Sunday, 7 June 2015

Arran Ridge Weekend. Caisteal Abhail, Ceum na Caillich (Witches Step) Revisited.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
I was kindly invited on a weekend trip to Arran for the May bank holiday with friends John and Gail. I shared the back seat with their dog, Chalky, although I didn't require a dog basket. As they intended taking their car over to Arran we went via Lochgilphead and Ardrishaig past Tarbet to get the smaller Kintyre ferry over to Arran. This seems like the long way round but according to Gail, who is an excellent organizer, it was only 20 minutes longer drive in the car as we intended camping at Lochranza where the ferry came in.

As I've said before I think Scottish towns and coastal villages are missing a trick by not painting their houses bright colours as it certainly cheers up the place, in sunshine or even drab weather. Tourists love it, artists love it, and photographers love it. Buildings with a smile. Who wants grey? Promoting "Happy Houses" up the west coast of Scotland should be the tourist board's next big plan. Not entire streets but just individual pastel or primary colours dotted around. Loads of colours and shades to choose from so they all look unique in their own right. What a difference it makes to a holiday rather than grey and off white villages everywhere, particularly drab looking in the rain or in midwinter. I bet tourist numbers would go up... Maybe it's a bad idea after all :o(
This is the ferry coming in with what I think is Meall nan Damh on Arran in the distance. A murky and misty day but as we didn't leave Glasgow until lunchtime we had not intended to climb any hills this Friday travel day and concentrated on getting to the campsite and setting up tents.
After dinner in the tents there was just enough time to have a walk around Lochranza and its castle, seen here, then head off to a good night in the local pub.
It was decided that Chalky, although game for anything, would stay with Gail on the Saturday as John and I intended doing the Caisteal Abhail and Witches Step horseshoe and we didn't think he'd like the vertical drops on the ridge. Gail was intending to Geo-cache all over Arran so this was a boy's day out to bag a memorable Corbett. Not all are mind you but this ridge traverse is very special and I didn't mind doing it again, although I'd climbed it with Alex a couple of seasons ago.
As John had never climbed this hill we decided to do it in reverse, after getting dropped off by Gail in North Glen Sannox, and made straight for the deep notch of Ceum Na Caillich, The Witches Step.
Years ago we would have probably climbed over both pinnacles but these days the walk up in sunny heat shattered us and we were more than happy to miss the left hand summit out, starting at the gap. The last time I'd almost soiled myself reversing down steep slabs of granite with human fly Alex taking a direct line, as usual, down the front face into the gap but this time I noticed a grassy ramp on the left trending upwards which was a far easier line.
This is it and we soon had the Witches Step over with. What a difference from that other time although its always harder reversing steep ground.
Witches Step just below. Beautiful long slabs of granite at an easy angle for walking up without sliding off over the edge.
Mild scrambling up ridge looking towards Goat Fell direction.
Caisteal Abhail ridgeline ahead.
Walking along easy path.
A view over towards Cir Mhor, one of the great Arran peaks. The paths on this horseshoe we were on are not so eroded as the main ridge line, being further out from Glen Rosa, where most of the hill walkers start from.
Hill-walkers on Cir Mhor summit.
We found a dead and dessicated snake on the ridge. Either a slow worm, (I know it's a lizard thanks:o) or a grass or smooth snake. Hard to tell as it was devoid of all colour and looked as though it had been dipped in silver due to wind and rain damage. I can verify it was certainly slow now... static in fact. True to form I handed out cards for my books to any hill walkers I met on the ridge. Plug, plug and plug again :o) I'd been reading Lesley Ann Jones' excellent biography  Ride A White Swan on Marc Bolan in my tent which includes great period detail about the 1960s, 1970s, David Bowie, The Who, and Elton John, and was struck again by how hard they had to sell themselves to get noticed. Despite the fact they were all extremely talented. Usually their best friends thought they were crap and wouldn't get anywhere. I know that feeling:o)
Incidentally, I mentioned deeper levels within Autohighography. When I started to write this book I looked at what publishers were interested in selling and the buzz words  "books on popular culture" "individual writing style" "original voice and ideas" all seemed to pop up repeatedly. So I decided to give them just that. Scrambling out of Ceum na Caillich, below.

