Dumfries might only be 70 miles away, give or take a few flaps of the crows wings, but when you're bound to land travel and not flight, it's a bleeding long way to do in one day! Our day started at 5am when the melodic sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Sweet Home Alabama' started blaring from my iPhone – and let's be honest, there's no way anyone's sleeping through that! – and we roused ourselves from slumber, or in my case a less than successful night's snoozing. We bypassed breakfast in favour of loading up the car, as quietly as possible, and started for Ardrossan and the first ferry that would take us to Brodick on the isle of Arran. I'd been told that the route we were taking was very similar to one we regularly use at home, that it was a straight road and we'd be along it in no time. Well, the no time was right. I didn't think I'd ever done so much vehicular slalom in my life – that would be retracted later in the day – and the individual responsible for the misinformation was reminded on a semi-regular basis of this oversight – 'straight huh? Sure…' was my catchphrase for the morning.
We ended up making the ferry in good time, we even managed to refuel on the way to save time later, collected our tickets and made a useful discovery that I'll now share with the wider world. Caledonian McBrayne are tricky customers, for anyone making the Ardrossan – Brodick/Lochranza – Claonaig trip, please, don't believe the website, you CAN prebook and prepay the Lochranza – Claonaig part, and you'll save yourself a pretty penny. The Lochranza/Claonaig ferry doesn't advertise the cost of their service, and at £20 one way I can understand, but here's the catch, if you don't prebook and just turn up expecting to pay on the day, it'll cost you £40! So here's the tip, book early, collect your tickets on the day at Ardrossan and pay for the other service there too, they'll happily arrange the tickets and you can keep the extra £20! Now, having said all that, Arran is gorgeous! The trip over from the mainland was a very quick hour long journey in a sizeable ferry – though there was no outside observation area – and once on the island it's very easy to get swept up in the island-life feel. It's laid-back, friendly and incredibly scenic, if we'd had more time I would have loved to explore more of the island and try to catch glimpses of the native wildlife that still roams much of the island unhindered – so much so that as we were driving we drove past a herd of deer not more than 4 metres away from the car, they didn't even bother looking up! The island is a sanctuary for Red Squirrels, Golden Eagles, Harbour Seals, Badgers and Red Deer, all of which can regularly be spotted by those pesky bi-peds who cause so much damage. We drove past Brodick Castle, the Corrie Gold Course, numerous hikers, bikers, walkers and pony-riders, golfers, fishers, four-wheel-drivers and water-sports enthusiasts, it was all rather boggling at the time. There are mountains that are bare, or with a light 'frosting' of heather, and there are mountains covered in forest. Rushing streams and slowly trickling brooks, crumbling castles and a brand-new distillery. There really was something for everyone, two and four legged!
The ferry from Lochranza back to the mainland was equally quick and painless, a much smaller affair with only seven cars onboard – and one cyclist who was riding the length of the west-coast of Scotland – and upon reaching land again we set forth for Oban, a mere 60 miles. Famous last words. For the record the road is much improved since I drove this some five years ago, most of it is now in good repair and two lanes which made it much nicer. The road up meanders along through several small towns, Tarbert is lovely and crowns a natural bay which is perfect for that midmorning cup of tea or a bite of lunch, we however were pressing on for Oban. The next stretch of road though made me eat my words from the morning, there were more twists, turns, hills and valleys than I could count, and all with such close proximity that I was hard pressed to get the car into 5th gear, a constant juggle back and forth through 2nd – 4th the best that could be managed. After and hour and a half of this bitumen surfaced rally driving we entered Oban and sighed with relief, now we only had the town to navigate through before being able to stop for the day and have our first cup of tea. Yes, you read it, all of this without even a single cup of tea. The world must have ended.
We checked into our digs for the next couple of nights, and thankfully we were given access to the kitchens first so we could settle our nerves, and organised ourselves for the rest of the day, which essentially was just a timed walk down to the ferry as a preliminary run for the morning. Oban's always been a bit of a favourite with our family. We came here for the first time 20 years ago and had a great time. Since then we've been several times and always enjoyed ourselves. It's one of those towns that was swept away on the seaside escape idea of the Victorian age, when railway opened up much of Great Britain to the average working family, but unlike many other towns Oban's never become entrenched in the 'holiday town' persona. It's an old fishing port, the seat of a Highland Clan, and the gateway to the Western Isles. From here you can reach many of the smaller islands like Iona, Tiree and Coll, or Staffa – famous for Mendelssohn s 'Hebrides Overture in B Minor' or 'Fingal's Cave' as it's better known – and during summer it's a mecca for pretty much anyone who wants to get into the Great Outdoors. Oh, and it also has fantastic seafood! On the way back though we spotted a not-so-small cafe that theoretically does a good breakfast for £4, so we're testing that first thing tomorrow on our way to… You didn't actually think I'd tell you, did you? No, that's all for now, we're exhausted after being on the road for 8 hours of near constant travelling, so I'll leave you with a picture of one of the four legged friends we met on Arran.