Five Lads on the Isle of Arran

The day before ‘the lads’ went over to the Buddhist car free Holy Isle for a few days of reflection – (as previously blogged at https://kevollier.com/2012/10/06/buddhists-peace-and-yoga-turrets/ ) we partook in our annual get together hike – something we’ve been doing now for twenty years and this year and on that day we all hiked through the mountains of Arran and it was on a day that was the hottest Scotland had witnessed since the days of William Wallace.  Something that should have taken reasonable preparation but unfortunately the only preparation had been arriving off the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry the day earlier and hiking off the jetty the full 100 metres to The Douglas beer garden.

Goat Fell

just off the ferry, Goat Fell ahead – the Douglas left

The sun had literally come out, (for the first time in 83 years on Arran if a later hired taxi driver was to be believed), as soon as the ferry docked.
And there is no better combination than four men (free of all the shackles of modern life for five days) the sun and amazing scenery for one to be drawn to a nearby, and quite frankly, begging, beer garden.

The Famous Five of 2012

It was some pints and a couple of ferry arrivals later that we were joined for a few hours by an old friend from Glastonbury who had since moved back to his native Glasgow.  So we now had a Scotsman and his bagpipes.  At some point we remembered that the next day we were supposed to climb Goat Fell, Arran’s highest peak, and we vaguely agreed on a route that we might take.  We drank up, eventually, and wandered over to the beach to be treated to some bagpiping.  This I remember.  We all felt very Scottish watching a piper pipe away the ferry back to Ardrossan and we all agreed that Mel Gibson was indeed correct to sack Carlisle and we then all imagined what it must have been like to have marched with Wallace that amazing distance from the Highlands to Carlisle and with no shops on the way and all the time wearing an itchy skirt and no underpants, walking through waist-high thistles in the most midge infested landscape on Earth.  No wonder they were annoyed.

Craig McFarlane Bagpipes Arran

And then someone went to the off licence and introduced us to a Scottish delicacy that ironically is brewed in Devon known as Buckfast Tonic Wine (Toxic more like)  and that is approximately where I lost my memory until the next morning.

Bagpiper Craig got the last ferry to the mainland, I wore a hat for the rest of the evening and then went missing at midnight but where to I have no recollection but I did find the hotel – the Ormidale, in a copse and managed to awake hotel staff at 4am enquiring where my room might be and was subsequently helped into bed.

Kev Ollier Hat

Me – apparently – totally hatted

I was enlightened with this information at the breakfast table by staff who were so nonchalant about it, that it seemed as if someone does this sort of thing quite regularly and possibly on a nightly basis.

Ormidale

The Ormidale

I managed to eat a full Scottish breakfast and get 200 metres into the hike before the hangover kicked in. It was 80 plus degrees and not even a whimsy of a breeze was to be had as we started the slow climb through the beauty that is Glen Rosa. We all had a bottle of water each which we sipped at, as it quickly became evident that one small bottle of water wouldn’t be enough. It is here that you have to understand that we are not advisors to Ray Mears or Bear Grylls though I’m sure we have a much better time and don’t have to wear make up  (It’s still a choice). It was quite a busy path as we mingled with day trippers from the ferry as well as local teenage lads, who were heading for a natural rock plunge pool. Something I imagine that only happens on very hot sunny days – so that would be once in a lifetime.

Kev Ollier Glen Rosa

into Glen Rosa

One of our party is terrified of heights and another was already out of water. A debate ensued, considering the temperature, about whether to go up Goat Fell, turn back or take another route. The one terrified of heights wasn’t intending to ever go up it, ‘if it looked steep’ and the one without the water was determined to.  Neil and I were not bothered either way but certainly wouldn’t be turning back so we strolled onwards and upwards towards’ The Saddle’ where we would decide a definite plan of action.

The going did get a bit tough as it was so hot and I’d perspired the last drop of Buckfast and was now seriously in need of water. We’d followed a stream all the way up the Glen and we decided we were now high enough to drink straight from the stream. Refreshed by Gaia we continued on and the path veered away from the stream for the first time that day and we suddenly realised that we now had this amazing valley to ourselves. Soon though Robin fell ill with what we expected was heat exhaustion and I was asked to get water for him but as the path had now veered about 100 metres from the river it meant I had to traipse through waist-high thistles in shorts disturbing plagues of sleeping, dusk awaiting midges and then scramble down a gorse cliff, over rocks and hang on by one arm whilst plunging the other into a mini waterfall and then having to make the return journey whereupon I disturbed more midges or maybe the same ones only now  more aggravated at a double intrusion. On my bedraggled and sweaty reunion with the lads Robin said he would have to go back to which I said something on the lines of, ‘I don’t bloody think so’. We had no mobile reception so we couldn’t call a helicopter rescue and we were alone but only a couple of hundred metres from the Saddle which was the half way point and for all we know there might actually be a tree over the other side that could afford us some shade as there were none the way we’d come.

We were climbing the last steep bit when some walkers appeared coming our way from over the Saddle. I smiled at this. There were two couples who on traversing the peak came upon us, me topless, legs torn by thistles with my shirt over my head (think Lawrence of Arabia), with a guy who looked as if he’d barely survived a Cessna plane crash in a desert with only mirages for comfort to be confronted by Phil concerned at how steep the other side was. One of the women didn’t help one iota when she said, ‘that’s so dangerous, be careful, you might die’ which was rubber stamped by her friend. I actually saw Phil turn grey.

The Saddle however was worth it. The views were immense and the wind that hit over the top was so cooling.

