The Carn Mairg Munros of Glen Lyon. Go and enjoy them!

IT’S eleven years since the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was published ,the hard-won legislation that gives the public a right of responsible access, a codification, if you like, of the traditional right to roam that Scottish walkers and mountaineers have enjoyed for generations.

Even after eleven years the legislation doesn’t please everyone of course, and there are still hotbeds of discontent amongst some of Scotland’s landowners, many of whom have been trying to interpret the term “responsible access” to suit their own purposes.

A few years ago the huge metal gate that once barricaded the track to the Cairn Mairg hills in Glen Lyon had become infamous amongst regular hill-goers. A notice board, pinned to the gate, spouted forth all sorts of conservationist gobbledygook about why people shouldn’t walk on the hills during the stag shooting season, the hind culling season, the deer calving season and the lambing season. Many walkers interpreted all that as simply “keep out”.

Well, the gate is still there, together with a plethora of signs, and some leaflets are available for walkers to take away and study. In general the estate appears happy to conform by the new access law, but have also made up some rules of their own that are certainly not in the spirit of the legislation. For example, the leaflet orders you to “walk clockwise and stay on the recognised route.” It then goes on to tell you to “stay out of all the corries and glens.”

It is a pity that the Chestill Estate has seen fit to try and impose its own rules on walkers, rules that have no legitimacy under the Land Reform Act legislation, for the high level walk around the Munros of Carn Gorm, 3376ft, Meall Garbh, 3176ft, Carn Mairg, 3415ft, and Meall nan Aighean (sometimes referred to as Creag Mhor), 3218ft offers one of the best expeditions in the area, a walk of about 11 miles. Go and enjoy it. Act responsibly and if you experience undue harassment by estate staff report them to the police.

My mate Steve and I had arranged to meet in Glen Lyon with the intention of walking at least part of the route. The weather forecast suggested a brief lull in the gale force winds and driving rain that had been battering Scotland all week and we knew that if the weather really closed in we could escape from the route by descending through one of the corries back to the glen – despite the local Chesthill rules. (This was well outside the stag stalking season)

As it was we didn’t have to. What wind there was had torn great patches of blue in the cloud layers and thin drifting mists only enhanced the views up and down the length of Glen Lyon. Carn Gorm was snow-capped, and after a long pull over rising moorland and the final steep pull to the summit, we delighted in the prospect of the high-level walk that lay before us.

The broad, rolling nature of these Carn Mairg ridges allow you to stride out purposefully and navigation is made simple, even in foul weather, by the rusting uprights of an old boundary fence that march their companionable way over the tops. We used them to good effect, for the spells of glistening, clear weather were interspersed with curtains of black cloud that obliterated the views across the deep, tree-lined chasm of Glen Lyon towards the Ben Lawers hills and to the north where the wide open landscape rolls on towards the broad swell of mountains beyond Loch Rannoch. During the clear spells nearby Schiehallion stood out supreme, not as the bold conical shape as it’s so often portrayed, but as a long whale-backed ridge.

It was on Carn Mairg itself that we might have come to grief. The fenceposts had lulled us into a false sense of security but a sixth sense convinced me we were heading the wrong way, and none too soon. A check with the map and compass confirmed it. A steep crag lies immediately below the summit slopes and it’s best to traverse east for a bit from the summit cairn, before descending grassy slopes down to the high bealach above Coire Chearcaill. Our little error was hardly serious, but it did mean we had to negotiate a slope of boulders that were covered in wet, slobbery snow; more ankle-threatening than life-threatening.

Double-topped Meall nan Aighean was our final Munro, the summit of which is the rock capped north-east top. With black storm clouds gathering in the distant recesses of Glen Lyon we were keen not to outstay our welcome. Taking issue with hostile landowners is one thing; riding your luck with Biera, the Celtic queen of winter, is another thing entirely. A quick trot down the grassy ridge on the south side of the Allt Coir Chearcaill soon dropped us back at the footpath by the Invervar Burn. We beat the rain by minutes.


