A Walk up Meall Mor, 496m, Lochranza
I climbed Meall Mor last week, tempted by a day of dazzling, rainwashed clarity with slanting golden sunshine sharply defining every rock and bronzing each blade of deer grass. Meall Mor is the hill behind the Distillery that I look up at from my computer desk. Its name means the big hill but because Gaelic has specific names for different shaped hills and mountains (a useful aid to navigation) the name more precisely describes a rounded hill with peaty hues.
I love the routine of preparing my rucksack for a hill walk: food, flask, compass, map, whistle, hat, spare top.... I’ve always been more a prepared-for-all-eventualities packer than a minimalist. I also love walking by myself: you notice so much more than when you’re interacting with others. It’s not as if I’m going far; I will be looking down at the campsite all the way.
I set off up Gleann Easan Biorach, turning off the path as the glen broadens to scramble up steep grass, bog and heather in a bee-line for the summit. I measure my plodding progress against the cliffs of Torr Nead an Eoin behind me. The first part of any Arran climb is nearly always almost vertical and I find myself moving through the seasons: down in the glen, the heather is purple whilst higher up it has faded to papery pale brown.
Even when the slope eases the terrain remains rough: tussocky and boggy. I can see two or three small groups of red deer, each with a stag, two hinds and a youngster. We haven’t had the huge congregration of red deer on golf course this year that we have always had in the past so I’m pleased to see these little herds rutting as normal up here. There was a significant cull of red deer last winter in the interests of a healthy herd which seems to have made the survivors more timid. When they see me the stags bolt but the hinds stand their ground by their offspring.
My route can only be described as a slog. From the campsite the top of the hill looks pudding-shaped and proportionately a short climb compared to the rest of the hill but that is a trick of the eye known as the foreshortening effect; the top section is much farther than it looks. I pass the stones of sheilings where in centuries past villagers stayed whilst minding their cattle on the summer pastures. I am pleased that muscle memory of many mountains climbed keeps my legs pushing on up, but I’m also glad of my walking poles which give me an extra pair of legs.
Moving slowly I notice what’s underfoot: blood red sphagnum moss and jigsaws of lichens patterning granite rocks. Meadow pipits pause on boulders. Tough heather roots tenuously bind a narrow crumbling mat of soil lying on the bedrock. A stunted but bright blue flower looking like a tiny exotic jewel catches my attention in a hollow close to the summit: something to look up when I get home.
I’ve often thought that there is something other-worldly about summits but as I approach the top of Meall Mor I am awe-struck as an eagle flies past me at eye level, perhaps three metres away. Here then gone. I can hear a bee meandering round the cairn and notice a butterfly flitting through the heather. All the way up, the Sleeping Warrior- the mountain ridge of Caisteal Abhail and Ceum na Caillich- has been a slumbering presence on my left hand side. Now Arran’s mountain ridges are revealed to their full extent with the wet slabs of A’ Chir shining silver. I wander across to the second summit cairn from where a peregrine falcon takes off. I feel blessed.
My descent path will be across the spongey plateau that lies between the hill and Coillemore to the north. The rain that collects here through wet winters tips over the rims of the hills above the village so that the whole hillside becomes a sequence of cascades. I can see the hills’ shadows spreading over Lochranza now, early dusk in these shortening days. The stags are sending their roars rolling round the glen so that it’s hard to say where they begin. My OS map tells me place names that show some things haven’t changed: Creag na h-Iolaire (crag of the eagle) is nearby, but it also tells of things that have changed: there is no longer Doire Bhuidhe (yellow oak thicket) on this route.
I descend carefully looking forward to a shower, a meal and putting my feet up and leave the high places to the wind, the deer and the starlight.