Going wild on the Isle of Arran

Love islands? Scottish islands? Got children to entertain? I have one word for you – Arran. Or possibly three – Isle of Arran.

Raft-building, ArranUnderwhelming fact alert – it’s Scotland’s seventh largest island. But what the other six don’t have – or the other 794 Scottish islands, come to that – is the Outdoor Education Field Centre at improbably dramatic Loch Ranza, on the island’s east coast. School parties and teachers use it most of the year, but every summer it’s turned over to PGL Holidays, who run their truly excellent ‘Wild on the Isle’ family activity holidays here.

It’s at this point you might be expecting a disclaimer. But there isn’t one. We went, we paid, we had a ridiculously good time. And then we went again the following year, because it was so good.

Let’s be fair, the price attracted us first and foremost. It’s almost insanely good value – even before you snag one of their ‘kids go free’ deals – with all meals, activities and tuition part of the package.

All you have to do is get there, which is on the very exciting CalMac ferry from Ardrossan.IMG_2884 Exciting, because even in summer there’s a chance they’ll cancel your sailing if the wind gets up too much. And if the wind gets up not-quite-too-much, then even that’s a whole lot more rocking and rolling than you want on a summer islands cruise.

After that, it’s a week of raft-building in the loch, gorge-walking (in actual gorges) abseiling (down actual cliffs), bouldering (on actual boulders), horse-riding (on – well, you get the picture), mountain-biking, kayaking and hill-walking.

More to the point – and parents, attend closely here – someone else is in charge of you and your kids at all times. If they fall off, it’s not your fault! I know!

But they don’t fall off. They have a fantastic time and say things like, “Dad, did you like hanging upside down on the abseil (no)” and “Dad, can we get a horse (no)”.IMG_2879

In the evenings, the amazingly patient PGL staff run quizzes and games and family events, which sound like the sort of thing you would rather not do, thanks very much.

By the end of the week, you find yourself astride a Spacehopper, chasing small children across a sheep-filled paddock. Or learning how to wear a kilt while fighting Englishmen. There’s even ceilidh-dancing, when you have to dance – no excuses – with the locals. It turns out to be fun, goddamit!

OK, there are some minuses. It’s only fair to point them out.

Cuisine: definitely not gourmet, but filling and child-friendly, from breakfast to dinner. And someone else cooks it and cleans it away.

Accommodation: think youth hostel, with bunks, and not much space and little in the way of sybaritic comfort. But you do get a kettle and your own bathroom.

Wildife: there are clouds of midges in summer, which are as annoying as only midges can be. But there are also red deer, which come right to the the door.

To be honest though, that’s about it. Adults get their own evening lounge, with a TV, coffee maker and wifi. And the children get looked after from morning until night. What’s not to like?

There are only a few things in life I recommend without hesitation. PGL’s ‘Wild on the Isle’ holiday is one of them.

Want to read more about Scotland?
A visit to Glasgow’s amazing Botanical Gardens is a must if you’re in the city

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2 Comments
  1. I would echo your comments Jules. We were lucky enough to stay with the guys at the Outdoor Education Field Centre last Summer and had the most fantastic time. My sons have since been on other activity holidays with school and say that none of them come close to being out in the wild and climbing real rock faces, gorge walking, (such fun!) and hiking in the hills. If you’ve not been then do give it a go – it’s a totally different experience to an activity holiday where you’re on-site with man-made obstacles. The guys at Loch Ranza were unfailingly helpful and lots of fun and it rates as probably our best holiday ever, (and most definitely the best value too).

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    • Sounds like you had a great time! I really enjoyed my two holidays there – and now I hear that the Lochranza guys are going it alone from next year, as PGL are no longer offering holidays there. I hope it will be a big success for them – we’ll all have to go back to see!

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