If you’ve ever been to Arran you will already know that there is plenty to see and do on a glorious island that is understandably dubbed ‘Scotland in Miniature’. What you may not have realised if you have just swished through the northern charmer of Lochranza is that there is plenty to keep you occupied in what for me is the most spectacular village on the island. And this being Arran that is saying something!
I have been lucky enough to have been visiting Arran, Scotland’s seventh largest island, since I was a wee boy. As a travel writer I head back every year to update my material on all the new things buzzing along on this vibrant island. I’ve watched as Lochranza has woken from a long slumber to become a great wee village to spend time in.
A great base in Lochranza is the youth hostel. With accommodation ranging from private en-suite rooms to shared accommodation, it enjoys an unbeatable location right by the water’s edge with hulking mountains looming all around and a bus stop handily nearby. I love that they are both family friendly and dog friendly too. And at how many hostels in the world can you gaze out of the window and see Scotland’s wildlife Big Five - red deer, red squirrels, seals, otters and golden eagles?
Lochranza Youth Hostel
Join me now as I reveal all the great things you can see and do in a 48 hour break in Lochranza…
11:00 - Head for the landmark 13th-century castle that sits at the heart of Lochranza. This classic rugged tower house stood sentinel for centuries on this breathtaking spot. It reclines on a little pebbly isthmus surrounded by water on three sides, which gazes up at a volley of mountains. It’s all very Outlander and you will want to just take it in.
Lochranza Castle on a Sunny Day
Midday – The lifeblood Isle of Arran Distillery, opened in 1995, has just revamped its café. I recommend either the local venison burger – you will see plenty of deer during your stay in Lochranza – or the sharing platter, which overflows with the superb local produce Arran is renowned for, such as Arran Butcher meats, Arran ‘oaties’ oatcakes, Arran Fine Foods chutney and various types of delicious cheese.
A selection of Arran produce
13:30 – The Isle of Arran Distillery in Lochranza is a brilliant distillery to tour as - being a modern purpose built distillery - most of the magic happens in one room so you can really get a handle on how it all works. If you are more into sampling than learning about whisky production I recommend a tutored tasting. I did one when I visited this summer and it was brilliant. The tutor really knew his stuff and shed a lot of light on each of the different single malt expressions. Handily you get £5 off a bottle in their shop with your ticket. The distillery-only editions are generally the best investment.
Robin enjoying a tasting at the Arran Distillery
15:00 – If you want to pick up some local artwork head for Castlekirk Arthouse. Whether you buy anything or not you won’t forget this unique gallery housed in a dramatic old church building, or the friendly make yourself at home ambience of this relaxed art stop.
19:00 – Lochranza Youth Hostel has an ace self-catering kitchen so if you’ve been wise you will already have done your shopping in Brodick before arrival and at the Arran Cheese Shop. Arran boasts a multitude of fine cheese, but the multi award winning Arran Blue is the shining star for me knocking the spots off anything France has to offer. Then there is the superb produce of the Arran Butcher and yes the glorious produce of Arran Brewery
09:00 – If you are reasonably fit and well-equipped take the bus down to Sannox to hook up with the 65-mile Arran Coastal Way, which was recognised as one of ‘Scotland’s Great Trails’ in June 2017. The wild section around the Cock of Arran from Sannox back to Lochranza is for me one of the most enjoyable.
Midday – Reward yourself with lunch at the end of the walk at the wee Sandwich Station by the ferry terminal. My favourite are their hot smoked salmon sandwiches, made by Skipness Smokehouse just across the water, who recently just relocated from Arran. They know their way around a coffee bean too.
14:00 – If you have any energy left then enjoy a round of golf on Lochranza’s super cute wee golf course. It’s only a nine-holer, but it has an impressive heritage dating back as far as 1898. There is no stuffy members-only policy here – you just turn up, pay and play. Hazards alongside the usual rough and tricky bunkers include stubborn stags parking themselves on greens.
Deer on Arran
17:00 – Late afternoon is when the local deer tend to be most active. I’ll never forget once venturing out after a pint in a Lochranza hostelry and my friend from London fell right over a stag. I’m not sure which of them was the most surprised! Lochranza is the best place on Arran to see red deer – the largest land mammal in the UK – so have your phone camera or zoom lens at the ready, and yes, watch your step…
19:00 – Treat yourself with the cash you’ve saved staying at the youth hostel with dinner at the best restaurant in town, the Stag’s Pavilion. Run by Italian chef Rino and Scottish wife Valerie this ace little bolthole is the stuff of island legend. Rino works wonders in the tiny kitchen here and you won’t leave hungry. Arran lamb is exceptional and they know how to cook it. Book ahead. Their homebaking is spot on too.
The chances are you will be leaving Arran on the main ferry from Brodick to Ardrossan. Stick with me here, but before you do that I recommend you take the wee ferry that nips from Lochranza across the Kilbrannan Sound to Claonaig on Kintyre. And then jump back on again! The journey back is epic as you get to fully appreciate Lochranza’s unique Highland setting as the castle looms up in welcome. On both legs scan the surface for our marine mammal cousins as these waters are rich with porpoises, dolphins and even whales. I once also spent a whole afternoon mesmerised by a basking shark cruising around in circles feeding in Lochranza Bay.
Lochranza Youth Hostel is opening until mid October and is available as part of our Exclusively Yours...RentaHostel service over the winter months. Find out more about this island getaway youth hostel here: syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/islands/lochranza
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.