Cir Mhor and The Great Meaty Strip Disaster of 2018

We’ve been on several trips to Arran in recent years and climbed two of its hills: Goatfell and Caisteal Abhail. Each time I’ve taken photographs of the surrounding peaks, the best shots have always featured a very distinctive, jaggy peak called Cir Mhor. Finally it occurred to me; if Cir Mhor is such a great-looking hill, why don’t we climb it? Well last weekend we did just that.

Cir Mhor from Caisteal Abhail [5D4_1773]

The saw-tooth profile of Cir Mhor from a previous walk up Caisteal Abhail

Our walk landed in the middle of a run of dry, sunny days. Being a resident of Ayrshire I can’t describe such conditions as “summer weather”, as summer usually means long days of rain and high humidity, but regardless it’s been beautiful and uplifting, but hot. Ordinarily I’d have preferred to start walking well before sunrise so that the pups wouldn’t have to deal with the hottest part of the day, but due to the length of my chosen route (over 17km) and its complexity (covers three neighboring summits and one spectacular ridge along the way) that wasn’t an option. I did however note that a good breeze was forecast, and that a fair proportion of the walk crossed substantial streams, so I figured they’d cope.

Setting out from the Glen Rosa campsite I was shocked at how distant the first of our target hills seemed. In the shot below you can just see our first summit (Ben Nuis) sticking its little pointy head up over two foreground hills on the left. That summit marks the half-way point of the outward leg of the walk! Still, I was fully loaded with water and treats for myself and the pups, including biccies, mini-Jumbones and a thick pack of meaty strips. If you’ve got enough treats, you can tackle anything.

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Even with enough breeze to keep the insects away we were starting to feel the heat. As we approached our first stream crossing I could hear Susan’s instructions repeating in my head: “every time you get to flowing water, just dunk the pups whether they want it or not!” I didn’t need to take any action with the Beanster as she went straight in and paddled to the other side, thoroughly soaking everything below her neck. Biggles on the other hand was carefully picking his way across the taller rocks when I grabbed the handle of his harness, picked him up and plunged him into the water.

My boy is a sensitive little soul and I was concerned that he might interpret this enforced wetting as some kind of punishment, but that didn’t seem to be the case here. To be honest I don’t think he even realized that I had been behind the dunking. To him, it was just another one of those mysterious “acts of god” that happen to boys called Biggles on a daily basis. Sometimes good things happen, like a humie absent-mindedly putting their food within his reach, and sometimes not-so-good things happen, like falling in the water even though he’d been balancing on the rocks quite well.

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Biggles ponders one of life’s little mysteries: first he was dry, then he wasn’t.

We continued to the next water station which wasn’t deep enough for a dunking, so I just splashed their tummies with my hand. This time both pups were well aware what I was doing, but they didn’t seem to mind. I was baking in the heat, but the furries kept motoring along without any hint of panting.

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After what had been a very easy going preamble we finally made it to the base of Ben Nuis and the climbing started in earnest. As we gained height the breeze grew stronger to compensate, and brief periods of shade also came to our aid. When I’d first read the route I’d dismissed Ben Nuis as nothing but a waypoint on our journey, but in truth it was enjoyable and worthwhile in itself, with impressive views of the ridges and peaks that lay ahead of us.

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At the top of Ben Nuis we encountered only the second hill walker we’d seen that day. This was a bank holiday weekend and though Goatfell probably had a queue of people trudging their way up to its summit, the less popular routes like this were still blissfully quiet. I was reasonably confident they’d stay that way so long as we didn’t meet any sheep or goats.

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The twin peaks of Beinn Tarsuinn came next on our itinerary, offering more great views for very little effort. Even in full afternoon sun the temperature remained comfortable thanks to a near constant breeze, but not being a Beagle I still had to keep applying factor 50 to my baldy bits.

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Now came the hardest part of the walk so far. Instead of climbing we had to descend steeply through huge boulders. More than once I found I wasn’t quite tall enough to stretch my legs from one foothold to the next, and had to lower myself using my arms. With even shorter legs the pups needed an occasional airlift down to the next level; those carry handles on their harnesses made this so much easier.

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Getting down through that was not at all easy for those with short furry legs!

Now we followed a narrow and undulating bypass path around the back of the A’Chir ridge. The ridge itself is a graded rock climb so that was never an option, but at least it would have been cooler and offered some great views. As it was, our path was sheltered from the wind, largely devoid of eye candy and surprisingly easy to lose whenever it crossed a big slab of rock. Perhaps sensing my occasional moments of indecision, Biggles took point and stuck to the path like glue. He really is an asset in situations like this, and I’ve come to trust him so much that I just keep my eyes down and follow him. If I were to try the same with Beanie I’d end up miles from the official route with precipitous drops all around me, and a big pile of goat poo at my feet.

