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Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Section VIII. The Western Isles and Cantyre
A. Isle of Arran and Ailsa Craig

General Features; Coast-line, 1.—Brodick Bay and Castle, 2.—Ascent of Goatfell, 3. —Corriegilla; Lamlash Bay, 4.—Brodick to Loch Ransa; Corrie; Glen Sannox; The Fallen Rocks; The Cock of Arran; Scriden, 5.—Loch Ransa, 6.—West Coast of Arran; Corrie an Lachan; Caves and Cliffs at Tormore; Drumodune Point; Obelisks, Circles, and Cairns, 7.—Shiskin to the Struey Cliffs; Tor Chastel; Southend Harbour; The Black Cave, 8.—Kildonan; Pladda Island; Falls of Essiemore, 9—The Dippin Rocks; Glen Ashdale; Attractions of Arran, 10.—Ailsa Rock, 11.

1. Arran is one of the most remarkable of our islands. It presents in itself an epitome at once of geology and of scenery, while it offers a rich field to the botanist, conchologist, and student of the more minute and less perfect forms of animal life; and in its antiquities it exhibits still further sources of interest. In extent this island is about twenty-eight miles of extreme length, and about twelve of average breadth, and it forms nearly a regular parallelogram. The characters of the northern and southern divisions are strongly contrasted. The great mass of the former consists of granite mountains, upheaved to an elevation of from 2000 to 3000 feet, the highest summit, that of Goatfell, being 2959 feet above the sea, while the southern portion, generally elevated and hilly, does not, however, attain a higher altitude than about 900 feet. While the mountainous portion is distinguished by the very abrupt character of the closely grouped naked mountain masses, the sharply serrated outlines and peaked summits of the connecting ridges, and their deeply cleft and precipitous glens, corries, and ravines, the other is spread out in the undulations characteristic of the trap, porphorytic, and other igneous rocks, of which it is mainly composed—covered with a deep stratum of peat and alluvium—cropping out, however, especially on the coasts, in many bold perpendicular cliffs, and the hill faces assuming a markedly terraced character, the stages of verdant and cultivated slopes presenting an exceedingly pleasing appearance. The formations in the order of their superposition are granites, coarse and fine grained, in mass and in veins; clay slate and schists; old red sandstone; carboniferous series (limestone, shales, coal, and hematite), new red sandstone, overlying igneous rocks, viz., claystone, porphyry, lyenite, pitchstone, and pitchstone porphyry; basalt, greenstone, porphyritic trap, and Amygdaloed. This enumeration may serve to shew the geological attractions of Arran, than which the student could not select a more instructive field of observation. The subject will be found fully illustrated in "The Geology of the Island of Arran," a detailed and very lucid treatise, by Andrew Crombie Ramsay, while the pages of Macculloch form a mine of information, not only on the geological but all the other features of the island. The general student of natural history is referred to "Arran and its Natural History," by the Rev. David Landsborough; and in the number of Murray's handbooks on Arran, a large amount of miscellaneous matter is embodied.

An almost uninterrupted belt of gravelly shingle—its landward surface carpeted with grassy sward and pasture—encircles the island, affording a ready access round the coast, and frequently tinted over with daisies and buttercups, and associated wild flowers. The shores are generally steep and rocky. At the mouths of the numerous streams are further considerable alluvial deposits. Large blocks of granite from the primitive district lie scattered on the surface, and imbedded in the gravel banks throughout the island.

2. On the east side of the island are two bays—Brodick and Lamlash. The latter, being protected by an islet (Holy Isle) lying right across, is a roadstead of frequent recourse to shipping in stress of weather. Goatfell, whose peaked summit forms the apex of several converging ridges, forming so many rocky shoulders, lies north of Brodick Bay.

Brodick Bay (twenty miles distant from Ardrossan) is a scene of very varied and striking beauty. Well indented into the side of the island, a fertile plain or valley, about a mile square, succeeds the white sloping beach, and branches on the north into two other glens; Glen Roza—running back northward into the heart of Goatfell and the other associated granitic mountain ranges, which flank it with rugged precipices—and Glen Shirray, extending to the west, and both presenting much of wild picturesque beauty; while from the southern head of the bay extends another opening—Glen Cloy—through softly swelling hills. Each of these valleys sends down its channelled stream. The fertile fields and pastures, and lower hill slopes, are bedecked with numerous houses (Brodick being the most considerable village in the island), and variegated with trees; while on the north side of the bay, Brodick Castle, a lofty and very old square keep, with extensive additions of various ages, and some of them quite recent, surmounts a rocky wooded bank. Behind the surrounding woods stretches a long expanse of heath, and beyond rises the elegant tapering form and gray peak of Goatfell. Nor must the accessories be forgotten of the numerous boats and vessels which enliven the waters and shores of the bay. The greater part of Arran has for centuries belonged to the family of Hamilton, and Brodick Castle forms a favourite residence of the Marquis of Douglas. In the gardens many exotic plants flourish in the open air.

