Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Arran

Arran (Gael. ` lofty isle '), an island of Buteshire, forming the southern and larger portion of that county. It lies, like the rest of Buteshire, in the Firth of Clyde, being bounded SW and NW by Kilbrannan Sound, which separates it from Kintyre in Argyllshire; NE by the Sound of Bute, parting it from the Isle of Bute; and E and S by the main expanse of the Firth. Measuring at the narrowest, its extreme points are 3 miles E of Kintyre, 5¾ SW of the Isle of Bute, 9&hz. W by S of the mainland of Ayrshire, and respectively 13 N and 30 N by W of Ailsa Craig and Kirkholm Point at the mouth of Loch Ryan. Its outline is that of an irregular ellipse, little indented by bays or inlets, and extending length wise from N to S. Its greatest length is 191/3 miles; its greatest breadth is 103/8 miles, contracting to 7½ at a line drawn westward from Brodick Bay; and its area is about 165 square miles. Its W side and its N end communicate with steamers plying between Greenock and Campbeltown; its E side is regularly visited by steamers from Greenock, both by way of Rothesay and by way of Millport, and by steamers in connection with trains from Glasgow at Ardrossan; and its S end communicates with steamers plying between Ayr and Campbeltown. Its N end has a post office of Lochranza under Greenock; and its other parts have post offices of Arran, Corrie, Brodick, Lamlash (money order, savings' bank, and telegraph), Shiskine, and Kilmorie, under Ardrossan. Its principal place of thoroughfare is Brodick, midway along the eastern coast, 14 miles WSW of Ardrossan, 14½ SW of Millport, and 26 SSW of Rothesay; and its next largest is Lamlash, on the same coast, 5½ miles farther S. Its shores and surface are wonderfully picturesque, exhibiting landscape in almost every style, from the softly gentle to the sublimely terrible. The views of it, in all directions, at any distance, either from the Clyde itself or from its far extending screens, are very striking; the views within it, both on the seaboard and in the interior, are endlessly diversified; and the views from it, specially from its higher central vantage grounds, display the richest combinations of land and water, intricate shore-lines, and grand mountain backgrounds. A carriage road round it, generally near the shore, commands no mean proportion of all the scenery; but only wild footpaths, or no paths at all, practicable by none but mountaineers, lead up to the sublimest views among its glens and mountains. Its geology, mineralogy, botany, zoology, and even, in some degree, its angling and its archæology, likewise possess the highest attractions, and have combined with its gorgeous scenery to draw to it annually, since the era of steam navigation, great numbers of summer tourists. Much of its E coast, in particular, vies now with the most favourite seaside places higher up the Firth as a summer retreat, not only to families from Greenock and Glasgow, but to families from the E of Scotland.

