Four and a half miles of sun-kissed sea separate Claonaig from Lochranza. Save yourself some money and leave the car; the return foot passenger fee to cross Kilbrannan Sound is only about six pounds. The summer ferry plies this short passage in half an hour and, as well as being an essential communication link for tourists and locals, its open decks provide a platform for viewing the guillemots, gulls and cavorting cetaceans who feed off the fruits of this bountiful stretch of sea.
The jagged peaks of Beinn Tarsuinn, Caisteal Abhail and Goat Fell throw their shadows over the southern shore of Loch Ranza from which this once seafaring village takes its name. Some say it’s the shadiest settlement in the world. The sun struggles to find its way into the nooks and cottages tucked into the southern shore. As the CalMac ferry makes landfall the mountains recede and the view becomes dominated by the medieval castle which seems to sit in the centre of the loch at the end of a narrow peninsular.
All you need is a flask, some sandwiches and a pair of binoculars from here. Follow the road towards the castle. The thirteenth century fortress bears the hallmarks of Dougall MacSween whose murder holes above the entrance are a sign that this descendent of Norsemen took his security very seriously in his quest to dominate this northern territory. Have a nosey around then retrace you steps across the spit keeping a lookout for the ruins of a barking house. The inlet once afforded shelter to a sizeable fleet which made a good living from the plentiful shoals of Loch Fyne herring. Their ropes, nets and sails were preserved here in vats of ‘cutch’, a potent liquid distilled from tree bark vapour.
Follow the lane leading across the shallow neck of the loch. Oak and whitebeam shelter a stream gathering its strength from a confluence at the heads of Glen Chalmadale and Gleann Easan Biorach where a more palatable alchemy takes place at the Arran whisky distillery. Through the leaves grazing red deer keep the fairway grass down on the golf course. Keep your binoculars at the ready for a distant view of soaring golden eagles against the slopes of Creag Ghlas before you.
Leave the shore and take the track signposted to the Whins Crafts Workshop where ice cream and quirky souvenirs are to be had for those with cash in their pockets. Follow the fifty metre contour. This is the sunny side of Lochranza with aerial views of castle and loch far below. Head north, hugging the hillside as you go, and train your sights on the shimmering waters of Kilbrannan Sound for bottlenose dolphins and grey seals before descending the Fairy Dell to meet up with the coastal path.
Ahead, the sea laps against layers of brown carboniferous sandstone basking in the midday sun propped up by dipping Dalradian schists, the oldest rocks on Arran. Here it was, in the eighteenth century, that James Hutton first noted this so-called geological unconformity and redefined the age of planet earth. It’s a rock ‘mecca’ for those who like their stones squished and folded over millions of years.
At Newton Point take in the panorama and spot the ferry in the distance. You might make it if you’re quick but there’s no need to worry as there are frequent departures until late afternoon so take your time and enjoy the walk back around the loch. You may even have the time to dip your feet in its rejuvenating waters before you leave this island paradise.
© Robin Redfern 2022