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Sunday, 17 June 2012

 Castles in the Air: Climbing Caisteal Abhail 859m

“Climb Goat Fell” (the highest peak on Arran) is usually on every first-time visitor to the island’s To Do list. However, if you’re approaching from the north, it is Caisteal Abhail, the second highest mountain, that will command your gaze. Aptly named, it looks surreally high, like a huge fortress topped by turrets.

“The Castles” is the nearest of the high mountains of Arran to Lochranza Campsite and its summit makes up the chest of the Sleeping Warrior. You’ll find you won’t share your climb with crowds, as can happen on Goat Fell. Once at the top you feel you have stepped into another world as you wander along grassy corridors between tors of granite blocks. Views of the entire coast of Arran and beyond open up. You can sit on a sun-warmed granite slab and eat your sandwiches, relishing the silence, and gazing back to Lochranza with its miniature white cottages and boats. You are Master or Mistress of all you survey gazing down from your airy throne.

A good route to the top of The Castles which doesn’t involve scrambling begins in the North Glen Sannox Car Park (from Lochranza it’s a short bus journey). “Caisteal Abhail 4 miles” is signposted. The well-made path climbs gently up the left-hand side of the splashing burn, which is popular with gorge walkers for its pools and water slides. At the top of the forest, you go through a deer fence gate then a narrow path takes you across moorland and a couple of gullies to the corrie lip. This is glaciated scenery scoured out by ice in the last Ice Age. To your left the clear rocky ridge of Cuithe Mheadhonach will take you steeply up to the summit of Caisteal Abhail, with close-up views of the gash of Ceum na Caillich (the Witch’s Step) as you climb. At a high col you suddenly see all the Arran mountains ahead of you.

To descend, you continue north west around the broad rim of the corrie, gradually descending to Sail an Im. From here you can descend into Gleann Easan Biorach, following its pretty burn right back to Lochranza and the Isle of Arran Distillery. Look out for golden eagles and red deer as you walk.

Allow 6-7 hours for this route.

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