Billy Sangster

Stuff out of my brain

Arran Part Eight

Back to reality then.

We managed to get an earlier than planned ferry back by joining the “Unbooked” queue for the sailing before our booked one and got on no bother. It was a bit sad seeing the Isle fading away into the distance, but my bairns didn’t let me ponder for long; there was juice and stuff to buy from the café onboard, then before we knew it, it was time to go back down to the van and start the four hour journey home to Newburgh.

The washing machine has been on constant since we arrived back and I’ve been sucked back into the online world of Facebook and Twitter once again, just trying to catch up on what’s been going on. I need to know the new twists and turns of the referendum debate so I can adjust my arguments, if necessary.

It was a great holiday, a real break from normal, especially not having internet access – and I feel better for it.

I’m sure we made some good memories for my children and they both want to return to Arran in the future.

You should go there, I think you’d love it.

Arran Part Seven

Were we finally going to see a day we could get to the beach?

Well yes we were, as a matter of fact.

The lady who owned the lodges had given us some pointers as to which places were good to go to and amongst these was her favourite beach, located behind the Creamery at Kilmory. After a wrong turning and some directions from a friendly local, we trundled our way down the long, narrow, stony road and found the beach in question.

The road literally took us straight to the beach – I just turned the van broadside to the water and parked up. The children got out and immediately started playing in the water and building sand castles while I opened the side door of the van, placed the newly bought (waterproof) travel rug on the wooden floor and set out the food we’d taken.

The van turned out to be the best idea I’ve ever had, nearly. It acted like a windbreak of course and I was forced to break out the sun cream, clarting it over us all to avoid the dreaded burns.

We pigged out. We played with sand. We played with sea water. We watched the tide come in and I read some of my Julian Cope book.

Around three o’clock the sun clouded over a bit and this was our queue to go back to the lodge.

The other thing we’d planned today was to finally get some cycling done. Turns out Arran isn’t that learner-child-cyclist friendly, being mostly up and down some extremely steep hills, not to mention how busy the main road was, so we doubled up our plan to go to the Old Pier Café for tea with our other plan of cycling short, easy route into Lamlash itself.

The cycling was achieved, involving not a few moans and gripes admittedly and we reached the café, which, at five o’clock, was shutting up shop for the day. We managed to get an ice cream from them however, then cycled back to the lodge for that jar of emergency hot dogs that were in the cupboard.

I got conned into reading five, yes five, chapters of Ruby Redfort to the children at bedtime, seeing as it was “our last night here”. Just as well I’m enjoying the story as much as they are.

No time for Settlers of Catan tonight either. We’ll be home when the next game of that is played.

All packed and ready for the long journey home tomorrow. I put most of the unnecessary bags in the van tonight allowing a quick getaway tomorrow morning – not that I want a quick getaway, but we have to be out by ten in the morning, so we have out work cut out. Must admit I had a few pangs of sadness realising that this holiday is swiftly coming to an end. I’ve really enjoyed this one.

Thing is, after that we have a five hour wait until the ferry leaves. Time for a last bit of sight seeing in Brodick and that will not doubt involve yet more spendage of money. Och well, it’s our last night here.

Arran Part Six

Today we went searching in vain for a mythical viking fort.

I’d spotted an arrowed sign some days previously at the side of the String Road saying “Ballygowh Fort”. It was one of the official Arran Access signs. We searched it out again and followed it.

After negotiating a twisting rocky track we found ourselves at a farm, where a man up a ladder told me that the fort was actually covered over but we could still go up if we wanted. It was up a steep hill so I gave the children the option. We began the climb.

The extremely rocky two-furrowed sheep-shit laden track lead us up through several fields, winding up and around the hillside. The view was magnificent and we were even able to pinpoint the stone circles we’d visited the day before, way in the distance.

The weather had turned out alright, as well. The sun beamed down at us as we made our weary way up to our destination.

Eventually the track opened out into an open field with no discernible direction in sight. I looked around, surveying our surroundings and noticed that a slightly lower hill to the south had a peculiarly human design to it. Its conical shape betrayed the fact that it was man-made and I ascertained that we’d found our “fort”, some four hundred metres away on another hill.

The bairns by now were too tired and starting to get grumpy about our plight, so we decided to call it a day regarding the fort search and descended the track back to the van.

We returned to the lodge via Kildonan as we wanted to see what the beach was like there. We still hadn’t had a day of sunshine but still lived in hope that our last day might provide it. We vowed to return to this place if Friday provided that sunny day.

No Settlers of Catan tonight. The children are missing their mum a bit this evening, so this is where I curse the lack of internet access at the lodge. FaceTime usually comes to the rescue on these occasions, but not this time. Even a phonecall was out of the question, sadly.

