Sunday 1st March
With the rapturous applause from the gig at The Ale House ringing in our ears, we drop Stevie’s car off at home, safely lock the guitars in the house, jump into my car and head for the border. It’s 1am: Stevie has a crate of Monster and a catering pack of Haribo and I have a snuggly fleece poncho. Next stop: CalMac Ferries, Ardrossan
There’s a diversion in place to the A66, which I’m just about awake enough to register, but once we get there, it’s the worst driving weather Stevie’s ever had to contend with: hailstones, snow, and gale force winds. I’m off in the land of Nod, oblivious to all the drama. Undaunted, we make Ardrossan three hours early and manage to catch the early boat. During a surprisingly gentle crossing, Goatfell rises serenely out of the mist, piercing the clouds.
We are quickly introduced to stranded island life: the Co-Op has a power cut! But that’s ok: there’s another just down the road :) Our holiday cottage has a glorious view over the beach and down towards Lamlash, though there’s still lots of weather going on. Stevie has a light snooze while we watch the rugby, before heading down to the pub for a traditional dinner: fish and chips and local ale. As we eat, we watch the hailstones settle like snow on the grass outside, then turn to snow before petering out to just heavy rain. We dodge home between the showers, tired but content.
Monday 2nd March
We wake late next day to find there has been more snow during the night but nothing has really settled. We eat our bacon sandwiches to the sound of hailstones hitting the window panes, accompanied by Stevie’s guitar. When the rattling stops, we realise they have changed to snow.
Rather foolishly as it turns out, we decide to take the cross-country route to Kildonan, which means attempting the Ross Road: sounds innocuous enough. The diesel Katmobile is a game bird but as the mountain road turns from rain to snow and with double-tyre tracks, then to icy single tyre tracks, we realise we were maybe over-optimistic. The car loses traction completely and sits there, wheels spinning, on a single track mountain road with a sheer drop on one side and a passing place that’s… just wide enough for a passing place, not a 3-point turn with no grip. There’s nothing for it but to reverse, slowly, about a quarter of a mile (which feels like half a mile but we’re only doing 1mph. Recounting it later, of course it becomes a mile), to the last farm turning we passed so that we can turn around. We casually pop out onto the main coastal road with a gentle ‘Ahem. We’re not tourists. Really!’ and are on our way again.
A blizzard hits us as we approach Kildonan but miraculously clears to beautiful sunshine (but with a bitter wind!) as we turn into the car park opposite Kildonan Beach. We happily explore for half an hour or more, and I snap away at seals, Ailsa Craig, Kildonan Lighthouse, and a stampede of sheep. We enjoy a swift half n’half at the Kildonan Hotel, basking in the beautiful sunshine streaming through the windows, which thankfully filters out the wicked wind.
Onwards to find the King’s Cave, accessible via a forest track further along the road. It’s a lovely walk through the forest but as we reach the end and have to negotiate a steep muddy slope, the snowstorm settles in again. Wonderful timing! But the walk has warmed us and alone on the track in the snow, it’s magical. Exploring the cave system, especially the main one, all alone on the pebbly beach, the snow stops and the sun reappears. The cliff shelters us from the weather and it’s glorious; not a soul knows we’re here and with no signal no-one can reach us.
Soon enough however, the wind changes direction and far away over the bay we can see angry clouds gathering. Chased by the approaching storm, we make our way back to the car park and only just make it before the rain comes down again. The drive back over the String Road is through the valley so thankfully we have none of the mild peril from earlier but it’s a fun drive nonetheless. We reward our exertions with dinner in the Glen Isle Hotel, washed down with measures of Port Cask and Bourbon Cask local whisky, and accompanied by the local cheeseboard. Yummy :)
Tuesday 3rd March
This morning, our first stop is another local tourist attraction: the Fallen Rocks of Sannox! A footpath diversion due to logging work sends us further towards the water’s edge and it’s a glorious day again, especially if we can keep out of the shade. The fallen rocks really are simply… rocks that have fallen from the clifftop - but there’s a wonderful view to the snowy mountains on the opposite shore and we are checked out from a distance by a deer, and by a robin from a lesser distance. We make a brief stop for pictures of The Bastion, before heading to the Arran Distillery.
Lunch is two toasties: one with haggis and cheese and the other with black pudding and tomato. Accompanied by a hot chocolate with whisky cream liqueur. The best antidote to the wind! It would be rude to leave without a spot of shopping, which includes a bottle of each of the Port Cask I tried last night, and of the 14 yo that is our favourite.