A flat belt of land, in form of a terrace, from 10 to 20 feet above the present tide-level, and from a few yards to ¼ mile broad, goes round all the shore; consists of an ancient sea-beach, common to all the banks of the Firth of Clyde as far up as Dumbarton; is bounded, on the land side, by sea-worn cliffs, pierced in many parts with caves or torn with fissures; and is traversed, with a few intervals, by the road round all the coast. The views from this terrace inland are modified, from stage to stage, by the structure of the interior; sometimes are blocked by lofty wall-like cliffs; sometimes are overhung by cloud-piercing mountain summits; sometimes include romantic features on the seaward side; sometimes sweep far into stupendous glens; and sometimes open over bays or over considerable expanses of low land. Chief seaward cliffs, or other striking seaward features, are Holy Isle, in the mouth of Lamlash Bay, rising tier above tier to the altitude of 1030 feet; Clauchlands Hills, 2 miles N of Holy Isle, at the point of a peninsular tract eastward of the carriage road, rising 800 feet from the shore, and pierced with caves; the skirts of Goatfell, 3½ miles N of Brodick, coming precipitously down from alpine mural abutments, and terminating in romantic cavernous cliffs; the Fallen Rocks, on the sea-face of an isolated mountain ridge, 5 miles NNW of the Goatfell cliffs, only approachable by wary walking, and looking like an avalanche of shattered blocks of rock rushing to the shore; the Scriden Rocks, near the northern extremity of the island, or 3 miles NW of the Fallen Rocks, and presenting an appearance similar to theirs, but on a grander scale; and the Struey Rocks, at the southern extremity of the island, a short way E of Lag, and consisting of a range of basaltic sea cliffs, rising to the altitude of 400 feet, deeply cut by vertical fissures, and pierced by a curious, long, wide cavern, the Black Cave. The chief glens descending to the coast are Glen Cloy, Glen Shurig, and Glen Rosie, converging to a mountainous semi-amphitheatre, round the head of Brodick Bay; Glen Sannox, opening out from behind the alpine buttresses of Goatfell, and pre-eminently silent, sombre, stupendous, and impressive; Glen Ranza, commencing in precipices nearly 1000 feet high, and descending about 4 miles to the head of Loch Ranza, 2 miles SW of the Scriden Rocks; Glen Catacol, coming down from alpine central mountains, with itself a romantic pastoral character, to a small bay, 2 miles SSW of the mouth of Loch Ranza; and Glen Iorsa, descending 7 miles south-south-westward from grand central mountains, joined on its right side by two long ravines, and declining toward the coast, 9 miles S of the mouth of Glen Catacol- The chief bays are Lamlash Bay, measuring 2¾ miles across the mouth, occupied more than one-half there by Holy Isle, and forming on e of the best harbours of refuge to be found anywhere in Great Britain; Brodick Bay, 2½ miles across the mouth, having a half-moon outline, and engirt by successively a smooth beach, a sweep of plain, and the mountainous semi-amphitheatre cloven by Glen Cloy, Glen Shurig, and Glen Rosie; Loch Ranza, at the mouth of Glen Ranza, 7 furlongs long and 3¾ wide, with a pleasant verdant peninsula projecting from its SW shore; Machrie Bay, southward from the mouth of Glen Iorsa, describing the segment of a circle 3½ miles along the chord and about 1 mile thence to the inmost shore; Drumadoon Bay at the S end of a range of cavernous cliffs about 300 feet high, extending about 2 miles to it from the S end of Machrie Bay, and forming itself a segmentary indentation about 1½ mile along the chord; and Whiting Bay, separated on the S from Lamlash Bay only by Kingscross Point, and forming a crescent 3 miles across.

The northern half of the island is densely mountainous- Its many summits look, in some views, like a forest of peaks; range in altitude from the Cock of Arran, at the northern extremity, 1083 feet high, to the top of Goatfell, 2 miles from the eastern shore, and 3 NNW of the head of Brodick Bay, 2866 feet high; and are interlocked or conjoined with one another at great heights, by spurs and cross ridges- But the masses, though all interconnected, are easily divisible into the three groups of Goatfell, Cir Vohr or Mhor, and Ben Varen or Bharrain. The Goatfell group rises so abruptly and ruggedly from the E shore as to present a stern appearance from the sea; has a bold ascent from the S, yet in such gradients as permit it to be scaled without difficulty by two paths leading up from Brodick; starts aloft on both the W and N in mural cliffs and tremendous acclivities from encircling glens, yet projects high spurs toward the adjacent Cir Vohr group on the W, including a col or cross ridge, 1000 feet high; and spreads in its upper part into a kind of triangular tableau, with divergencies eastward, southward, and westward The Cir Vohr group extends 7½ miles northward and southward, at a distance of about 3½ miles from the E shore; has a sharp, jagged, irregular summit-line, nowhere much lower than 1600 feet above sea-level; and lifts at least 3 peaks to altitudes of 2000 feet and upwards, these being Castell-Avael, 2735 feet high, with Cir Vohr proper (2618 feet) and Ben Tarsuinn (2706) to the SE and S. The Ben Varen group is situated to the W of Cir Vohr; extends parallel with it, or about 7 miles northward and southward; has greater breadth but less height and less sublimity than either the Goatfell or the Cir Vohr group, culminating at 2345 feet; is longitudinally split by the upper part of Glen Iorsa, so as to flank both sides of that glen; and, as seen from the mouth of Glen Catacol, presents an outline like that of a long house with rounded roof, and shows on its summit two great mural reaches of granite blocks meeting each other at right angles. The southern half of the island consists of a rolling plateau, fronted round the coast with declivities, breaks, and cliffs of much romantic beauty, but characterised through the interior by tameness and bleakness. The plateau has a general elevation of from 500 to 800 feet above sea-level; and is traversed by irregular ridges, generally in a direction nearly E and W, and rising to elevations of from 1100 to 1600 feet above sea-level- Glens and vales descend to the E, S, and W; have mostly a mountainous or loftily upland character round their head; decline to a comparatively lowland character in their progress; and, in many instances, are so interlaced that the upper parts of westward ones are nearer the E coast than -the upper parts of eastward ones, and the upper parts of eastward ones nearer the W coast than the upper parts of westward ones. The close views throughout the S aggregately are very far inferior to those throughout the N, but the more distant views there, especially the views thence of the northern mountains, are very grand.

