I’VE long known that Arran is a deeply special place, but I wasn’t aware that time began here. Well, not time exactly, more our modern understanding of it

 It’s just one of the discoveries – along with a “new” Neolithic site, a brilliant community cafe and an ambitious Unesco bid – I made when I headed back doon the watter earlier this month.

I go back a long way with Arran, as my late dad’s side of the family hails from the rugged south of Scotland’s seventh largest island. I’ve returned almost every year of my life and it’s an isle that to me is timeless, wrapped in childhood memories that I nurture and add to with my own daughters, but also an island of constant reinvention where I find new things, and well-kent places reborn, on every visit.

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The idea that time began on Arran is big news to me. In 1787, Scottish geologist James Hutton came to Arran desperate to demonstrate his Plutonist theory that the earth was not a mere 6000 years old as was thought at the time. The global significance of the site of “Hutton’s Unconformity” was marked with a stone in 2017 by the Arran Geopark Project.

Spurred on by Hutton, I headed to the Lochranza Centre and the Arran Geopark hub, where there is much excitement, as they are bidding for Unesco recognition.

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“Arran rocks,” smiles Malcolm Wilkinson, the Geopark Operations Manager. “Arran is a wonderfully unique island. Here you not only have 600 million years of geology, but rocks from every time period within that, all easily accessible on one island.

“The Unesco Geopark status would recognise that this island is one of Earth’s most extraordinary places, alongside the likes of Shetland, Granada and Tenerife.”

The exhibition colourfully tells the geological story of Arran, but Wilkinson is keen to stress that geology should not be seen as an inaccessible discipline in isolation.

“Geology is at the root of everything. It’s in the farming soils that bring us Arran’s renowned food and drink. It’s in Bruce’s Cave where he saw the spider, and it’s in Lamlash Bay with Celtic priests and Vikings.”

Also at the heart of the Unesco bid is sustainability and how people live in and around unique geology. Unesco is so serious about this that the Geopark status is reviewed every four years even if – as it surely will – Arran secure it next year. Wilkinson adds that “a Unesco Geopark is a journey, not a destination”.

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Sustainability is a key concept on an island where by definition people have always had to live close to nature. Arran was home to Scotland’s first protected marine area in 2008 and the island held its first responsible tourism conference this month too.

“Sustainability and responsibility have been key on Arran for decades, not least in the ‘Taste Of Arran’ initiative, which has been a real pioneer looking at ways to promote and sustain local producers, while ensuring the quality of that produce,” Katie Murchie, of not-for-profit destination management organisation VisitArran, told me.

I hadn’t heard much about “Arran’s Food Journey” before, but the ever-enthusiastic and passionate Ailsa Currie at the impressive farm tourism oasis at Bellevue Farm filled me in on its drive to encourage producers to work together and open up to visitors even more.

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These include the likes of Arran Milk, Robin’s Herbs, Blackwater Bakehouse and Woodside Farm Shop. Bellevue shows the way with its farm tours and experiences, its brace of self-catering cottages and the wonderful Bellevue Barn, home to a shop selling its farm-reared meats, a café and a play area. It hosts regular farmers’ markets too.

I headed back next to another top-notch producer – the whisky distillery in Lochranza, which has in recent years been joined by a peat-tinged sibling in the south at Lagg.

Lochranza have just unveiled sparkling new visitor facilities, which really opens up the production and creates a beautiful new bar space, carved with local wood and a majestic eagle sculpted by Scottish artist Rob Coia. Visitor centre manager Lindsay Patrick beamed: “We’re really proud of the work we’ve done on further improving the visitor experience and look forward to helping more people than ever before discover and enjoy our whiskies.”

In the south, I delved into the Duke of Hamilton’s old hunting grounds around Eas Mòr waterfall for the first time and discovered an impressive community project. Their innovative hydroelectric scheme helps power the accessible path network, native trees regeneration and the gorgeous new cafe. It was fashioned with dead elm trees and its interiors feature remarkable wall carvings from local joiner and artist Max Worthington, who told me: “Covid meant we couldn’t get materials and had time, so I just freestyled”. His freestyled seasonal motifs are glorious.

I left Arran as always with my head full of things I wished I had time to do and looking forward to coming back to discover more. On that future list are the new RIB boat trips, the enthusiast-built mountain biking track at Dyemill and Arran’s answer to Stonehenge. Archaeological work is under way at Drumadoon on a massive Neolithic cursus site that could prove as significant as its Salisbury sibling. With Arran, there is always more.

Visit Arran has more information on Arran at www.visitarran.com.