A Very Special Place – The Angus Glens

Outside Davy's Bourach on Jock's Road

Outside Davy’s Bourach on Jock’s Road

AS a young man newly in love with hills and mountains there were a number of placenames that thrummed my heartstrings. Torridon, Glen Coe, Kintail and the Cairngorms were the big hitters, popular haunts that gripped my imagination with thoughts of jagged peaks, tight ridges and wide, open skies. But lurking in the recesses of my emotions was an area that owed its appeal as much to its cultural identity as the quality of its hills.

Few of my gnarly hill companions ever mentioned the Angus Glens. Their route to the hill was invariably north by west and it wasn’t until I moved to Aberdeen in the early seventies that I began to appreciate the link between two areas of my life that I was passionate about – hills and folk music. That link was a series of glens that lay north of the fertile vale of Strathmore; Glen Doll and Glen Clova, Glen Prosen and Glen Isla and lovely Glen Esk.

It didn’t take me long to realise that the Angus Glens, and the Mounths that connected them to Deeside, were culturally very different from the hills of the west. Gaelic place names were far fewer here and there was more of a lived-in feel to the area – this was the land of the 40-verse bothy ballad.

It was while exploring these glens that I came to know Danny Smith, the warden of the Glen Doll Youth Hostel and his wife Nancy. Nancy was a keen hillgoer and folk music enthusiast and she introduced me to Davie Glen, an inveterate hill gangrel, musician and Scottish ‘diddling’ champion. This is the mouth music familiar to most folkies – the familiar ‘tiddly di, tiddly dum, tiddly doo’ and Davie Glen turned it into an art form. He was also an extraordinary story teller and he regailed me with his tales more than once in dark bothies and howffs in various parts of the eastern Grampians.

Nancy and her daughter later moved west to Fersit, near Tulloch, where she ran a walker’s hostel and they were regular visitors to the Badenoch Folk Club which I helped run in Newtonmore in the late seventies and early eighties, but I’ll always associate Nancy with the music, and the hills of the Angus Glens.

And fine hills they are. Very different from the hills of the west, there’s something about the spaciousness and the rolling heights of the eastern Grampians that I find deeply satisfying, especially when those high-plateaux plunge dramatically into high glaciated corries. A series of well defined corries above Glen Clova are a good example.

As you approach Clova from Kirriemuir the hills of the Mounth, the vast plateau that runs south and east of Lochnagar, suddenly appear on the horizon, big frowning hills that drop steeply into Glen Clova. A trio of massive corries catch your attention. A tour of these corries, with the bonus of an ascent of Ben Tirran, a Corbett, makes a good day out.

Start at the Glen Clova Hotel, a walker-friendly establishment and conveniently based at the foot of the right of way that climbs up the hill behind the hotel to Loch Brandy, a glacial loch whose waters fill one of the great scooped hollows of Clova.

This right of way from Clova to Glen Esk is well familiar to those incorrigible backpackers who take part in the annual TGO Challenge, the annual coast-to-coast backpacking event that’s sponsored by TGO Magazine, which I had the pleasure of editing for some 20 years. Heading ultimately to Montrose on the east coast challengers generally funnel down Glen Doll to Clova, the crossing of the high ground towards Glen Esk the last real challenge of the route. The legendary hospitality to Challengers at Tarfside in Glen Esk is the reward at the end of a long day.

I took part in the event myself four or five years ago and the wind was certainly stirring the dark waters as I made my way above the loch, up the Snub, the narrow nose that separates the dramatic Corrie of Clova from the great hollow that holds the gull-infested Loch Brandy. Above the loch the strong, gusting wind made me wary of going too close to the cliff edge. A massive landslip has occurred here and the cliff edge has collapsed away like a broken cornice. Parts of the cliff edge still looked crumbly, so I stayed well clear.

