Up early, coffee, walk to the train station, train to a town called Ardrossen, ferry to Brodick on the Isle of Arran, bus to Lochranza, where I'd be staying for the next 2 nights. I was in Lochranza by 11am cos I'd left pretty early and the journey, while it was made up of a number of different stages, wasn't that far. I dropped my stuff at the youth hostel where I was staying (not sure why they're called youth hostels, they're normally filled with families and old people). Then I went for a walk around the village....the village is tiny; no shops, just houses, a town hall and a few B&B's. But there was a 700 hundred year old castle opposite the hostel....700 hundred years old, amazing. The scenery was awesome - the town is right at the mouth of a 'sea loch' (basically a fjord) and the view over the water with hills is the background and a castle in the foreground was really cool. I explored the castle, then crossed a river (just waded through) to the other side of the loch and went for a walk around the head land and was looking for seals, which are apparently common in the area
. I didn't see any seals but I did see a red deer on the way back to the hostel, which was the first proper (as in decent sized) wild animal I've seen on this trip. This whole place was proper, it was proper Scotland, when I think of Scotland I basically think of a place like this. I was a bit worried that after Norway, Scotland could be a bit of a let down (also because I have such good memories of my time here on my last trip), but if anything, Scotland is even more amazing than I remembered, just a great place.
I had lunch, then went for another walk to see the 'Cock of Arran'. No idea what it is, I didn't actually make it there, but with a name like that it must be pretty interesting. The reason I didn't make it is cos on my walk I saw this mountain and I thought, 'I'm climbing a mountain'. So I did. There was no path, I just walked through the heather and climbed any bits that were too steep to walk. I just headed for the peak. The view from the bottom of the mountain were amazing, after a 45 minute climb, the views from the top were unreal. For about 270 degrees all you could see was ocean with the mainland of Scotland in the background, and mountains behind that. The view went on forever. The other 90 degrees was looking back at some even higher mountains on Arran itself, which were pretty spectacular. Amazing views and definitely worth the climb. There were heaps of bogs and mud pits in the heather, and some of them were covered with grass, so I had to be pretty careful where I was treading, but I got up and down without and injuries or falls, just wet feet
. On my way up I saw four male red deer, with massive antlers. I was about 100 metres from them and they saw me and just looked at me for a while. These things are pretty big and if they decided to run at you, then you'd be in a bit of trouble, so I kept my distance for a while and just watched them, but when I took a few steps forward they all ran off, so it was pretty safe for me to keep going. On my way back down I saw the four deers again (I'm guessing it was the same four), it was back down on the path and they were all sitting in a field having a snack.
Amazing walk, but pretty tiring. I got back to the hostel about 7.30pm and cooked dinner (there had been a massive group in the hostel the previous night and they left all this food there, so I cooked up a shepherd's pie, which I was quite impressed with, I surprised myself). After dinner there wasn't a lot to do so I read my book for a bit and then went to bed.
Thursday 19th August
I hired a bike today. The idea was to ride most of the way around the island (the whole way is 90km, I was taking a short cut on the only road through the centre, which made my journey about 60km. I was up early and was off before 9am. The bike I hired was not designed for riding more than a few km and there is no way it was an adults bike....probably more for a 14 year old kid
. The saddle was too low, even when it was up as high as it could go, the gears often didn't change properly and the breaks pretty much didn't work. But I decided to keep riding anyway. The first 5 km was pretty much all up hill, steep hills. And cos the saddle was way too low I had to stand up the whole time. The good thing was that the next 5km were all down hill, really steep down hills...this is when I found out that the breaks didn't really work. No idea exactly how fast I was going down these hills but it would have been about 40 or 50 kmph cos they were really steep, so pretty scary when I put the breaks on and nothing happened. But there were pretty much no cars on the road so it was OK in the end. After the down hill there was a pretty flat section of another 10km with a few hills. The chain came off going up one of them, the bike was a pile of crap. After a bit over an hour of riding I stopped at the Arran brewery, but it was too early for a beer, so a had some cake at the coffee shop next door. The scenery along the way was awesome, but cos I had to work so hard to ride this bike (not only was it too small, but the chain was not running very smoothly at all), it was hard to appreciate everything. After my stop I headed in-land through some more mountains. I walked the bike up the hills so I could actually appreciate the scenery and the views, and then rode my bike down the hills so that I'd actually make it back by the end of the day. From east to west the island is about 20km, and once I reached the west coast I headed south for a km or so to the place that I had really set out to see; the stone circles
. I locked my bike up (which wasn't really necessary as no one in their right mind would steal this bike) and walked inland for a couple of km through some fields to get to the stone Circle's. There are four or five circles in total and most of the stones aren't huge, but the arrangement of stones is 4000 years old, so it's still pretty impressive. There are three stones still standing that are about 2 or 3 times higher than an average person, but a lot of the stones were taken away and used for building material around the island. I chilled out at the stones for a bit, then made my way back to my bike. It was about 1pm by this stage and I was pretty tired and sore. It was about 20km up the west coast of the island back to Lochranza, but it was fairly flat, so not too bad. The thing that made the ride so difficult is that, even on the flat and down hill sections, I had to stand up cos the seat was so low, so I couldn't really rest at all while I was riding. I stopped for lunch at the first place I came to that sold food, which was a small village about half way from the stones to Lochranza. I had jaffa cakes, not really a proper lunch, but it had been a while since I'd had some, and I love jaffa cakes, so I thought I'd have two packs. I think I consumed about 3 or 4 times my daily intake of sugar in one sitting, but I figured I'd burn it off on the rest of the ride. I got back to Lochranza mid-afternoon and thanked the guy who rented me the bike very much for taking £15 of my money in exchange for a pile of shit, then went back to the hostel, very sore and tired, but having seen a lot of cool stuff
. In the evening I did some washing and then had the rest of my shepherd's pie. There was still heaps off food left over, including a whole pack of chicken breasts and some lemons. I was still hungry after my long ride so I cut the lemon up into chunks, put these inside the chicken breast, then squeezed the rest of the lemon juice over the chicken, added a bit of salt and pepper and baked the chicken up. I'd never tried this before, but ti seemed like it would work. Not only did it work but it was amazing....all the other people in the dining room eating their noodles and beans were pretty jealous. So I had two dinners and I had enough left over for breakfast the next day (chicken for breakfast, not conventional, but it was really tasty and also free, so it did the job). After my massive cook up I read for a bit then went to bed. Was a tiring but worthwhile day.
Friday 20th August
Up early, chicken for breakfast, bus to Brodick, ferry to Ardrossen, train to Glasgow, train to Edinburgh. I arrived at my hostel at about 3.30pm, see the next entry for more details.....