, marketing and communication, social responsibility and equality, energy saving, water issues, purchasing, waste minimisation, travel and transport and nature and culture.

We don’t see the award as an end but the beginning of a green journey- we want to ensure that the impacts we have on the lovely place we live in are purely positive ones. We know there’s a lot more we can achieve and our Gold Award has encouraged us to try even harder.

Friday, 5 May 2017


The Birds of Lochranza Campsite





A hooded crow, a common bird with uncommon ability

Spring truly arrives here at the end of April in an explosion of yellow whin blossom (whin is also known as gorse). Did you ever play the children’s game in which someone holds a buttercup under your chin to see if you like butter? The bright yellow of the flower reflects on your skin and you are told you like butter. The whin blossom reminds me of this because the butter-coloured bushes illuminate the hills above them at this time of year. Birdsong is a soundtrack that doesn’t cease in the hours of daylight; the cuckoo calls hopefully to prospective mates, and the lambs have become confident enough to leave their mothers and join up as gangs that chase wildly round the bunkers.

In Lochranza we keep having a quick look upwards throughout the day to see the golden eagles soaring serenely above the glen. However, the birds we get to know best are the ones who make a choice to share life on the campsite. Every year we watch for the swallows’ return to their old nests in our sheds (they’ve just arrived as I write this) as well as the starling that nests in a hole in the big tree stump, sticking out its scruffy black head now and then like a wee chimney sweep. Our most familiar bird is the hooded crow who probably knows much more about us than we know about her or him. She/ he is a large and impressive-looking member of the crow family with a glossy black head and an intelligent expression, a black bib, elegant steel grey plumage and dark grey wings, tail and legs. She is in the habit of sitting on our balcony looking at us through the window. If I put meat scraps out for her she croaks three times (always three!) and then four other members of the family appear and all get a bit of food; this might not be language but it’s certainly a communication system. She strides jerkily and flies a bit like an aircraft carrier, low and slow, but mainly she spends her time keeping campsite life under surveillance. In fact, as tough, clever and adaptable birds, ‘hoodies’ are renowned for their problem-solving abilities. According to the 2016 Arran Bird Report the crow family is ‘considered to be the most intelligent of the birds’ with a ‘brain-to-body mass ratio equal to that of great apes’.

The Bird Report explains how hooded crows and carrion crows are closely related. In the last Ice Age they developed plumage differences during their occupation of two ice free areas: one in the Balkans and one in the Iberian Peninsula. Today, their European distribution reveals hoodies in the east and the all black carrion crow in the west EXCEPT in a narrow zone of overlap which includes Arran and where interbreeding takes place which can produce fertile hybrids – look out for these birds with their variable amounts of black and grey plumage.

There are a lot of jackdaws to be seen around the campsite too. They are sometimes confused with hoodies because of their dark heads. However, jackdaws are smaller than hoodies and usually operate in large groups, sometimes landing on sheep and deer to peck off parasites, a service the animals seem to appreciate. For recognising the differences between similar birds take a look at: www.bto.org/about-birds/bird-id

The Arran Bird Report is full of interesting records and information and this year’s copy (Arran Bird Report 2016) is now available in shops round the island.








Saturday, 15 April 2017


Here is another contribution from my friend Lynne Emmerson. She was inspired to write it by a stormy night in a caravan at Lochranza Campsite one September. It seemed appropriate to post it given the windy days we’ve been having lately. The wind can create some beautiful sights round here whilst making terrifying sounds: at the time Lynne stayed the powerful gusts were flattening the sea in the Kilbrannan Sound and as the air skimmed the surface of the water the droplets caught the sunshine becoming a shower of rainbows moving northward.

Arran Dark Moon












Photo: Kev Fearon

A dark moon rises and the ancient gods awaken;

Zephyrs howl warning ...

Whilst the bubbling burn turns angry in its bed.



Black Crow sits watchful in the arms of Mother Rowan;

While owl feathers falter ...

And the golden eagle screams, and hides its head.



Bramble thickets writhe and reach to catch the reckless;

Travellers hurry homewards ...

When the Banshee’s screech announces summers death.    



Pale fire flickers along the curve of Earth’s horizon;

Thunder beats its drum ...

As wild white horses ride the Fury’s breath.



White gulls wheel over sea swells surging inland;

Sullen shadows swarm ...

‘Cross hollow hillsides brooding by the sea.

                                                                       

Timid creatures shiver in the bracken in the valleys;

Time shifts its focus ...

As the island’s slumbering giants stride free.



Crooked branches bow to the hoof beats of the Night Mare;

Lonely stars shimmer ...

When storm clouds race across the ink-dark sky.

                                                                       

Old folk lie silent whilst sleeping children whimper;

The Wild Hunt rides forth ...

And Black Crow laughs, and mocks us as they fly.



Cold rocks remember the blood of ancient battles;

Bones lie uneasy ...

As the shades of long dead warriors rise once more.

                                                                       

Night’s conflict rages as darkness claims the season;

Summer’s light retreats ...

And island life is shaken to the core.