Some extra chapters of my daughter’s Ruby Redfort book cheered them up somewhat, so all was well at bedtime.

Arran Part Five

We’re fairly getting into the swing of things here, developing a morning routine in our small wooden habitation: the bairns wake me by coming through to my annex and joining me in completing a level of DEVICE 6; we then get up and have breakfast; I pack the bags and we set off on our latest planned adventure.

This day it was to be stone circles and Brodick Castle.

Arran has quite a few neolithic constructions and luckily most of the best ones are concentrated into one area: Machrie Moor. From the wee car park provided, it’s a short walk of around quarter a mile to find the first one; then it’s another three quarters of a mile and you come to the other six.

There are some exceptional specimens here, depending on how you value your circles: quantity and symmetry versus the sheer height and majesty of single standing stones. I enjoy both.

When we started the walk the sun was blazing down and I was beginning to think I should have taken sun-cream. Pretty soon however, it was obvious by looking north that some rain was on its way and, much no matter how much my daughter insisted to the contrary, I urged my two charges to don their waterproof gear pronto. We were just in time and endured the only real downpour of the day without having to leave the stones to find shelter.

Photo opportunities and lunch were had sitting on the massive boulders and then we boarded Betsy the van once more to travel back to Brodick and the might castle that dominates the village facade.

This pile was owned by successive Dukes of Hamilton from the time of Mary Queen of Scots. In fact I was told by a guide that if Mary had been born five days later then the first Hamilton would have been heir to the throne. As happens with many of these vast estates over the years, the family stayed land-rich while becoming cash strapped, ending up with the rest of the country having a whip round to raise the millions needed for the National Trust to take over the concern.

It never ceases to amaze me the opulence and splendour that these families were used to living in. Coming from the sparseness of the standing stones, this was never more apparent. The fact was further brought home when, after finishing the castle tour, we visited a small bronze age roundhouse built on the grounds by a lottery funded National Trust project. A nice lady there answered my questions about the reconstructed abode while we were gently kippered by the fire smoking away in the centre of the house.

Another great day. There certainly are plenty things to do in Arran. This small island puts our mainland tourist areas to shame.

Arran Part Four

Ah, back to the consistent rain this day.

Our plan of attack was initially to seek out the “King’s Cave”, where it is alleged that no less than Robert the Bruce himself had done seven hundred years previously when on the run after some disastrous battles.

It is here that the legend of the spider, Try, Try and Try Again, was born.

If we had enough time left I also wanted to visit the biggest group of the many stone circles found across Arran. That’s hippy in me making an appearance.

We went to the place we reckoned the walk started from, Blackwaterfoot, parked the van in the hotel car park we’d stopped at on the Sunday and looked along the coastline.

Then my son reminded us that we’d parked in another car park further up the coast slightly the other day as well. We decided this would be the better option.

After getting ourselves kitted out with our waterproofs again, as the rain just wasn’t letting up today, we started at the beach. I walked over and asked a woman there if we were on the right track, as we still weren’t exactly sure. She said we were, but because the bairns were a “bit wee” I might consider going to a car park further north. The walk was slightly shorter there, it was a loop and went through more woodland, which would save us from getting blasted with the brisk sea breeze coming ashore. She said she’d a group of Duke of Edinburgh Award youngsters on their way to meet her from the opposite direction, “but they were seventeen”. I said I’d give my two the option.

“The beach way, dad!” was the reply I got when offering them the alternative. The beach way it was to be.

This was a great walk, along and around “The Doon” which is a massive outcrop of volcanic stone standing sentry-like at the shore. To get around it we had to negotiate a beautifully manicured golf course, observing the warnings that we did so at our own risk. Risk of what wasn’t mentioned. Whether it was rogue golf balls that were going to attack us, or irate golfers themselves, we never found out as the route taken was without incident.

Still seemed a bit strange coming from the rugged coastline route onto this impeccably trimmed and maintained sporting ground.

Anyway, soon we were onto what was to be the most challenging part for my daughter, a mile or so through five foot high ferns (and “jaggies”). She persevered though and before we knew it we were at the caves.

We’d remembered to take my tiny LED torch with us, or my daughter did, so we could see right to the back of the main cave. I got a decent photo of my son sitting on a stone at the back “contemplating a spider building its web”.

We stopped and had our sandwiches on a handy bench made out of a railway sleeper, wondering how it got there and concluding it must have been flotsam, before heading back in the opposite direction.

We’d been pulverised by wind and rain this day, but it was my and my children’s favourite so far.

No Settlers of Catan tonight; it was quite late by the time we got back from this epic walk and I decided that it would be best to give the game a rest for a day, in case the children get bored with it (although something tells me that might take some time).