Loch Brandy,Dreish and  Mayar beyond

Loch Brandy,Dreish and Mayar beyond

A shooters’ track runs round the top of the Brandy corrie to Green Hill, and from there another cairned track runs across to the Craigs of Loch Wharral but leave it it about halfway along to skirt the Craigs on their north side. These waymarked paths often take you where you don’t want to go and I wanted to climb the gentle, grassy slopes of Ben Tirran.

A good windbreak shelters the trig point on this Corbett and you can make full use of it to have some lunch with a view to make your mouth water – from Lochnagar in the west to Mount Keen, recognisable by the dreadful scar of the track that runs up to its summit from the Queen’s Well in Glen Mark. That other eastern mount, Mount Battack is also clear and so is its lower companion Clachnaben above Glen Dye.

Make your way way down into the hollow that cradles Loch Wharral where a rough path drops down into Glen Clova, a couple of miles east of the Glen Clova Hotel. Always keen to avoid tarmac bashing follow another path that leads over the brow of Rough Craig where the map indicates another path wriggling its way down to Inchdowrie House. It’s not much of a path so simply traverse the grassy slopes westwards towards Clova and a welcome pint in the pub.

It was Davie Glen who introduced me to another Angus glen – Glen Isla. North of Kirkton of Glenisla, the broad, open glen is protected by high hills on either side – Mount Blair, Duchray Hill, Craigenloch Hill and Monamenach, the highest at 2648ft on the western side and the sprawling Badandun Hill, the curiously named Bawhelps, and Finalty Hill to the east. To the north, beyond Glen Brighty, Glen Isla becomes hemmed in my the steep sided slopes of the Mounth hills at Caenlochan, a national nature reserve so designated because of its lime-rich rocks and plethora of rare arctic-alpine plants.

To this day I can clearly recall what seemed like a great barrier of mountains to the north of Monamenach. The grey screes of Creag Leacach, the enormous snow-covered mound of Glas Maol and the steep icy cliffs of Caenlochan all looked impenetrable, the southern ramparts of that vast raised plateau that lies south of Lochnagar. Monamenach itself was fairly forgettable – the views to the north much less so.

We climbed the hill from the road end at Auchavan. There was a heavy haze that softened the views of the high hills and made them shimmer in the early light. Mountain hares, vivid white against the snowless terrain, infested the high slopes, and skylarks filled the air with bubbling music.

We elected to add rocky Craigenloch Hill to our day’s walk, sunbathed and had an early lunch on the slopes of Loch Beanie and then reluctantly headed back to Glen Isla down the footpath in Glen Beanie. All the way down this lovely little glen I had been aware of a curious droning sound in the air from time to time and as we made our way up the single track road in Glen Isla I heard it again. At first I thought it was from the electric lines that were slung above the road but it wasn’t – it was the croaking of hundreds of warty toads that infested the pools and ditches at the side of the road. One pool in particular has become a great writhing mass of spawning toads, a mad and passionate frenzy of spring.

Glen Doll can be the starting point for some great high-level sorties into the eastern Cairngorms, including the Mounth roads that run from Glen Clova to Ballater (the Capel Mounth) and from Glen Doll to Braemar (the Tolmount) as well as the two Munros of Mayar and Driesh.

More recently, on a wet and wild day, I took the path that climbs up the length of Glen Doll north of the White Water that has become known as Jock’s Road, although traditionally, the route is called the Tolmount. Jock’s Road, named after a climber by the name of John Winters, is the steep section that climbs out of Glen Doll opposite the dark crags of Craig Maud. By the time I reached this steeper ground the rain had become sleety and the wind was blowing a gale. Best thing to do under the circumstances was to take some shelter, get the flask out and consider the desperate events that occurred here just over half a century ago ago…

It was New Year’s Day in 1959 and five hillwalkers set off from Braemar Youth Hostel intent on walking up Glen Callater then over the Tolmount to Glen Doll. All the men were committee members of the Universal Hiking Club in Glasgow, an active Roman Catholic club with about 80 members.