The rocks of Arran, both igneous and sedimentary, are exceedingly diversified; they also, in their relations to one another, and in their mutual contacts, present very interesting phenomena; and at once by their geological ages, by their inter-connectional character, and by their lithological constitution, they are unparalleled by the rocks of any equal extent of territory in almost any part of the globe, and form, in a main degree, an epitome of the geology of Britain. ` The variety, indeed, ' says Dr Bryce, ` is so great, and the interest so lively and pleasing, which an examination of the structure of the island and its charming scenery excites, that, as Professor Phillips has remarked, every geologist who visits Arran is tempted to write about it, and finds something to add to what has already been put on record. For the student there cannot be a finer field. The primary azoic rocks, the metamorphic slates, the lower palæozoic strata, the newer erupted rocks, and phenomena of glacial action, may all be examined by him in easy excursions of a few days; and the exposition of the strata is so complete in the rugged mountains, deep precipitous glens, and unbroken sea-coast sections, that the island may truly be called a grand museum arranged for his instruction by the hand of nature. ' Granite forms all the northern region to within from 1 mile to 1¾ mile from the shore, but is of coarse grain in the coastward parts, of fine grain in the interior parts, and has been the subject of much recent discussion among geologists as to its age. Metamorphic slates form a belt round all the granitic region, extending quiet to the shore in all the NW and W, and measuring averagely about 1 mile in breadth along the S, but separated by other rocks from the shore on the E and NE. Devonian rocks form a belt exterior to the slate belt, along all the E, SW, and S, from the Fallen Rocks on the N to Machrie Bay on the W; about 1 mile wide at Glen Sannox, very much narrower further S and onward to the SW, but widening to about 2¾ miles in the extreme W. Carboniferous rocks form a narrow belt along the NE coast, from beyond the Scriden Rocks to the Fallen Rocks; form again a broader belt on the E seaboard, from a point N of Corrie down to Brodick Bay; expand there into a belt from 3¼ to 4½ miles broad, southward to Lamlash Bay, and eastward and westward across the whole width of the island; are interrupted throughout a considerable aggregate of that broad belt by regions and patches of other rocks; send ramifications from around Lamlash Bay southward and south-westward along the E coast and along Monamore Glen and Glen Scorsdale; ramify thence again into narrow belts along most of the S coast and through four parts of the interior; and finally form a very narrow belt along the N end and W side of Holy Isle. Porphyritic rocks form two patches 2 miles SE and 1½ mile SW of Brodick; form another patch on the W coast at Drumadoon Point; form another region about 2¾ miles by 1½ on the coast immediately SSE of Drumadoon Bay; form also a patch on the S coast at the E side of the Struey Rocks; and finally form the greater portion of Holy Isle. Trap rocks, variously greenstone, basalt, and of other kinds, form three considerable isolated patches at the E coast, the E centre, and the W central parts of the great Carboniferous belt which extends across the island, and form all the region between that great belt and the S coast, except the portions occupied by the Carboniferous ramifications and by the porphyritic rocks. Beautiful crystals of amethyst are found in quartzose sandstone on the S side of Glen Cloy; smoke quartz crystals are found in coarse-grained and rapidly disintegrating granite on the great northern mountain ridge; sulphate of barytes is found and worked in Glen Sannox; and numerous other interesting minerals are found in other places.

