‘ARRAN has changed,” says Sheila Gilmore of local tourism collective VisitArran as I step off the ferry “doon the watter”.

“You can still bring your bucket and spade, or climb Goatfell, but we’ve got beach bars, a second distillery, fine dining, new boat trips and Scotland’s first island snorkel trail.”

My family hails from the south of Arran and it’s a tradition to travel back every summer, so I’ve seen the changes first hand. I’m staying this time at the Auchrannie (www.auchrannie.co.uk) – symbolic of how much Arran has changed.

It used to be one grand old hotel. They’ve added a second modern complex complete with more rooms, another swimming pool, a softplay centre and a spa. It’s the only resort in the isles and a great base.

We have an executive family room – ideal for four of us – with a separate room with bunk beds for the kids. You can upgrade to a floor that has a lounge with free drinks and a hot tub.

We eat well at Cruize at the Auchrannie, with local produce making its way into the dishes, as

it does at all the resort’s restaurants. Arran has really upped its game beyond fish and chips on the pier. There is the fresh, creative seafood of Mara and the new covered terrace at the Drift Inn – the epic views go with the superb Arran lamb and langoustines hauled from the waters in front of you.

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A new discovery on this trip is the Brodick Brasserie. With exciting, award-winning young chef Timur Jay Ünal working culinary wonders in the kitchen, this is now the place to eat on Arran. The tasting menu is sublime, with juniper-cured salmon, wild deer and truffle all in the delicious mix.

Over at Glenisle, Lamlash’s waterfront boutique hotel, I meet owner Colin Richards, who says, “People are looking for good, local food and somewhere comfortable and stylish to stay on Arran these days. And we strive to give them that.”

New initiatives abound on Arran, on an island that offers more beyond the world of supermarket hegemony. Arran milk is now served from vending machines around the island. Woodside Arran CIC is a social enterprise farm in Kildonan whose fruit, veg and free-range eggs you can buy from vending machines in Brodick.

And now the isle boasts a brace of distilleries. I’m a huge fan of the Lochranza Distillery in the north, which opened back in 1995. It was joined in 2019 by Lagg Distillery, which promises smokier, peaty malts. It’s a stunning piece of architecture in Arran’s south that manages to blend into the landscape. Arran Botanical Drinks is more low-key, but they’re behind Arran Gin, with their beach bar the ideal place to recline with a G&T on the Costa del Clyde.

The National: The Isle of Arran as seen from the waterThe Isle of Arran as seen from the water

You could just eat and drink your way through a stay on Arran, but I’m determined to get active too. I could hire an e-bike or a paddleboard these days, but I choose one of the new guided snorkelling trips run by COAST (www.arrancoast.com). They open up the impressive Marine Protected Area and its world of kelp, seagrass, darting fish and scuttling crabs. “We’re very proud of what has blossomed from our No Take Zone and snorkelling opens up this dramatic underwater world,” explains Jenny Crockett afterwards as we tour their visitor centre.

I hook up too with the Lochranza Centre (www.lochranzacentre.co.uk), one of what is now an array of adventure sports operators.

You can hire e-bikes, paddleboards and even snorkel gear on Arran these days.

Chris Traill takes me out into the hills gorge walking. The stress and strain of modern life quickly disappear when you’re clambering around waterfalls and diving from up high into deep, mountain pools.

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In the afternoon the Lochranza Centre takes me canoeing. It’s a remarkable setting, with mountains soaring above – along with golden eagles – and rugged Lochranza Castle brooding in the bay.

It’s a reminder that underpinning the new face of Arran is a deep sense of history. It is a land of castles, stone circles, standing stones and mysterious cairns. It was also ravaged by the Clearances, with one of Scotland’s few Clearances memorials in Lamlash a reminder.

I’ve found evidence some of my own family were cleared from Arran to Canada – I follow in their wake with one of the new boat trips with Lamlash Cruises. We ease around Holy Isle, a deeply special island owned by a Buddhist community.

Anyone can visit their Centre for World Peace and Health, but I just enjoy a new boat trip right around the island that opens up the wild nature reserve on the east coast. We catch sight of the Eriskay ponies, Saanen goats and Soay sheep that roam free here. Porpoises and dolphins splash around us.

As I sail reluctantly away from Brodick on CalMac, I hear a familiar rhythmic thrashing. And there she is – the PS Waverley, an enduring symbol of the old “doon the watter” days. The Waverley still calls at Brodick but the visitors she brings today are stepping onto an island that has changed beyond recognition, an island that stacks up for a brilliant holiday escape.

For further information, see www.visitarran.com