The Isle of Arran is frequently called ‘Scotland in miniature’ thanks to its diverse landscape that allows visitors to climb mountains, explore coastlines and wander through thick forests. These forests are surprisingly big, covering almost a quarter of the entire island with the majority of the low-lying trees located in the south.
The forests of Arran offer some of the best mountain biking routes of any of the west-coast islands and any cycle ride is almost guaranteed to include sightings of Arran’s famed red squirrels. The most popular wooded areas are; Brodick Castle, Dyemill, Glenrickard, King’s Cave, North Sannox and South End.
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Review of Arran’s Forests
The Isle of Arran is full of unexpected surprises. Whether it’s catching sight of a jaw-dropping sunset from the top of Goatfell or one of the nicest cycle routes in Scotland, this west-coast island packs a real punch when it comes to tourist attractions.
My first visit to the island mostly centred on the exact same destinations that everyone else seemed to be making a mad dash for as they trundled off the ferry in Brodick. A quick jaunt around Brodick Castle followed by an ice cream in Brodick and then it was back on the ferry sandwiched between massed crowds of sweaty tourists and screaming children.
Sure, I’d had a great day, but I knew there must be more to Arran than that so I put it at the back of my mind to return for a full week at the next opportunity to see what else was on offer.
You can ready my thoughts on my favourite places in Arran with my guides to Brodick Castle, Goatfell and Holy Isle, but what I’d like to tell you about in this article is one of the highlights of my visit which is also the only one that seemed to be devoid of my fellow tourists.
The forests of Arran cover more than a quarter of the island’s landmass and are almost entirely located in the south in what is known as ‘the lowlands’. Arran, if you weren’t already aware, is cut in half by the Highland Boundary Fault which carves its way from the south-west of Scotland all the way to the north-east, more-or-less from Arran to Stonehaven.
Like elsewhere in Scotland, this fault line causes the landscape to be vastly different in the areas on either side which is why you find so many rough gorges, waterfalls and mountains (Corbetts) on the northern half of Arran and so many dense forests on the low-lying southern half.
Arran’s forests are mostly coniferous due to the fact that large swathes are privately owned and cultivated for wood, and as firs grow much faster than deciduous trees they’re the species of choice for Arran’s timber industry.
Thankfully though there are plenty of regions on the island that are managed by the government-backed Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) agency who have gone to great lengths to ensure Arran’s native tree species are looked after.
You’ll have a different experience in the commercial and native forests with the latter offering more of a ‘foresty’ (that’s an actual word and I haven’t just made it up) experience that’s better for walking and the former being ideal for cyclists, but both offer a great way to experience the island away from the tourists at Goatfell and Brodick.
As you can see from the photos in this article once you get into the heartland of Arran you’ll find the logging companies have done a superb job of creating gravel roads that run deep into the countryside and in my opinion there’s no better way to really get to know the island than pedalling along the many miles of road that thread their way between the firs.
If you visit Arran for an extended stay I thoroughly recommend you take your mountain bike with you as the trails are glorious and while they’re not exactly up there with the adrenaline-junkie runs you’ll find in Perthshire’s big tree country they’re definitely some of the nicest (and easiest) routes in Scotland if you’re after a more relaxing ride.
The FLS forests meanwhile are thick and ancient, comprised of a variety of whitebeam, larch, conifer and other species that offer a superb habitat for the reclusive red squirrels that thrive on Arran without competition from the invasive greys you’ll find elsewhere on the mainland.
These forests and woodlands are preferable for walking as FLS have installed a network of rough paths through them unlike the commercial forests which have no paths other than the logging roads. While narrow, they’re generally very well maintained making them perfect for a family stroll for all ages, whether you’ve remembered to pack your boots or not.
If you’re looking for a pair of walking boots for your visit to Arran I recommend Berghaus boots (Amazon link).
I’ll go into a little more depth with each of Arran’s main forest areas in the next section.
Things to do in Arran’s Forests
You’ll find these stretches of forest in the south of the island a few miles inland although due to the recent larch disease crisis many of the tree plantations have been dramatically cut back and to date over half a million trees have been felled to combat the infection.
Even so, there are still large areas left standing in the south of Arran that are easily accessible by road and one recommendation I have is to follow the A841 and head towards the small village of Kilmory on the southern edge of the island.
Keep your eyes peeled for a single-track road that spurs off north at 45 degrees and follow it till you get to a small parking area next to a woodland that borders Kilmory Water. From there you’ll be able to cycle or walk for several miles into the countryside on rough gravel roads. It’s a very pretty area and the views from the surrounding hills are drop-dead gorgeous.
