|ARRAN – MAY 2010
As part of my 40th birthday celebrations 2 years ago, Vicky took me on a Scottish Archaeology tour of Perthshire and we also had 5 days away in Aberdeenshire. As this year is her 40th I had planned to return the favour and take her on a prehistoric tour of Cornwall but she decided she wanted to re-visit Arran instead and who was I to argue???
Vicky's folks live on Kintyre and about 5 years ago we combined an amazing trip to Kilmartin with a day on Arran whilst staying at their wonderful cottage. That was my only previous visit, although Vicky has been a number of times, so I wanted to make sure that this trip would be one she remembered for the next 40 years. Although she doesn't turn 40 until the back-end of the year, we decided to tag the trip onto the back of a visit I already had planned to make to Glasgow (her home turf) – we had tickets to see KISS at the SECC (a in-joke with us but I have to report that it was the most hilarious and rocktastic night of our lives!!) and so it felt fitting to combine a night in the company of ancient rock gods with a spot of ancient stone bothering.
Still buzzing (and only slightly hungover!) from our explosive night of loud music and OTT pyrotechnics, we dropped my friend Mel off in Glasgow to get the train back to Lancaster and we headed off to Ardrossan for the ferry over to Arran. It was a lovely day and we prayed for good weather for the trip – the forecast had been a bit depressing and Mark had sent me a text that day saying Arran had big rain clouds over it on the BBC News so we weren't expecting it to hold out.
We docked in Arran around 4pm and headed straight for our B&B in Sannox and, rather fortuitously, to our first site of the visit. On arriving at the B&B (the AMAZING Darven Cottage – if you visit Arran I thoroughly recommend you stay here – more on this later) we asked the lovely owner if he knew where the 2 standing stones in Sannox were. "Yep" he replied, "there's one in next door's garden"!! And sure enough, he was right.....we nipped next door, past the beautiful old (and now out-of-service) Sannox Congregational Church and into the garden of the empty Dundarragh Cottage. I had read about this stone but had no idea when I booked this B&B, that we would be so close to it. We then tried to find the other stone, with the only directions on the TMA entry being that it was "across the road" - but to no avail. So, we went for a walk on the beautiful beach instead, amazed at how lovely the weather was and how gorgeous the surroundings. On our return to the B&B, David said he thought the 2nd stone was in Charlie Fforde's garden, next to Sannox golf club but as it was getting late, we decided to check it out the next day.
Driving north out of Sannox, you pass the old Sannox Congregational church on a right hand bend - turn into this small track and park by the old (and now closed) church.
Standing proudly in the gardens of Dundarragh Cottage at Sannox, this stone is a beaut. As the cottage is a holiday home and was unoccupied, we had a cheeky wander round. The stone which stands across the road (up past the golf club) is very similar - but some distance - so it is possible that one or both may have been moved? Or maybe they aren't linked? Who knows?
I feel that this stone deserves it's own entry. Yep, it is similar in style and size to the stone at Dundarragh Cottage and they may well be linked (possibly moved from their original position?) but it is still a good 5 mins walk from one to the other!
This stone stands in a field next to the golf club. From the Dundarragh stone, turn right up the hill and past the golf club entrance. The stone is in the next field on the left, by a big, white house.
Another lovely stone......I like to think there is some connection between the 2.
Lots of hares bouncing around in the field and a cheeky red squirrel followed me, popping up every now and then, as I walked along the road! Lovely.
The next morning we were up and out quickly, despite having consumed far too much wine, Arran cheese and bread the night before. The weather was looking OK-ish but the forecast wasn't great and we wanted to see as much as possible before the inevitable rain set in. Today we were re-visiting Machrie Moor. Last time we came to Arran, we had spent most of our time at Machrie and I have desperately wanted to come back and see it again, ever since. In my mind, it was so huge and spectacular that I started wondering if I had exaggerated it slightly over the last 5 years and was worried that it might not be quite as fabulous as I had first thought. How wrong I was.
The first site you come across as you head towards Machrie Moor is Moss Farm Road; a rather manicured and well-kept site which is nice enough as a "starter for 10" – lovely setting and some cracking views across the moor but one of those sites that make you wonder "why is this one so well-kept", especially when you see what
else lies scattered around these parts!
We then set off in earnest and our next stop was Moss Farm chambered cairn, which requires a slight detour from the path but accessible enough. This was lovely; a bit of a jumbled mess but felt so much more interesting than Moss Farm Road (I think we might be archaeo snobs – the less interfered with, the better!) and you could start to see links with the larger stones at Machrie.
From here we could also see across to the Moss Farm N standing stone, so off we headed to investigate further. At this point, it seemed as if the weather was going to be interchangeable (I had taken my coat off and put it back on about 4 times is less than an hour) and we were keen to get the main sites in case it took a real turn for the worse, but we couldn't help ourselves and wanted to see as much as possible!
This is a lovely stone, situated next to a modern enclosed memorial stone (nice touch) and from here we could clearly see across the moor to the larger standing stones and circles. There were lots of humps and bumps on the ground and some larger circular earthworks which we got all excited about.
So, onto the moor proper! We stayed off the path as we headed towards the stones, investigating lots more humps and bumps in the bracken (lots of theories from us as usual on what they were!) but then excitement got the better of us. There were quite a few people around, so we decided to explore the old farm buildings for a while until most people had gone – we wondered why so many people bothered coming all the way out here only to turn round and head back within 5 minutes of arriving! - and we had the place pretty much to ourselves for a good while. I can honestly say that Machrie Moor was even more impressive this time round! This is just such a stunning site, with so much to take in that it almost becomes incomprehensible!
