A guest asked me the other day if it wasn’t too quiet for me living on Arran. “I mean, you’re a young woman,” he said. That’s true, I replied, but I hadn’t ever thought about my surroundings being too quiet. In a previous life, my surroundings being too noisy was what had bothered me. After ten years living in one of Europe’s most bustling urban hubs, I was, like many others of my generation I think, ready to slow down. The main drive was a desire to bring up my son near his grandparents (they own the campsite I now work at during the summer). After stepping out of my doorway, it takes only minutes to walk into wild and rugged scenery, where hill sheep add white speckles to the khaki camouflaged slopes and at this time of year, in late September, the air echoes with the eerie bellowing of stags rutting. It’s a sound almost reminiscent of Alphorns, a traditional instrument in Switzerland that I used to hear on hikes in the stunning Swiss Alps.
I look after my son when he’s not at nursery and spend lots of hours in the week helping run the campsite and working on travel articles. Writer’s block is rarely a problem these days. As soon as it hits, I step out of the door, cross the road and tread between the billowy bracken along the path that climbs beside a sheer ravine into Glen Easan, where the light reflects from one side of the valley to the other, the ground underfoot is boggy, the path is indistinct, and you rarely encounter anyone else. Up here, in fact, you can’t see any sign of man at all – and that’s what is remarkable, because Arran is a popular tourist destination. Other days, when I don’t have much work to do, I walk up North Glen Sannox after dropping my son off at nursery. It’s my happy place. I can walk there and back in about 50 minutes, stopping at the top of the well made path to admire Casteil Abheil (The Castles, or The Sleeping Warrior – so called for its skyline) and sometimes, when the weather is nice, basking on one of the burn’s gently sloping boulders on the way back down. It’s not lost on me how lucky I am to have walks like that on my doorstep. I’m grateful. Every day.
When I’m cleaning the campsite toilets at lunchtime, I sometimes find myself thinking of my office high above Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich, where I worked in internal communications at Julius Baer, watching a beautifully dressed business crowd make their way along the tree-lined boulevard. There were lots of jokes about cleaning toilets for a living when I made this move, but in a setting like this, I’d be happy cleaning toilets all day if I had to. Lots of people on the island do. A manicurist here once told me that Arran folk work their hands very hard. It's an island workforce of highly qualified people doing menial jobs all for a love of the place. I miss dressing up in nice clothes, but it’s quite freeing to spend a life in leggings and fleeces.
A lot of the time there’s guilt – I feel guilty that we can live somewhere like this. But there are definitely challenges to living on an island, even an accessible one like Arran (it’s just an hour from the mainland and one from there to Glasgow), with plenty of services and shops. To name a few – we haven’t been able to register with a dentist yet; the fresh produce shelves at the supermarket shelves are empty more often than we’d like; the ferry service isn’t the most reliable; and things cost quite a bit more than on the mainland. There’s the fact you need a car to get to the shops (or to rely on the infrequent buses) and the desolation that comes with many businesses closing in the winter. Lochranza, where I’m currently based, will be like a ghost town in a few weeks – quite literally. It’s one of the island’s “dark villages”, so called because fewer than 20% of the properties are inhabited year-round. So, will it be too quiet then? Maybe. Ask me again then.