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"World tour of Scotland" at www.nigelandkathyinscotland.blogspot.com

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Cir Mhor: The Great Crest

I saw stars for the first time since early May this week; the time of the never-truly-dark nights has passed for another year. After July’s heat, mornings are fresher and hillwalking has become appealing again.

Why do so many people climb Goat Fell and so few venture on any of Arran’s other mountains? Okay, it’s the highest peak, but not by many metres. Maybe it’s because it’s got a pronounceable name. Whatever the reason, one of the joys of Arran walking in this world of shrinking lonely places, is that, apart from the group you’re with, you can usually have an Arran hill all to yourself.

The other day  the route that Will and I took was up Glen Sannox, over Cir Mhor (799m) and Caisteal Abhail (The Castles 859m), onto Sail an Im, then down Gleann Easan Biorach to Lochranza- a route about 15km long with 1000m climbing. From the start of the walk Cir Mhor, the Great Crest, confronts you majestically from the head of the glen looking like a child’s drawing of a mountain: a perfect pyramid.

This walk starts at the bus stop at GR 016454. Whenever I am driving back from Brodick to Lochranza the view at this point into Glen Sannox is a –well, shock. The fearsome ridges on each side of the glen look like they might swallow pretty Corrie golf course whole. A well constructed and discreet path takes you almost to the top of Cir Mhor. The path exists thanks to the hard labour and expertise of Scott Murdoch of Lochranza and his team of pathmakers, commissioned by the National Trust of Scotland. It is no mean feat to make a helpful path up such steep and rocky hillsides. Some hands-on scrambling is needed to ascend a gully close to the top of the Saddle and again to reach Cir Mhor’s summit.

My favourite moment when climbing Cir Mhor comes close to the top as you turn a corner round a boulder and find yourself in a corridor of rocky granite towers with dizzy drops to the valley floor. Surrounded by great grey bulky shapes you feel as if you are moving through a herd of sleeping elephants. Q. What’s the point of climbing mountains? A. For special moments like these.

Whilst eating our sandwiches we watched fierce showers blowing in from the west and as we continued up to The Castles one blew onto us. Stopping for a quick rest we found ourselves having that common British mountain experience whereby, in thick cloud, all boulders look the same and so do all paths down. The trouble is that paths close together on mountain tops can end up in valleys that are many miles apart. It was time to dig the compass out of my rucksack. Whenever you need a compass it is sure to be cold and wet, with the wind snatching your map and rain dripping off your eyebrows. The direction of travel arrow can often seem to point you to a direction you weren’t expecting but you know you have to trust it rather than your instinct. It will be right.

As the cloud raced away and we saw Lochranza a long way down and a long way off we knew we were on the right path for Sail an Im. From here we headed down boulder strewn slopes into boggy Gleann Easan with its many waterfalls. The photo shows Will having found a particularly wet bit. Golden spires of bog asphodel, fluffy tufts of bog cotton and clumps of purple heather made it all a delightful bog.
Being at the end of a hard day’s hillwalking is one of my best feelings in the world. It’s the inner and outer glow factor. If you decide to do this walk, don’t forget that if you get back down to Lochranza by 5pm, the additional warming pleasures of the Arran Distillery await you.

 Caisteal Abhail also features in my June 2012 blog: Castles in the Air

Friday, 2 August 2013

Four Years Later

August 2nd
It is four years today since Nigel and I arrived at Lochranza Campsite about to embark on a summer of camping and sea kayaking following Nigel’s redundancy. Ten days later we travelled on, having bought the business – well almost. (The land is owned by The Estate by the way.) Before Lochranza, we had an action plan for our next moves in life, but when you find a random opportunity popping up in front of you, by a certain age you decide it’s best to grab it with both hands and deal with the inevitable snags later.

Our summer of sea kayaking and camping round Scotland was wet and windy to say the least, but strangely it made running a campsite seem even more appealing. We got so used to living a very basic lifestyle in difficult conditions that going back to normality looked like walking into prison.

Ironically, running a campsite is actually pretty confining for significant stretches of the year, and when visitors comment on our idyllic lifestyle we think it’s not quite the right word. Remember that it does involve embracing toilet bowls on a daily basis, and toilets and paradise do not normally get mentioned in the same sentences. From the beginning, Nigel’s regret was “we don’t get a weekend”- in fact, no down time at all once the campsite’s open for the season (and then maintenance goes on in winter). Undoubtedly however, life has simplicity- you look after people; you look after land, and your day is dictated by the needs of both. And we have a very beautiful office. If running a campsite is something you’d like to try, the most important skill you can offer is being able to fix things – at any minute of any day something will need fixing. Fortunately fixing is Nigel’s heaven.

Looking back, we were in a state of shock most of our first year- it was less of a steep learning curve and more of a vertical precipice.  We had no financial safety nets and we worked very hard, doing a lot of heavy manual labour that we were not used to at all. Also, coming to live in a place like Lochranza is about so much more than taking on a business- it’s about joining in with community and island life too. Four years on, summer 2013 has beamed brightly on this part of Scotland after Easter blizzards. We are pleased with the changes we have made here, especially our investments last winter in new toilets and showers, as well as two camping pods. With Scott the greenkeeper in charge of the golf course (where previously we did all the golf course labours ourselves) we do not topple into bed in an exhausted state every night.

Things are never dull on a touring campsite – far too many interesting people, doing interesting things and pursuing interesting journeys pass through for it to be otherwise. And paradise does really come into it because the island on a daily basis never fails to move me in terms of its unspoilt beauty. With wild red deer grazing, red squirrels trotting by, and eagles gliding silently high up, I feel a bit like Disney’s Snow-White wandering merrily through the woods with wild creatures gambolling about her.

We are here because a) we went travelling b) we got talking c) we took the plunge. We both believe life is full of opportunities floating around like bubbles. You have to catch them when you coincide with them or else they drift away.

Nature put on a glorious show here on Monday night; the photos show the rainbow that arched over Torr Nead an Eoin and the fiery sunset over the loch.