by Stuart Gough
“Robert Burns is said to have been blind to natural grandeur because he could see Arran almost daily from the Ayrshire farms on which he spent his youth, yet never once mentioned it in verse or prose. His blindness has been explained either on the ground that he lived before the fashion for scenery developed, or that his agricultural preoccupations compelled him to be more conscious of foreground detail than of the broader sweep of the landscape. But there may be another and more cogent reason why, although he could see Arran frequently in periods of good visibility, he failed to identify it.
The stranger approaching Arran for the first time, and by the common route, by rail from Glasgow to Ardrossan, may first see it as a spectacular range of hills rising beyond the uplands which slope away from the water-meadows by the side of the railway, but he is no more likely than Burns to apprehend its separate identity, for there is no sign from inland Ayrshire of the large stretch of water which lies between it and the coast, and makes it visibly an island. He is likely to be conscious of it only when he reaches the coast. Then its impact can be breathtaking, depending on the weather, time, and season. Too often, when the wind is in the south and rain is falling, the island is invisible, or only a long black smudge beneath a dreary monotony of grey cloud. But let the wind be in the west or north, preferably the latter, and its contribution to the glory of the Firth of Clyde is undeniable. Lying fifteen miles or so across the water, lofty and jagged in the north, undulating in the middle, and sloping to the south, its sides gashed by narrow glens, its coastline broken by the steep bulk of Holy Isle, and given added variety at its southern extreme by the outline of the low islet of Pladda, it dominates every other natural feature in sight, drawing the eye from the water to its summit peaks, then up to the blue of the sky, or into the clouds. Spiritually, as well as in this more literal sense, the sight is uplifting.”
My thanks to Robert McLellan for the above quotation, which is the opening page to his seminal work entitled “The Isle of Arran” published by David & Charles in 1970 in their Island Series. Arran is roughly twenty miles long by ten wide and the views of it from the mainland – from the east, north and west – can be stunning.
Here is a selection of cards looking at Arran from various locations on the mainland, or other islands, starting from Troon on the south Ayrshire coast and working northwards, round by the Kyles of Bute, and down the Kintyre peninsula.
Troon is positioned on the Ayrshire coast directly opposite the southern half of Arran and this atmospheric card shows a typical family of holidaymakers or day trippers enjoying the delights of the extensive sandy beach to the south of the town with its extensive supply of guest houses. It may be too cold for out and out swimming, but a bit of paddling is okay, and who knows if the wind drops sufficiently, the wee boys may jettison their jerseys, and mum may shed her coat – I assume the hat is for the sun!
Saltcoats was a mecca for summer holidaymakers, with the trains from Glasgow doing a roaring trade. Here with the magnificent backdrop of the Arran mountains the beach was thronged with people, as was the grassy area, with its swings etc., between it and the long frontage of B & B’s, hotels & guest houses. This 1938 Valentine’s card shows that the elder generation still preferred to keep “covered up” with their long coats, suits and hats. But still they were prepared to struggle down to the sand with the big pram!
Harbour servicing the shortest sea route to the island. Here we see the T.S. Marchioness of Graham, built by the Govan yard of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd. in 1936. She was 220 feet long and 30 feet in the beam, with sufficient promenade deck space to carry a few cars – providing they could stomach the precarious drive on and off the piers on the two wooden planks shoved out from the deck! Note the exposed position endured by the ship’s captain on the open bridge!
Seamill, just up the coast from Ardrossan, has a long stretch of exposed beach with an uninterrupted view across to the Arran skyline. In this 1935 card we see the proliferation of the motor car has led to spontaneous, get-away-fromit-all trips to the seaside with so much freedom that they even drive their cars right on to the sands! A far cry from today when we are restricted to designated car parks! The message on the card says “Hope you are enjoying your holiday in Arran. The hills look very lovely from here.”
“The West Kilbride Golf Club lies on a beautiful strip of links land and raised beach adjacent to the coastal village of Seamill, West Kilbride and is the most northerly of Ayrshire’s true links courses. With its magnificent views of Arran, Bute and Cowal it makes a wonderful venue for the game and a fine test of golf.” So says the West Kilbride Golf Club website!
The message on this card says “Beautiful view from camp. Raining yesterday but fair today, although dull. Having a good time. Ella”
Fairlie is remembered for its railway pier, but sadly its station closed in 1972. The Arran ferry ran from here during the Second World War and it continued to provide the winter service until the 1960s. However this card shows a much older, small stone jetty, obviously much loved by local urchins. Here we see them looking longingly at the lucky ones who are being sculled around in that wonderfully relaxed technique of the one oar operated from the stern of the rowing boat – all to a wonderful backdrop of the Cumbraes and Arran.
Largs sits on the coast directly opposite the Isle of Bute and has quite an attraction as a quiet seaside resort, but its crowning glory is the stunning view from above the town. As you drop down into Largs by the Haylie Brae you can see right across the intervening waterways to the islands of the Clyde and with the sun setting behind the Arran mountains, nothing can surpass it. Back in 1935, when the photo was taken for this card, the ‘Bonnie Blink Tearooms’ capitalised on this rare asset. Now there is nothing on this spot but scrub land. Any entrepreneurs around?
Bute Golf Club’s 9-hole Kingarth Course was formed in 1888. In this Valentine’s 1934 card we see enthusiastic golfers at the 1 st green, The Warrior”, (336 yards par 4). According to the club’s website “Players can enjoy the splendour of seaside golf in a spectacular setting with the dramatic backdrop of ‘The Sleeping Warrior’ on the mountains of Arran”.
Below is a modern card of breathtaking beauty, photographed and produced by Gregor Roach, and reproduced here by his kind permission. Claonaig on the Kintyre Peninsula is the destination of the Lochranza ferry from Arran. On a fine summer’s day a couple of car-loads of our friends from Corrie like nothing better than to drive to Lochranza, take the ferry to Claonaig and walk the couple of miles to Skipness. Here we indulge our palettes with exquisite seafood and white wine at the Seafood Cabin, while enjoying the absolute best view there is to be had of Arran. This is a must for all of you!
Port Righ Bay is an area of Carradale on the east side of Kintyre overlooking the Kilbrannan Sound and the west side of Arran. Here the view is more of highly glaciated mountains running down to more gentle uplands. Fishing in this part of Argyll has always been important, reaching its peak at the height of the herring boom. In this 1934 Valentine’s card we see the progress of the fishing boats from the open herring skiffs to the larger boat with wheelhouse. Nowadays there are fewer boats and only shellfish on the menu!
Campbeltown is the principle town of Kintyre and lies a further fourteen miles south of Carradale. This 1938 card shows it sitting at the head of Campbeltown Loch and boasting a vibrant whisky industry it understandably gave rise to the famous song of that name! Across the mouth of the sea loch lies the small Davaar Island which gave its name to one of the famous steamers which connected the east coast of Kintyre and the west coast of Arran with Greenock. The Arran coastline of its south end is much lower and less dramatic from here.
Stuart Gough is Editor of the Strathclyde Postcard club, resident of Arran, local historian, and archivist at the Isle of Arran Museum.