Postcards from Arran part one – Mountains

by backpackingbongos

The Isle of Arran has long been on my extensive list of places to visit.  An invite from Geoff and Chrissie to celebrate his sixtieth birthday gave me the perfect opportunity.  Nine humans and four canines would meet up at various points in the week to celebrate both the great outdoors and Geoff meeting the eligibility criteria for a bus pass.

The Bongo was the accommodation for myself and Reuben the Mountain Staffy.  Eight nights spent parked up at various ‘wild’ pitches around the island.  Each night I would be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the sea, the roar of a river, the hammering of rain, or the incessant wind.  A mix and match of socialising in the evenings with others, or in a lonely spot with only the dog for company.

Arran is an island of soaring ridges and jagged peaks and I had plans to explore some airy places.  The weather for the last week of October really did not play ball.  A succession of weather fronts zipped across the island often bringing heavy rain and gale force winds.  Plans soon dissolved in the soggy rain and much of the week was spent low.  However I did manage to get up high on two days.

Goat Fell – 874 metres

It would be rude to visit Arran and not climb its highest peak.  There was one day that offered a glimmer of hope amongst a thoroughly depressing weather forecast.  I had the opportunity to be sociable for the day and join a multitude of bipeds and quadrupeds on the ascent.  However they had chosen a rendezvous time before the magic hour of 9.00am.  Therefore I treated myself to an extra hours sleep and a solitary wander with Reuben.

For once I was more than happy to climb a mountain by the ‘tourist’ route and return the same way.  Although the rain had mostly ceased, the winds were too much of a concern to attempt any form of scrambling.  The route is short and sweet and includes forest, open moorland and a final rocky climb to the summit.  Being half term it was a busy day on the hill, everyone friendly and enjoying themselves.  Shortly after a brief squally snow shower near the summit I found myself shuddering at the sight of a teenager climbing in shorts and t-shirt.

I don’t think that Reuben has met so many people on a hill in one day before.  He kept on disappearing only to be found having gatecrashed various folks rest stops / lunch breaks.  A bit of an embarrassment but in a good way.

The views on the way up and from the summit itself are outstanding.  I can’t wait to return to attempt some of those rocky ridges in good weather.

The day was finished off nicely with a visit to the Arran brewery, the route passing the front door.  Twelve bottles of Arran Sunset for £15 being a bit of a bargain.

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Caisteal Abhail – 859 metres

The following day there was a brief window of opportunity to bag another mountain.  The forecast was for benign conditions before a three hour storm rolled in at midday.  I therefore formulated a plan to bag Caisteal Abhail and be back at the van before it arrived.

I parked at the North Glen Sannox car park for a noisy night, the van filled with the roar of the lively river.  I was away by torchlight at 6.45am followed by a rather reticent Reuben, tired from the day before.  A well-built path led along the river for a mile or so before depositing us in the usual highland bog.

I did consider taking a direct route up the north ridge but had been unable to find much written about it.  I was not keen to do any scrambling with Reuben in tow so climbed into the Garbh Coire and picked a way up the slopes to Sail an Im.  It was atmospheric with swirling cloud but I started to get concerned by the wind which was increasing with every step taken.  By the time we were on the ridge between Carn Mor and Caisteal Abhail I moved away from the edge in case I lost my balance.  We got right up to the second rocky tor on the summit plateau and then I bottled it.  There was an open area between the next tor and the wind was screaming, ragged cloud being dragged at great speed between them.  I had visions of being picked up and being thrown unceremoniously into the coire below.  Not only would I have to dash across in the wind there was a short rocky scramble onto the summit tor.  Reuben was also making his general unhappiness at the situation known.  It was probably only fifty metres to the summit.

It was with great reluctance that I returned the way I had come.  I will return.

The forecasted storm hit bang on at midday and lasted the predicted three hours.  It was rather exhilarating sitting in a wind and rain lashed Bongo a few metres from the Sea.  I dread to think what the conditions would have been like on the mountain then.

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20 Responses to “Postcards from Arran part one – Mountains”

  1. I think you definitely had the better weather window than us on that Goat Fell day, being just a couple of hours later!

  2. Fantastic James, the photos are great, very atmospheric, they sum things up in no uncertain manner.

    • Thanks Dawn, it was very atmospheric on the island. I highly recommend a visit, the public transport onto and around the island is great.

  3. Great post on Arran. A fantastic place and wonderful moody photographs to show it off. Hope you enjoyed the Arran Sunset 😉

  4. I enjoyed that James. Arran is a beautiful place with some grand mountains, a cracking ridge and some impressive rock climbing. It’s many years since I was there and your post reminds me it has been far too long.

  5. Always wanted to go there too – even more so now. Looks so atmospheric…

  6. Never been to Arran although it’s one of THE places on my wish list. I’m a real fan of narrow scramble ridges and combined with coastal views is heaven for me. Looks like you got decent views considering the weather was – well – Sottish 🙂

  7. I’m visualising those places with blue skies and sunshine. Yep looks good, very good. On Skye 2 or 3 years ago I felt I preferred the mainland – the Glen Shiel area for example. More rock, less sea. But there is something about islands I like very much – the distance, separation, isolation – and now I want to explore Arran.

    • The ridges would be pretty good with warm sun on your back James. I have a real thing for the Scottish islands, a different atmosphere that you don’t get on the mainland. Catching a ferry just adds to that.

  8. It’s one to visit James. Glad you got the chance. Always planned to visit there. Those photos scream go visit. Spring backpacking, nice weather and beach camp at the end. Has to be done.

  9. Never even heard of Arran until reading this blog entry. The scenery there looks just stunning.

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