March and April
Lochranza Campsite opens on March 21st. March is a winter month in Scotland but the days are getting longer and lighter and the whins (gorse) splash the hillsides with yellow. It can be a good time of year for walking as the bracken hasn't begun to grow and the remains of old enclosures, lades (ditches) and settlements are revealed. Don't forget that the sea is often at its coldest in March. The island traditionally bursts into life for visitors at the beginning of April. In Lochranza, the local hill sheep lamb are busy lambing in the open air on the hillsides. Look out for antlers shed by the red deer stags.
May starts and ends with a Bank Holiday and somewhere in between Spring properly arrives. The English Spring Bank Holiday week, usually the last week in May, is a popular one and we recommend booking for the Campsite in good time. There is a lot going on this month in the wild, so remember your binoculars for a spot of bird-watching and enjoy the explosion of colourful wildflowers around the coast. The eleventh Arran Mountain Festival takes place over four days in May offering guided walking in the hills, see: www.arranmountainfestival.co.uk
From early May to late July the sun sets in the north-west and shines directly onto Lochranza Campsite in the evenings. In fact, by June there is scarcely any true darkness. The Arran Folk Music Festival, a highlight of the island calendar, is held in early June annually. It's followed at the beginning of July by the very popular Arran Malt and Music Festival, held across the road from the Campsite at the Isle of Arran Distillery. From mid-month onwards newborn red deer calves totter on gangly legs out of the bracken. See: www.arranevents.com for festival details.
July and August
Come rain or shine Arran buzzes in the summer months with lots of entertainment to enjoy including galas, shows, Brodick Highland Games, boat trips and ceilidhs. We strongly recommend booking your ferry in advance for this time of year. The Arran Farmers Show is held at Lamlash on the first Wednesday in August. Arran has many artists and you'll find open doors into their studios in August, see: www.arranopenstudios.com. You will undoubtedly encounter midges in high summer unless it's breezy. They are most persistent on still, damp evenings when it's best to plan to go for a walk (they can't keep up with you) or a meal out. Midge products are very effective and can be purchased all over the island.
September and October
From early September the red deer herds congregate on Lochranza Golf Course for the rut and their roars resonate round the hills from late afternoon to morning. The Robert McLellan Literature Festival is held in late August and early September, see: www.arranevents.com for more information. The rut is at its height in the first two weeks of October. As the month progresses, the deer grass and bracken on the hillsides turn beautiful shades of orange and gold. Night skies, with no light pollution in Lochranza, reward sky-gazers with shooting stars, and sometimes the shimmering greens and reds of the Aurora Borealis. Wildlife is very active in the approach to winter. Furiously busy red squirrels run across Lochranza Golf Course, basking sharks glide round the coast and otters play. Lochranza Campsite closes for the winter at the end of October when the hill sheep return to the Golf Course for tupping.
The Red Deer Year
Wild pure-blooded red deer roam the northern hills of Arran. They are smaller than their woodland counterparts because they lead tougher lives on the open hillsides. Deer in general adapt their behaviour to local environments and in Lochranza the lush grass of the golf course has become part of their traditional grazing grounds. As a result, they are people-tolerant so long as their space is respected.
The stags roam the higher slopes, sometimes alone, sometimes in small stag groups. The hinds and calves tend to stay in the shelter of the glen.
The stags cast their antlers and knobbly stumps appear almost immediately. The end of winter is a difficult time for wildlife before the spring grass grows. The deer are selectively culled in the autumn to ensure a healthy herd. Without this intervention, the end of winter would probably find the weakest and youngest deer starving to death.
The deer lose their shabby winter coats and shine with health. The stags' new antlers are covered in "velvet". They are least active in the middle of the day and enjoy snoozing in the sunshine, but if it's too hot they head for the hills to avoid insects. Sometimes on sunny evenings they bathe in the sea.
The calves are born in mid-June. The hinds keep them hidden in bracken and are fiercely protective. The new-born calves have white spots on their backs. The previous year's calf will often remain close to its mother.
By August the stags' antler growth is complete. Generally, for each year of its age a stag acquires a couple more points or tines on its antlers, although after its prime, the points decline.
In early September stags start to congregate for the rut. The first roarings are heard. Stags' necks thicken and become shaggy.
Rut behaviour includes:
- Fraying- stags thrash trees with their antlers to remove the velvet
- Wiping- stags scour the ground with their antlers to spread their scent
- Wallowing- stags bathe in ponds and ditches to make themselves look dark and intimidating to rivals
- Roaring- stags roar challenges to their rivals from vantage points. The noise can be deafening and goes on each day from late afternoon to the next morning, peaking in the first two weeks of October. The stags will roar at hinds in their herds if they run away, and they will make loud rapid grunting noises at young stags who come too close
- A typical size herd has a stag defending up to 20 hinds. The hinds come into season in mid-October and the stag needs to be ready. Stags and hinds lick and sniff each other in the build-up to mating
- Parallel walking and pushing contests- these are shows of strength between rivals. Usually one of the stags backs down before a serious fight. What's at stake is the chance to mate with the herd. Serious fighting can last for half an hour and more and leave stags badly wounded
- After the heat of the rut passes, the herd stays together for a while before dispersing. The stags are exhausted