Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Drier this time around

12th July 2010

Last time I went to Arran, it was during an Easter weekend with a very mixed weather forecast. Despite that, I gained the satisfaction of getting to the top of the island’s highest hill, Goatfell, and a bus ride around the island. What I cannot deny was the existence of low clouds and heavy rain showers on that first visit over four years ago, but something could be made of the drier interludes anyway.

The weather that I met near the end of June couldn’t have been more different. So far, this year has turned out to be unusually dry in May and June though July looks as if it is getting an unsettled start. Things weren’t looking so settled as I travelled up to Arran on Thursday with a belt of rain bearing cloud dropping south over mainland Britain. While on the subject of weather, it might have been best to stay east if I had wanted sun but the allure of going west won out on this occasion. In any case, strong sunshine and heat tend to go together at this time of year, so gaining a cloudy respite is no bad thing either.

It was the clouds that were winning on Thursday though the sun was getting through in spots and at times. Any ambitions of bettering previous photos of Goatfell as seen over Brodick Bay would have to wait and it looked as if pleasing photos of Lochranza Castle were to prove elusive too. However, basing yourself anywhere gives you the time window within which sunny magic can happen and so it was with Lochranza. After an evening meal, the skies let the sun through to light up the surrounding landscape sufficiently for some photographic endeavour to ensue before I returned to my lodgings to take up my bed for the night.

Lochranza Castle, Isle of Arran, Scotland

Arising next morning revealed that the day had made a very promising start. After breakfast, I organised myself for a day’s walking, though conversation with another visitor may have meant my forgetting my walking poles. It would have been better to have had them with but I was well into my walk before I remembered my omission. A bit more presence of mind than usual was to be in order for any descents and having the whole day for a none too adventurous schedule was to help enormously. For once, I wasn’t trying to cram in too much.

Having been perusing Paddy Dillon’s Cicerone guide to walking on Arran, I had the bones of a plan too. Usually, these things can be very wide open for me, though that can have its uses when you find something of interest to explore that hadn’t come to mind until I am on an excursion. Those little surprises often add zest to a trip and one discovery on Harris comes to mind from a few years ago.

If it wasn’t for the recycling of hill names on Arran, my walk might have been easier to describe. For example, there are a few named Beinn Bhreac, but it is the naming of Beinn Tarsuinn that really complicates my description; there are three of them, all within sight of each other! First up is the really rocky that can be seen from the island’s east coast, and that wasn’t where my wandering took me and I had no inkling that there was a wooded top to the south of it too. No, I ended up bumbling about the triple-topped more rounded one out to the west of both of them with paths up Gleann Easan Biorach and down Glen Catacol taking me away from and back to civilisation, respectively.

My hike started out along the A841 with stops to look back at Lochranza in the growing heat. After the distillery, I picked up a path that was to allow me to escape from tarmac for much of the day. As I was to discover, quite a few folk use it to get to Loch na Davie before turning back again. In no way were the hillsides overrun but it did mean that I needed to share. Quite why one of the others needed to stay on his mobile phone for much of the way is beyond me. It goes against my main motivation for journeying through empty hill country: to leave all the paraphernalia and pressures of modern life behind me for a while to recharge my spirit.

Loch na Davie, Lochranza, Isle of Arran, Scotland

After a spot of leap-frogging and the passing of a few words, the others were to overtake me to continue on their way and I was left to enjoy the surroundings uninterrupted. The sky was taking on an ever milkier aspect but that cut down on the heat of the sun, a development that I had grown to appreciate. There was no need to rush so I had good luck all around me with Torr Nead an Eoin behind me and a spot of height to be gained before I came to pass Loch na Davie in its own good time. Those who earlier overtook me were now coming back against me with their objective reached. There was another man walking very much with a sense of purpose; he wanted to see if he could retrieve his spectacles after his being this way two days earlier. As I was sat near Loch na Davie partaking of some food and enjoying a little rest, he returned after a fruitless search but minded to speak to the police to see if anything was handed into them. After that, I was to have the place to myself.

What helped towards that episode of total immersion in the countryside was my leaving the path later on. Before that, I rounded Beinn Bhreac with Glen Iorsa and its ribbon of Iorsa Water opening out beneath me. Carn Mor and the nearby rocky Caisteal Abhail were at my back with the by now cloud-filled skies limiting the sunshine and any photographic action. However, the sun was by then in the wrong place for any successful photos of the rocky photogenic stuff; you need the sun to be in the west for that and it hadn’t got that far at that point in the day.

It was when I reached the saddle between Beinn Bhreac and Beinn Tarsuinn when I left the distinct path for some trackless passage towards the latter. My first destination was a 514-metre-high top before I headed for the 556-metre one before losing and regaining height to reach the 527-metre one. Quite whether one or all of these make up Beinn Tarsuinn isn’t so clear from the OS maps that I have seen but it was the shrieks of resident bird life that was taking up attention. Were they trying to ward off a blundering intruder or was something else happening? All that I’ll know is that it stopped once I reached the last hummock in the trio. Anyway, it was a reminder that it was countryside that was home to other creatures with a deer sighting cementing the impression.

From there, it was a matter of studying contours to find the least taxing descent into Glen Catacol. Taking in Loch Tanna might have made a tempting prospect but I wasn’t going to be so greedy. My legs were tiring too, so that may have been the deciding factor and there still was some height to lose as I passed the waterfalls of Abhainn Mor with yet another Beinn Bhreac above me. Very oddly, it seemed as if there was an attempt by dragonflies and other largish insects to stop me going forward; rightly or wrongly, it felt as if my legs were being mobbed. It’s not something that ever happened to me before so it might be an idea to get up to speed on insect behaviour. Otherwise, there were a few folk, not many though, coming up against me. Were they headed for Loch Tanna?

Glen Catacol, Catacol, Isle of Arran, Scotland

After making pains not to trip on any stones that littered the path, I reached those more level and kinder parts. The sun started to try getting through the cloud cover as I passed Gleann Diomhan and its National Nature Reserve. This would have been where I came down if I hadn’t deviated from the path to take up a more roaming course. Creag na h-Iolaire towered above me and I might have been convinced that my climbing was over for the day. In fact, there was a little more as I neared the road at Fairhaven. This may not have been much but it speared any sense of complacency.

Once back on tarmac, I had it in mind to check out the Catacol Bay Hotel for a spot of food. First, there was the continued battle between sun and cloud to keep me occupied as I looked back towards where I had walked. Meall nan Damh was rearing to the south of where I was and sending the road all around it. Out to the west was Kintyre where I would be the day after.

When I reached the aforementioned hotel, it looked a down at heel sort of place but it did food all day and that was to satisfy me. It was good to know that I wasn’t too early for service and folk were holding up the bar already. Suitably refuelled, I continued my journey back to Lochranza with the Claonaig ferry crossing to Arran for its last sailing of the day; it was to convey me to the mainland the following morning.

Unhurried strolling was to return me to Lochranza though it would not have been all on tarmac if I had been aware of such thing as a postman’s path between Catacol and my destination. More height gain would have been brought upon me, but my refuelling should have helped me deal with that. Apparently, there’s a need to watch out for a rocky edge too but I have managed loads of those so it wouldn’t have been a major issue. Once back at my accommodation again, I relaxed a while before settling down for the night, a tired but sated Irish lad.

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