After attending Mass the men left Braemar just after eleven and not long after mid-day they were spotted by Charles Smith, a local shepherd, near his house at Auchallater in Glen Callater. According to Smith it was cold and breezy with rain and sleet falling. He was the last person to see any of the men alive.

Friends and family members were due to meet the men at Glen Doll Youth Hostel at about 6pm but by that time the weather was so severe the road out of Glen Clova became blocked with snow and the single telephone line to the hotel at Clova was cut.

The storm continued for two days and it was some time before the police could be informed of the missing climbers. It was January 4 before an ‘official’ rescue team could set out and they were hampered by horrific blizzard conditions and deep snow. Despite the conditions they soon found the body of young James Boyle above the head of Glen Doll near Craig Maud. That night a temperature of –19.5C was officially recorded in Strathdon in Aberdeenshire.

The search continued on the Monday and Tuesday but was then abandoned as the frozen ground conditions made access to the hills difficult and dangerous. By then, it was felt there was little possibility of finding anyone alive.

The others victims weren’t found until a thaw had set in at the end of February. Most of the bodies were found by Davie Glen, who knew the area intimately, but it wasn’t until April that the final body was discovered, that of Frank Daly. He was discovered in a metre of snow near the upper reaches of White Water.

On Jock's Road near Glen Doll

On Jock’s Road near Glen Doll

This Jock’s Road disaster was a sobering reminder of how conditions can quickly change. Below me the White Water tumbled through a wild and rugged landscape before vanishing into the green choke of conifers that covers much of lower Glen Doll. On the other side of the glen Corrie Kilbo and Corrie Fee opened up beyond the steep and glistening crags of The Dounalt and Craig Rennet. I silently gave thanks to Jock for his path as I climbed over the lip of Glen Doll onto the grassy plateau beyond – the traditional Tolmount route took a wet and scrambling route up the ravine that contains the nascent White Water.

Once beyond the confines of the glen the path passes the rough howff known as Davy’s Bourach (built by the irrepressible Davie Glen) and follows the ridge that runs to Crow Craigies before dropping down into Glen Callater bound for Glen Clunie and Braemar. I huddled down just below the cairn of Crow Craigies, ate some lunch, and decided that enough was enough. I retraced my steps back down the glen as the wind grew stronger and the rain lashed even harder. We looked forward to a hot drink in Glen Clova but the dark cloud of the disaster hung over me all the way home.

For most hillgoers the big attraction of the Angus Glens is the pair of Munros that rise to the south of Glen Doll –Mayar and Dreish.

These are most popular hills in the area and the quickest route to the high bealach that offers easy access to both of them is via the old Kilbo hill path that climbs up through the Glen Doll forest, runs over the wide bealach between the two hills and down into Glen Isla.

The first time I climbed these hills I must have missed the Kilbo path for I found myself fighting through dense forestry as though it was an Amazonian jungle, but in recent years new signs have appeared pointing out the exact route. More recently the trees in the area have been clear-felled and Forest Enterprise have created a diversion, a long and steep haul up through the forest on what has become a very boggy and unpleasant path.

Close to the summit of Driesh, with Mayar behind

Close to the summit of Driesh, with Mayar behind

The diversion climbs through the forest to meet up with the Kilbo path as it breaks free of the trees at the foot of the Shank of Drumfollow where the path hugs the steep contours to climb up to the wide bealach between the two Munros. The Shank is in fact a long and narrow shoulder that separates the corrie below, Corrie Kilbo, with its neighbouring Corrie Fee. As you climb higher the views behind begin to open out across Glen Doll to the wide, bare tableland of the Mounth, patched with snow and sparkling under the winter sun

Once you reach the high bealach Driesh, 3107ft is a mere stroll away, easily reached in about a mile of easy walking. Continue to The Mayar, 3045ft by returning to the col and following an old fence west over grassy slopes. From the summit, steepening grassy slopes drop away north to the head of Corrie Fee where a steep section to the south east of the burn leads you down past some waterfalls to a footpath which continues to follow the Fee Burn into the forest where the footpath becomes a forestry road leading all the way back to Glen Doll.

