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Island over the sea

deer at lochranzaCan there be a better advertisement for a natural, nature-friendly campsite than this, red deer grazing outside your door, guaranteed, any time of the day or night? However these creatures are not put there just to add interest for the campers. Indeed they may be regarded as something of a nuisance for they are somewhat casual about where they leave their droppings and they can hop over onto the golf course next door as easily as wander into the road. They know the area so well and seem to assume the grass is put their entirely for their benefit. After all this is their home, and has been so for longer than anyone can remember. From the first steps ashore from the ferry at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran we notice how garden fences and gates are built shoulder high rather than at waist level, as if to ensure the inhabitants don’t escape onto the road. Only later do we twig that we’ve seen this height of fence before on Forestry land. It is the height that a deer cannot jump. So on Lochranza deer are being kept out of gardens, full as they are with such a delicious variety of food items, and the fences are not (just) to keep dangerous locals under control. light through treesThey certainly have remarkable freedom (the deer, that is) and their behaviour is tolerated far beyond what might be expected. The rut, for instance, when the stags bellow endlessly and joust amongst themselves for the ladies, must be a particularly trying time for those living here yet they seem to have adapted to this, stepping around the odd gaggle of hinds when they have to just as we do on the campsite.

We consider ourselves blessed as the sun comes out in some force after only one day of torrential rain at the start of our five day visit, a day that gave the legs a chance to recover from our eight mile coastal afternoon hike around the Cock of Arran on our first day. The worst part was when we were already tired and at our furthest point from ‘home’ when our path forced its way tortuously through a boulder field, studded with ankle wrecking dangers as well as being well supplied with midges and other biting insects. Given enough wind, midges generally find flying too difficult so the presence of a fresh breeze when out walking is normally welcome. tickLess easy to avoid however, especially when passing through waist-high bracken, are the ticks, tiny black creatures who scuttle down beneath the clothing then latch on using a barbed probe, penetrating the skin to, well, suck up their host’s juices. The itching generally does not start until later and then goes on well after the creature’s now swollen body is extracted, a process that involves a specially shaped device and exceptionally good eyesight. Given that these beasts can carry Lyme disease a full body inspection is recommended after walking through any long vegetation, a minor price to pay really for the pleasure of so much fabulous scenery.

From Machrie Moor we look across Kilbrannan Sound to our home on Kintyre, where less than three miles away, our village nestles at the foot of its valley. Machrie standing stones3Although nobody can ever be certain about the precise date, I can say that some time after the last ice retreated 12,000 years ago and before about 750 BC, some large stones were dragged across Arran and firmly stood on end in such a way that they still remain standing today. As to how this remarkable feat was achieved or why it was done nobody alive today really knows, which seems quite sad considering the effort that must have been involved. Today we might use a large crane to lift something this heavy into place but archaeologists doubt that such things had been invented back then so the whole place is surrounded in mystery. We can speculate that their commanding presence, and there are lots of them here placed in circles or arranged in alignments that today we can only guess at, must have been quite stunning to those passing by when they were first erected… and they have lost little of that today.Machrie standing stones5

Before coming to live in Scotland we had never heard of this magical place. So it seems strange that we should discover something like this so close to our home. In some ways it’s rather like finding Stonehenge is just down the road although the hoards of tourists are missing here. Remoteness does have its advantages.

To complete our slow circumnavigation of the isle of Arran we steer Ducky over the String Road back to Brodick, a long climb over the central mountainous backbone with a fast descent on the other side. Ducky on Cloanaig ferryI regret to say that Arran has benefited little financially from our visit; only two nights were spent on formal campsites and most of our food was brought with us from home. There are plenty of places where we can pull off the road, get tucked in behind a few trees and find isolation and a quiet place to sleep, so apart from the cost of the ferry (twenty minutes spent sitting in a gently swaying van or waving farewell from the upper deck) this has been a cheap holiday. Our walking boots return a little muddier and our faces a little ruddier from exposure to the sun but we feel richer and wiser knowing what lies across the sea from our home.

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