By Craig Neil
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The Arran Coastal Way is a circular cycling and walking route around the perimeter of the Isle of Arran on Scotland’s west coast.
This easy-going trail rewards visitors with stunning views at every section of its 65-mile length and there are plenty of opportunities to deviate to nearby attractions.
Those attempting the Arran Coastal Way can join it at any section of the A841 road that circles Arran but many visitors choose to start and finish at the village of Brodick’s ferry terminal.
The route is broken into 8 separate sections, each of which is between 5 and 10 miles in length and almost entirely composed of well-maintained tarmac roads.
1: This cycle and walking route is absolutely stunning at every section and is perfect for a day trip on a road bike whether you’re a lone cyclist or part of a group. Just be aware the road is narrow in places and there is quite a bit of traffic in the summer months.
2: The coastline on the south of the island is exceptionally pretty but the north isn’t far behind – especially around Lochranza.
3: There are superb off-road cycle trails in the wooded areas to the south while the north offers more mountainous scenery. No wonder people call Arran ‘Scotland in miniature’.
1: My personal recommendation is to take it slow and cycle the route over a couple of days so you can make the most of the scenery.
There’s no right or wrong direction to take but I started the route from Brodick to Lochranza which meant I got the steepest sections out of the way early on and had a relaxing ride the rest of the way around.
2: If you can’t be bothered with all that cycling and walking you can always join the herds of camper vans that trundle their way around the route. There are several places to park off the road but you’ll have to get there early to guarantee a space.
3: Arran makes an ideal detour from the west coast of Scotland thanks to the ferries at Ardrossan and Claonaig.
Day tickets are about £10 return for foot passengers with a bike and you’ll find many cyclists start at Brodick, head south and then pedal back up around the west coast to Lochranza where they catch a ferry and continue on the mainland around the Campbeltown peninsula.
Arran is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations, and with good reason.
This relatively small isle is located close enough to Glasgow that it makes day trips a must for anyone that wants to escape the hustle and bustle of Scotland’s biggest city.
Meanwhile, those living slightly further afield can easily travel there for longer stays thanks to the frequent ferry service that links Ardrossan on the mainland to Brodick on the island.
It’s this ease of access that has placed Arran at the top of many cyclists’ and walkers ‘have-to-do’ lists, and having recently spent a week on Arran for a walking and cycling holiday I’ve no hesitation in recommending this gob-smackingly picturesque isle to fellow adventurers.
Although not quite up to the size of Mull or Skye, Arran is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde at 167 square miles and has more than enough going on to keep visitors occupied for a week or two.
From the brooding slopes of Goatfell to the serene wilderness of Glen Iorsa there is a surprisingly varied landscape on the island which is actually caused by the Highland Boundary Fault that scythes its way through Scotland from Arran on the west coast all the way up to Stonehaven on the east coast.
The faultline is the reason why Scotland enjoys such monumental mountain ranges in the Highlands and why the southern area – the Lowlands – is so rich and fertile.
Arran, being almost cut in half by the fault, features the best of both worlds in one relatively small area which in turn has made it a top destination for hikers, especially in the north of the island where the mountains draw visitors from far and wide.
However, as nice as those mountains are they’re hard work to traverse (I know this after spending a day huffing and puffing around Goatfell) and they’re almost impossible for cyclists to enjoy.
Thankfully though, those on two wheels can instead explore the island on supremely well-maintained roads without any need to venture off-road further than the occasional grass track.
The Arran Coastal Way is a circular route around the island’s ring road that covers an occasionally challenging but extremely rewarding 65 miles.
While you might not get the breathtaking views you’ll find at the top of Goatfell you can at least get up close to the stunning coastline thanks to the route that follows the A841.
There are two main start and exit points for the trail – Brodick and Lochranza – which are the locations of the regular ferries that operate between the mainland and the northern and eastern parts of the island.
You’re free to join the route at either point but due to the fact that Brodick is the busier port it also tends to be the starting point for the majority of cyclists and walkers.
Signage is excellent at every stage of the trail so it’s pretty much impossible to get lost, but to be honest, Arran isn’t exactly the biggest or most remote island in Scotland so you’re almost guaranteed to be sharing the journey with fellow travellers on most stretches.
That’s not to say it’s going to be busy but if you’re looking for a little solitude you’re probably going to be disappointed by the number of people that visit the Arran Coastal Way throughout the year.
I can vouch for that first-hand on my last summer visit when there seemed to be a constant convoy of camper vans sailing past.
Officially, the route is broken down into 8 separate sections of between 5 and 10 miles, which is almost irrelevant if you’re a keen road cyclist and are used to clocking up 50-or-more miles in a day.
Walkers might feel differently though so the start/end of each section could make an ideal place to stop overnight if you manage to book in advance and secure one of the guest houses found in most of the coastal villages.