The size of some of the stones is breathtaking and the relationship between them puzzling......so many questions. What must this have looked like when there were no farm buildings and all the sites were intact? We were so giddy with it all, we checked out the map and decided that we could probably walk to 2 other sites north of here and set off, full of enthusiasm for our surroundings.
We initially started to walk to this site from the main stones at Machrie Moor but after about 15 minutes of negotiating boggy peatland and peaty bogland, we headed back and decided to drive instead!
We parked at the rather awful Balmichael visitor centre and set off walking along the roadside. We got confused by the Scottish Water building which wasn't on our map and after much fannying around, realised that the circle was now behind this monstrosity!
This had now become personal! We had already spent about an hour of our time trying to reach this site and nothing was going to hold us back. So, we hopped over the gate, ran across the forecourt and over another gate into a field. A combination of dead heather, gorse and bracken meant that we wandered around for another 15 minutes before FINALLY finding this diminutive circle but boy, were we happy!
The views across to Machrie Moor were spectacular and you can see the main standing stones from here. We had no idea what the circle was called but we named it the Magic Water Cuckoo Stones as we seemed to follow the sound of a cuckoo the whole time we were looking and it finally led us to our destination!
Definitely worth coming here, if only for the aspect, as you can only wonder about what this landscape must've looked like, littered with these stunning monuments, 5000 years ago. Fab.
There is another small, ruined 4 Poster close by - only 2 stones now remain.
After our successful find, we realised it was getting late and, having booked to go to Creelers restaurant that night, thought we should head home to get cleaned up.....this had been such a stupendous day and the weather had been so lovely that we were fully expecting tomorrow be less impressive, but we were so happy we didn't really care! On the way back, we took a quick detour to look at the fabulous Druid stone at Auchencar, a pretty impressive stone which towers above the road.
After another great evening at the B&B, we had an early breakfast and headed off for another day of stone-hunting. We were absolutely convinced that the weather yesterday was a fluke and so went prepared (waterproofs, layers of clothes, fleeces, the works!) – we decided to drive out as far as Torrylin and then work our way back along the south and east of the island. As we parked at the Post Office and set off for the first site of the day, we realised that we may have misjudged the weather, as the sun was out, the sky was blue and we quickly removed a few layers!
Another site with cracking views across to Ailsa Craig. However, this one had less of a pull for me than East Bennan and you have to wonder why this one was "chosen" to be signposted and looked after, when other, possibly more deserving, sites aren't?
Still, it is a lovely walk through the woods and the views are wonderful.
After a lovely walk back through the woods, we got back in the car and headed off to East Bennan and I think we were probably both expecting more of the same but how wrong we were.
What a corker! I suppose it helped that the weather was stunning and the views across the water to Ailsa Craig were remarkable but this is also a real treat of a site. We spent a good deal of time wandering around and trying to guess how this would've once looked - it is an impressive size and the remains are much more intact than at Torrylin.
We also got to witness one of nature's most remarkable sights - that of 2 hares, boxing in the sun, a mere 20m away from us.....
Easy-ish to get to, although we missed the initial turning a couple of times and we parked by the driveway to what appears to be a holiday cottage.
We spent quite a while at East Benna, just glorying in our surroundings, so we decided not to take the short detour to Largybeg Point but to head straight to Whiting Bay for lunch (and to look at the gallery there!) before walking to the Giant's Graves. We sat by the beach, sunning ourselves and enjoying the spectacular views. Then we girded our loins for the long walk up to the Giant's Graves.
Firstly, I have to agree with others that this is a fairly steep climb but Vicky had assured me that it would be pleasant enough, walking up through the forested path; it was mid afternoon and starting to get quite warm. So off we went - only to find that ALL of the trees have been cut down!
On one hand, this was great news as the views were fabulous but on the other - not so great when you are huffing and puffing up a hill with NO shade in the blazing sun!
But......when you get to the site, it is more than worth the clamminess. The views from here across to Holy Island and across Arran are just spectacular.
I like the fact that you have to work to get here. Not really for casual observer, we had the place to ourselves and marvelled at the magnificence of this site.
Having been astonished by the magnificence of the Giant's Graves, we walked back down to Whiting Bay, unable to believe our luck - the weather was scorching hot and we had had the most fantastic day. As it was on the way back, we decided we should check out Lamlash Circle.
Yes, it is right by the road and we did know this, but.....we still seemed to manage to walk straight past it. Sometimes I think we should concentrate a wee bit more.
We parked at the car park and set off up the left hand track but missed the little footpath to the circle and so had to double-back on ourselves. By the time we saw it, we were so pleased that we trotted straight into a very boggy bit and sank up to our calves. Take care.
This is a strange place; overgrown and boggy and yet with the traffic whizzing by it feels very odd. We had been to Giant's Graves and East Bennan earlier and this felt like a bit of a letdown after such amazing sites.
From here we headed back to Sannox and the wonderful B&B we had come to think of as home. David, the owner, was cooking us dinner that night and we were greeted with the words "I'm having a G&T, do you fancy one?" as we walked through the door. You can't get better than that, can you? Before giving in to the demon alcohol, we took his 2 dogs onto the beach and paddled in the sea, relieving our aching feet in the lovely salty brine. If anyone is planning on going to Arran in the near future, I would urge you to stay at Darven Cottage - it's bloody marvellous!
Posted by Vicster
29th May 2010ce
Edited 4th June 2010ce