The Arran Coastal Way is a circular long-distance route around the Isle of Arran on Scotland’s west coast.
Though challenging, this 65-mile (105 km) trail rewards visitors with stunning views from start to finish and there are plenty of opportunities to deviate to nearby attractions as you make your way around the island.
Those attempting the Arran Coastal Way are free to join the route wherever they choose, but perhaps the most popular starting point is the A841 road near the ferry terminal at Brodick.
The route is broken into 8 separate sections, each of which is between 5 and 10 miles in length and comprises terrain that varies from beach to pavement and forest track.
Arran is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations, and with good reason.
The island lies on the west coast of Scotland in the Firth of Clyde so it’s easily reached from Glasgow, with a drive from the city centre to the ferry terminal at Ardrossan taking less than an hour outside of rush hour.
Meanwhile, those touring the northwest side of the country have an equally easy route to the island from Claonaig thanks to ferries which sail into the pretty village of Lochranza.
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 it to fellow adventurers.
From the brooding slopes of Goatfell to the serene wilderness of Glen Iorsa there’s a surprisingly varied landscape waiting to be discovered on Arran, all thanks to the Highland Boundary Fault which scythes its way through Scotland from the southwest coast all the way up to Stonehaven on the east coast.
This faultline is the reason why Scotland enjoys such monumental mountain ranges in the Highlands and why the southern region – the Lowlands – is so comparatively flat.
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 the north of the island where the mountains draw visitors from far and wide.
Meanwhile, those on two wheels can explore the island on a well-maintained ring road without any need to venture off-road further than the occasional grass track.
The Arran Coastal Way combines the best of both the ring road and the island’s off-road trails on a circular route that covers a challenging but extremely rewarding 65 miles.
While the route might not have quite the same breathtaking views you’ll find at the top of Goatfell, you’ll be able to explore the stunning coastline as well as take occasional diversions inland to enjoy the island’s peaceful forest tracks.
There are two main start and end points for the Arran Coastal Way – Brodick and Lochranza – as they’re the locations of ferry services that operate between the mainland and the northern and eastern parts of the island.
You’re obviously free to join the route at any point, but due to the fact that Brodick is the most-used port it also tends to be the starting point for the majority of cyclists and walkers.
Signage is good at every stage of the trail and there are a number of excellent maps available as well as GPS routes to follow, but to be honest, Arran isn’t exactly the biggest island in Scotland so there’s practically no chance of getting lost.
Coupled with the fact that the island is one of Scotland’s main summertime tourist destinations there’s usually someone around to point you back in the direction of the ring road, but even so I suggest making sure you look over each stage on a map before setting off.
Officially, the Arran Coastal Way is broken down into 8 separate sections of between 5 and 10 miles in length, each of which is on a variety of paths that vary from flat pavements to steep, rocky scrambles around the coastline.
The majority of people shouldn’t have any problems following the trails on Arran, but for anyone who isn’t confident walking long distances I suggest sticking to the sections that follow the A841 ring road, whether on bike or on foot.
Just be aware that outside of the villages there are very few pavements so care must be taken to avoid traffic. There are grass verges along the roadside that can be stepped onto and the road is dual-lane, so passing vehicles should have plenty of room to veer around you.
The 8 sections of the Arran Coastal Way are broken down into the sections listed in the table below which will give you an indication of distances and terrain types.
I won’t go into further details as there are already two very good resources that break each section down which are the Arran Coastal Way website and the Walk Highlands website. Both are recommended, but the latter has accompanying photos of each stage which are useful to help you get your bearings.
|Start & End||Distance||Terrain|
|Brodick to Sannox||12km / 7.5 miles||Footpath, pavement, forest track.|
|Sannox to Lochranza||15.5km / 9.5 miles||Footpath, forest track.|
|Lochranza to Imachar||14.5 km / 9 miles||Footpath, road, beach.|
|Imachar to Blackwaterfoot||16 km / 10 miles||Road, footpath.|
|Blackwaterfoot to Lagg||11 km / 7 miles||Footpath, beach, road.|
|Lagg to Whiting Bay||15 km / 9.5 miles||Beach, coastline, pavement.|
|Whiting Bay to Lamlash||9 km / 5.5 miles||Footpath, beach, pavement, road, forest track.|
|Lamlash to Brodick||8 km / 5 miles||Footpath, beach, pavement, road, forest track.|
1: This cycle and walking route is absolutely stunning at every section and is the perfect way to experience the very best of Arran. While some sections can be cycled, much of the Arran Coastal Way is best enjoyed on foot over the course of several days.
