Tuesday, July 6, 2021

2021 Virtual Cruise - Island #13 - Arran

We leave Bute in our wake to set a course to the south. After an hour of motoring the hook is dropped in Brodick Bay. (Fortunately, the chain is attached). We go ashore, where the guide is anxious to lead everyone on his favourite walk on Arran: The Glen Rosa Circuit.

From Brodick it's a two-mile road-walk to the start of the Glen Rosa Trail. The guide tells us the road-walk would be a good warm-up for the steep climb to come, and gives us the directions, saying he'll follow along in a bit.  As we make our way along the road a taxi flys by, with someone who suspiciously looks like the guide inside. Once we reach the Glen Rosa Campsite, where the mountain path begins, we find the guide waiting for us (he says he knew a shortcut). The trail gets off to an easy start, the boot-beaten path gradually ascending next to the winding Glenrosa Water. 

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

There we are faced with a difficult choice. A right turn leads 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. In addition to the Witch’s Step, and nearby Broomstick Ridge, there are dozens of Arran place names guaranteed to make a climber drool: Pagoda Ridge, Portcullis Buttress, Rosa Slabs, the Bastion, the Rosetta Stone, and the Devil’s Punchbowl. If you fail to climb any of those you can always settle for Consolation Tor or the Cat Stone. 

Since time is short (we need to be back aboard ship so the guide can take his nap), we turn left to follow an exhilaratingly airy, narrow ridge-top path to the south. Five minutes later, at an elevation of 2000 feet, the path split, and another decision has to be made. The left fork makes a challenging 300-foot knife-edge climb to the summit of A’ Chir. We are beat in the heat—it is a sweltering 25 degrees—and we’ve already climbed 1800 feet in over six miles. The guide is getting tired, so we take the right fork.

That route leads around the west shoulder of A’ Chir. In a matter of minutes 300 feet of hard-earned altitude is lost as the trail drops 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 is spectacular; the massive bowl of Coire Daingean lay at our feet, dropping 1600 feet to the headwaters of Glenrosa Water. The clouds had thinned over the past hour, and the summit of Goatfell looks clear and inviting. But that would have to wait for another time. We can also see Holy Island rising from the blue-green waters of the Firth, our destination for the next day.

According to the map there is a route from Bowman’s Pass down to Glen Rosa. But nary a path is to be seen, just dusty slopes too steep to safely descend. Just as we think the guide has gotten us lost we come across a trail that drops east to the summit of Beinn a’ Chliabhain, Creel Mountain (2140 ft). 

We do not want to leave the airy heights, but the time has come to start down. The ridge path to Beinn a’ Chliabhain leads to another high ridge above Coire a’ Bhradain, Salmon Corry. Five-hundred feet below us, like veins leading to a heart, a half-dozen streams can 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 for a change; and so, happy as midges at a nude beach, we descend to Cnoc Breac, Trout Hill. As you can tell, there are certainly a lot of fishy names on Arran. (I'm surprised there’s no Pike’s Peak.) From Cnoc Breac the terrain gradually transitions from rock, to heather and grass. After descending another 700 feet we reach the cascading waters of Garbh Allt, and are soon back at the road. The guide then redeems himself, as he's arranged for taxis to take us back to Brodick. But then he tells us he forgot his wallet, so we have to take up a collection to pay the cabbies.

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