Robin Whitlock The Saddle to Glen Rosa Arran

Looking past Robin back to Glen Rosa from The Saddle

Kev Ollier The Saddle to Glen Sannox

and looking down into the future, Glen Sannox

We took rest and convinced Phil to keep going. I volunteered to go first so if he fell I’d break his fall.
And it was steep. It wasn’t even a footpath but a scramble. It says so on the map apparently and it’s one of the most notorious on Arran but it actually did get the adrenalin going as we had no ropes and it was indeed touch and go dangerous – the one slip and you’re dead dangerous – not even a halfway house of an injury – just dead, ex-parrot death.

Kev Ollier Scramble Glen Sannox

The scramble…

Glen Sannox

…and breathe

Suffice to say we got down, we walked the few more miles to Sannox and stopped at the hotel on the beach for an Arran single malt – to celebrate being alive and a large glass of iced sparkling water – bliss. We caught the next packed bus (they’re not often) back the 7 miles or so to Brodick to discover that I’d left my phone on the Sannox hotel lawn and there are no more buses today. Hence where the taxi driver came in….

The British Buddhist Holy Isle.

On the 18th April 1992 Buddhist Lama Yeshe Rinpoche bought a whole island off the coast from the Island of Arran which in turn is off the coast of Scotland. It is called Holy Isle and must not be visited, indeed given the widest possible birth, if you can’t cope with peace, beauty, tranquility and serenity.
The island came into Buddhist hands via a devout catholic no less, Mrs Kay Morris, who owned Holy Isle and had been ‘instructed by Mother Mary in a dream’ to pass Holy Isle to Lama Yeshe to be used for peace and meditation. See –  http://www.holyisland.org/

We went there this year as the second part of the annual ‘lads walk’.  We’d spent the first part, a couple of days, walking the wilds of Arran getting sunburned and heat stroke as we’d managed to marry our trip with the hottest weather Scotland has had since Dodo’s were a menace to outdoor chip eaters.

Arrival on Arran


There was only four of us this year and one of us, a freelance writer, was writing an article on our visit for Kindred Spirit magazine. It was the third day of our trip that we caught the small ferry over to this car free paradise. The plus with Holy Isle is that nobody is playing at being Buddhist. There was some disappointment by one of our group as he’d genuinely expected that our boat, on landing, would be met by a line of purple cloaked, bald blokes ringing bells and welcoming us on to their island. I wondered if he also thought they would be saying Aloha and passing garlands of thistles around our necks.
The resident Buddhists are simply average people of all ages who are trying to follow a peaceful existence via the teachings of Buddha. This, in other words, is not a pretentious new age centre.

The main building

The island consists of a main building which houses the dormitories, library, kitchen and dining room. There is no TV room, no amusement arcade or gym because like the world over they’re not really necessary. Behind this there is another building where the courses are held and at the far end of the island, about half a mile away, was a not for visitors retreat centre where twelve women are currently on a three year, three month, three day retreat. They were 18 months in to it at the time of our visit in May 2012.  The disappointed friend drew looks, accompanied by frowning eyebrows, when he inquired if this was voluntary on their part, obviously having decided to himself that we were on some sort of unwelcoming Zen Alcatraz.
In the hillside above the retreat centre there was a couple of eco-lodges for people on a lifetime retreat and once the resident has passed on the lodge also gets passed on to the next person on the waiting list.

The retreat building

The lifetime retreat lodges and the home of Lama Yeshe when he visits.

There is a also a wonderful cafe/shop on the grass beach which caters for visitors and helps fund the island and sells lots of mediation bowls which everyone seemed to try out and I imagine were there as some special meditative training test for the shop assistant.
Above the cafe was a meditation room which I visited at several ungodly hours to spend time, cross legged, cutting off the blood flow to my feet. I didn’t take my reading glasses into these meditations and was put on the spot when given a 2 inch thick set of cards to be able to recite the Chenrezig prayer, which was written in writing so small that I had no choice but to mumble along in a low Buddhisty sounding, throaty tone so as not to be exposed and glared at.

The Holy Isle passenger terminal looking towards Arran


Before meditation one morning as the sun was just up, around 5am as it happens, I decided to practice some yoga outdoors. There was a time when 5am was when I’d think of getting off home from a party and not heading for seclusion to do a yoga practice. I found a lovely spot by the sea edge looking across to Arran. I stripped down to my underpants because 1/ it was already hot and more importantly, 2/ I was alone – and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and by the time I’d reached my first downward facing dog I realised I was not at all alone. I was joined by an ever expanding cloud of wee midges and these midges were not at all Buddhist and brought on what I can only describe as yoga turrets and a quick desertion of my practice as I ran back to the meditation hall with my new friends in hot, biting pursuit.

In the main building one could help oneself to free teas and coffees 24/7 and the food, three meals a day that are included in your £28 a night stay, was gorgeous vegan fayre. We all occasionally chipped in washing and wiping dishes and very quickly became part of the community  and after only three days it was as if we’d never lived anywhere else.

On Holy Isle, you are not expected to go to meditation or to do anything particularly. You are simply free to be. It is relaxation personified and still quite a secret.

Peaced out. Last night on the island. Arran in the background

On returning to Arran the next day with it’s one bus every two hours, seemed akin to being dropped into Manhattan on Christmas Eve. It took a while for the peace to dissolve back into distraction which suffice to say most of it eventually did – except for a small part that now sits there still – I guess, waiting for me.

There are currently plans to put a power plant on Arran which the Buddhist community fear will spoil the tranquility of Holy Isle causing noise, pollution and smoke.
see – http://tinyurl.com/9a387jd