Maybe you’ve already heard of it. Arran. Scotland in Miniature. An island so perfect, it has everything we love about Scotland all in one neat package. So easy to get to, so tempting to locals and visitors alike, it’s the kind of place that you leave craving more. Wishing you were starting over or returning as soon as possible.
For such a wee place, there are endless things to do. Rabbie’s own Bron has explored the Isle of Arran and is very vocal about how much she loves it. But what should you do and where should you go? We’ve been taking a closer look at the best islands to visit across Scotland over the last few months, and we knew we simply had to include the Isle of Arran in that list.
So, sit back and relax as we do the hard work for you and note down some of our top things to do and see while on the Isle of Arran.
Gardens. Woodlands. Waterfalls. A Castle. It sounds like we're describing a children’s fantasy book, doesn’t it? Brodick Castle isn’t far off. In fact, not only does it have a literal playground for kids, but the entire country park is also a playground for anyone who loves exotic flora, stunning views, and an aristocratic castle.
The moment you step inside Brodick Castle, you get a sense that the people who once lived here were a little bit eccentric. The dark wooden walls are covered with mounted stag heads. Artistically displayed weapons – perhaps the ones that were even used to take down these mighty animals. Framed paintings so decadent you figure one is probably worth more than your car.
Brodick is more than a castle. It’s a cave filled with treasures. Each piece of furniture worn and dented, hinting at the stories that once took place. Strike up a conversation with the employees throughout the castle, they have stories to share.
And when you’re done, try and count how many wild and exotic plants you can find in the gardens. Rhododendron bushes so large you can hide behind them. Perhaps make a game of it. Or see who can spot the most fairy homes along the Fairies and Legends Trail.
We’d love to know where Goatfell got its name. What first comes to mind is a goat... falling. Rolling down a hill, blaring unhappily at the indignity of it all. And honestly, we’d be happy to leave it there. But the legends say something different. And there is some speculation (and logic, which we hate) that “Goatfell” – like many names – comes from a mix of languages. Perhaps fell is from the common Norse or Viking word for mountain. And perhaps goat comes from the Gaelic gaoth, meaning windy.
Still, we like our theory.
As you approach Arran on the ferry, you’ll spot it like a lighthouse drawing you in safely. That dramatic peak just calling to be explored. Perhaps you’ll find your feet take you there? 874 metres pushing high, stealing attention away from the horizon. While it may not be big enough to be classified as a Munro, don’t be fooled. You’ll work for that incredible view, so take your time. Enjoy the hike. And as you ponder the possible legends of Goatfell, be on the lookout for buzzards and golden eagles soaring overhead.
Let’s be honest, if you say the words “giants’ graves” to people, most will need no further convincing. Add in a waterfall along the way and you’ve got yourself one memorable afternoon walk. The route begins in the ghostly seaside of Whiting Bay. Heading along the forest walk, it’s an easy walk to Glenashdale Falls. The viewing platform will give you vertigo, that’s for sure, and make sure you wander a bit because you might find yourself at the top of the waterfall before long.
Now, we know that sometimes a steep climb is to be avoided at all costs. But we assure you this one isn’t that bad and the view alone is worth it. Follow the signs to the Giants’ Graves site, where local legend claims the long-dead giants who once inhabited this area used to bury the bodies of their victims here. Sheesh. Glad they’re gone!
In fact, the incredible stone slabs are a Neolithic burial chamber, some more than 5700 years old. These chambered cairns are two of more than twenty that are scattered across Arran, but we have to say these ones have a pretty great view.
You can admit it. Those of you who came to Scotland specifically to find a set of standing stones and place your hands on them. Hoping for a little time travel, are we? We don’t blame you. We’re Outlander fans ourselves.
There are so many incredible standing stones to choose from, scattered all across Scotland. Sometimes we’re not sure which are our favourites. But we have to say that Machrie Moor is up there. There’s something about the way they sit in their field, hazy in the late-afternoon sun, so isolated, seemingly forgotten by the world. That air of magic thick like fog settling in your mind. You begin to daydream about the when and the why and the who. Trying to imagine what they were once used for. The types of people who once stood where you’re standing, only long ago. You find yourself longing for a bit of that moody Scottish weather, if only to enhance that feeling of mysticism.
What’s great is that it’s an easy 20-minute walk from the car park to reach the stones. There are a few smaller ones along the way, don’t be fooled by them. You’ll know Machrie Moor when you see it.
Not far outside of a cute beachside town known as Blackwaterfoot (where you’ll find a must-visit bakery of the same name), you’ll pull into the King’s Cave walk. But which of the two paths to choose? It’s up to you, both are stunning. Both will descend you into a peaceful beach, disturbed only by the crashing of waves and the call of birds.
Giant pebbles underfoot, rocky paths of moss, flowers sprouting out of boulders. All of this bringing you to the entrance of the mysterious King’s Cave. An enormous steel gate akin to a crown guards the entrance, but you’re more than welcome to head inside. The temperature drops a few degrees and light seeps away as you look around for the early Christian carvings found inside.
Arran is tiny. Teeny tiny. So you’ll definitely pass through the town of Brodick. If you get the big ferry across from the mainland, this is also where you’ll arrive and depart from. But make sure you actually spend some time wandering the shops.
Chocolate, cheese, leather, aromatics. We’ve convinced you, haven’t we? Grab yourself some fig and ylang-ylang body lotion from Arran Aromatics. Sample as much cheese as you damn-well please at the Arran Cheese Shop. Breathe in that powerful smell of leather as you watch pieces being made at MacKenzie Makers of Classic Leather Bags. Get a box to go at the Arran Chocolate Factory. Basically, make sure you treat yourself. You’re on holiday, after all.
What we love about the Isle of Arran is it can be whatever you want it to be. We don’t call it Scotland in Miniature for nothing. You could spend days here exploring every inch. Climbing Goatfell. Hunting for fairies and standing stones. Or you could visit in a day – like on our 1-day A Day on the Island: Arran tour from Glasgow – to explore castles and quaint beaches. The adventure you choose is completely up to you.