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Island press: The Arran Banner and other explorations

My Scottish Islands research took me to Arran for a few days. I stopped by the Arran Banner to talk to the editor of the island's only newspaper and famous for having one of the highest circulations in the world (in times of record low newspaper circulations). All islanders read it, with many subscribers among those who have left the island or come here just for their holidays.

Apparently, it is renowned for the heated discussion in its Letters to the Editor section which recently included debates on climate change, the state of Arran's roads, toilets and the new ferry service to the island. When the paper was sold to a mainland newsgroup, they did not bother to have a reporter on the island which caused much discontent leading to the paper placing two reporters locally that cover the whole island and on just about everything and anything that matters to the island inhabitants.

One of my interviewees summed up well life on the island and how media need to pay attention to island community relations: "you spit on someone, they all get wet"! I loved the expression as it very much encapsulates small island life, reciprocal relationships, and relational accountability. When the paper made the cardinal mistake to name those who had committed some crime (not much on the island, often petty kind of crime), that did not go down well, as someone told me "why should the family of this person be shamed and made responsible for the bad actions of their relative?" The newspaper did learn from this and no longer names the criminal!

The Arran Banner has a Webcam that operates 24 hours per day overlooking Brodick Bay where you can see the ferry come in and out (or tied up if the weather is bad!) Looking at the comments on its facebook page, it looks like it's those islanders that are not on the island that watch this expressing feelings of nostalgia. This reminds me of the Setuchi Cable TV on the Japanese island of Amami Oshima that is broadcasting live the happenings of the local port with music, acting like a window to the town's important hub and great for those elderly islanders who are housebound.

Arran is a mini Scotland, they say, containing a bit of everything Scotland has to offer: castles, glens, highlands and lowlands, mountains, islands, deer, paleolithic standing stones in circles, waterfalls, golden eagles, whiskey distilleries, microbreweries, and of course the best fish and chips! Today, I got the seashore taste and as the old lady on the bus told me, this is the best island in the whole world. What, even in winter I asked her; even better then she replied! I am looking forward to more island encounters in the next few days...

The atmospheric Machrie Moor standing stones on the island of Arran, dating back up to 4,500 years ago...As I wandered around this amazing moorland discovering not one but six stone circles and burial cairns with the spectacular mountains of northern Arran as the backdrop, I could not help wonder what these pre-historic people had in mind when putting such huge amount of time and effort in forming such formidable structures.

Scorching hot here on Arran Island today, the sea looked very enticing for a splash. I sought refuge in the lush gardens of Brodick Castle after an attempt to hike part of the Glen that leads up to Goatfell summit (I decided, after much sweating, that was for another visit, preferably in cooler conditions!)

My dinner view today (swans photo)...Whiting Bay. I will find it hard leaving this island when the time comes...

Holy Isle, Scotland today: Arran island's mesmerizing satellite island is a trip to remember, one that I did not plan for as I did not know of its existence until I arrived here a couple of days ago. Under the custody of the Samye Ling Buddhist Centre since 1991, this otherworldly wee Isle was the home of a 6th-century hermit, St Molaise, who clearly knew how to choose his caves (spartan but with meditative views), offers an ancient healing spring whose refreshing waters I splashed my face with, the remains of a 13th-century monastery, a Buddhist Center for World Peace and Health with ongoing interfaith retreats, a big nature conservation project that covers half of the Isle, beautiful organic gardens, sea otters, Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep and Saanen goats all of which roam the isle free (and not interested in interacting with visitors), rock paintings of Buddhist deities, a lovely Boat House where guests are offered free refreshments and a meditative walk around the west coast facing Arran Island on the one side and its magnificent high rise interior on the other. For those keen for spectacular views, you can take the hike up through the center of the Isle. I had a fascinating and rather surreal encounter with a former Jesuit monk turned Greek Orthodox monk with a strong Glasgow accent... (what are the chances for such an encounter, you tell me!)

A wee isle with a world of its own that brought me much peace today. And I loved arriving on a tiny boat that kept us close to the sea line, a most respectful way to approach an island...

Four memorable bus journeys around the island this weekend. On one occasion I got on the wrong bus where the whole bus full of oldies proceeded in giving me advice all at the same time on how to get to the right one...essentially just get across the road! On another occasion, the bus driver suggested that if I miss the next bus, Ι could just flag down any passing car, they will take me where I need to the bus drops you where you want, not just at the bus stop; and on another occasion, I had a conversation with the elderly couple waiting on the other side of the road, chatting away companionably until their bus arrived...I love how my humanity is acknowledged here by total strangers.

Arran island is setting itself as a good example of supporting Fairtrade. I witnessed this at the B&B I'm staying which serves fairtrade coffee.

Farewell Arran Island! The return trip down under starts today. Part of me wants to return to my own bed and part of me wants to keep roaming the Scottish isles.

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