For "Sarah" did not grow up in Bromley. Kent. She did grow up in another suburb of South London and indeed Kent but Bromley was always the catalyst to meeting her. Being a huge fan of David Bowie, and Marc Bolan throughout my teenage years then enjoying the music of Siouxsie and the Banshees (formally members of the Bromley contingent) and having a passing interest in Aleister Crowley, H.G Wells and Enid Blyton books in my childhood, Bromley was always a place that fascinated me as it seemed to hold so many of my personal interests at that time. As soon as I was old enough to be independent therefore I made my way down there on trips over several years to see the place. Not on celebrity stalking expeditions, as that's not my style, but just out of teenage curiosity to visit the parks, places of interest and local haunts to see what  made this area special. I also visited Danson Park, Plumstead Cemetery, and the Welling area just to get a feel of the place for reasons some might work out. Meeting anyone "famous" didn't really enter into my thinking as the music and lyrics were what intrigued me most, then as now, and I've never liked "selfies" or collecting autographs as I don't get the concept. Why would you?
Oblique Strategies ( Eno and Schmidt) was far too highbrow and intellectual to follow in any real detail for me personally but I just liked the idea of "the thoughts behind the thoughts" and "lateral thinking" when it came to writing Autohighography.
" Sarah " would never say "Wow. This is amazing." (Chapter Two. The Ben Nevis Weekend) but another Kent female was well known for it years ago. All the clues are there folks and "popular culture, art and film references" are scattered throughout the chapters as well as a few subversive ideas of my own. It is an Autobiography of my life and interests, but not always written in a manner you might expect. Hence an easy to read surface story but with hidden depths. I would never have met the real "Sarah" without frequent curiosity trips to Bromley, London and the south coast during that time. I fell in love with both many decades ago.
Back to the Arran Ridge.
The near vertical drop, seen here, off Caisteal Abhail, 859 metres, came as a bit of a shock as we had ascended it last time without effort but it took facing in and sliding down the usual giant pile of granite oranges without many holds to reach the bottom of this enormous tor that makes up the summit block. Easy in descent but committing and not a place to fall from.
Luckily the grip underfoot is ok as handholds and footholds tend to be far apart and not where you want them. Sliding on stomachs to the next ledge down seemed to work best here as each ledge was always within stretching distance of feet. Sadly for scrambling ability, both our stomachs, being middle aged, are increasingly orange shaped as well :o(
The rest of the ridge was easy except for John hunting dutifully for Geo-caches as Gail had given him a list. She was down below in the valley searching for her own set of hidden objects after dropping us off. (see next post)
The easy section of Caisteal Abhail. A great day out with good company and weather.
Arran is one of my favourite islands.
And a great sunset back in Lochranza.
Autohighography. Bob Law. Comedy outdoor novel set in Glasgow and Scotland. Link here. £1:14pence on Kindle.

A Guide to Walking and Cycling around the River Clyde and the Firth of Clyde. Over 80 routes from New Lanark to Girvan and 146 original colour photographs. £1:99. Link here.


Linda W. said...

Nice sunset shot! Looks like a great scramble.

Neil said...

Arran is great, still got lots to do there. I must re-read your book Bob, I know that I missed an awful lot of the hidden thoughts and meanings. That's what comes of being a "skimmer" rather than a deep reader!

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda,
It was fun without being too hard or scary.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
The fact that you read it once is enough for me. I updated, corrected, and revised both books a few months ago. Alex's opinion was that it was 500 pages too long(it's 510 pages) and John thought it should have been more like Moby Dick. Cant beat your friends for keeping you grounded and in touch with reality :o)
Given my lack of intellectual capacity maybe it should be hidden shallows instead of depths but I gave it my best shot.

Ian Johnston said...

Hi Bob,

Looks like you had a great day on the ridge - one of those routes where a single ascent is never sufficient :o) I'll search your books out - thanks for the links

Kind regards

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Ian,
Cheers. Might be worth a pound lucky dip. In Autohighography there are a handful of chapters on kayaking and boat adventures, though not to your level,but you may be amused,or appalled, by our novice stupidity at that time. The excitement and sense of exploration reaching new islands is the same though, if not the professionalism expected today. I don't remember Health and Safety at all in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s and I still have fond memories of my Dad in a hired rowing boat, without any life jackets as they didn't provide them, rowing me up the River Girvan on holiday then heading out to sea, past the harbour. Although he'd been on boats for years and on war ships he never learned to swim and I was about 10 at the time and didn't know any better. Changed days.