Arran Part Three

Although not completely off, the rain on the Monday was altogether lighter and a lot more intermittent than it had been the previous day.

The children had studied the book and map that the site owner lady had written out for us and decided we were going to find the viewing point we needed for the “Sleeping Warrior”.

This was a position on the island from which the formation of some of the mountains resembled a medieval soldier sleeping on his side.

I also insisted we go for a relatively short walk along the coastline in a wee loop which took in a viewing of “Fairy Dell”.

A visit to the Arran Whisky Distillery was also on the cards for today, we decided.

We searched in vain for the viewing point for that old sleeping soldier guy. I stopped at a lay-by I considered as close to the place indicated on the map in the book we had researched in the lodge. Mind you, the low lying rain clouds atop the mountain range forbade any reasonable chance we had of a far-sighted viewing today. Onwards and upwards. Which happened to be downwards in our case – to Lochranza.

We found the place to park at the start of the “Fairy Dell” walk and began our journey marveling in the bracing sea breeze accosting our senses.

Very soon however, the tell-tale spits and spots of rain were felt, fore-warning us of the oncoming deluge to come – one of biblical proportions, it turns out. We quickly donned the welcome waterproofs I’d packed in the bags and soon were battling our way through a malicious pelting of water that had other tourists turning back in terror to the safety of cars and dry clothing.

On and on we braved the walk, the rain stopping momentarily as if summoning up a second, third, fourth pulse of watery venom. We laughed in its face.

When we arrived at the far end of the walk, we turned off the track which was the official “Coastal Route” which meandered around the entire isle, only to be confronted with pink and blue waterproof-cladded beings standing under trees in a small wooded area. Very strange, as they all seemed to be just standing there, like someone had set up some Tiso mannequins to brighten up the tiny wood. I talked to a couple and found them to be the most pleasant of mannequins – even confirming that my small family had taken the right path. We continued our journey, stopping for lunch of ham sandwiches and Doritos during another cessation of the Great Flood – only then realising we must have walked straight past the “Fairy Dell” without even noticing it.

Disappointing, not least for my seven year old daughter, who’d made it her prerogative to cast an eye upon the home of those that exchanged teeth for pound coins.

After stopping briefly at the small hut of a gentleman bearing trinkets and baubles of the tourist variety we found ourselves on the last leg of the “short” walk. With less that two hundred metres to go, my son noticed a wooden bench placed in a strategic place that was puzzling to us all. He immediately bounded up to see if he could find an answer to this conundrum and was overjoyed when he saw the precise reason the bench was sitting at the strange angle, high above the path – an alternative view of the “Sleeping Warrior”, no less! We could scarcely believe our eyes, as this was the last place we expected to find an angle to view this thing. However, with the rain back on and out tired legs yearning for a seat in the van, we gave it the cursory once-over before finishing our walk.

Once we had taken off our soaking waterproofs and found ourselves to be of relatively dry composition, I thrummed the van into life and we headed to our last stop of the day – Arran Distillery.

The six pound tour of the whisky manufacturing process was informative enough, I enjoyed the two nips of single malt supplied to me, one fourteen and the other ten years old, but what I enjoyed most was the refreshment of knowledge I received in the art of making the “Water of Life”. Purely for my own long-planned idea of one day operating my own illicit still of course. One day. That and the whisky fudge I seem to manage to purvey each year the children and I are on holiday. I procured two boxes of the stuff and can tell you now that we are now down to the final package of said confectionary.

Back to the lodge for yet more Settlers of Catan, then bed, dreaming of what the next day on the island would bring.

Arran Part Two

The night we’d arrived had been the end a beautiful sunny day. The morning after, however, turned out to be anything but. The notorious West Coast rain was making an appearance after a great, mostly dry, summer over this side. We’d come prepared for this though, so armed with waterproofs we jumped in the van for a trip around the island, hoping we’d get a chance to get out and see some sights along the way.

When it came to it, the only time we spent outside the van was when my son and I darted through the rain to a public toilet in Blackwaterfoot to relieve out straining bladders.

Oh, that and one other time when I noticed that I hadn’t fitted the new windscreen wipers I’d purchased for the van the day before we’d left. Looks like I’ll have to resort to tie wrapping the things on, as I discovered on checking them that the fittings don’t quite work with a Transit. Must remember to do that tomorrow.

We enjoyed our wee excursion though and it gave us all a better idea of our bearings for planning trips for the next few days.

We circumnavigated the whole island, then, back at Brodick once more, made a trip to one of the Co-Op supermarkets there to stock up on a few provisions we’d either run out of or I’d forgotten to take.

