Monday, 26 September 2011

Arran Ridge.Casteal Abhail.Ceum Na Caillich Horseshoe.

It shows you how mediocre a summer it's been weather wise when the last time we did any islands off the west coast of Scotland occurred months ago.It's been the dullest and coldest summer since 1993 apparently. Obviously, we are only going to do them in fine conditions but even single good days on the mountain ranges of the west were few and far between despite watching the forecasts expectantly every Friday evening for a quick weekend dash across. A return to Arran was always on the cards but dull predictions gave us little hope.
After slogging through the usual mile of trackless knee deep heather on ruggedly good but  unspectacular Beinn a Choin with Alex last week I was almost howling when I reached the summit.  Arran and the Paps of Jura were in bright sunshine."Why are we here when we could be over there?" I asked him."We`ve missed a great opportunity to get back to the islands again"
"If it's good next week we`ll go ."Alex said,a bit peeved himself as its years since he`s been on that golden ridge.

Sunday dawned cold and wet.It didn't look too promising after heavy overnight rain which was slow to clear.It was freezing on the ferry over but the forecast said it would start to turn into a fine day by 10am so we could only believe that and hope for the best.

Bang on time the clouds started to drift apart and Brodick came into view along with this wind turbine ship.They would look rather fetching scattered all along the ridge line and would  attract  more tourists to the area as a result. Better not joke about it too never know :o(
We departed the ferry and quickly caught a bus round to North Glen Sannox as we intended to do the sweeping horseshoe of jagged peaks from Sail an Im round Carn Mor then Caisteal Abhail and then the tricky ridge of Ceum Na Caillich (the infamous Witches Step) back to the glen.I`d done Caisteal Abhail myself from Glen Rosa not that long ago but apart from the summit slopes of that peak all this route would be new ground for both of us.

I  never need an excuse to go to Arran anyway. It's my favourite mountain ridge by far,even beating Skye (for me at least ) which is harder and good fun but doesn`t have the same variety or sheer beauty of  combined elements.(I can hear the howls of disbelief already :)
Nice waterfalls in the glen were soon replaced by a deep roaring cleft then round boulders of granite and a faint path weaving upwards onto the ridge.We had several stops for me to have a munch of something and Alex to rest his foot.

All being well this will be our friend Brian's last Graham over there...or so I was told by the groaning one. I only feel some sympathy for him as he could be doing great cycle rides or easy coastal walks which would not hurt his foot as much but recently he`s taken to doing the most rugged, ball breaking, knee grinding, out of the way Corbetts he can find instead. (Punish that foot boy give it hell!) I have nothing against Corbetts as there are many fine ones I`ve really enjoyed but a few of them are a tad uninteresting it has to be said...After miles of bog slog and effort just large grey lumps of tussock, rock, holes and heather. Certain parts of Galloway springs to mind here. At this time of year with the vegetation at its most rampant and deep it's very heavy going underfoot as there is little in the way of paths.Alex soldiers on though. A driven man. . I tag along....slightly less committed.

By contrast the Arran ridge is a joy to walk along. Sharp sweeping ridges....little sparking clear pools of water tucked in hollows between the boulders or just sitting in deep potholes on bare rock....short grass, golden in colour when the sun shines on it.....enormous strange shaped rock towers rising out of a flat plateau.  Towers so sublime and ornately stacked it's hard to believe nature made them at`s just special...  It`s.... it`s..............its.......quick nurse the screens!

On a full days ridge walk we only met other folk on two occasions.This  happy group passed us on the ridge early on and then a fit looking guy who was an even keener bagger than Alex. When my companion explained to him I wasn't counting Corbetts they both looked at me sadly as if I had an unfortunate condition to overcome. A short time later we reached the summit of Caisteal Abhail which must be one of the best summits anywhere.

You can`t go wrong up here photography wise. Just point and shoot which is why I know Alex will have a different set of photos to me. Normally I might take 80 shots on a day out and have ten clear best ones but I took over 200 on Arran and most are worth  posting. Cutting it down to only a few is the hard part.

So far it had been delightful but easy walking.Then came the Witches Step,a deep notch in an already jagged ridge of Pinnacles and rock towers. Scrambling on Arran granite is not easy. It's like a beetle climbing a stack of oranges sometimes if there are few holds available to help you climb these smooth rounded lumps.