There are a few signposts to indicate where the roads head off to but they’re fairly infrequent so I advise you to take your phone with you, but if you keep following the road as it heads north and then east you’ll eventually find yourself back on the A841.
My favourite moment from my last trip to Arran was cycling along this forest road and following a golden eagle that was soaring overhead. Apparently the forests around Kilmory are a favoured hunting ground for them so there’s every chance you’ll get to see one as well. Fantastic stuff.
There’s more to this corner of the island than first meets the eye and you might be surprised to discover that the road that runs alongside the castle is also the starting point for excursions up Goatfell.
While a hike up the Corbett is definitely worth doing, don’t forget to spend a little time in the forest at the foot of the mountain where you’ll find a spiders web of paths that extend for over 10 miles through mixed woodland.
All the trails are easily accessible from the Cladach car park – signposted as you approach the castle – and they’re flat and level enough so that anyone can enjoy them from toddlers to grandparents.
The biking trails are pretty good but I found myself choosing to leave the bike in the car when I last visited as it was so busy it would have been impossible to get a decent amount of speed up.
No matter though because the scenery is stunning once you reach the elevated sections and you’ll soon discover sparkling views over Brodick Bay and the Firth of Clyde, and of course you can always head back to the castle if your feet start to feel a bit weary after all that walking.
In fact, I’d say this is the best forest walk on the island if you don’t want to venture too far off-grid as you’re never more than a mile or two from the castle or the excellent pub at the Cladach car park.
This woodland isn’t particularly big and it’ll only take you an hour to walk but it is, nevertheless, well worth taking the time to visit.
You’ll find it just off the A841 near the turning to Kildonan which lies a couple of miles south, bordering the coastline. From the reasonably-sized car park you can set off on foot along the uneven path for just over a mile before it turns back on itself, with the path being a little rough underfoot but no problem for the majority of people.
At the far end of the path is a slight diversion to a chambered cairn that dates from Neolithic times while there are ruins to be found midway along on the west branch of the path that are the remains of one of the old highland clearance villages.
This is one of the busiest areas of woodland on Arran purely because it’s so close to Brodick and the ferry terminal, meaning it’s perfectly possible to step off as a foot passenger and walk to Glenrickard for a day trip.
If you want to join them you could do a lot worse than follow the Clauchland Hills trail that offers a fairly strenuous climb but rewards with lovely views across the east coast of Arran where you’ll see Brodick Bay and Holy Isle in all their glory.
It’s also a favoured spot for red squirrels so if you’ve ever wanted to see one up close this woodland is the place to go. There are paths a-plenty through the trees and they’re in a better condition than most of the other wooded areas of Arran which is possibly why it’s also a popular place for mountain bikes.
One thing Glenrickard gets bonus points for is the fact that it’s right in the middle between Lamlash and Brodick so you’re never really that far from a coffee shop or two and Lamlash Bay, in particular, is worth visiting for the cafés that border the picturesque bay.
This forest lies on the west coast of Arran between Tormore and Torbeg. I really love this part of the island as the coastal road is stunning all the way from Tormore up to Lochranza, although the particular section where the King’s Cave forest is located veers slightly inland for a few miles.
To get there set your set nav for either of those villages or the Machrie Moor standing stones located a couple of miles north and you’ll eventually find the forest which is impossible to miss as it’s the only area of trees to the west of the A841.
Once at the site you’ll find a car park just off the road with a circular path leading away from it that heads into the dense trees and emerges a few miles along the coastline near the caves where Robert the Bruce supposedly took refuge. The cave is fairly interesting as there are a few early Christian carvings inside but it’s protected by steel bars that are sometimes closed and locked.
Still, the walk to the cave is nice enough and you could easily spend 2-3 hours in the forest if you walk around all the paths or sit on the rocky shoreline with a sausage roll while watching the boats sail between Arran and the Campbeltown peninsula (which is exactly what I did).
Although most of Arran’s green areas are located in the south there are a couple of woodlands up in the north – like this one at North Sannox.
To get there follow the A841 from Brodick in the direction of Lochranza and take the signposted road that heads east a couple of miles past Sannox Bay. This road seemingly leads to nowhere but there’s a small car park at the end which leads to the shoreline and the path that skirts around the forest.
A waymarked trail has been installed along the coast so keep an eye open for the wooden posts with black markers that will guide you along the 3 miles of the Fallen Rocks Coastal Trail. It’s an exceptional walk with the forest on one side and the coastline on the other and nice views all around.
