The Arran Coastal Way is a long-distance trail that traverses the coastline of Arran in Scotland. Formally opened in 2003, the route was designated as one of Scotland’s Great Trails in June 2017, recognising its amazing wildlife and scenery.
The Arran Coastal Way offers walkers a challenging but rewarding route around the Isle of Arran.
Because the the route is circular, it can be started and finished at any location but for ease and due to the location of the ferry terminal, most visitors start/finish near Brodick.
Alternatively the route can also be enjoyed as smaller sections and there are plenty of side trips and other attractions to visit along the way.
The week-long trip is a relatively demanding and rugged hike, venturing inland at several points to sample the best the island has to offer. For such a small island, Arran has a huge variety of landscapes and geology – the north dominated by craggy mountains and the south characterised by rolling lowlands and forests.
- Stunning coastal scenery with an abundance of wildlife, ranging from deer and birds, to seals and occasionally basking sharks.
- Explore remote beaches as you make your way between the small coastal villages.
- Optional ascent of Goat Fell offers spectacular views over the island.
- Arran is famed as being ‘Scotland in miniature’, therefore offering varied scenery throughout.
Due to its location on an island, the Coastal Way is not the quickest route to get to, but it is well worth it.
Whether flying or catching the train, the nearest major transport hub is Glasgow. From the airport you should take a short taxi ride to Paisley Gilmore Street station then change at Glasgow Central for Ardrossan ferry terminal.
The Ardrossan – Caledonian MacBrayne ferry crossing takes one hour.
If you are planning to bring your car to Arran then you will need to book ahead. Driving is relatively simple, taking the main roads to Glasgow airport then A737 to Ardrossan. You can also leave your car at Ardrossan but parking charges apply.
There is also a ferry service to Lochranza at the north end of the island, connecting with Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula.
Once on the island, there is an excellent bus service that makes it possible to walk the route in stages from many bases around the island. This opens up the possibility of staying in the same place on the island and walking the Coastal Way in sections using public transport.
Heading back at the end of your hike is the exact same but in reverse!
The 105-kilometre route can be walked in one go over the course of six or seven days, or broken up into as little as half day sections.
Alternatively, an eight-day walk leaves plenty of time for exploring the beautiful coast and looking for wildlife.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
Although not as long as some of Scotland’s other Great Trails, the Arran Coastal Way has some very rugged terrain at times, providing demanding walking conditions despite being at low levels after the first stage.
There is an overall elevation gain/loss of just 390 metres if you don’t take the two optional inland excursions.
At the beginning of the walk you can include an ascent of Goat Fell, the highest fell on the island, if you are feeling adventurous.
This involves a climb of 874 meters (though there is a get out at 630 meters).
The ascent is a straightforward hillwalk for those with ample fitness and experience but can be avoided in any case by using the lower level alternative.
The alternative forest route between Lagg and Whiting Bay rises up to just 250 meters.
Several sections involve rough going along the shoreline, with pathless or boggy parts that are slow and tiring. Consider an itinerary with shorter days/distances than you would normally choose to allow for this.
For those that enjoy rough scrambling over boulders, there are a few tidal stretches below the headlands of Bennan and Dippen Head, but again there are inland alternative routes.
Some walking experience is ideal for the Arran Coastal Way and a reasonable level of fitness and advance training will add to your enjoyment.
Try spending time on varying terrain and gradients to make sure you’re prepped for the range of walking you’ll face en route.
It is also important that you (or someone in your group) is able to read tide times to ensure you can plan your route accordingly.
There are no permits needed or fees to pay to walk the Arran Coastal Path or any subsection of it.
Guided or Self-Guided
The route is fully waymarked, using marker posts featuring a gannet. Although the paths along the shore are not always clear, because the route follows the coast it is pretty hard to get lost.
A compass is required for the Goat Fell section but a map is sufficient for the coastal paths and it is a route that most people would feel comfortable taking on self-guided.
As mentioned above, some sections are impassable at high tide so it is important to check the tides before setting off. If in doubt use the alternative routes.
If you’d prefer to have the hassle taken out of your trip, there are plenty of trekking agencies that can put together a package.
For a one-week trip, a guided hike with luggage transport and packed lunches will cost somewhere around £800, depending on your accommodation preferences.
Most people visit the Scottish Highlands between May and September, when the weather is best and there is also the most daylight.
July and August are busiest due to school holidays, however the Highlands certainly have enough wide open spaces for everyone to enjoy.
If you don’t mind cooler temperatures, early spring, with lingering patches of snow, can be a great time for walking and October will let you take in the landscapes in their autumn glory.
For those tackling the full route, a typical itinerary would be:
Option 1: Brodick to Sannox via Goatfell – 15.5km
Option 2 : Brodick to Sannox on the low level route – 11.75km
Sannox to Lochranza – 15.75km
Lochranza to Imachar via Pirnmill – 14.5km
Imachar to Blackwaterfoot – 16.25km
Blackwaterfoot to Lagg – 12.25km
Option 1: Lagg to Whiting Bay via the headlands – 15.25km
Option 2: Lagg to Whiting Bay inland alternative – 19.25km
Option 1: Whiting Bay to Brodick via the waterfall route – 19.25km
Option 2: Whiting Bay to Brodick via the coastal route – 18.5km
The Arran Coastal Way starts from Brodick, the bustling capital of Arran, where there are plenty of hotel and bed and breakfasts. This is also the best place to stock up on supplies before setting off.
Once on the path there are a mixture of accommodation options across the price range. At the end of the first stage there are hotels and hostels available in Corrie and Sannox.
After Sannox there are no facilities until Lochranza is reached at the end stage 2, which has a hotel, B&B accommodation and a SYHA hostel.
For stage 3 there is a budget hotel at Catacol or a B&B, a cafe and a shop at Pirnmill but no facilities at the end of the stage at Imachar.
Stage 4 passes close to a couple of cafes and tea rooms with accommodation options at at Blackwaterfoot and then none again until Lagg at the end of stage 5, which offers a hotel and bunkhouse.
For the final couple of stages, Kildonan has both a hotel and a campsite, Whiting Bay offers hotels, a bed and breakfast, cafes and a shop and then you’ll be back into Brodick.
For people who are extending with a few days at the start or finish of their trip, you can ask you hotel if they’ll keep an extra bag for you.
Most people will choose to tag on one extra night at the beginning and a day or two at the end of their trip in Brodick.
Brodick centres around the ferry port and beach but there’s plenty to do. Check out the castle and gardens, which house an impressive collection of furniture, with some pieces dating as far back as the 17th century, and was once the ancient seat of the Dukes of Hamilton.
The garden has been restored and the grounds contain numerous paths with outstanding views of the island. Sometimes, you can even catch sight of the rare red squirrels.
To continue getting your fill of history, visit the Isle of Arran Heritage museum – covering everything from geology and archaeology to island farming traditions.
If you’d prefer to unwind then take a tour of the brewery, play a round of golf or head down to the beach.
For those that didn’t incorporate it en route, you can walk up Goat Fell, and look out over the surrounding mountains and across the sea from the summit.
Based near the South Coast, Matt can often be founds hiking around the South Downs with his wife Amy and dog Jake.
Bucket list routes:
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Difficulty||3/5 - 4/5|
|Starts at||Brodick, Isle of Arran KA27, UK|
|Finishes at||Brodick, Isle of Arran KA27, UK|
|Length of route||105 Km|
|Average time to complete||6 - 7 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||874 metres|
|Equipment needed||Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots|
|Countries visited||Scotland, UK|