We made an early start on Saturday morning, driving to Ardrossan for the first CalMac Ferry of the day. As is customary I took advantage of the full Scottish breakfast once onboard. The crossing was pleasant and it wasn’t long before we were on Arran and checking in at the Douglas Hotel in Brodick, just across the road from the ferry terminal.
We had made the trip to Arran not entirely sure what we’d be doing. Possibly a hill walk, a coastal hike or maybe even a bike ride. Since the weather seemed to be looking up it was decided to go for Goatfell, the best known mountain on Arran.
It hadn’t been long since I last made the ascent but Gareth and Bruce hadn’t done it, at least not recently. We’d take a slightly different route, driving to High Corrie and parking as high as we dared up the road before following the path up the Corrie Burn.
The going was warm. There was little wind to speak of which made for a sweaty hike. The Corrie Burn approach is quick and direct. We cross over the burn before reaching the steeper, rockier slopes of the East ridge. It’s on this ridge that we are enveloped in mist and as we wind through the large boulders near the summit, we pass the first hikers we’ve seen. Quite different to my previous visit which was very busy. The mist we have been climbing in parts for a short while, revealing The Holy Isle, looking quite mystical, through the cloud, with hazy sunshine illuminating the landscape. After around an hour or so, we are at the top. We take a long lunch at the top. It’s not cold, particularly for November, and there is still no wind.
It is then the fateful decision is made that we should explore further along the North Ridge and descend to the shore at Sannox. I explained that my previous walk had been around 7 hours, 2 of which were just the walk out of Glen Rosa. It must have been about 2:00 and we start descending the far side toward the North ridge. This area is full of large boulders that have to be negotiated, the steep fractured granite ridge has to be skirted before getting onto the ridge itself.
We started discussing timings and realised we’d be cutting it fine as daylight would be an issue. Sunset at this time of year is just after 4:00.
We meet a lone hiker coming the opposite way and he can tell we are unsure what we are doing. I’m looking at my phones map and it’s obvious we haven’t decided which route we should be taking. He asks if we know where we are going. When we tell him, with a grimace, he tells us “it’s a bit of a scramble!”. He does ask us if we know how to get down going the other way and we point him towards the small cairn of markers stones, positioned at the top of a route down. With hindsight, we should have followed him. We had talked to friends back in Brodick who were attending the Mountain Rescue Team’s 50th anniversary dinner. Another reason not to get stuck on the hill.
As mentioned at the start, we were unsure what we’d be doing, and we were largely unprepared. Not enough water, forgotten food and now we admit to each other none of has a torch or headlamp. We better get a move on. For some reason we carry on ahead, and not taking the more immediate route down.
The ridge gets more precipitous and the path starts to break up. It’s already getting dark in the mist and we decide to drop down off the ridge, losing the path altogether, intending to descend as soon as we could. What we thought was the correct route down, turned out to gravel runoff or a river bed.
The gradient was pretty severe, and the conditions underfoot were uneven. My legs (as always on descents) started to buckle as lactic acid takes over. The others started to move ahead and I dropped back, struggling to stay on my feet. On occasion I found it easier to sit on my backside and slide, making sure to stop before going over any blind drop.
I think it was over an hour I was stumbling and sliding into Glen Sannox before finally catching up with the others waiting on the other side of the river, which, I did stick my head into, sucking up some fresh water, having passed my rucksack to Gareth on the way down.
It was now dusk, about 4:30 and getting darker by the second. It was a relief to be off the uncomfortable terrain, but we still had a long walk in very low light following the river down the glen. It was maybe an hour or so before hitting the road, but we still had a bit to go. From Sannox to Corrie along the main road, we finally found a hotel and went in for a very refreshing shandy. However, we still were not home and dry. We continued as we had to get back to the car in High Corrie and the road was even darker now. We were now worried we couldn’t find the road we parked up on. Eventually we found the track and plodded up the hill once again, wishing we hadn’t parked so far up. Some time after 6:00, we made it to the car at last.
Back at the hotel, I emptied twigs and heather out of my boots and washed it out of my hair and other body parts.
An invigorating walk up a great mountain, but I’ve definitely learned a lesson, especially hiking this late in the year, to bring lighting!