The chief streams are the rivulets or torrents rushing down the great glens in the NE, the N, and the NW; the Iorsa, traversing Glen Iorsa down to the N of Machrie Bay; the Machrie, running about 6 miles south-westward to the southern part of Machrie Bay; the Black Water, running about 6 miles west-south-westward and southward to Drnmadoon Bay; the Sliddery, running about 6 miles south-south-westward to a point 4½ miles SSE of the month of the Black Water; the Torrylin, running about 5 miles south-westward to a point 2 miles W of the Struey Rocks; the Ashdale, running 4 miles south-eastward and eastward to Whiting Bay; and the Monamore and the Benlister, running respectively about 3¾ and 3 miles eastward to Lamlash Bay. The rarer plants of the island, or those which either are nearly peculiar to it or can seldom be found in other parts of Scotland than the W coast, amount to no fewer than about 320 species; and the marine animals amount to about 283 species. Adders exist, contrary to a statement in Farrar's St Paul, three having been killed here in the summer of 1880- The agricultural statistics are included in those of Buteshire, but only about 8000 acres are arable; about 613 acres are under wood; and a considerable aggregate of ground on the NE and the NW coast is under coppice. The island is divided, territorially, into the districts of Lamlash, Brodick, Lochranza, Shiskine, and Southend; politically, into the parish of Kilmorie in the W, and the parish of Kilbride in the E; ecclesiastically, into the old parishes of Kilniorie and Kilbride, and the quoad sacra parish of Brodick; registrationally, into the districts of Kilbride, Brodick, Kilmorie, and Lochranza. The chief villages are Brodick, Lamlash, Whiting Bay, Lochranza, and Corrie-all of them lying on the coast. The chief residences are Brodick Castle, Kilmichael, Corriegills, and numerous villas. The whole, with the exception of the estate of Kirkmichael (3632 acres), belongs to the Duke of Hamilton. Valuation (1881) £20,157. Pop. (1801) 5179, (1821) 6541, (1841) 6241, (1861) 5574, (1871) 5234, (1881) 4673, of whom 2854 were Gaelic-speaking.

The Monarina of Ptolemy, Arran is associated in legendary story with Fingal and his heroes; and it may really have been the scene of unrecorded events to which those legends owe their origin. The Norsemen are known to the Irish annalists as Fiongall, or ` white foreigners; ' and early Norsemen not improbably made descents on the coasts of Arran; while later Norsemen are certainly known to have held possession of its territory. Somerled, ruler of Argyll in the 12th century, founder of the great family of Macdonald, Lords of the Isles, wrested Arran and Bute from the power of Norway, and retained possession of them till his defeat and death at Renfrew (1164). A division of Arran is thought to have been attempted between his sons Reginald and Angus, and is conjectured to have been the reason of a deadly feud which arose between these brothers. Arran and Bute, nevertheless, appear to have reverted to the dominion of Norway, and to have lain more or less under it till 1266, when they were politically detached from the Western Isles with which they had been associated, and were annexed directly to the Scottish Crown. Robert Bruce, after his defeat at Methven (1306), and after seeking refuge in successively Aberdeenshire, Breadalbane, Argyllshire, and the Irish island of Rathlin, in Arran once more raised his standard. Sir James Douglas, with a band of Bruce's devoted adherents, had contrived to retain the island, and to seize Brodick Castle, which had been garrisoned by the English; and Bruce, coming hither from Rathlin, with a fleet of 33 galleys and 300 men, joined Douglas' band; made preparation here for a descent on the mainland; and, at a preconcerted signal fire, lighted near Turnberry Castle on the coast of Ayrshire, sailed hence to drive the English from Scotland, and to make his way securely to the throne. A cave, partly artificial, in the range of cliffs between Machrie and Drumadoon Bays, is said to have been his temporary abode prior to his going to Rathlin, and bears the name of the King's Cave; and the promontory between Whiting and Lamlash Bays is said to have been the point whence he set sail for Ayrshire, and bears the name of King's Cross. Arran was erected into an earldom in favour of Sir Thomas Boyd in 1467, on his marriage to the Princess Mary, eldest sister of James III., but as to both estates in it, and peerage title, it soon passed to the family of Hamilton; and, save for the usurpation of Captain James Stewart (1581-85), it has continued to belong to the Hamilton family till the present day. The chief antiquities in the island are many cairns and megalithic standing stones, several imperfect stone circles, a few Norse or Danish forts, slight Columban vestiges on Holy Isle, the site of St Bride's Convent at Loch Ranza, a ruined monastic cell at Balnacula, a ruined chapel at Binniegarragan, a ruined castle at Loch Ranza, the ancient watch-tower or small fortalice of Kildonan, at the south-eastern extremity of the island, and the older portions of Brodick Castle. See D. Landsborough, Arran, its Topography, -Natural History, and Antiquities (Edinb. 1851; 2d ed., by his son; Lond. 1875); Jas. Bryce, The Geology, etc., of Arran (Edinb. 1864; 4th ed., 1875); Jn. M`Arthur, Antiquities of Arran, with an Historical Sketch of the Island (Glasg. 1861); and Arch. M`Neilage, ` On the Agriculture of Bute and Arran,' in Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc., 1881.

(F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "an island"   (ADL Feature Type: "islands")
Administrative units: Buteshire ScoCnty
Place: Arran

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