Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Glen Rosa Circuit - Arran

The path into the hills started at the Glenrosa Campsite. It was an easy start, the boot-beaten path gradually ascending next to the winding Glenrosa Water. I’d visited Holy Island the day before (see chapter 1 of Firth of Clyde to the Small Isles), and was setting out to hike some of the Glen Rosa circuit on Arran. Even though it was an overcast day, I was hoping to find a view of Holy Island from the 2000-foot knife ridge between the hills of Goatfell and A’ Chir.

After three miles I came to a fork in the path. A right turn led up to The Saddle, the way to climb Goatfell, or carry on through to Glen Sannox. The 2,866 foot summit of Goatfell was hidden in clouds, so I took the left fork. It made a steady climb, rising 1400 feet over one mile. That led through the heart of Fionn Coire to the high ridge between the peaks of Cir Mhòr and A’ Chir.

There I was faced with a difficult choice. A right turn led to Cir Mhòr (2600 ft), via the Rosa Pinnacle, and then on to Caisteal Abhail and Ceum na Caillich, also known as The Witch’s Step. Many place names on Arran are guaranteed to make hill climbers drool; there’s the Rosetta Stone, Pagoda Ridge, Portcullis Buttress, Rosa Slabs, The Bastion, Devil’s Punchbowl, and Flat Iron Tower. If you fail to climb any of those you can always settle for Consolation Tor. But I needed to be back down at the road in three hours to meet my wife, so I turned left.

It was an exhilaratingly airy, narrow ridge-top path. Five minutes later, at an elevation of 2000 feet, the path split, and another decision had to be made. The left fork made a challenging 300-foot knife-edge climb to the summit of A’ Chir. I was beat in the heat—it was a sweltering 25 degrees—and I’d already climbed 1800 feet over six miles. It was an easy decision for someone hiking on their own. I took the right fork.

That route led around the west shoulder of A’ Chir. In a matter of minutes I lost 300 feet of hard-earned altitude as the trail dropped down dusty, sun-baked slabs of granite before climbing steeply back to Bealach an Fhir-bhogha, Bowman’s Pass. In times past deer were driven up through this narrow pass. Archers, lying in wait, picked them off one by one as they charged past. Damn unsportsmanlike, if you ask me.

The view was spectacular; the massive bowl of Coire Daingean lay at my feet, dropping 1600 feet to the headwaters of Glenrosa Water. The clouds had thinned over the past hour, and the summit of Goatfell looked clear and inviting. I was beginning to regret my decision not to climb it when something else impressive caught my eye. It was the very thing I’d come here to see: Holy Island rising from the blue-green waters of the Firth.

According to the map there is a route from Bowman’s Pass down to Glen Rosa. But nary a path was to be seen, just dusty slopes too steep to safely descend. But 200 feet farther, just beyond the summit of the pass where archers once lay in wait, I came across a trail that dropped east to the summit of Beinn a’ Chliabhain, Creel Mountain (2140 ft).

I did not want to leave the airy heights, but the time had come to start down. The ridge path to Beinn a’ Chliabhain led to another high ridge above Coire a’ Bhradain, Salmon Corry. Five-hundred feet below, like veins leading to a heart, a half-dozen streams could be seen trickling down the corry, the headwaters of the often salmon-filled waters of Garbh Allt. 

It was a joy to be walking downhill (my favourite direction). And so, happy as a midge at a nude beach, I descended to Cnoc Breac, Trout Hill. There are certainly a lot of fishy names on Arran—I’m surprised there’s no Pike’s Peak. From there the terrain gradually transitioned from rock, to heather and grass. After descending another 700 feet I reached the cascading waters of Garbh Allt.

That walk down from Bowman’s Pass remains, to this day, the most amazing ridge descent I’ve ever made. The view across Glenrosa, and to far off Holy Island, made it hard to concentrate on my footing. The lower slopes are steep and soggy, and I slipped and fell twice when distracted by the stunning view.

At 6 pm the Glen Rosa campsite came into view, where my wife had dropped me six hours earlier. She wasn’t there. (Good help is hard to find.) But after walking down the road for fifteen minutes she showed up with a cold can of beer. (I take back the remark about good help.) The journal entry for that long day ends with: Made our way back to the hotel .  . . time to soak in the tub. It had been a fantastic walk. It was an even better soak.