A World Away on the Isle of Arran

Cir Mhor and Casteal Abhail from Goat Fell

Cir Mhor and Casteal Abhail from Goat Fell

FOR many of us there is a place, a particular spot in this lovely land, that we can forever associate with a life-changing experience. For me that place is the island of Arran. It was here, only a dozen miles or so from the Ayrshire coast, that I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to climbing mountains and exploring wild places.

It was after negotiating the narrow and spectacular ridge between Beinn Tarsuinn and Cir Mhor – the finest ridge in Scotland outside the Skye Cuillin – that I made that fateful decision. It was 1969 on a sun-soaked day and I had been thrilled by the tight and exposed crags and ridges – over Beinn Tarsuinn and the A-Chir ridge onto the narrow summit of Cir Mhor. My companions and I had spent too long on the sun-kissed granite and so we had to jog down the hill to catch the evening ferry at Brodick.

As we loped down the hillside, exhilarated by our achievements, I made the decision that somehow I was going to spend the rest of my life amongst mountains. Ever since then the hills of Arran have been a bit special.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve visited Arran since, but I know it’s not enough. Too many years passed while I was exploring other parts of Scotland and when I did return it was as a seasoned and experienced mountain addict. But by that time I was interested in more than just bagging peaks. I quickly realised that Arran, this island that many suggest is ‘Scotland in miniature,’ has much, much more to offer.

Arran is steeped in myths and legends, some of them associated with smuggling, others with the saints and sinners, kings and lords who visited the island long before us, even as far back as Bronze Age times.

The legends surrounding the Cat Stone at Corrie, the story of Robert the Bruce hiding from the English forces at King’s Cave and the history of Arran’s whisky industry can all be experienced on a long walk around Arran’s coastline.

Back in 2003 I was invited to open a new long distance trail, the Isle of Arran Coastal Way, and spend a few days walking sections of the route. While the mountains of Arran have always attracted climbers and hill-walkers many folk are a little over-awed by the steep and narrow ridges of the island’s main peaks. For every climber who has been thrilled by the sweeping granite slabs and the steep, soaring pinnacles of the likes of Cir Mhor and Casteal Abhail there are dozens of walkers who would rather tackle something less dramatic, less taxing, but challenging enough to make their outing an adventure. And so the 65-mile Isle of Arran Coastal Way was conceived by two local men, Hugh McKerrell and Dick Sim.

On the Arran Coastal Way, approaching Lochranza

On the Arran Coastal Way, approaching Lochranza

The coastal route can be treated in a number of different ways. Diehard backpackers can wander round the island carrying a tent, sleeping bag and everything else needed for survival, dossing down in one of the island’s many caves or bivouacking below the night skies. Others might prefer a little more comfort, spending the nights in a guest house or hotel. Others again might prefer to walk the route over a number of weekends, tackling one or two sections between villages each time.

Arran has, in a sense, been ideally created for coastal path walking. A raised beach, like a shallow coastal fringe, encircles the island, even below the steeper cliffs of the island, and the Coastal Way follows this raised beach virtually all the way. While much of the route follows well used footpaths and stretches of beach here and there you have to follow the road, albeit a very quiet and pleasant road, mostly on the west of the island.

My own favourite section was probably the toughest part of the route, from Kildonan to Whiting Bay past Dippen Head. No footpath tames this part of the walk, although the difficulties can be avoided by following the road at the top of the cliffs. With steep 300ft cliffs on one side and the open sea on the other this part of the coastal fringe is an enormous boulderfield, and some of the boulders are the size of a double-decker bus.

The route passes the Black Cave, the largest cave on the island, and although great care is required as you leap from rock to rock there is something rather satisfying in the uncompromising nature of the terrain that made me, essentially a mountaineer, feel very much at home.

Rocky reefs run out towards the little lighthouse island of Pladda, and beyond, floating on the horizon, is the great plug of Ailsa Craig. It isn’t hard to believe that these parts have seen regular encounters between excisemen and smugglers over the years – the contraband trade once thrived well on these south shores of Arran.

