Rail & Sail to Arran with Elle Croft
Follow travel blogger Elle Croft as she visits the Isle of Arran with our Rail & Sail ticket.
As I wiggled my toes deeper into the sand and looked at the brick-red castle across the water, I turned to my friend Jackie in disbelief.
“Can you believe we were just in London a few hours ago?” I asked.
And then the freezing waves lapped against our feet and the moment was drowned out by our high-pitched squeals as we ran back to the safety of the footpath.
But that same thought kept returning to me during my stay.
Every time I turned a corner on the Scottish Isle of Arran, I was struck by how far this tranquil beauty felt from my day-to-day life in the hustle and bustle of London, and yet how easy it was to reach.
We’d flown out of London Gatwick at around 9am that same morning, landing in Glasgow less than 90 minutes later. From there, it was a quick bus ride to the centre of the city, where our ScotRail train departed from.
We were travelling on the Rail & Sail pass, which is a brilliant way to get to see more of Scotland without having to book each leg of your journey separately, or worse - stand in ticket queues for ages.
Our ScotRail tickets took us from Glasgow Central Station all the way to Brodick on the Isle of Arran, the largest island in the Firth of Clyde, which included a train journey to Ardrossan Harbour and a 40 minute ferry from the mainland to our final destination.
We arrived mid-afternoon, and were greeted by the shuttle bus that was to take us to our hotel, Auchrannie Spa Resort.
We checked into our gorgeous room on the executive floor (which meant we had access to the outdoor hot tub and executive lounge areas) and, keen to get the lay of the land before dark, we headed straight out again.
It was a short walk to the harbour town of Brodick: a small collection of quaint shops, restaurants and hotels, all facing the glassy water. It’s the island’s main village, nestled in the shadow of Goatfell, the tallest mountain on Arran.
We strolled along the beach - is there anything better than feeling the sand between your toes and the wind in your hair? - and popped into a few of the shops that we passed on the way down to the Visitor’s Centre. After enjoying delicious chocolate samples from James of Arran (try the Arran whisky truffles) and buying a souvenir magnet, it was time to find some dinner.
We asked for local recommendations at the Visitor’s Centre (which is located, conveniently, right at the harbour where the ferry comes into Brodick) and top of the list was The Douglas. Sadly, this hotel’s restaurant was temporarily closed for renovations, but the restaurants at Auchrannie came second on the list, so we opted for an early meal at Brambles.
As you’d expect on a Scottish island, seafood featured heavily on the menu at this simple, stylish restaurant, so we happily tucked into an incredible fillet of fish on a bed of crab risotto, paired with a gorgeous white wine.
Feeling full and sleepy after a day of travelling (and all that sea air!), it was time to truly unwind, thanks to the outdoor hot tub in the hotel’s executive area. The light sprinkling of rain didn’t put us off. In fact, it made the view - stretches of rolling hills carpeted by lush, green forest - even more atmospheric and picturesque.
We stayed there, marvelling that we’d been in one of the world’s biggest cities - which by now felt like worlds away - just hours previously, and only dragged ourselves out of the water when our skin was pruny.
The next morning, after a deep sleep and a lovely buffet breakfast in Cruise, we made our way to ASPA, Auchrannie’s luxurious spa, for indulgent treatments that made our day-to-day lives feel like a distant dream.
After a massage and a facial, Jackie and I ate sorbet in the relaxation room, complete with pod-like chairs, in a state of pure bliss.
Not wanting to miss out on the full spa experience, we managed to rouse ourselves in time for a quick swim in the huge indoor pool, as well as a sauna and steam session that melted away any last remnants of stress.
We ate a local lunch of salmon and Arran cheese at ASPA, and with just a few hours remaining to explore the island, we ventured outside, blinking at the sudden daylight as we emerged from our morning of pampering.
As we strolled in the opposite direction to Brodick (the Arran Cheese Shop was calling to us; a siren song we couldn’t ignore), we stopped to take photos of the lush greenery and bursts of colourful flowers adorning the roadside.
Along the way we passed a rambling golf course and the island’s cultural museum, and after asking for directions from a friendly local, we arrived at the Arran Cheese Shop, just in time to hear a local asking the woman behind the counter if she ever got cheesed off working there.
When we’d finished giggling, we browsed the huge selection of cheeses made on the island, with incredible flavours like chilli (my favourite), herb and smoky garlic.
Next to Arran Cheese was Arran Aromatics, a deceptively large shop that manufactures and sells all kind of delicious-smelling products from soaps to candles, with stunning scents like After the Rain that truly live up to their names.
After stocking up on souvenirs, we walked a little further down the road, past the brewery and pottery stores, to Brodick Castle, the same fairy-tale structure we’d seen from the beach the day before. The views from here stretched out to the town of Brodick below, and further out, into the Firth of Clyde.
With heavy hearts, we turned away from the gorgeous view and started making our way back to the harbour for our journey home, using our Rail & Sail tickets once again.
As the Isle of Arran slid away from us, swallowed by the wake of the ferry, I felt like I’d been away for a week rather than our short visit of just 24 hours. Because even as I boarded the ferry from Ardrossan to take me over to Arran, I couldn’t help but leave my troubles on the mainland and begin unwinding. Arran is an escape in the truest sense of the word.
I honestly never knew such remote beauty was so easily accessible, and thanks to the Rail & Sail pass, I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be back for another round of Arran therapy, just as soon as I get the chance.