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Arran of the Bens, The Glens and the Brave
Chapter I. The Charm of Arran


Both the stranger and the native find something peculiarly alluring in Arran; and, though it is but a small island of twenty odd miles by seven, and the world is a large place, few who have known it fail to keep it amongst their cherished remembrances. I know an artist who has visited it regularly for forty years, and who starts again this autumn with a full programme of work already mapped out, and he would be the first to admit that much of his best work he owes to the pastoral loveliness and fine atmospheric effects so notable in the south of Arran. There are many, too, who, after thirty or forty years spent in the busiest cities, have been glad to turn their steps to their native island; others there are who, in the full tide of manhood, have forsaken the excitements of America and Australia and come home to settle in the smallest of villages close by Kilbrannan Sound. Paterson, a Lowlander, writing in 1834,says: "That the Highlanders of Scotland feel the love of country very strongly is unquestionable; and that it has a beneficial effect on their moral conduct is as certain. The dread of being expelled from Arran has more efficacy in restraining those of its inhabitants who may be inclined to dishonest, vicious, or idle courses, than all the penal laws in force." What, then, is it that Arran holds that is so great an attraction? It is probably no one thing: the wonderful beauty of the Brodick lanes, with their views of Goatfell's great peak varied in character daily, nay sometimes hourly, but always lovely and commanding; the sweet scent of the surrounding woods, fir and birch, myrtle and heath, and of the hundred and one wild flowers of Arran, all lend their subtle contributions. But, indeed, the whole of the great groups of hills which stretch across the centre of the island, ranging in height from the 2866 feet of Goatfell to 600 or 800 feet in the southern district, have qualities which are rare. It would be difficult to find in a small space, even in Skye of the Mists or Mull of the Bens, mountains as weird, black, titanic as the Devil's Punch Bowl or Cioch nan h'oige (the Maiden's Breast), which alters so swiftly, mystically; now almost invisible, merged in the surrounding peaks, now a mere cone leaning obliquely southward; while now, seen from Sannox moor, it stands up threateningly, overwhelmingly, right above you. Nor in all the hills of the west can there be found anything so like an enchanted fortress of the Arabian Nights as the wonderful Caisteal Abhail (Casteel Aval), crowning its huge granite crag over sheer black precipices nearly three thousand feet below. And this is not all, for the great hill at the back, Ceum na Cailleach, is formed in the same cyclopean spirit, and its fantastic pinnacles seem to tell of further battlements beyond for those to climb who would attempt the strongholds of the gods. And there again, to the left of wonderful Sannox glen, stands Cir Mhor, aloft, aloof, filling up in solitary grandeur the space between Caisteal Abhail and Cioch nan h'oige. Where can we see anything as strange and fantastical as this group approached from Sannox glen?

But, of course, it may be seen from many parts of the island, nay, it is difficult to lose, it is everywhere, much as the Paps of Jura Island are visible over half the Kintyre coast, or the Goatfell group are everywhere with us when we journey in southern Arran or on the coast of Ayr and Renfrew. Mr. Lawton Win-gate gives us a charming distant view of this range, for instance, from Largybeg; and a mountain climber, Mr. Stewart Orr, has sat lovingly close to the heart of the hills through dark nights in order to give us his pictures of their more intimate and undiscovered moods when flushed with the rosy colours of the dawn.

Certainly much of the charm of Arran arises from the presence of this stately concourse ; but they are not all the hills the island boasts. Am Bhinnean in the same neighbourhood has many moods, and looks down upon us, from above the white cottages and stretch of wood on the Corrie shore, with all the dignity and splendour of a Sultan.

The Cuchullin range in Skye, though it has the upright peaks, lacks the grand horizontal lines like that of Suidhe-Feargus, which at Sannox are so finely symmetrical, and group so superbly round that solemn and inspiring spot.

The next view in point of grandeur is perhaps that of Goatfell towering up over the woods of Brodick Castle, seen from the cross roads, and along the Corrie shore as far as Ard na Beithe (point of the birch trees). The view, especially on a grey and sultry day, so subtly Oriental in suggestion, so wide, so dominated by the bare outline of the great cone rising out of the beech woods and pastures, cannot be equalled in the West Highlands for its power of capturing the senses, save perhaps in the approach to Benmore from the Holy Loch in Cowal, or the view of the Paps of Glencoe from Ballachulish.


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