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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

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