So after the past six years spending Christmas at home doing our duty with in-laws and parents (s) we finally made the break and got away for the festive celebrations. I have been hankering for a quiet Christmas without the usual stresses of combining disparate ends of the family in an event that reminds us why we only do it once a year. So courtesy of my eldest brother Nick, we got away from it all in his holiday property on the Scottish Island of Arran.
Arran has been described as the best of Scotland in miniature: there are mountains and glens in the north and rolling lowland to the south. There are seven golf courses on an island 10 miles by 20, and everything else you need for a decent Christmas: a brewery, a distillery and some decent shops for both gifts and more mundane essentials. Claire’s main concerns about going to Arran revolved around whether we would even be able to get there as the chances of cancelled ferries loomed large in her mind in the weeks prior to the 8 1/2 hour journey up north. My blind faith that it would all be fine on the night was severely tested as our four day stay was bookended by high winds and gales, prompting Calmac Ferries to run “disruption” banners across their website. One cancellation simply meant a longer-than-planned-for shopping run at Asda in Ardrossan while we awaited the next crossing.
Once there, a quick perusal of the local information service – The Arran Banner – told us that on Boxing day we should attend the “dook”: the local “let’s jump in the sea” equivalent of the Serpentine swimming club in London. Unlike the Serpentine club this was not a race, just a relaxed, informal affair in which participants strolled (or ran) down the slipway at Lamlash before swimming to the end of the jetty, getting out and diving / jumping / falling into the icy waters below before returning to the slipway for a refreshing hot soup. Fancy dress was optional, but prizes were awarded, so there were plenty of splashing santas to amuse the spectators as we sipped on our mulled wine. All donations went to the RNLI so the risk of hypothermia seemed a fair one for the enthusiastic ‘dookers’.
Before we left Somerset for Scotland I had bumped into a former coaching colleague who now works in Scotland and was in the West country for Christmas. He was incredulous that I was travelling up there for the festive period. I can see his point: the days are short (sunrise 9am and setting by 4pm) and the weather potentially vile. But it proved to be the most peaceful and relaxing christmas in memory. After all, what more do you want from Christmas other than to be able to eat, drink and slob out in front of the telly, with only the briefest blast of fresh air to revive you for the next instalment of festive gluttony?
Josh and I did, however, manage to get one round of golf at the local course. Shiskine Golf and Tennis Club is a rarity in golfing terms as it is a 12 hole course. Which is a perfect length for two hours of excellent golf. It can never be described as a good walk spoiled as the course is on well-drained links with views across the Kilbrannan Sound to the Mull of Kintyre which are able to lift the soul after even the worst drive into the gorse and bracken. The scores are secondary to the experience of playing on such a great course, though I did manage to keep my 20-year-old son in his place by about 7 shots….
And in order to maintain some sort of gardening theme, I am pleased to say that we managed to cut some veg from the Arran garden for at least one meal. Curly Kale is something I have not seen in a long time, but Nick (or rather his neighbour) has been maintaining some herbs, greens and red cabbages that are looking good. And we also took our own brussels sprouts from our own garden – the few the mice had left us.
A truly peaceful christmas with close family, home cooking and room to breathe as you take walks along the beach with only the oystercatchers, cormorants and other gulls to keep you company. And although not strictly speaking white, there was always snow visible on the highlands.