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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.