After what seemed like an age we came out at the end of the A’Chir ridge with the final climb to Cir Mhor ahead of us. I took a moment to clamber up a few rocks back onto the ridge to take some shots. They don’t even come close to showing the scale of it; respect is due to anyone who’s done this thing the hard way.

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A'Chir Ridge, Arran [5D4_1086]

A'Chir Ridge [IMG_7114]

Although it only lasted about ten minutes, I found that last climb up to the summit of Cir Mhor really punishing. Maybe I was tired from what had come before, but I was struggling and I sensed impatience from Beanie and Biggles. I have a tendency towards summit fever, but seemingly Beagles get it really bad.

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Cir Mhor Summit [5D4_1203]

Glen Sannox from Cir Mhor [5D4_1176]

The tiny summit plateau had some great views, but it was very exposed; the wind was so strong I had to keep one hand on the rocks to stay on my feet. At one point Biggles started digging up a mossy patch and suddenly I got a faceful of little moss fragments when the wind caught them.

Just a few steps over to the other side of the summit we were in shelter; it was warm and merely breezy, and we had terrific views of neighboring Caisteal Abhail, Goatfell, and the path that had led us here. We were all comfortable, and with the sun getting lower in the sky I decided to hang around to see what golden hour and sunset would bring. I began dishing out treats to kill time, and when the really good photography light arrived we were down to our last two meaty strips. I withdrew them from the pack, and holding them in a “V” configuration I offered one of them to Biggles. It turned out the “V” wasn’t quite wide enough, and unwittingly I’d given Biggles one his better “act of god” moments. Both strips were in easy reach of his mouth, so he took both in one quick, decisive movement. Chomp! Chomp! Gone! Beanie came right up to me, expecting to get hers, and I had to explain that.. well.. there weren’t any more.

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The news was not well received, but a nibble out of my protein bar helped her over it and I got some spectacular shots in that gorgeous late evening light.

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View from Cir Mhor [5D4_1295]

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Shadow of Cir Mhor on Goatfell [5D4_1305]

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Caisteal Abhail Golden Hour [5D4_1339]

Sunset from Cir Mhor [5D4_1360]

The best thing about the route I’d chosen was that the way back was very straightforward; we only had to descend from Cir Mhor, then branch off and down into Glen Rosa. The first kilometer or so was steep in parts, but after that it was easy going and we were soon back by fresh, flowing water. I was out of bottled water by now so filled up and took a shot looking back up to Cir Mhor while I waited for the purification tablet to do its thing. The three of us finally reunited with Susan and the van at around half past midnight, and after a brief drive to our camping spot we all slept very soundly indeed until the next morning.

Cir Mhor Gloaming [5D4_1372]

Ben Venue

Ben Venue has a reputation for providing a lot of view given its sub-Munro height, but previously I’d dismissed it due the route length (14km) and reputation for being a bogfest. Our recent long but very enjoyable slog over and around the Galloway hills convinced me to reconsider it, and when I discovered that its path had been upgraded just a couple of years ago, I decided it was worth a go.

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Ben Venue as seen from an early point on the route from Loch Achray

At 1am, having had a few hours of suprisingly good sleep, I stumbled out of the van with my two furry companions securely attached to my belt. Purely out of a desire to keep the van safe – and not at all due to the crazily early departure time – Susan had offered to stay in bed, so it was just the three of us.

Sleep-deprivation aside I like really early morning walks best of all. I take a perverse pleasure in heading out in the dark when all sensible people are tucked up in bed, guided by my head torch and two enthusiastic black noses. As is usual our first mile was very stop-start due to sniffage, pees and poos, but after that we made rapid progress thanks to a firm, mostly dry path backed by frequent signposts to eliminate navigation concerns. After about an hour we passed a notice that we’d come to the end of the signage, but the trail continued as normal up ahead and I commented to the pups that this was going to be one of the easiest hills we’d ever done. That of course was something I should never have said out loud, and shortly afterwards we came to the start of a field where the path flat-out disappeared.

I scanned the field ahead carefully with my torch, and saw a couple of wooden stakes in the ground. With nothing else to follow, and the map suggesting that we should continue in roughly that direction, I took a few steps into the field towards the stakes, and sank past my ankles. Bog juices immediately seeped into my boots and I let out a long sigh. Beanie and Biggles both turned to look at me and I told them what they already knew: “well pups, it’s bog time again!”

