- Loch of the Seals -

On fair Lochranza streamed the early day,
Thin wreaths of cottage smoke are upward curl'd
From the lone hamlet, which her inland bay
And circling mountains sever from world.
( The Lord of the Isle - by Sir Walter Scott )

The ruined castle, which sits upon a grassy promontory on one side of Lochranza bay, and the brooding slopes of the mountains that frame it, make this one of the most spectacular settings on Arran - yet Lochranza, despite being the only large village in the north of the island, receives far fewer visitors than the southern resorts.

Those who only see the southern half of Arran are missing out on the wonderful scenery, wildlife and other attractions of north Arran. For those who do venture north, Lochranza is a perfect place to stay for those interested in exploring the area, whether on foot, cycle, or motor vehicle. It is, of course, the terminus for the Kintyre ferry, and therefore an ideal 'stopping-off' point for those arriving in or leaving the Isle of Arran.

Loch Ranza from the air
Loch Ranza from the air
The village of Lochranza lies in a sheltered valley, where the lowest part is flooded by the sea to form a sea loch - as seen in the photograph on the right. The spit of land where the ruined castle stands can be clearly seen. In this photograph, Castlekirk Bed and Breakfast (B&B) establishment is directly above and slightly to the left of the castle - among the row of cottages there.

A small river runs down the length of the valley, draining Glen Chalmadale and Gleann Easan Biorach, to empty itself into Loch Ranza. The ferry terminus is at the north-western tip of the loch, and the north-eastern part of the loch is a favourite spot for seals, where they bask on the rocks close to the shore.

Lochranza's position is truly stunning. Standing in the village and gazing up at the surrounding hills, the desire to explore further can become irresistible. Walking is, of course, the best way to explore - and there are plenty of footpaths and tracks up into the hills. For those who are less agile, there are more gentle walks along the river or around the coast.

Lochranza lies snuggled beneath the surrounding peaks
Lochranza - looking inland towards Torr Nead

The village itself is strung out along each side of the loch and, further inland, on each side of the river. There are no shops here, but cooked meals etc. are available in local hotels and the distillery (see below), and there are bars which are the centre of the local social scene.

A common sight in Lochranza
A common sight in Lochranza
Although the population of Lochranza is small, it is a busy little place - particularly in summer - as there is a Study Centre in the village, a camp site and a SYHA hostel.

The high fences that you will see around all of the properties in Lochranza are not to keep out these young visitors though - they are to keep out the sheep and deer, both of which graze everywhere in the village. It's common to see deer grazing at the roadside, in the churchyard, (or in our garden!) for much of the year. The sheep also graze freely - and seem to have developed a knack of getting over, under or around any fence!

The Sailor's Grave
The Sailor's Grave
Lochranza has many sites worth visiting, beside the more well known. One of these is the Sailor's Grave, situated by the roadside on the way to Catacol. It tells a strange, but sad story.

In 1854 a ship anchored in the bay off of Lochranza. A man by the name of John McLean had died on board and the crew wanted to bury him in Lochranza. However, the people of Lochranza were fearful that the body of this sailor might bring the plague to the village and so they refused to allow the body to be buried in the churchyard.
The ship's crew had no better luck along the coast at Catacol, where the people also refused to allow the sailor to be buried within the village.

A compromise was reached whereby the sailor was buried by the roadside between the two villages, and his grave can be seen today. It became a custom for people to deposit a pebble from the beach upon the sailor's grave as they passed by - as a token of respect, and perhaps apology, that he was not laid to rest within one of the local churchyards.

Obviously, Lochranza castle is one of the major attractions within the village, as it is superbly situated on a curved shingle spit that projects out into the water. Much of what can be seen of the castle today is the result of rebuilding in the 16th Century, but there are remnants of the original castle that was built before 1261 for the MacSweens. In 1262 it was granted by Alexander III to Walter Stewart, the Earl of Menteith.

Lochranza Castle

Robert the Bruce is said to have landed at Lochranza from Ireland in 1306 at the start of his long struggle to liberate Scotland. The castle was certainly in the possession of his grandson when he became King Robert II of Scotland in 1371.
It subsequently saw use as a royal hunting lodge. Several further changes of ownership followed, during which the castle slowly became transformed into the tower house we see today. It was also gradually turned to face towards the village rather than the sea.

During the 1490's it was used as a base from which James IV could attack the MacDonalds, the Lords of the Isles. 1614 saw its occupation by James VI; and Cromwell occupied it in the 1650's. Then, following the foreclosure of a mortgage, it found its way in 1705 into the hands of the Hamiltons, like so much else in Arran. It has been disused since the end of the 18th Century.

Part of the Distillery
Lochranza distillery
Another of the main attractions of Lochranza today is Arran's new whisky distillery. The distillery is set in a modern complex at the southern end of the village - look out for the copper pagodas.
Tours of the distillery are given daily between 10am and 6pm, and end with a free sample of the final product! The (award-winning) distillery café and restaurant offers salads, pasta dishes, baguettes and Scottish specialities during the day. Evening meals are served from 7pm - 10pm (closed Monday evenings) - booking is advisable.
Reduced opening hours between 1 November and 31 March. Telephone 01770 830 264 or visit their web site for more details.

Lochranza also has its own (par 70) Golf Course. The course is cared for with a view to enhancing the local wildlife. The bird population has doubled since 1990, and there are now 24 species feeding and many nesting within the golf course perimeter. Wild red deer graze the Golf Course throughout the year, with the highest count up to 48. They make their own contribution to the quality of the grass!