3. The ascent of Goatfell is a frequent excursion with visitors to Arran. It is noways difficult, and the ordinary path leads from near the village inn, but the geologist will thread his way along the course of the Onocan burn. The shoulders of Goatfoll and of the adjoining mountains, especially Beinn Gnuis and Caistael Abdael, are characterised by cyclopean walls of granite blocks. On the summit of the last named, several such isolated masses rise to an elevation of perhaps a hundred feet. Portions of the slopes of the southern shoulder of Goat-fell exhibit masses of granite overlapping one another; and farther down a huge horizontal slab of granite, called the Druid stone, rests on pillars of stone. The eye, from the summit, looks down upon a series of sharp roof-like mountain ridges, rising into spiry peaks, and intersected by deep and precipitous hollows. The immediately near features, and especially of the masses of Nature's masonry, give, we have been assured, a very tolerable notion of the scenery of the Andes. With this rugged expanse the softer character of other parts of the island form an immediate contrast. Around stretch the waters of the ocean and of the Firth of Clyde and Loch Fyne, and their very varied framework of hill and dale spread map-like before the spectator. A peculiar feature of the granitic ranges is the frequency and bowl-shaped configuration of the corries.

4. Between Brodick and Lamlash Bays the seaward cliffs at Corriegills attain a height of about 500 feet.

Lamlash is distinguished by the fine conical form, and on the east side the columnar cliffs of Holy Island. The islet is about 1000 feet high, and three miles long, and is almost completely covered over with the trailing Arbutus Uva-ursi. It gives a double entrance to the bay, and is distinguished by the care of St. Molios, a missionary from Iona, the waters of a spring in which were long held of sovereign medicinal efficacy, and by the indistinct traces of a monastery founded by John of the Isles. Kilbride is a mean village. There is a vitrified fort on Dun Fionn, and several upright stones on the hill behind the parochial manse, are among the numerous antiquarian vestiges, as sepulchral cairns and obelisks, scattered over the island. There are similar tall slabs of stone at Brodick. MacCulloch is disposed to regard those at Lamlash as ruined cromlechs, similar to those in Cornwall, Wales, and Guernsey, a species of monument comparatively rare in Scotland.

5. Between Brodick and Loch Ransa, another smaller bay on the north or north-west of the island, lies the finest section of the coast scenery. The rocky shore is indented by numerous creeks, to all the sinuosities of which the encircling terrace in most parts gives access. Many home-steads accompany our steps along the first part of the coast, while the irregular cliffs, revealing glimpses of the lofty mountain tops and their shelving sides, frequently strewed with broken masses of shivered rock, are ornamented by trees and brushwood, frequently descending to the very margin of the water.

In working the extensive limestone quarries at the village of Corrie, artificial excavations of considerable extent have been formed in the rocks. Further on, Glen Sannox is found running up from the coast into the heart of Goatfell. Encompassed by spiry barriers of naked granite, it presents, in common with others of the adjoining glens, but perhaps in higher degree, in its breadth of light and shade, its silent and unadorned grandeur, much of the character of the wild solitudes of the Cuchullins in Skye.

About two miles north of Glen Sannox, the upper part of the cliff having given way, has strewed the whole abrupt hill-face and the shore with huge masses of rocks—called the Fallen Rocks—and again at Scriden, the most northerly point of the island, a similar appearance is presented on a still larger scale, there having been a landslip of the strata which affected almost the entire hill even to the summit, covering the declivity and the shore to the sea-margin with an avalanche of rock for a space of about a mile, the passage through which is uneven, tortuous, and somewhat troublesome. But the scene is highly picturesque, accompanied by a peculiar impression of the possible o'ertoppling of the impending fragments. Several deep lateral chasms run alongst the broken fragments; and a similar rent of great depth, which, being almost covered with heather, might prove dangerous to the unwary observer, seams the hill near its summit, where there has been comparatively little displacement otherwise. To the east of this rugged space there is a large detached block of rock upon the beach, a well-known landmark, called "The Cock of Arran;" but decapitation has impaired the resemblance it used to bear to a cock flapping his wings.