Just recently the Arran Access Trust, who have inherited management of the Arran Coastal Way, secured a Coastal Communities Fund grant to upgrade the Arran Coastal Way. One of the aims is to meet the criteria to be accepted as one of ‘Scotland’s Great Trails’, as well as improving and promoting walkers’ experiences on Arran. The work will last about two years.

I suspect archeologists and geologists feel pretty much at home on Arran too for this island is a living archive. A nineteenth century geologist once wrote: “The number of rock formations, sedimentary and plutonic, which are found within this limited space is truly remarkable, perhaps unparalleled in any tract of like extent on the surface of the globe.”

Most of the mountainous northern half of the island has been formed by a large granite core, created by volcanic activity around 60 million years ago. Sedimentary rocks dominate the southern half of the island, especially Old and New Red Sandstone.

On the Coastal Way, as you approach Lochranza from the Cock of Arran, you’ll come across a coastal feature known as Hutton’s Uncomformity. Visiting Arran in 1787, the geologist James Hutton found his first example of an unconformity, which provided evidence for his theories about the age of the Earth. At that time the common view was that the Earth was about 10,000 years old but Hutton discovered adjoining layers of rocks that appeared to have been created at different times, and by different sources. This led him to believe that the Earth was not 10,000 year old but much, much older, possibly many millions of years old. This site on Arran is one of the best known places in the study of geology.

Just off the shores of Lamlash Bay lies a smaller island, home to a community that has embraced a somewhat different, older culture. A tiny ferry had whisked me across the bay to Holy Island, just off Arran’s south-east coast and a line of glistening white chortens and fluttering multi-coloured prayer flags led up the grassy slopes to the whitewashed Centre for World Peace and Health’

Chortens and prayer flags on Holy IsleHoly Island is run as a centre for wisdom and learning within the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and is open to people of all faiths and none, but that’s not why it’s called Holy Island. The place has a spiritual heritage that stretches back to the 6th century. The earliest recorded name for the island was Inis Shroin, or island of the water spirit, but when the Celtic missionary who became known as St Molaise lived on the island at the end of the 6th century, the place was named after him. During the early part of the 19th century the island gradually became known as Holy Island.

The highest point on the island is only 314 metres on Mullach Mor and that was where we were heading, through a gateway of prayer flags, up the edge of a tilting field, over a style and along a rutted footpath through a recently planted native woodland area. When we came out of the trees all the big hills of Arran were visible to the north across the shimmering waters of Lamlash Bay.

The island has two hill-tops, and it was now a steep climb to the first of them, Mullach Beag. As I climbed I realised it’s no wonder that ancient monks and contemporary lamas have chosen this island as their place of meditation and prayer, for the natural beauty of the place heightens the senses and brings you full face against the whole glory of creation, whatever your religious leanings, although I suspect the beliefs of St Molaise and the current leader of the community here, Lama Yeshe, are not as far apart as people might assume.

A steep descent from Mullach Beag is followed by an even steeper climb to the main summit, Mullach Mor and its from there that you can appreciate the full glory of the surrounding views. To the east the hills of Ayrshire are low-lying but closer at hand, beyond a green and yellow patchwork of fields, lie the rugged hills of Arran. And at your feet, across the peaceful waters of the bay, lie the houses and buildings of Lamlash, white and glistening in the sun, strung out round the gentle curve of the bay.

The descent from Mulloch Mor is badly eroded and steep. The community say plans are in hand to repair the path and that’s good, because of the rest of the walk, down to lighthouse which now forms the Inner Light Retreat for women and back up the west coast of the island, is quite beautiful.

As we made our way along the grassy track that runs up the west of the island, we passed a number of colourful rock paintings that depict different deities and teachers of the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism: White Tara, Green Tara, Milarepa, Marpa, Gampopa, Buddha Shakyamuni and Dusum Khyenpa. And close by the rock paintings lie another feature of the island, the Holy Well and cave of St Molaise.

