The West

Fairway to heaven
Michael Baillie tees off at the 4th hole at Shiskine Golf Club. Picture: Andrew Baillie

It's 9 o'clock in the evening and I'm in golfing heaven. Scotland in July, where it won't get dark for another hour-and-a-half at least, and my piece of paradise is the fourth tee at Shiskine Golf Club on the Isle of Arran.

Travel for golfers, golf for travellers

It doesn't take a genius to work out why this hole is called The Shelf. I'm standing with my dad and brother at the course's highest point, with 137 yards (125m) - or a seven-iron on this windless evening - to a green that sits well below us.

Beyond the little white flag lies the Kilbrannan Sound, an expanse of water gouged deep by glaciers and stretching out across to Kintyre, with its twinkling Campbeltown lights and the Mull made famous by Paul McCartney's bagpipes. To my left is Drumadoon Bay and the town of Blackwaterfoot - half holiday cottages, half rugged islanders who know the weather won't be this forgiving come January.

On my right, north along the coast past towering cliff faces, is the King's Cave, where it is claimed Robert the Bruce had his fabled meeting with a spider while hiding from the English 700 or so years ago. Whether this legendary Scottish warrior got out to enjoy the view is not known, but I can't get enough of it. The perfect end to a perfect day.

A day that had started at 7.45am on the same course, one of seven on Arran but the only true links among them (a links course is where the sandy, seaside soil gives the turf a special quality you generally find only in Britain, most famously at the venues for the Open Championship). Shiskine often sneaks into lists of the top 100 courses in the UK, which is remarkable when you consider it has only 12 holes, and not the usual 18. But it's easy to see why.

My mum is playing, too, and when we start off, there is a fresh breeze, it's cloudy but bright and, with just a few fishing boats for company, we're round in under two hours. Now for some fun with the kids.

But the rain has returned, back to torment holidaymakers who would be happy for just a week's worth of sunshine to call a Scottish summer. You don't come to Arran for the sun, though. You come for piercing fresh air and stunning views of an island that brands itself "Scotland in miniature" - its rugged granite Highlands and glacial valleys in the north, transforming into lush southern farmland lowlands and pine forests all in the space of 31km.

You can also come for luxury, and sensing the rain will be on for a while, we jump in the car and head east along the String Road which splits the middle of the island, the craggy peaks of Goat Fell to our left and the breathtaking scene of the Firth of Clyde ahead as we descend down to the Auchrannie Spa Resort.

Located at the island's main town of Brodick, where the ferry arrives from Ardrossan on the mainland's west coast, the Auchrannie has grown from a 16-bedroom guesthouse into two four-star hotels, 30 self-catering lodges, three restaurants, two leisure clubs, an indoor tennis court, a children's "playbarn" and an outdoor activities centre where you can hire mountain bikes or book kayaking lessons.

The rooms are big, modern, clean and reasonably priced, the breakfasts are legendary and, as usual, it's full of families enjoying the informal quality of it all. We've stayed here several times over the years but today we're in to escape the weather and have a swim, and £18 ($28) gives my family access to the fine pool, steam room and sauna. Best of all, my daughters love it. And if they're happy…

After all that splashing around it's time for lunch, so we head to another favourite haunt, the Brodick Bar. This cosy bistro has a reputation among seasoned Arran-goers for being on the pricier side, but the food is once again delicious and, compared with Perth, is a snip. We pick our dishes from a big blackboard which is jammed with choices and, feeling the need to try some local produce, I go for a smoked pheasant and crispy bacon salad with raspberry vinaigrette starter at £6.95 and ask for a double helping to turn it into a main course. My wife, Leyanne, has the home-cured gravadlax with lemon and baby capers at £7.95. Magnificent.

Refuelled and ready for the afternoon, it's time for the girls to use up some more of their energy, and a perfect place is 4km out of town at Brodick Castle. Its history can be traced back to the fifth century BC, when Gaelic raiders from what is now Northern Ireland set up a fortress on the site. It was later used by the Vikings, was also the seat of the Dukes of Hamilton and it now appears on Royal Bank of Scotland £20 notes. One of these - equivalent to about $31 - will buy a family pass to the grounds and give you £2.50 change, while £28 will let you enter the castle to gaze at the many portraits and stags' heads. Seeing as the only thing my children are interested in is the flying fox rope slide, which forms the centrepiece of a thrilling assault course in the castle's gardens, we opt to stay outdoors.

It means I can chill out on a seat and watch them zoom through the air, while Leyanne heads off to check out the spectacular flowers which are in full summer's bloom. There's the walled garden, which was built in 1710 and offers fine views of the Clyde from our high vantage point, and the woodland garden, home to a world-famous rhododendron collection.

Leyanne is amazed by the hydrangeas, which have been given a boost by the extra rain. I'm more taken by the unmistakable sight and sound of a Scottish legend chugging out of port. Virtually every child who has grown up in the west of Scotland will have memories of the Waverley, the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world.

Built in 1946, she is from an era when the workers of Glasgow, and any other town in Britain, would head to the seaside for their one holiday of the year. I can't believe how small she seems.

By now it's time to head back to Blackwaterfoot, with one last stop. The Isle of Arran Cheese Shop is a must for the taster samples alone, but at four flavoured cheddars for £14, it's hard to leave empty- handed. You can also watch the workers make the stuff and it's the same next door at Arran Aromatics, which sells luxury toiletries.

So bags bulging with Arran mustard, chilli, smoked garlic and oak-smoked cheese, I'm ready to get the crackers off the shelf. But not before I've stood on that other Shelf - and savoured my golfing heaven.


• During the northern summer Caledonian MacBrayne sail from Ardrossan in Ayrshire to Brodick five times a day, Monday to Saturday, with an extra sailing on Fridays and four on Sundays. A train to and from Glasgow Central station connects with the ferry. Prices start from £6.35 ($9.90) single or £10.75 five-day return. Bikes are free. and

• A round at Shiskine Golf Club is £20 weekdays and £25 weekends for adults, juniors £8/£9. Weekly tickets are £124 for adults. and +44 (0)1770 860226

• Current offers at the Auchrannie resort include bed & breakfast from £49.50 per person per night. Midweek breaks, which include the cost of the ferry, are from £79.50 per person. and +44 (0) 1770 302 234.

• The park in Brodick Castle is open all year, 9.30am to sunset. Entry is £6.50 adults and £17.50 family. Days vary for castle entry. and

The West Australian

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