I won’t go into detail here about how to follow the various trails because the road signs are so good that it’s almost impossible to not know where to go.
Coupled with the fact the majority of the route is on the A841 – the main road around Arran’s coastline – you really just have to pedal or walk out of Brodick or Lochranza and keep to the tarmac.
I’ve compiled a list of each section of the Arran Coastal Way in the table below.
|Brodick to Sannox||12km / 7.5 miles|
|Sannox to Lochranza||15.5km / 9.5 miles|
|Lochranza to Imachar||14.5 km / 9 miles|
|Imachar to Blackwaterfoot||16 km / 10 miles|
|Blackwaterfoot to Lagg||11 km / 7 miles|
|Lagg to Whiting Bay||15 km / 9.5 miles|
|Whiting Bay to Lamlash||9 km / 5.5 miles|
|Lamlash to Brodick||8 km / 5 miles|
I have to say this island’s coastline is somewhere at the top of my favourite places in Scotland so I wholeheartedly recommend you take (or hire) a bike for your next visit.
The scenery at every single stage is really quite stunning and there wasn’t a single moment I was bored as I pedalled my way along the trail.
In truth, I don’t really have a favourite part of Arran as the entire place is so nice but if I was pushed I’d probably say the southern coastline is a wee bit nicer than the north.
The south of the island was one of the first marine conservation areas in Europe and I don’t know if it’s due to the lack of commercial fishing but the sea is absolutely crystal clear down there so you’re almost guaranteed to see otters and other marine wildlife if you take the time to look for them.
You’ll see from the photos on this page that Arran’s beaches are mostly shingle so I’d leave your bucket and spade at home but you might consider packing your swimming gear if the weather is warm enough.
One suggestion for a quick dip is Lamlash Bay which lies a few miles south of Brodick and is sheltered from the Firth of Clyde by Holy Isle. Check out my Guide to Holy Isle for more information about it.
The rest of the island is home to a wide array of animals including deer, seals, red squirrels and eagles which you’ll see with varying degrees of success depending on the time of year you visit.
You might consider packing your binoculars just in case the occasional curious furry head pops up to watch you from the roadside.
See my guide to recommended binoculars to use in Scotland.
If you’d rather just power along the ring road you should easily be able to complete the entire circuit in under six hours, which is one of the reasons so many day visitors take their bikes to the island.
Those looking for a slightly longer venture can add mileage to the route by cutting across ‘The String’ road that bisects the island more or less midway from east to west and cycling a figure of eight circuit instead of following the A841’s oval.
Alternatively, you could tackle the north and south sections over two days which would give you more time to enjoy the occasional roadside diversions like the Machrie Moor standing stones on the west coast and Brodick Castle on the east, with the option to deviate from the coastal trail and explore the surrounding landscape.
Just bear in mind the east coast from Brodick towards Lochranza is quite challenging due to several steep hills so you’ll need to plan extra time to complete that section.
Places of interest away from the trail are too many to mention in this article so I’ll just say the south of Arran has the largest areas of woodland on the island and there are several mountain bike trails branching off from the Arran Coastal Way.
The trail on the northern end more or less sticks close to the shoreline, but both are equally enjoyable.
That being said, if you have to make a decision between visiting either the north or the south of the coastal trail I would veer towards the south if only for the exciting off-grid trails that run into Glenashdale Wood which is located to the west of Whiting Bay.
The coniferous forest is vast and (at least when I visited) almost entirely tourist-free so it makes a nice diversion away from all those camper vans.
If you’d like to discover more places to visit as you make your way around the island’s coastline take a look at my Guide to Visiting Arran which lists a selection of my top tourist destinations on the isle.
Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:
Isle of Arran – 361 Explorer.
North Kintyre & Tarbert – 62 Landranger.
OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
Frequently asked questions
How long is the Arran Coastal Way?
The Arran Coastal Way is a 65-mile circular route that runs around the coastline of the Isle of Arran.
How long would it take to walk around Arran?
Walking the Arran Coastal Way will take between 6 and 8 days, depending on fitness levels.
The 56-mile circular road around Arran will takes road cyclists of reasonable fitness levels around six hours to complete. The same route can be completed by car in around 2 hours.
What is the route around the Arran Coastal Way?
Brodick to Sannox- 12km / 7.5 miles.
Sannox to Lochranza – 15.5km / 9.5 miles.
Lochranza to Imachar – 14.5 km / 9 miles.
Imachar to Blackwaterfoot – 16 km / 10 miles.
Blackwaterfoot to Lagg – 11 km / 7 miles.
Lagg to Whiting Bay – 15 km / 9.5 miles.
Whiting Bay to Lamlash – 9 km / 5.5 miles.
Lamlash to Brodick – 8 km / 5 miles.
What visitor facilities are there at the Arran Coastal Way?
Facilities are dependent on location. Visit the official Arran website for updated information on available facilities.