Spurred on by an email from Niels stating that he had bought for himself a lovely new jacket, I put out the call to see who was up for a walk.
We thought it would be a good opportunity to visit Jon on Arran, since it was unlikely we’d get him off the island.
We left Glasgow early on the 8:35 train to Ardrossan. The weather was fair and the crossing was smooth. Almost as smooth as the Arran Blond beers we had from the bar on the ferry. Nothing like a breakfast beer to start your day.
Jon met us off the ferry and drove us to his place where we dumped our overnight gear.
It was a short drive to the start of the main trail up to Goatfell. The weather was now very sunny so I applied some sunscreen, a rare occurrence on any Scottish hill-walk.
We started up the path around 11:40 at a good pace.
It looked like the route was going to be busy with lots of walkers enjoying the good weather. It was cool while walking through the woods above Brodick Castle. Lots of fly agaric toadstools on the verges of the path. The Cnocan burn is down on the left as we leave the woods and on to the open hillside.
We stopped for a short rest at a small wooden bridge while I photographed a big fat spider munching on its prey.
Niels, Colin, Jon and myself set off again, the sun high in the sky and beating down quite intensely on our pasty complexions. It was a sweaty ascent and the path wound it’s way through large boulder fields as the terrain steepened.
At round 500m a dogleg to the left takes you up the Meall Breac ridge. As we gained height the wind got a bit stronger and fresher, although not cold there was a definite nip in the air.
There was a constant stream of walkers of all abilities on the hill and by the time we made it to the summit their were indeed a few folk enjoying the view and their lunch.
It was 13:30 now, we didn’t wait long on the top. Took some snaps then headed towards the north ridge, with the plan to get out of the wind and get something to eat ourselves.
Looking north-west, the cloud was looming low over the mountains which were looking very dark, underneath.
Jon had done Goatfell before, but none of us had done the rest of the mountains in the range.
The Geography of Arran is famously varied, and each of the peaks we’d go on to do had their own rocky characters. From large smooth boulders to fractured friable granite.
As we descended to the ridge, we found shelter amongst the boulders and had our lunch while looking back over Glen Sannox, the Clyde and on to the mainland where blue sky still prevailed.
A few passers by coming the opposite way told us our route ahead was a bit harum-scarum. I had read reviews of the walk and had my own fears about some of the drops.
Once we’d finished eating we set of along the ridge and it wasn’t long before the first spots of rain from the enveloping cloud were felt. Out came the jackets and we continued in to the cloud. After we did some posed photos on a rather precipitous ledge we passed some other hikers coming the other way again, they looked like the mountain rescue team. We carried on across open hillside, the trail becoming less obvious. We came to a top with a cairn, but I felt something wasn’t right. We should have started descending towards the ‘Saddle’. I pulled out my phone to check the map against my Viewranger App on my iphone. I had previously downloaded the route we were doing from the Viewranger website and it looked like we had continued on to an adjoining top rather than taking a left on the ridge. We checked against the map and agreed we had to turn around back beyond the precipitous ledge!
Niels was walking ahead and was talking to two girls who had done the same thing. After reaching the point where we should descend we paused and gallantly let the girls go first, checking we hadn’t made another error!
The descent was quite steep, but not as scary as I’d been letting myself think it would be. I can imagine the route in reverse being a tough climb as the descent was vertiginous, at one point I was last of the four picking my way down only to reach a crack where my feet could not reach the ground. My whole body weight being held by my arms. It must have looked a ridiculous sight as I squirmed in this crack trying to get a hold as my friends looked on laughing. Eventually I wriggled my body round to face the rock. I could then slither down and so I was once again on my feet.
We were now out of the cloud and the sunlight was streaming in from the west, highlighting the foreground path and casting the forthcoming peak into shadow. Cir Mhor ahead looked like the ‘Eye of Sauron’ or whatever it’s called from the Tolkein books. Looking back where we had come from, we could see the girls we passed coming down the crack I’d been stuck in. We tried to shout up that they should take the alternative route, rather than getting stuck like I did. They didn’t hear us.
The path led us down onto the ‘Saddle’ it was getting a bit late in the day now and some of us were getting tired, I was concerned that we’d run out of daylight. However Niels was for pushing on. Jon went a bit ahead, as we were concerned there was no path up what seemed a vertical Cir Mhor. As we waited we watched the girls descend down the path toward Glen Rosa. The route the rest of us were trying to persuade Niels that we should take. We caught up with Jon after short rest and found the path, much to the resistance of my tired legs.
It was very steep with high steps and zig zags up the face. With regular stops for breath, Colin and myself trailed behind the two others. The lowering sun was illuminating the North Goatfell and the ridge. It would occasionally peak round Cir Mhor making us feel even hotter than the exercise already did.
As we were nearing the top Jon pointed out a couple of red deer stags grazing below. They were quite close and as we were above, they could not catch our scent.
The last section at the top opened up to large granite tors atop the summit. From one of these a group of climbers were roped up and swinging from the rock. Niels was waiting under a neighbouring tor, eating the remains of his lunch. Colin had finished his water and my legs were now feeling shot.
We stopped to take in the view, watch the climbers and have a snack.
Once rested (or as close as I could get), we skirted round the top and back on to the path that would take us near the Devils Cauldron and back to the head wall above Glen Rosa.
I think it was now nearly five and we really did need to think about heading back. Niels was keen to crack on, he felt his legs were good. There was no way we’d all make it back before dark if we continued high up. Niels insisted he could go on his own, but we were not prepared to take the heat if he came a cropper on the rest of the ridge. We persuaded him to follow us down to Glen Rosa. He did, and joined us as we opened some beers and cider for a refreshing drink before we continue down the spectacular Glen in the late summer light.
After we’d finished our drinks and nodded hello to the climbers heading back to their tents, we set off down the glen. The path was dry, but long. Very long. It was at least two hours we walked down through Glen Rosa as the sun went down behind the western hills. Luckily it wasn’t too long before the path flattened out, as my legs were burning.
On reaching the road Jon had called ahead to arrange a lift back into Brodick. As we head back into town about seven thirty my right thigh is cramping up as I’m sitting in the back of the car. All pain is forgotten though as were dropped at The Douglas Hotel for dinner and drinks. A big thanks to Elaine for the lift back and digs (and not forgetting Betty the dog).
It was my first time hillwalking on Arran and it was a great walk, despite my legs cries of pain. Niels insists we go back and do the other half of the ridge route we had planned. Hopefully the weather will be as fine next time around.
The hills in the range are not particularly high, but they are impressive and varied with a rugged edge to them.
It’ll be good to go back.