Tom said...

The first time i did the witches step i descended it at the end of a horsehoe round glen sannox, i didnt think much of it, mainly because it was misty, pouring with rain and i couldn't really see anything. Just merrily slithered my way down with hardly a care in the world.

Couple of years later on a gorgeous day i thought i would take the wife up (who isnt all that keen on heights). Unfortunately this time we could see and she found it terrifying to say the least, although did make it in the end!

A fantastic set of mountains anyway, i think cir mhor is my favourite of all mountains so far if only for its summit. It really is like the sharp point you imagine all mountain summits to be as a young child!

Kay G. said...

Bromley in Kent! Richard had relatives who lived there, Ruby & Hanbury, his aunt and uncle. They have sadly passed away now but I loved getting cards from them.
One of my favorite Christmas cards ever...a dear little robin taking refuge inside a bra hanging on a clothes line.
Loved your mountain climbing photos, wish I could climb them!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Tom,
Yeah,it's a great horseshoe. Hard to believe Cir Mhor is just a walk to the summit as it looks severe. We used to go over to Arran every summer for years, walking the ridge, cycling or rock climbing. Amazing island.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
I know London and the south east fairly well, or used to as I'm sure it's changed a great deal in 20 years. I love exploring cities, especially the areas outside the normal tourist zone.

Carol said...

I'm pretty sure I did the summit tor on Caisteal Abhail and don't remember any difficulty (although it looked fierce) - we found an easy way up and down.

The Marc Bolan book sounds interesting. I still have a lot of Tyrannosaurus Rex/T-Rex stuff on vinyl but would never sell it (ref. your next post).

I like to meet groups after a concert and usually ask them to sign something. I think it's part of what they get paid for and, luckily, nowadays most of them agree. Anthrax always met their fans (probably still do) and they were really nice guys to meet. I had the hots for Joey Belladonna (still do) and he was most amused when I picked out the photo in that year's program for him to sign where he was wearing nothing but an Indian headdress. He actually did a full-name signature instead of his usual and gave me a great grin :-)

Carol said...

Poor snake. Don't think it can be a slow worm as I'm not sure they get that long? Also don't think you get Grass Snakes up there - we don't around here as it's too far north and too cold for them. I love them though. Not seen a smooth snake... If it was that bleached out, couldn't it be an adder? Plenty of those on Arran.

blueskyscotland said...

Evening Carol,
I think there is an easier way round the back somewhere but we were out for an entertaining day along the ridge line. Did the scramble last time as well without thinking about it much as it was upwards that time. I'm not an expert on withered and dried up snakes so it could be anything and I spent 10 mins looking up likely candidates without reaching a positive decision on what it was knowing that someone would no doubt correct me so I hedge my bets these days if I don't know for sure. I already spend hours on each post as it is and life's too short to spend every free minute on a computer. You might like the Marc Bolan book as it's crammed with period interest about a whole range of different groups, is a really good read and despite any flaws he comes across as a decent likable person. I bought two rock books from FOP for £5 which shows you how much the book market has crashed. Ten years ago they would be a fiver each or more. The other book is The Stone Roses who come across as having more edgy, belligerent personalities. Not enjoying that read as much although I like their music.

blueskyscotland said...

Just noticed the Roses book recommended price is £9.99 and the Bolan book is £8.99.
Got both for a fiver. Bolan book first print 2012. Roses same 2012. Grim days for being a writer, even a professional one like these two folk when you see the amount of research and time they have invested in them.

blueskyscotland said...

Going by habitat alone, ie mountains, looks like an adder.

Carol said...

I wish there were grass snakes further north - fascinating and beautiful creatures. I love adders too but I do see a few of those. I once saw a grass snake in Harlech which appeared to have been beaten to death :-( People's ignorance is shocking in such matters!

You can certainly buy books pretty cheaply nowadays. I get those 'Book Club' catalogues from Wales and they're selling whole sets of people's work for around a fiver. I got the whole of Enid Blyton's Famous Five set for not much money and I love reading them. Good job she's dead though from a royalties point of view!