It’s an easy walk too so it shouldn’t take you more than 2 hours to complete although there’s nothing to stop you continuing past the forest and all the way round to Lochranza if you fancy an epic mega-walk.
There is a well-trodden path along the north-eastern point of Arran which opens up to the Newton Point coastal path once you start sweeping back around to the east, but be aware it’s quite boulder-strewn in many places and is therefore unsuitable for a bike.
Glenashdale is part of the South End forest which covers a large part of the south east of the island and it’s the place I suggest you head to if you intend to spend a couple of days on Arran but only have time to visit one forest.
I make that point because it’s large enough to get a real feel for Arran’s forests but isn’t so big you’ll ever get lost in it. It’s also dead easy to find due to the fact it’s within walking distance of Whiting Bay – a must-visit with its wide golden beach, crystal-clear sea and cute gift shops.
Glenashdale wood is one of the most popular areas in South End forest not so much for the woodland but more for the Glenashdale Falls trail that starts at a waterfall and circles around Whiting Bay via a historic Iron Age fort and the Giant’s Graves – a chambered tomb on a hillside that offers panoramic coastal views.
The trails in this area are mostly well-trodden footpaths but many sections open up onto gravel logging roads that are perfect for cycling through even if they’re incredibly dusty in the heat of summer. And yes, we do get heat in summer here in Scotland. Occasionally.
Bear in mind that although the Glenashdale Falls trail is an easy track to follow the Giant’s Graves trail is quite steep and therefore hard work if you’re unfit (like me). There’s a long slope that seems to go on forever (although I suspect it’s only half a mile or so) but let me assure you the sensational views once you get to the stones more than make up for the effort involved to get there.
- All of Arran’s forests are open to explore but my personal highlight is North Sannox which offers an amazing walk along the coastline. On the whole though, every wooded area on the island features great walks, especially those managed by FLS that are easily accessible thanks to the carefully managed paths.
- If you’d like to combine a forest walk with other attractions you won’t go far wrong with a visit to Brodick Castle. The castle’s gardens blend seamlessly into the surrounding forest and you can even deviate onto one of the trails that scale the mightily impressive Goatfell mountain. If you intend to make the climb make sure you’ve packed suitable clothing and keep an eye on the time so you’re not returning in the dark.
- King’s Cave is another recommended forest due it being on the west coast and having uninterrupted views of the Campbeltown peninsula. The actual King’s Cave is quite interesting but you won’t spend long there so it’s just as well that section of coastline is so nice. Just bear in mind the beach is mostly shingle so it isn’t great to sit on.
- Download the official FLS Arran Forests Guide linked via the button in an earlier section of this article. It has some interesting information and shows where the main forests are located.
- I would absolutely find a way to take a mountain bike with you if you’re visiting Arran. Sure, you can set off on foot, but you’ll miss the miles and miles of forest trails that are best enjoyed on 2 wheels.
- Continuing from the above tip, the Arran Bike Club has some useful info about mountain biking trails for all abilities.
- Brodick Castle: KA27 8DE
- Dyemill: KA27 8AR
- Glenrickard: KA27 8BJ
- King’s Cave: KA27 8DX
- North Sannox: KA27 8JD
- Glenashdale: KA27 8QX
- Aucheleffan: KA27 8PH
Click the map for directions
Photo gallery and video
More places to visit on Scotland’s islands
- The Isle of Tiree: Complete Visitor GuideThe Isle of Tiree is the most westerly island of the Inner Hebrides and although small at only 20 square miles it has become increasingly popular with tourists thanks to its golden sandy beaches and shallow bays of crystal clear water.
- The Isle of Islay: Complete Visitor GuideThe Isle of Islay is one of the largest west-coast Scottish islands and has the nickname ‘The Queen of the Hebrides’ – a title that’s been passed down the generations for hundreds of years by the proud people who live there.
- The Old Man of Storr – Isle of Skye: Complete Visitor GuideLocated in Trotternish, around 6 miles north of the main town of Portree, The Storr is the remnant of an ancient landslide which resulted in a dramatic cliff-face backdrop with the ‘Old Man’ sitting in a prominent position on its own looking out across the stunning landscape of Loch Leathan and the Sound of Raasay.
- The Fairy Pools – Isle of Skye: Complete Visitor GuideIf you visit the Isle of Skye then you have to visit the Fairy Pools, the beautifully clear crystal-blue pools of water that lie at the foot of the Black Cuillin hills.
- The Quiraing – Isle of Skye: Complete Visitor GuideThe Quiraing is an outstanding area of natural beauty on the northernmost summit of Trotternish on the Isle of Skye that was formed thousands of years ago by a series of monumental landslips.