Next stop is round the Lochranza headland to the Fairy Dell – whatever that may be I’m unable to report dear reader, as the weather finally gets the better of us. We hunch our way doubled-over back to the car, and return to the outskirts of Brodick where we buy more presents, and some local cheese for ourselves (again, to go with the whisky we just bought :) )
We’ve been battered by the wind and the cameras are soaked, so we make our way back to base for fajitas, wine and – for me – a nice long soak. Happy Days.
Wednesday 4th March
Up early today, as we’re off to civilisation (otherwise known as Glasgow) for the day. We reach the ferry in good time, as does everyone else as it leaves slightly early. Again, a deceptively easy crossing accompanied by cooked breakfasts and lots of lovely tea :) Once arrived in Ardrossan, it’s a 2 minute walk to the train (it would have been waiting for us but we were early as I said… ) and less than 2 hours after leaving the island, we’re so close to a Monsoon I can almost smell it! I’m champing at the bit to visit my favourite Scottish chain – Ness – and very soon I’m the proud owner of new pairs of gloves and slippers. Primark nets us more goodies and we repair to the Solid Rock Bar for a celebratory pint, and – hallelujah – free wifi (life does indeed go on without technology, but what point is a holiday really if one can’t brag about it to the rest of the world?) The bar’s impressive mural wallfront nets Stevie some fb attention and we enjoy Iron Maiden, Dio and Metallica (amongst others) over our drinks.
No time for dawdling however: Stevie’s found a vintage shop and we’re keen to check it out. When we leave again, we come out humming the Guinness advert tune from a year or two ago (the one that featured the Sapeurs, it’s the same tune as the Beckham H&M advert): he’s got his hands on a dangerously beautiful 3-piece tweed suit for a fraction of its original from-new price, which fits like it was made for him.
The beardies club will be meeting on Saturday at the café over the road (sadly, we can’t make it) so we decide to check it out. Called the 13th Note, it’s an interesting mix of veggie café and heavy metal venue… but the food is good and so is the beer :) Suitably refreshed, our next stop is Sauchiehall Street, where I snaffle a pair of bright red patent DMs that I’ve had my eye on (either those or the purple). Just enough time to wander around a guitar shop (a sleek black Les Paul is not tempting enough with 0% finance, but does prove to be later with £0 deposit too ;) ), stroll through George Square, slurp a Starbucks and fit in one more beer, before we have to catch our return train.
As we’re waiting on the platform, we notice a mother and daughter eyeing us over. Not in an unfriendly manner, but more than a cursory glance… the daughter sidles over and stands, studying Stevie’s face closely. We can see her mother making encouraging gestures at her, until the girl finally screws up the courage to say ‘Are ye Billy Connolly?’ Hilariously no, and we continue to smile about it all the way to the boat. They look distinctly uncomfortable however, at having to share a carriage with a man who is Not Billy Connolly (we’d have loved to share a laugh with them about it).
Thursday 5th March
Today we really mean business, photographically. I set up the 500mm lens on one camera, together with the tripod, and the macro on the other, and we march off to Clauchlands Head, where we are hopeful of stealing up on some local wildlife. The early rain clears quickly into another bright day and our determination is rewarded with seals, cormorants, curlews, oyster catchers and a heron. Also, a large-ish flock of geese. They’re feral, apparently…
We return slowly along the beach, nervously anticipatory of having bagged some nice shots, soaking up the lovely sunshine and looking out for shells among the pebbles. After tea and sandwiches we wander into Lamlash Co-Op and return via a pint (or several) at the Drift Inn. After dinner, we plan to return to check out their Open Music Night… which appears to have been spontaneously cancelled possibly due to lack of interest (due possibly in turn to the weather which is closing in again). Ah well, their loss, eh? ;)
Friday 6th March
We’re starting to wind down now as we approach the end of the week so drive leisurely into Brodick to find the brewery still closed(we'll have to stock up at the Co-op instead, which isn’t quite the same), check out the sparse indoor market (someone’s selling driftwood from the beach! £40!! Blimey!) We pick up a bird-spotters’ book in the local charity shop, check out the two Estate Agents and stroll on to the Douglas Hotel for a couple of pints each of Arran Ale and a seafood platter (most yummy).
Disappointingly, the Alnachorvie hotel is not open for another hour when we’re ready to venture out again, but for our last dinner out the Drift treats us handsomely and I get my fix of Botanist and tonic. With the wind behind us on the way home, it takes half the time than normal to walk back…
Saturday 7th March
After a very stormy night, we decide to take it very easy for our last day and hunker down with the last of the perishables, a guitar, my knitting – and Treasure island, Oliver Twist and Miss Marple. The weather doesn’t let up all day so we opt to enjoy the spectacle of everything else getting blown about by the wind, for a change… as we start to plan next year’s trip.