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Travel: Isle of Arran

Snow covered mountains on the Scottish Island of Arran. Picture: Contributed

Snow covered mountains on the Scottish Island of Arran. Picture: Contributed

Erikka Askeland’s mini-break on Arran coincided with the wildest winter storm in living memory. But she’ll be back

We sure can pick ‘em. We wanted to experience Arran slightly off season. But we hadn’t banked on visiting during the great snowstorm of 2013, that ravaged both the Isle of Arran and Kintyre peninsula with weather the like of which none of the islanders could remember. Giant snow drifts closed roads and knocked out power lines, triggering a massive effort to ship generators over from the mainland. For most residents, chaos replaced what could have been a reasonable expectation of mild spring weather.

My partner had spotted that we could be in for trouble early on. I had been merrily stuffing a bag with toiletries when he reported that snow had knocked out mains power on Arran. I rang the hotel we were due to stay at, the Glenisle in Lamlash. A little breathless and giggly, the woman who answered the phone confirmed, yes, they had power and urged us to come on over. The rental car was booked and the weekend cleared of any home-based tasks, so we said, “why not?” and set off.

I started having qualms at the ferry terminal at Ardrossan. Did it really make sense to take a ferry to an island without power? But by then we were stuck in the queue for the boat – surrounded mainly by lorries stacked high with emergency temporary power units.

Yet there’s nothing like a ferry boat trip on a blustery day – and a bottle of Arran’s best ale – to kindle a sense of adventure. Once we arrived, the short drive from Brodick to Lamlash was actually quite pretty, surrounded by snow-enrobed fields. And while the wind and water were wild, the hotel was warm, cheerful and welcoming.

We had initially made an attempt to see if the whisky distillery was open. It wasn’t, so that gave us a good reason to stay put. Wine and dinner it was. Turned out the hotel’s chef makes a mean lamb hotpot and an even meaner burger. In fact, the short yet varied menu – including a range of local cheeses, snack platters and smoked salmon – would keep us both nourished and entertained throughout the hours we would while away there.

As our leisure time wore on, it became clearer how the storm was affecting people. The night before we arrived, the hotel’s public areas had been packed with locals, driven out of their dark homes and drawn like thirsty moths to the barroom’s beacon. I overheard one of the hotel staff speaking on the phone to what must have been among a number of nervous would-be patrons from the mainland – should I come? To which the answer was becoming a bit less breathless and slightly more stern –yes – and if you didn’t, there was not going to be a full refund.

The next day dawned bright with a fierce wind, making it perfect driving weather, I thought. Heading south we hit the beach and then up a hill to check out a castle ruin overlooking Kildonan. The roads on the south-east of the island were bare and dry. So with the conditions looking pretty good, I suggested that we continue our counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the island.

So off we went. But quite quickly the white stuff went from a smattering on the fields to towering in banks over the roof of our little rental car. By this time there was literally no turning back, as the track had became too narrow for even a 27-point turn. Increasingly the only other cars we saw on the road were 4x4s, emergency vehicles and the occasional burger van parked besides. These, we realised, weren’t for locals keen on fast food but supplies put on by the utility company for those who couldn’t make themselves a hot meal.

We made it back to the Glenisle and gave up the idea of attempting any further hijinks. Instead we opted for the playing cards, Scrabble, hanging out at the bar, and swapping stories with our fellow guests. Being forced to relax was really no burden – I could, in fact, recommend doing it more.

The next day before returning on the ferry, we took a quick drive around to see if anything was open. But there was no-one home at the Arran Aromatic shop, nor Brodick Castle, nor the Arran brewery.

However, we did find homeware store Bunty’s, and we had a nice chat with the owner. She told us how the past few days had been a bit scary but that the storm’s galvanising effect on the community had actually been quite fun. As she was was lucky enough to have electricity, her home had become a rolling dinner party for her neighbours, with wine and singing late into the night.

On the ferry back, a woman told us how sorry she was our visit had been ruined. Actually, we told her, it hadn’t been. It had ranged from the harrowing to the monotonous to the heart-warming. We vowed to come back.

The Glenisle Hotel and Bistro (Lamlash, Isle of Arran, 01770 600 559, www.glenislehotel.com) offers bed and full Scottish breakfast from £77 to £195 per room.

Cross from Ardrossan to Brodick return with Calmac (0800 066 5000, www.calmac.co.uk) for £85.40, for two passengers and a car.

 

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