The Isle of Arran: Ardrossan to Machrie Moor

It was a warm and bright summer day when I departed from Ardrossan to cross the Firth of Clyde to Arran.


Above: Aboard the MV Caledonian Isles, or route from Ardrossan to Brodick (Photo: Aaron Watson)


Above: Dappled light across the mountains of north Arran, with the highest being Goatfell (Photo: Aaron Watson)


Above: A short film featuring the ferry crossing to Arran (Video: Aaron Watson)


Upon arrival at the port of Brodick, I headed for the remarkable monumental landscape of Machrie Moor on the western side of Arran.

I had wanted to visit Machrie Moor for years, and I was not disappointed. The walk into this monumental landscape passes a succession of megalithic monuments, including the remains of a Neolithic chambered cairn.


Above: The remains of Neolithic chambered cairn on the path to Machrie Moor (Photo: Aaron Watson)


Above: Machrie Moor Circle 5, also known as Fingal’s Cauldron. It has been suggested, given the layout of this stones, that this monument was originally constructed as a herbed cairn. The tall monoliths of Circles 2 and 3 are visible in the distance (Photo: Aaron Watson)


Above: This tall red sandstone monolith is the only stone still standing at Machrie Moor Circle 3. The stones of Circle 2 can be seen beyond (Photo: Aaron Watson)


Above: Distinctive fluting caused by weathering (Photo: Aaron Watson)


Above: Machrie Moor Circle 1., with Circle 11 visible beyond. The shapes of the stones alternate between grey rounded granite and angular sandstone (Photo: Aaron Watson)


Machrie Moor Circles 2 and 11 were excavated in the 1980’s, revealed that both these monuments had earlier phases that were constructed using timber posts. It was shown that the contrasting stone shapes are not the result of weathering but an intentional part of the design. Some stones has even been sculpted by hand to refine their appearance.

Above: The three surviving red sandstone monoliths of Machrie Moor Circle 2 (Photos: Aaron Watson)


In the evening sunlight the sandstone monoliths appeared increasingly red. This emphasised one of the most striking feature of this gathering of monuments: their overt use of distinctive colours. This had to be deliberate, since the nearest source of the granite is over six kilometres (3 miles) distant. The sandstone was likely quarried from nearby outcrops.

The aesthetic contrasts between these monuments is further emphasised by the contrasting experiences they offer. The tallest sandstone monoliths dominate the scene, and define spaces which would have had acoustic properties, since sound reflects clearly from their surfaces. In contrast, the shorter granite monoliths could not have been used in this way.

I was pleased to note that the setting of the monuments on Machrie Moor fitted perfectly with the ideas I wrote about in my doctoral thesis almost twenty years ago. Stone circles often seem be placed within valleys in such as way that high ground surrounds the monument, reinforcing a sense of circularity and centrality.