If you’re a keen foodie you will no doubt know that this year has been designated the Year of Food and Drink Scotland 2015. To celebrate this foodie fiesta I grabbed my bike and headed ‘doon the watter’ to the Isle of Arran. You can cycle around this compact island in a day, but I recommend you take (much) longer. Over the years I’ve watch Arran really develop into a proper food and drink destination. I used the handy SYHA youth hostel at Lochranza as my base. Join me now as I introduce you to the Top 10 Arran Foodie Treats You Must Try.
Robin with an Arran picnic
1. Arran Provisions – Not just one product, but an old timer on the outskirts of Lamlash that conjures up a range of tasty goodies, such as their famous Arran Mustard, and an array of chutneys that go well with the local cheese. You can pick up some serious discounts at their factory shop.
2. Creelers Fish – This operation is brilliantly run by the inspirational Tim and Fran James. They have their own fishing boat and dish up a rich bounty of treats, from Lamlash Bay lobster, through to the fish they smoke in their own smokehouse. Their hot smoked salmon is a thing of rare beauty! This looks like their last year for the restaurant part of the business here so go soon…
3. Arran Cheese – Not as simple as it sounds. There are three cheese ‘producers’. The original creamery at Torrylinn has, for as long as I’ve been visiting Arran (I’ve been going since I was a boy), been producing a rich, creamy cheddar style Dunlop. You can pick up an Arran shaped tourist version in many island shops, but I prefer just nabbing a chunk down at the creamery itself. Next up is the Arran Cheese Shop. They are behind the distinctive waxed round cheeses you find at farm shops around Scotland. Their cheese is flavoured and waxed on the island, though you might be surprised to find the actual cheddar used is from Lockerbie on the mainland. The same people are also behind the superb Bellevue Creamery. They produce superb brie and camembert and mind-blowing Arran Blue, a blue that I reckon stacks up against anything France can offer. Seriously!
Flavouring and waxing cheese
4. Arran Oaties – You will be needing Wooleys of Arran’s ‘oaties’ to plump chunks of your cheese on. These cute roughly textured wee oatcakes are perfect with cheese, though bowing to supermarket demands they also now produce more standard large oatcakes too. Both are delicious.
5. Arran Lamb – Pirnmill lamb is rightly lauded, but the island produces excellent beef and venison too. There is no longer an abattoir on the island, so the animals have to take the ferry off and back before you can pick up superbly butchered products in the award winning Arran Butcher in Blackwaterfoot. Look out for their products in the island’s sprinkling of wee supermarkets too.
6. Robin’s Herbs - Robin Gray is a slightly left of centre visionary who has long been conjuring up superb fruit, vegetables and herbs in his wee oasis between Lamlash and Whiting Bay. I really rate his produce and I’m in good company – Andrew Fairlie (head chef at Scotland’s only two star Michelin restaurant) is also said to be a big fan. A good place to pick up his produce is at the newly revamped Bay Stores deli in Whiting Bay.
7. Arran Ice Cream – Made using rich, creamy milk from Arran’s cows – and sometimes infused with fruit from Robin’s Herbs – their award winning range of ice creams are ideal after a long cycle on a hot day. Even better with a little lacing of Arran Gold, but more on that later…
8. James of Arran Chocolates – Arran is the foodie island that just keeps on giving. You don’t get many chocolatiers on the Scottish isles, but this great wee operation is superb. I challenge you to go in, try a wee sample and then walk out without buying anything. Impossible! Get some of this good stuff in your saddlebag.
9. Arran Brewery – On to the harder stuff now. Arran ales are made using the island’s lovely soft water and I’m a huge devotee. Until my most recent visit my favourite was the light, hoppy Arran Blonde, much like a German weissbier. This time, though, it was trumped by their Arran Sunset, a tastebud tingling treat that manages to be light, refreshing and full of real ale flavour all at the same time. Delicious!
10. Isle of Arran Distillery – I foolishly opened my bottle of ‘Arran First’, a malt that celebrated the opening of the distillery back in 1995. It is now worth a small fortune given the world renown of this distillery today! Their 10 year old is spot on, with plenty more complex expressions available too. They stock distillery-only editions in their shop too and it is only a short stroll from Lochranza Youth Hostel so you won’t have to heft it far either! Make sure to take one of their excellent tours and try their Arran Gold, a whisky liqueur that for me blows any of the mass-produced Irish cream wannabees out of the water. A wee Arran dram is the perfect accompaniment to one of those legendary Arran sunsets after a long day cycling around the island. It will also no doubt help you make friends in the island’s hostels. Slainte!
Biography for Robin McKelvie
Robin McKelvie (www.robinmckelvie.com) is a Scottish travel writer, broadcaster and blogger who has been covering his native land since the 1990s. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Robin is the author of a number of guidebooks, including National Geographic’s Scotland guide. He regularly contributes to a variety of newspapers and magazines across five continents, such as the Times and the Scotsman, as well as doing travel slots for BBC radio. Robin can be found on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robinmckelvie.