Alex made a better job of this than me.The boy has still got it.

This descent into the notch was not as easy as it looks.The rock down here out the sun was still wet and slippy,also granite erodes into round marbles under your feet on the ledges and the  easy route was backwards down this rock groove to where Alex's feet are. I had a worried moment here until I discovered two small one finger jugs then a foothold. Luxury!
We had a look at the direct upward line on the pinnacle itself but it looked hard and neither of us were that keen so we took the easier option of the rising left traverse seen in the full pinnacle photo above.This was hard enough for me as it was cold and damp down here and the sun had been replaced by dark angry clouds by this time. It's amazing how your mood and the surroundings can change in the space of five minutes with just one big black cloud  hanging above you.The rest of the ridge was without problems and we made it back down to the road around six o,clock in the evening.
A fantastic day out.
Walking along the road towards Sannox we met some of our club who had been doing the Five Ferries tour on bikes.They also had been blessed with a smashing day.  Brodick round to Lochranza then ferry across to Claonaig on Kintyre..then Tarbet to Portavadie ferry then round the Kyles of Bute to Colintraive ferry,across to Bute then Ferry from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay.They were doing it in reverse and were on the last leg.Although 56 miles and a lot of hills later they looked fresher than us.We were older and cream crackered ,Alex with his foot, me with painful knees.
A good Samaritan  passing in a car took pity on us hobbling down the road and took us into Brodick.(thank you kind Sir) This meant we had time for a takeaway supper from the chip shop at the pier before getting the ferry.Mine was a steak pie,Alex's was a sausage supper I think.The seagulls enjoyed his leftovers as usual as he never likes his yet keeps buying the same one.(punish that stomach boy- give it hell!)
Got the bike team back over on the ferry and arrived back in Ardrossan  in the dark.A bit of a shock as that`s the first time for many months it's been dark while we were still out after a hill day.You just get used to it then... bam...winters round the corner again and the land starts slowly shutting down preparing for the long sleep ahead.
As usual I`ll be avoiding that fate for as long as possible,hugging any pockets of green warmth and lush growth I can find like a limpet :o) Forth the old frost dodger!

The bike team.


Alex said...

Thats a bit weird.In that pic looking down on me in the Witches Step it looks like I`m losing my hair :)
Good day out it was.!

The Glebe Blog said...

A great post Bob,I enjoyed the hike with you.I'm with Alex on the hair front,I doubt I'd ever let my hair grow long again (or is he thinning a bit ?)
You said that parts of Galloway came to mind.It seems that the words 'bog and tussocks' are synonymous with this part of the world.
I also agree with your sentiments on counting corbetts, variety is the spice of life.

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable post, Bob. Looks a fine walk, though I'm sure you're making light of the Witches Step - gave me the willies just looking at your pic.
I've never heard of the Five Ferries bike ride, I must pass that on to The Lovely Fiona.
I don't think the Scottish parliament will be happy until the entire country is buried under those totally bleeding useless windy turbines. grrr. They'd look nice on the Arran ridge though...

fatdogwalks said...

Great scenery Bob. I've enjoyed both my trips to Arran...and you're right...the number of photos taken is always a lot more than elsewhere.

It must have been a picture...the 2 of you hobbling along the road in the hope that someone would take pity.

Good on you!

Robert Craig said...

Had a great daywalk in Arran in winter, a fabulous ridge on a fine winters day yet utterly deserted compared to the likes of Glencoe which aren't more easily reached from the Central Belt than Arran... still to do the Witches Step though!

Neil said...

That sounds a great day out Bob. It really has been frustrating this summer waiting for a good day to go to an island. I was full of good intentions at the start of the year but it has all come to nowt. My car has been pointed east rather than west most trips. Not that east is not interesting- I'm just back from a great wee trip to the Moray area- but it would be nice to do some pointy hills again!!


blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Guys.
I,m lucky as I,ve always liked exploring all aspects of landscape high and low be they rural,urban or industrial.I get a thrill out of them all as nature and variety is my main goal for an outing.I,m just as happy wandering through "interesting"housing estates as up on a ridgeline.
The next post should prove that:0)

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