2: The coastline on the south of the island is exceptionally pretty but the north isn’t far behind – especially around Sannox and Lochranza. This section of coastline is one of the nicest parts of the island as it deviates from the ring road and presents the opportunity to see some amazing marine wildlife including dolphins and basking sharks.
Taking binoculars (link to my reviews of budget binoculars) is a must-do.
3: There are superb forest trails on the southern end of Arran while the northern end showcases the island’s mountains – all of which can be seen by walking the Arran Coastal Way.
1: My personal recommendation is to take it slow and follow the route over several days so you can make the most of the scenery.
There’s no right or wrong direction, but I started the route from Brodick to Lochranza which meant I could take a detour and ensure I had plenty of time to explore Brodick Castle and climb Goatfell which are absolutely essential places to visit.
If you’d like to add the stages of the Arran Coastal Way to your GPS, visit the Walk Highlands website which has gpx files to download.
2: If it’s your first time on the island I highly recommend picking up an Arran Coastal Way map and guidebook (Amazon link) before leaving home as there are dozens of attractions that are worth searching for as you follow the route.
3: Arran is an ideal destination for cyclists thanks to the ferries at Ardrossan and Claonaig which sail into Brodick near the A841 ring road.
Day tickets are only around £10 for foot passengers with a bike so for a memorable ride you might consider starting at Brodick, heading south, and then pedalling back up around the west coast to Lochranza to catch a ferry and continue around the Campbeltown peninsula.
A good resource to plan your route is the Traveline Scotland website.
Arran’s coastline is somewhere at the top of my favourite places in all of Scotland, so I wholeheartedly recommend you take (or hire) a bike for your next visit.
The scenery at every stage of the A841 is stunning, and while I couldn’t really place one section above another, 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 so I don’t know if it’s due to the lack of commercial fishing, but the sea is absolutely crystal clear down there which means there’s a very good chance of seeing otters and other marine wildlife as you make your way around the coastline.
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.
As interesting as wildlife watching is, many tourists to Arran choose to ride their bikes around the ring road rather than walk the Arran Coastal Way since it can be completed in under six hours.
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 separately tackle the north and south sections of the trail over a couple of days which would give you more time to enjoy the occasional diversion like the Machrie Moor standing stones on the west coast and Brodick Castle on the east.
Just bear in mind that 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.
Once at Lochranza, you might like to spend a little extra time in the village to explore Lochranza Castle and the Lochranza coastal walk. The castle won’t take long to look around but the coastal walk past Newton Point to the Fairy Dell is a must-do if you have the time.
Other places of interest away from the Arran Coastal Way are too many to mention in this article so I’ll just say the south of Arran has the largest areas of woodland while the north has the majority of its mountains and hills.
Off-road mountain biking routes are endless, but if you have to make a decision between only visiting either the north or the south with an MTB I would veer towards the south, mainly for the trails that run into Glenashdale Wood 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 on the A841.
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 top tourist destinations on the isle.
Things to do
Visit Brodick Castle: As you leave Brodick you might like to take a detour to see the castle, a historic landmark nestled amongst stunning gardens and woodland. The castle boasts a rich history, with artefacts dating back to the Vikings.
Admire Goatfell Mountain: At 874 meters, Goatfell is the highest point on the island, offering breathtaking views across Arran and the Firth of Clyde. You’ll see the mountain as you follow the route on the northeast side of Arran.
Wildlife Watching at Lochranza: Lochranza, located on the northernmost point of Arran, is renowned for its wildlife-watching opportunities where visitors can see red deer, seals, and an array of bird species. You might even spot golden eagles soaring overhead.
Explore the Machrie Moor Stones: Walk back in time with a detour to the Machrie Moor Stone Circles. These Bronze Age standing stones offer a fascinating insight into the island’s ancient past, set amidst a dramatic landscape of moorland and rolling hills.
Relax at Kildonan Beach: Kildonan Beach is the perfect place to take a break from the Arran Coastal Way. Its golden sands, clear waters, and views of Pladda Island create a peaceful atmosphere. It’s also a great spot for seal-watching, adding a touch of wildlife adventure to your visit.
Frequently asked questions
How long is the Arran Coastal Way?
The Arran Coastal Way is a 65-mile (105-kilometre) circular route that runs around the perimeter of the Isle of Arran.
How long does 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 ring road around Arran will take 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.