6. Loch Ransa, an inlet of about a mile in length, by from half a mile to a mile in width, is one of the scenes of most sequestered attractiveness in Arran. It is encompassed by the imposing serrated mountain ranges, from which rise the peaks of Caistael Abdael and Cairn na Caelleach, pierced by two narrow glens—Glen Chalmadale and Eis na Bearradh—and flanked on the south by the elegant cone of Torrnaneidneon. A promontory projects from the south shore, which encloses an inner basin of great depth. On this neck of land stands the shell of one of the royal castles, erected in the fourteenth century. It consisted chiefly of two square towers connected by high curtains. Loch Ransa is only five or six miles from the coast of Cantyre, on which the massive old castle of Skipness is conspicuous. The loch is a favourite rendezvous of the vessels and boats engaged in the Loch Fyne fishery; and the bustle of departure of an evening, and of return with the spoils of the deep, and the operations of preparing the fish for market—for most part in a fresh state—and shipping them on board the attendant busses, contribute, during the fishing season, a peculiar interest to the otherwise retired spot.

7. The west and south coast, and to Lamlash, present less of continuous attraction than the portion between Brodick and Loch Ransa. Still there are several points of interest. The northern portion of the western coast slopes up from the sea, the cliffs attaining much of the same altitude as those on the corresponding part of the cast coast. To the south, the cliffs are lower. The whole line of coast is intersected by several fine valleys, as Glen Catacol, a little south of Loch Ransa, Glen Jorsa, towards the south of the northern or primitive division, and wider valleys along the MIauchrie and Black Waters, towards the north of the southern division of the island. The Cantyre coast, with Kilbrandon Sound between, diversifies the view.

On the shore, near Thunderguy, south of Catacol, two singular masses of rock will be observed, of peculiarly-contorted schist. One of the most picturesque mountain lochs or tarns, and partaking somewhat of the character of Coruishk, in Skye, is that of Corrie an Lachan, in a deep hollow, in the recesses of Ben Varen, east of Thunderguy. The steep encircling rocks which encompass it on all sides, except that towards the sea, are almost bare of vegetation. Ben Varen is in form like a long house with rounded roof, and on its summit are two of the Cyclopean walls, meeting at right angles, of granite blocks, already mentioned as characterising several of the mountain-tops of Arran.

At the village of Immachar, north of the Jorsa, there is a ferry across to Saddell, in Cantyre, the distance being only between four and five miles.

Between the mouths of the Mauchrie Water, and of Shiskin, as the valley along the Black Water is called, an eminence rises, called King's Hill, which presents to the sea a range of bold cliffs, chiefly sandstone, but at Drumodhuin Point of basalt, and there distinguished by the regularity of columnar arrangement. This hill is crowned, on its landward side, by an immense rampart of loose stones, having a gateway, and on the seaward front it is pierced by a number of water-worn but dry caves, of which the largest, which is upwards of 100 feet in length, by about 50 in width and height, is called the King's Cove, from having for some time afforded shelter to the Bruce, when, after taking temporary refuge in the Island of Rachrin, on the Irish coast, he sojourned for a time in Arran, concerting measures for his adventurous but ultimately triumphant descent on the opposite shores of Carrick, in Ayrshire. Stone slabs on the floor doubtless have borne the gallant monarch's weight, and the smoke-grimed roof, and the remains of bones of animals, are in all probability referable to that anxious period of his stormy career. Rude scratchings on the walls, in which patient decipherers detect representations of objects of the chase, may have been traced by some of the royal attendants. The fond credulity of the natives, however, ascribe them to the Fingalian era. The smaller caves are dignified by the names of the King's Larder, Stables, &c. The cliffs of the cave are appropriately embellished with the royal fern, osmunda regalis, a plant which, in Arran, has attained the great growth of twelve feet.

In the district about Mauchrie and Shiskin are several tall upright slabs of stone, or obelisks, some of them from fifteen to twenty feet high, and several stone circles and cairns, most likely sepulchral memorials of a distant age. Of these last, there is a very large one near the mouth of the Vale of Shiskin, and a little further up the glen there is a circular mote hill. A good road leads across the country from Shiskin to Brodick.