Bhuddist paintings on Holy Isle

Bhuddist paintings on Holy Isle

The cave is indicated with a little sign pointing up some steps, and just beyond it bubbles the well where, for centuries, people have come to drink the water in the hope of being healed from whatever ailments they were suffering from. I lapped some myself, and it was cold and crystal clear, although it doesn’t apparently meet current EU standards!

We made our way back to the Centre for World Peace and Health where a Centre volunteer profusely apologised for not being able to make us tea or coffee before the next ferry arrived. We just had time for a quick exploration of the Centre’s organic garden before we were whisked off the island again and back to Lamlash. We left a quite different world behind us…

In 1628 the Duke of Montrose entertained the traveller William Lithgow at Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran. Lithgow, known as Lugless Willie on account of his deafness may have been hard of hearing but there was nothing wrong with his eyesight. During his stay with the noble duke he climbed Goat Fell, the highest mountain on the island. Formerly known as Goatfield Hill Lithgow later wrote in appreciation of the experience.

“A larger prospect no Mountaine in the world can show, pointing out three Kingdomes at one sight: Neither any like Ile or braver Gentry, for good Archers, and hill-hovering Hunters.”

Lugless Willie may have been deaf but there was little wrong with his eyesight if he managed to see Scotland, Ireland and England!

One old guidebook suggests the views from Goat Fell are “laid out like a geography lesson,” with the Firth of Clyde spread out in a shimmer of blue. Beyond lies the Ayrshire coast, running all the way down to the Rhinns of Galloway and up towards the opening of Loch Long. Dotted on the Firth below lies the Cumbraes and the Isle of Bute. The small island off the west coast of Bute is Inchmarnock, once known as the “drunk man’s island.” Drunkards who persistently offended against Bute’s laws of sobriety were banished there to serve a term of punishment!

The best views are to the rest of this remarkable island. To the west of Goat Fell, across the deep gulf formed by Glen Rosa, the rocky ridge of Ben Chliabhain climaxes in the vertiginous slopes of Coire Daingean which, in turn, is joined to Cir Mhor by the great buttress of A’Chir. Beyond it protudes the stump of Caisteal Abhail and the north ridge of Glen Sannox. Beyond Beinn Chliabhain the great prow of Beinn Nuis soars above the serrated ridge that runs out to Beinn Tarsuinn.

Only once in several visits have I enjoyed this view, and it remains imprinted on my memory. The Isle of Arran has this curious, and frustrating, habit of wearing a cap of cloud. When all the low lying areas have a blue, cloud free sky smiling down on them the mountain peaks lie smothered in their own little weather system.

Some recent plans for a weekend of ridge wandering and scrambling were dashed by heavy rain and low cloud so instead of tip-toeing delicately across the sun-warmed slabs and narrow ridges of A’Chir and Cir Mhor we opted for a plod in the rain up Goat Fell.

I felt a little guilty for treating Goat Fell in this way, as though it’s inferior, but it is a bit of a tourist romp up the well-maintained footpath. Although the hill would grace any highland region and offers a serious enough challenge, it is the easiest to climb of all Arran’s peaks.

Although it was still wet and cloudy on the summit we ate a quick lunch and, ever the optimists, pushed on towards North Goat Fell over the granite buttresses and spires of the little ridge that’s known locally as the Stacach. Tracings of paths run round the sides ofthese little turrets but we opted to climb them, before realising that weeks of rain had turned the normally rough and reliable Arran granite into boiler plates of greasy slime.

North Goat Fell couldn’t come quickly enough and we escaped down the steep and well worn ridge that leads to The Saddle between the heads of Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa. Ahead of us the precipitous slopes of Cir Mhor rose into the gloom but we decided to leave its ascent for another day. The long path down Glen Rosa led to the pub, dry clothes and plans to return to Arran’s delectable mountains as soon as we possibly could.

Brodick and the Holy Isle from Goat Fell

Brodick and the Holy Isle from Goat Fell