Back to the lodge it was, for ham bagels, bananas and yoghourts (daughter’s idea), before – yes, you guessed it – another game of “Settlers of Catan”. This was to be a momentous occasion for me however, for it was to be the first time I’d win a board game. Any board game. Ever. Granted, my competition was a ten year old and a seven year old, but a victory is a victory. I’d sleep soundly that night, I can tell you, in all my splendor as newly-crowned King of Catan.

Hopefully the rain won’t still be falling tomorrow.

Arran Part One

The last week of school holidays before they went back and my second week having them full time (since my ex is working now, she only has them two weeks of the holidays. They went to summer camp thing at Skene Primary for two weeks, so that means I have them two as well. I split their two with me up and this was the last one.), I’d booked a week at a lodge in Arran.

I’d been promising my boy this for years – that I’d take him to the place that provided his first name.

We shoved everything we’d need into my work van and set off on the five hour journey.

I’d screwed my old iPad 2 onto the dash again and loaded it up with some of their films. Despicable Me 2 and part of Cloudy With Meatballs 2 got us all the way to Ardrossan and the ferry, a journey punctuated only by an unhealthy breakfast ordered by me, alongside a couple of kids’ meals at a Tesco on Dundee’s Kingsway. It was here that I also, without thinking, ordered a large mocha, remembering only as I lifted it to my lips that I’d kicked the caffeine habit in an earlier blog. Alas, I’d have to start again, from here.

I’m absolutely garbage at organising things so, true to form, I hadn’t thought about booking the ferry across to Brodick. Lucky for us there was space for unbooked people so we managed to get squeezed on at the end.

I also hadn’t factored in the hundred and twenty six quid return journey price, so that was something to take on the chin. Don’t know what I’d been expecting, forty, fifty quid return, maybe? Hope there’s enough left in there to cover the mortgage this month.

Getting off the ferry, I tried to re-boot the directions on the maps app, but the weak signal made this somewhat difficult. We’d just have to find Lamlash and drive around looking at signs, hopefully it would be obvious.

It wasn’t. The phone suddenly picked up a signal though, and I got directions to the postcode I’d tapped in. The app took us to this farm house steading but no sign of our lodge could be seen. Hmmm… This postcode might cover a fair area around here. Back to driving around the vicinity, hoping for a glimpse of a sign of our destination.

Five minutes later I screeched the brakes on at the peak of one bend, spotting the correct wordage on a wooden sign out of the corner of my eye. Bingo, we’d found it.

The owner lady was very pleasant and showed us to our lodge. Tucked away in a leafy dell, it looked great. The usual Scandinavian type wooden dwelling you’d expect. We got our stuff unloaded and began to settle in.

The lodge was all you’d need, spacious enough, kitchenette, bathroom, two bedrooms (one double, one twin), dining table and lounge area. A small veranda thing with plastic seats.

One thing was obvious though, there was a distinct feeling of dampness about the place, thinly masked by air fresheners and fabric conditioner.

“The beds all smell of perfume,” says my daughter, running back from the bedroom. I went through and had a sniff – aye, the duvets and pillows smelled like the bottom of a whore’s handbag – if he or she had been using Shake ‘n’ Vac. I’m not the world’s biggest perfume fan. Och well, a couple of days and they’d all be smelling of sweat and farts and it’d be just like home.

I’ve had a history of asthma since I was around seven, but luckily I shook it off in my twenties. Very occasionally it will rear its ugly head again though, but it has to be something I’m extremely allergic to that triggers it off these days. My son is not so lucky. Being ten and afflicted with the same condition, I feared how this dampness/perfume malarky might affect him. I was glad I’d had the foresight to pack his inhalers. It turned out we needed them. Both of us.

I’m not going to moan or complain about this dampness. Most people aren’t affected by it and these lodges are evidently old, maybe even past their best one might conclude. The couple who owned the place had taken over only weeks before and by the looks of things the previous owners hadn’t put a lot of, if any, t.l.c. into the place for a few years before they’d sold it.

What are they supposed to do, anyway? There must be a few months of every year when these dwellings are uninhabited. It would no doubt cost a fortune to continue to heat them over these lean times. We’d soldier on.

I’d casually mentioned to the bairns that I’d bought a new game, “Settlers of Catan”, for us to learn and play if we had any rainy days while on the island. As soon as my boy heard this, it never left the forefront of his mind. Determined he was that we’d play it that first night and play it we did, at his (and my daughter’s) insistance. I wasn’t sure if it was maybe a bit too advanced for them but was really proud when they both picked it up, lightning quick, in the two hours we spent on our first game. Especially proud of my daughter who grasped it at her tender seven years.

So ended our first night on Arran. We went to bed in a wooden lodge, tired as well as eager to see what adventures the days ahead would bring.