We trudged our way across the field to the start of an incline, where PathFinder Biggles quickly latched onto other walkers’ footsteps; a little further on we rejoined the path. This wasn’t quite as dry and firm as the first section, but it led us almost directly to the trig point on one of Ben Venue’s two high points with 75 minutes still to go before sunrise.

Beanie and Biggles love climbing up and down hills, but they don’t like hanging around for ages in the cold and wind. Fortunately I was prepared for this eventuality, having strung our big orange Vango Storm Shelter from my camera bag. In my head, this was how the next hour or so was about to play out: I’d throw the shelter over the three of us, giving me a wind-free place to swap my sweaty base-layer for a dry thermal and to put on the pups’ coats. We’d then while away the time until sunrise in our torch-lit abode having treats and cuddles. Basically it was going to be a bit like being under the covers with a torch as a kid.

That is not at all how things went. I unpacked the shelter easily enough and got it over me and Biggles, but Beanie – who always feels the cold the most – was stuck outside. Pinning the base of the shelter against the rocks with my feet to keep it from blowing away, I coaxed Beanie inside, at which point Biggles somehow ended up outside. I reached out and dragged Biggles in, only to watch Beanie sneaking back out under the rear edge of shelter. This was crazy; inside the shelter was warming up nicely thanks to the elimination of windchill, but I couldn’t keep the three of us together inside it for any length of time. At one point I tried getting Biggles to park his bottom on the base and settle down so that I’d have both arms free to haul Beanie in and get her onto my lap. I was almost there when suddenly the shelter was whipped out from under my feet and up over my head, leaving both me and The Beanster outside. My first thought was “wow, that must have been a powerful gust of wind” but in reality it was Biggles, who’d decided to make a bed and was rapidly winding the shelter round and round himself. He was cosy now, but the rest of us were shivering in the cold and dark. After a struggle I freed the shelter from his lordship’s grasp without ripping it, but never succeeded in getting us all inside simultaneously. If Vango storm shelters could have a theme tune, it should be The Hokey Cokey.

The struggles with the shelter did at least kill some time, and between that and a few expeditions between the two summit points on Ben Venue, we lasted out until the sun finally appeared.

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Not long until sunrise now..

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And there it is…

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The view towards Loch Katrine was superb!

Loch Katrine From Ben Venue [5D2_7022]

Big ears over Loch Katrine [5D4_0924]

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Loch Achray & Loch Venahar from Ben Venue [5D2_7024]

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I kept trying different shots and rewarding the pups for their patience until, in a moment of carelessness, I spilled the remaining contents of the treat bag on the ground. For once in his life Biggles was alert and immediately set about vacuuming everything up while Beanie was still trying to get her snout into my trouser pockets. With no treats remaining, I had a choice: face the most intense woofing I’d ever experienced, or share some of my own private stash of extra tasty coated peanuts with the furry types. You can probably guess which option I chose.

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Biggles takes in the view, while Beanie stays focused on my peanuts

The journey back was peppered with stops for layer removal as the temperature rose, and as we got back onto that splendid first section of the path the pups were happy to slurp from, and cool their feet in, the various streams we crossed.

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When we got to within 50 yards of the van Biggles started pulling like a train and Beanie began dancing on her rear legs. I assumed they were overjoyed at the thought of being reunited with Susan, but then the real reason became apparent: Susan had filled their breakfast bowls and left them out by the entrance to the van.

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Contented post-breakfast naps for two, please!

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I’m not saying that Beagles don’t offer unconditional love like other dogs, but a big serving of breakfast definitely helps.

Beanie’s Second Big Yahoo in Galloway

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Nearly five years ago Beanie decided to escape the confines of popular walking routes and go off on a solo romp in the Galloway hills. She unhooked her lead (which she was able to do back then, before I employed extra security measures) and went on her own Big Yahoo of an adventure.

After some hours of merrily following her nose she returned, tired but happy. I’ll never know what she got up to during that time, but I do know that after carrying her the 8km back to the car, the two of us spent the next day thoroughly knackered, with tender feet and sore muscles.

Last week Beanie returned to the Galloway hills, had an even bigger adventure away from the popular walking routes, and again spent the next day recuperating. This time however I know exactly what she got up to, because me and Biggles were with her every step of the way.

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Our walk started by Bruce’s Stone at Glen Trool, but instead of following the well-trodden route up The Merrick, we headed out towards Gairland Burn and Loch Valley to try some of the lesser-visited hills.

The first part of the walk followed an old drystone wall and offered beautiful views back to Loch Trool. The weather was perfect; dry and bright but not too warm. It strongly reminded me of the hilly farming regions of North Yorkshire I enjoyed as a boy.