8. From the mouth of the Black Water there is a ferry to Campbelltown, distant about twelve miles. About the centre of the south end, and itself the most southerly point of the island, a range of basaltic columns, called the Struey Cliffs, rises to a height from 400 to 500 feet. The intermediate shore between these and the Black Water is rocky. On a round and isolated eminence, called Tor Chastel, connected with the adjoining land by a narrow neck, there are traces of a round structure, probably a Danish burgh, and also of defending outworks; but Mr. Landsborough mentions having been told that human bones were, several years ago, discovered in considerable quantities between the connected walls. The only other instance of the kind that we have heard of is at Kyle Skou, on the west coast of Sutherlandshire. A fertile tract of country, west of the Struey Rocks, is watered by the Sliddery and the Torlin, and a number of minor streams, mostly with deep water-courses. Southend harbour, near the mouth of the Torlin water, is a very curious natural harbour, formed by trap-dykes, which are so disposed as to compose sides, quay, and breakwater. Trap-dykes abound in this quarter. At the commencement of the Struey cliffs is a large excavation called the Black Cave, which is about 160 feet in length, about half that height, and about one-fourth in breadth. The floor inclines upwards, and there is an orifice at the inner end of the cave. Bennan Head forms a continuation of the Struey Rocks.

9. At the south-east corner of Arran stands an old square keep—Kildonan Castle. Off shore lies the island of Pladda, on which there is a lighthouse. An extensive plain occurs at Kildonan. It is traversed by the Glen of Auchinhew, and on the course of the burn by which the latter is traversed, there is a waterfall—Essiemore, or the Great Fall—of upwards of 100 feet in depth, which plunges into an amphitheatre surrounded by lofty rocks composed of sandstone, with overlying masses of greenstone and basalt.

10. North of Kildonan, a noble range of precipices, called the Dippi*i Rocks, rise perpendicularly from the sea to a height of 300 feet. A somewhat hazardous footing can be found along the base of the cliffs. The dash of the waves close at hand, and the screams of the wild fowl overhead, conspire to try the nerves of the adventurous wayfarer. At one point, a stream issuing from the brink is projected beyond the base of the rocks, forming an arch of whitened spray well known to mariners.

Glen Ashdale, a fertile and beautiful glen, runs up from Whiting Bay. Towards the upper extremity of the glen, the burn course is lined by walls of basalt, and the stream forms two successive cascades, the lower about 100 feet, and the upper about one-half that height; and still further up, the glen terminates, almost at the summit of the hills, in a range of rude columnar cliffs.

Next in succession comes Lamlash Bay, which completes the round of the coast.

Arran presents many attractions for a summer sojourn, as well as to the mere tourist. There is capital deep-sea fishing and good trouting in the streams, and there is plenty of game, excellent bathing and boating; while it must be apparent that the scenery is of no common order, and the variety very uncommon; while to the geologist, and general student of natural history, there is perhaps no other district equally inviting. There are lodgings to be had in several spots, and there are small inns at intervals all round the coast. Brodick, in particular, is a very favourite sea-bathing quarter, and there is a constant intercourse by steam to the different ports on the Clyde.


11. Ailsa Rock, or the Perch of Clyde, forms an interesting day's excursion from various points on the Firth. This insular mass of columnar trap-rises abruptly from the water to a height of 1100 feet. Its base is irregularly elliptical, 3300 by 2200 feet, and the form of the rock varies from that of an obtuse to an acute cone, according to the position of the spectator. The colour of the rock is gray, which, mingled with the green of its vegetation, exhibits the columnar structure to peculiar advantage. The columns are not so nicely regular as those of Staffa, but their effect from a little distance is quite perfect, and by many this rock is considered a grander specimen of the kind than the other well-known object. On the north-west the appearance is particularly striking. This side is almost perpendicular, and composed of successive tiers of columns of great magnitude, both as to length and diameter. The view is especially fine, where a cave, with a grassy acclivity above, forms the centre point. On the southern face there are ruins, still entire, of a square tower of three single and vaulted apartments, on a terrace at about 200 feet above the sea. Thus far the ascent is easy, but above becomes very steep, at times among broken fragments of rocks piled together, their interstices filled with prodigious nettles and other rank plants. Large patches of wild-flowers are met with, remarkable for their uncommon growth, and the rich profusion of their showy petals. Innumerable flocks of sea-fowl, with rabbits and goats, tenant this lonely isle.

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