Named after the Irish monk Saint Donan, who is believed to have lived here in the sixth century, Kildonan lies at the south eastern extremity of the Isle of Arran. Reached via a loop of minor road dropping to the shore, the village stands out for two reasons.
The first is that it is home to an excellent beach which offers stretches of sand, a relative rarity on Arran. The second is more immediately obvious as you approach it. The views south over the village to the Ayrshire coast and the islands of Pladda and Ailsa Craig are simply superb.
Kildonan also boasts a castle, standing out on the old raised beach behind and above the village. It was once, with Lochranza Castle and Brodick Castle, one of three fortresses guarding Arran's strategically important position in the approaches to the Clyde. Today's Kildonan Castle is only a shadow of its former self, but still reflects its origins as a 13th Century keep.
The castle was originally built by the Lords of the Isles, but by 1406 was in the ownership of Robert III, who in that year passed it on to his illegitimate son, John Stewart of Ardgowan. In 1544 it was acquired by the Hamilton family, the Earls of Arran.
Kildonan Castle has long been ivy clad and unstable, making close examination a dangerous proposition. It also stands in the garden of a house, meaning that it can only be seen from a nearby right of way leading to the beach. Not far from the castle is an increasingly ruinous lookout tower, a relic from Kildonan's days as the location of Arran's only Coastguard station, which moved to Lamlash in 1981.
Accommodation in Kildonan itself largely revolves around the Kildonan Hotel. The Breadalbane Hotel further along the village was demolished in 2009 to make way for housing. There is also a campsite close to the Kildonan Hotel, at the east end of the village. Nearby the observant might notice an aircraft propeller displayed against the wall of a boat house or barn close to the Kildonan Hotel. This is believed to have been recovered by divers from one of a number of Grumman Wildcat aircraft jettisoned over the side of a US Navy aircraft carrier after the second world war.
The village itself is strung out along the shore, with, near its west end, the village hall complete with a memorial bell set in a wall. Not far from the hall is one of Scotland's more unusual war memorials, a plaque fixed to a prominent rock standing above the beach.
In recent years the village has become rather more substantial with the construction of a number of large houses ideally suited to enjoy the views. And, without doubt it is the views from Kildonan that draw your attention time and again.
A key focal point when looking south from Kildonan is the island of Pladda, which lies a kilometer or so offshore; its name comes from the Norse for "Flat Isle". Those who have dreamed of owning their own island might not welcome hearing of a missed opportunity: Pladda was on the market for the first time ever in 1990 for £80,000, complete with its own water supply. The lighthouse on the island was built by the Stevenson family in the 1820s, and was manned until it was automated in the 1980s.
Also featuring in southern views from Kildonan is the much more distant Ailsa Craig, complete with its 1109ft or 338m peak, laying off the Ayrshire coast. The name comes from the Gaelic "Fairy Rock"; and its contrast with Pladda, rising just 20m from the sea, could hardly be greater.
Kildonan can easily be bypassed by staying on the main road that encircles Arran. Indeed, you need to look out for the junctions off that road and make a particular effort to get to the village. But if you miss Kildonan, you miss one of the highlights of any tour of Arran.
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