We’ve just spent a whole night on the top of a mountain! What’s more, we did so through choice and not because one of our Beagles pulled a Houdini and ran off during a hillwalk!
The mountain in question was Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran. We’d been up Goat Fell once before; that had been a there-and-back daytime trip which meant walking up the mountain in uncomfortable heat. This time we’d planned to dodge the hottest part of the day by going up in the early evening in time for sunset, wild-camping the night away on the summit, then returning the following morning before the sun got cooking. We’d been waiting for months for the right conditions to come along: mountain and ground-level weather forecasts that would give us a decent chance of good views, with winds low enough not to be a threat, and predicted summit temperatures comfortably above zero. Finally the weather gods gave us our shot, and we took it!
Since we wouldn’t be starting the climb until quite late in the day we were able to go over to Arran on the ferry at a fairly civilized time. I don’t know if we got the exact same vessel as last time, but I’m happy to report that it was just as accommodating to the four legged voyager, albeit rather busy.
The railings allow Beanie to poke her head through for a last look at the mainland as we get under way
It’s much busier than last time, so there isn’t much scope for checking under all the seats for crumbs and other edible debris
Once on Arran we headed straight to a campsite and booked in for a single night. This might seem redundant as we wouldn’t be spending the night there, but it gave us a place to hang out plus easy access to showers and so on. We’d brought two tents with us – one to act as our base on the campsite, and another very light one for our mountain adventure – plus a couple of folding chairs. Having erected all of the above we had some time to kill..
Initially Biggles took a liking to the blue deck chair, but he swapped it for the director-style chair after an unfortunate incident that left him with a bruised bottom. You see the leg-rest part of it only stays up while you’re sitting back in the chair. The second you sit forward (maybe in response to Beanie trying to force her tongue down your throat to nick your lunch), the leg rest drops away suddenly and anything on it, such as a Bigglet, gets dumped on the ground without warning.
One sore bottom later and no-one’s willing to trust that dodgy blue thing!
The grass is a much safer proposition, and parts of it are gloriously smelly!!
Eventually we’d had all the coffee, treats, sun and ice-cream we could handle and it was time for the first real challenge: getting up to the top of Goat Fell in time for sunset. Every available pocket and compartment in our rucksacks and clothing were filled with provisions and gear. We had snacks for us, snacks for the dogs, torches, extra layers of clothing, a small tent, and water. Lots and lots of water. I felt like I was carrying 15-20kg on my back, and Susan’s rucksack wasn’t much lighter. What’s more it was still pretty warm, even though the hottest part of the day was well behind us. Despite all of this it we made very good time and the whole ascent seemed much shorter and easier than last time.
Nearly at the ridge, with only the final push to the summit ahead of us
As we approached the summit we passed the last of the daytime walkers on their way back down, and it was looking like we’d have the mountain to ourselves. And so we did, if you don’t count the several thousand midges that were up there with us. Every now and then a gentle breeze would drive them away, but I was very grateful I’d remembered to stash some insect repellent in one of my pockets!
With plenty of time still to go before sunset the four of us explored the area around the summit, partly to take in the views and partly to find a good spot to pitch our tent. Goat Fell is covered in interestingly shaped boulders which make great seats, but there are relatively few flat, grassy areas suitable for a tent.
In the end we decided that the best location was a big slab of flat rock by the summit itself. Admittedly this wasn’t particularly soft under one’s bottom (especially after the unfortunate incident with the deck chair) but it was flat, solid and somewhat sheltered by boulders and the summit triangulation pillar itself. We erected our tiny tent, and I served up a small kibble meal for the pups. It was later than their usual tea time repast and didn’t come in their bowls, but given that we were up a mountain they seemed willing to accept this reduction in quality of service.
As Susan and the pups got ready to watch the sunset from the relative comfort of the tent, I went on a hunt for photographs..
Camp Beagle, by the official summit of Goat Fell
The rock and boulder-strewn landscape of Goat Fell looks like a scene from a sci-fi movie in the late evening light
Once the sun went down a steady breeze blew in and the midges all but disappeared. I grabbed a last couple of shots and headed back to the tent with the intention of sleeping till sunrise.
I say the “intention of sleeping” with good reason, because precious little sleep actually occurred. Even as I’d been taking the shot of our tent on the summit I’d heard Beanie getting very frustrated with the bed, and that frustration continued well into the night. We had the luxury of air-filled mats and inflatable pillows so we could have been quite comfortable were it not for a couple Beagles that like to stretch out and sleep in the horizontal configuration. There was a lot of grumbling. Paws were pushed into mouths, crotches and armpits, and further Beagle attempts to “make the bed” resulted pillows and sleeping bags ending up in strange places. And of course, there was farting. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, both Susan and I had made the mistake of bringing all our snacks into the tent with us. Every so often – but usually just as I was about nod off – Beanie decided to make a bid for the snacks. She’s a very determined little girl, our Beanie, and it can be surprisingly difficult to extract her snout from your coat pocket when you’re in a cramped tent on the top of a mountain.
Eventually I did fall asleep, but almost immediately my watch alarm went off and it was time to exit the tent for sunrise. I zipped down the front flap of our tent and saw a very unexpected but beautiful sight..
The weather forecasts had got it wrong, but in the best possible way!
We were above the clouds – something Susan and I have wanted to experience for some time. That it should have happened now, on this special all-nighter on Goat Fell, was the most amazing good luck. We harnessed up the pups and got them out to see the spectacle, but they seemed singularly unimpressed. On previous trips we’ve noted that Beanie & Biggles seem to have an appreciation for sunrise and sunset – something primal that’s shared by dogs and humans alike – but apparently this fluffy white carpet wasn’t anything to write home about.
Yeah, yeah it’s great. Now can we go back to the tent ‘cos our noses are telling us that there are biscuits left in there..
Now that’s what I’m talking about!
I roamed about the summit getting more shots, sometimes getting engulfed by the misty clouds myself.
Sunrise is happening somewhere behind those distant clouds..
Sunrise came and went but the sun never quite managed to poke out from behind a distant bank of cloud. We hung around a while to see if the cloud would shift, but instead it grew thicker and a chilling wind started to blow. We’d already been incredibly lucky with the weather, so we decided to pack up and head back down to civilization, showers, and breakfast. At this point visibility had fallen to 20-30 metres, but fortunately the path down from Goat Fell was obvious and easy to follow so we had no navigational problems. The low cloud we experienced on the mountain hung over the whole of Arran for much of the day, and was still present as we boarded the ferry back to the mainland. This was strangely satisfying; we’d had the best of the weather and made the most it, and now it was time for some serious napping.