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The next section was long, boggy and boring for anybody not in possession of a highly-tuned sniffer, but when we emerged from it we were by Loch Valley, getting our first view of the hills we’d be sampling.

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Looking forward towards the hills

It was here that we answered a question that’s been foremost in the minds of top current affairs experts of late. No I’m not talking about the Brexit implementation details, or the Russia/Syria thing, I’m talking about the really big issue, specifically: “are Earl’s Air-dried Beef Steaks any good?” Our pups have had growing respect for Earl – who seems to be a Golden Retriever who makes the cheap doggy stuff at chain-store Aldi – ever since they tried his dental sticks. Knowing that a big walk was ahead of us I’d grabbed a serving of Earl’s latest creation and stuffed it in my camera bag, but I had no idea whether it would pass muster. And the answer? Well if speed of consumption is any guide then yep, Earl knows his stuff and his beef steaks are well worth speed-swallowing.

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Moving on we passed the long-abandoned “sheepfold” between Loch Valley and Loch Neldricken, sniffed it, peed on it a bit, and then headed uphill. The hillside was covered in a thick layer of dried, reedy grass which was so soft it sucked the energy right out of my legs, but made very comfortable bedding material for his Biggleship.

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After no small amount of climbing up and over things we eventually ended up at the top of a hill that actually has a name: Craignairy. The weather had been cycling between heavy cloud and bright sunshine up to that point, but as we reached the summit plateau and looked out over Loch Enoch towards The Merrick, we got the perfect combination of the two.

View from Craignairy [IMG_6654_II]

Beanie and Biggles sipped from the pool of fresh, clear drinking water that had been so thoughtfully provided by the summit cairn, and I continued to take a few shots.

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View from CraigNairy II [5D4_9842]

Deciding that this would be a good time to confirm the initial conclusions regarding Earls’ beef steaks, I put Beanie & Biggles into “wait” position by my feet, and placed one “steak” on the top of each of my boots. After a short wait, I gave them the go-ahead, at which point Beanie promptly grabbed the steak that had been intended for Biggles.

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In the split-second that followed, I saw a range of emotions pass over Biggles’ little face. First there was shock, then panic, and then resignation, even though there was still one steak sitting untouched on my other boot. I started pointing and trying to get the words out to Biggles before Beanie could gulp her steak down and go for round two: “Oi! Biggles! Quick, get the other one!” It was close, but he came to his senses just in time. Beanie of course was aware of her missed opportunity, and complained loudly:

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What?? I was going to have that!

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Noooo!

As often happens Biggles didn’t really understand why Beanie was woofing, but decided to join in anyway, so I got stick from both of them for trying to keep things fair.

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Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get it right.

Now we had to choose which of Craignairy’s neighboring hills we would visit next: the worryingly named “Dungeon Hill”, or the larger “CraigNaw” that was sort of on the way back to the van. Given the light and the time of day, I decided that CraigNaw was the better choice.

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The way ahead to the start of Craignaw

Craignaw took longer to climb than I expected; every time we reached what I thought would be the summit, yet another short climb was revealed ahead of us. Regardless, there were plenty of great views to be had on the way up, including one that made even Biggles feel a bit inadequate.

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Craignaw View [5D4_9957]

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Looking back to CraigNairy

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And other views from the top

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We had our final round of beef steaks at the very top of Craignaw, and this time there were no mishaps.

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The walk out to this lovely region and the hill climbs from it had all been great, but now we had a long, boggy trudge back to the van. For most of this I edged around the worst mud and marsh spots, but the closer we got to the finish line, the more slapdash I became. At one point, having untangled Beanie & Biggles’s leads for the umpteenth time, I thought “Why bother avoiding the wet stuff? My feet are wet anyway, and this will go faster if I plough straight through it”. So that’s what I did at the next muddy pool, and almost went over as my entire lower leg disappeared into bog. Ever the caring Beagle, Beanie came straight to my side, and used my sudden loss of height to gain access to my trouser pockets. I gently but firmly extracted her snout from my trousers, then not so gently extracted my leg from the bog, and returned to my original “avoid the bog” walking strategy.

We were all tired and hungry when we finally reached the van; I reckon we’d probably walked around 18km in total, and a fair proportion of that had been on hills. I served up the pups’ tea and while they half-swallowed, half-inhaled it from their bowls, I perched on the back seat in my mud-soacked clothes, sipping an instant cappuccino and demolishing a bag of bacon rashers crisps. Now two days later I still have muscle-soreness from carrying all my camera gear on that walk, but I know that at some point we’ll be back to do the hills we missed.