Arran’s glens are echoing with the eerie bellows of stags rutting. Here and there, rowan berries dangle from dewy branches like glistening rubies; waterfalls are generously filled and rivulets spurt from mountainsides that are golden with dying bracken: autumn has arrived. With the nights rapidly pulling in, here are five ways to max out the darker autumn days. Just be aware that many locals leave the island during October half term, so check business opening hours before you travel.
Go "scenery snacking"
Arran has majestic, impenetrable-looking peaks that are sometimes dubbed “the Highlands in miniature”. You gaze up at them and think, I’d like to conquer that ridgeline. But the island is also networked by spectacular short walks – the kind that offer minimum exertion and maximum enjoyment; walks that leave you enough time to hunker down in a café while still feeling like you’ve been up in the mountains. The sort that I call "scenery snacking". There’s North Glen Sannox, a one-hour up-and-down circuit on a well-made path that clings to the wild burn as it tumbles down waterfalls and fairytale pools. Once you reach the top, the wind howls and you come face-to-face with the Sleeping Warrior skyline. When it’s sunny and dry, you can rock-bathe on the gently sloping boulders near the top of the burn. Also at the north end of the island, neighbouring Glen Sannox has a delightful 30-minute route that climbs into an Alpine-like valley, where mythical mountains with names like Devil’s Punchbowl shoot up as if from the sea. Ahead is Cir Mhor, the ’Matterhorn of Arran’, and when the mist hangs just so around the summits, you’d think you were walking between active volcanoes (the North Arran mountains actually are ancient volcanic rock formations). If time allows, you can keep going all the way to the top of the valley and climb to the saddle. To the south-east of the island, a favourite route leads from Whiting Bay to Kings Cross Point: it follows the villa-lined seafront to a clifftop path, meandering along boardwalk and a former golf course before spilling out at a boat-shaped Viking burial mound. From the beach you get a beautiful panorama of North Arran’s mountains with the village of Lamlash arranged beneath.
For more walk ideas, visit Walk Highlands, a multi-award-winning site for walking in Scotland.
Make the most of the CalMac summer timetable
At the end of October, the island’s ferry service Caledonian MacBrayne considerably reduces its sailings. For the north end of Arran, this means one ferry per day to the mainland, Claonaig on the Kinytre Peninsula. Sneak in the 30-minute ride on the MV Catriona before that happens, then walk the two miles to Skipness, where you’ll find the made-for-hide-and-seek ruins of 13th-century Skipness Castle and beside it, the rather sensational Skipness Smokehouse, which smokes sustainably sourced salmon from Loch Fyne. Round it all off with lunch at Skipness Seafood Cabin, where a wooden hut in the grounds of a wizened manor house (it reminds me of the Mortmain’s castle in Dodie Smith’s ‘I Capture the Castle’) serves fare such as king scallops salad or poached salmon rolls. A gorgeous woodland path leads from the cabin's car park into the richly layered woodland of Scotland's "rainforest", which is characterised by a huge array of lichens and ancient oak trees that thrive thanks to the wet climate.
For the ferry timetable, click here.
Visit the island’s attractions before they close for winter
With turrets poking up from the woodland around Brodick Bay, Brodick Castle has a touch of King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein. Its grounds that open year-round are otherworldly, with plants on a scale that make you think you’ve entered the world of giants and, taken from the farthest reaches of the world, are a dazzling display of colour and scent. But take time to tour the castle itself before it closes its doors for the season at the end of October. Inside, you’ll find beautifully preserved baronial interiors, including a magnificent wall of antlers. The same goes for Arran Heritage Museum in Brodick – it’s well worth a visit before it closes for the winter. Entirely volunteer-run, the museum, located in a former croft, has displays on village life on Arran in times gone by; a recreated schoolroom, blacksmith’s workshop and cottage; fascinating geological artefacts; and real-life tractors for kids to climb on.
Get ahead with your Christmas shopping
Arran has a thriving community of young entrepreneurs with small craft businesses selling gorgeously covetable creations. My favourites include Ballarie Designs aka Jessica Grant, the hill shepherdess in Lochranza. She takes her illustrations of local wildlife and hand prints them onto items such as thermal cups and water bottles that make the perfect gift. Then there is Louise over at Gleann Co, who learnt to crochet watching YouTube videos and now handmakes cutely Instagrammable hats for little ones featuring bunny ears or antlers. She also has designs for adults. And for an extra special something, Jess MacDonald Brass makes ‘jewellery grounded in nature’. Her Scottish mountain-inspired necklaces are uniquely delightful.
For more Arran craftspeople, visit Arran Art Trail.
Find the cosiest cafes
For hearty fare with an even heartier serving of sea views, hunker down at Little Rock Café & Deli on Brodick sea front. Through the windows the view stretches from the ferry terminal along the sea front, taking in huge container ships sheltering in the broad bay (that’s how the Vikings described Brodick) and the golden sheath of sand beneath Goatfell. The loveliest little café when you’re at the north end of Arran is Fran’s Tea Room at Corrie Golf Club. It’s close to Glen and North Glen Sannox and serves traditional homemade lunches and bakes. The best cake on the island, I think, is at Café Rosaburn at Arran Heritage Museum. They do a vegan chocolate, banana and coconut loaf that is the gooiest you might ever taste.
For more on Arran food, click here.
All views are my own and no content is paid for.