Scotland's Friendliest Mountain Bares its Teeth

Isle of Arran
Isle of Arran
Think of me, as you sit comfortably, I would imagine, with a nice cup of tea and a healthy toasted bagel smothered with avocado and beetroot, as I unwrap an energy bar with unmittened hands, while wedged between large igneous boulders.  I’m clad in unmatched goretex above and below the waist and seeking shelter from the maelstrom that’s been whipping around us for the last 45 minutes.
We were nearing the top of Goat Fell, the highest peak on the Isle of Arran and the last day of our short stay on the island.

“You’re nearly there,” said a couple of hikers as they passed us on their descent.

 Sheltering between Igneous Boulders on Goat Fell
Sheltering between Igneous Boulders on Goat Fell
With a travelling time of less than 2 hours from Glasgow, including the 1 hour Caledonian Macbrayne ferry crossing, our Arran adventure began as soon as we left Ardrossan Harbour.  I only mention the CalMac ferry crossing because I love the food on board.  They do a scrummy Scottish breakfast in the morning and fantastic fish and chips in the evening. I don’t know if this is typical of all CalMac crossings but every time I’ve gone to Arran, I’ve looked forward to a meal on board.

Caledonian Macbrayne Ferry to Arran
Caledonian Macbrayne Ferry to Arran
It wasn’t just me that was hunting out good food; outside, dozens of gannets had gathered to gorge on a shoal of fish.  We watched as they soared 30m above the water before plunging vertically like a lethal weapon to spear and confuse unsuspecting fish, a move they repeated again and again until they were almost too full to float.  The words ‘eating like a gannet’ went through my mind.  An auk flew by at speed, low and close to the water and groups of guillemots bobbed on the surface like miniature fishing boats before diving like a synchronised swimming team as our ferry drew closer.   The cloudless peak of Goat Fell topped the landscape painting in front of us and I knew that it wouldn’t be like that they day we chose to climb.

Goat Fell and the Arran Mountains on a Sunny Day

There are only 2 main roads on Arran.  One goes across the middle, known as The String Road and the other round the coast.  I mention this as a possible reason for all the potholes or massive craters, if you happen to be on a bike, as it must be very difficult to repair a narrow road when it’s the only one.  Potholes aside, although most of the time they weren’t, the road from Brodick followed a stunning coastline most of the way to Lochranza where we were camping.   A cormorant stood by the shore, studying a tanker in its bay, while seals basked on their favourite rocks.

Cormorant Checking out the Tanker in his Bay
Cormorant Checking out the Tanker in his Bay

Seals Basking on their Favourite Rocks
Seals Basking on their Favourite Rocks


 But when we stopped to take some photos we were greeted by the grumpiest robin who was waiting in the bushes by the parking bays to make it very clear that we were not welcome on his territory.

Grumpy Territorial Robin
Grumpy Territorial Robin

Our campsite was next to a golf course which had become a gathering place for the stags’ annual rut and some boisterous teenagers were putting in a bit of practice before the main event.  Others, with more sense, chose to stay up on the hills and watch from a distance.

Playful Rutting by the Stags at Lochranza
Playful Rutting by the Stags at Lochranza

During the night an animal came sniffing around our tent.  I didn’t get up to have a look.  It was raining and I thought it was probably a fox.  I just listened as it nuzzled and chomped at something nearby but in the morning, I noticed the droppings left by the night time rummage and realised how lucky we were not to have been trampled by it.  All the stags had seen greener pastures in the campsite and had stepped over the fence and were still wandering around.  Our little tent barely came up to their knees.

The rain paused long enough for us to prepare breakfast and put the tent away before heading off to Goat Fell. A well marked path from the back of The Wineport at Cladach through a moss covered wood decorated with colourful mushrooms formed the gentle start of the walk up Goat Fell.  It was still dry and quite warm when we started our walk but unlike the previous day, the mountains were shrouded in Scotch mist.

Mist over Goat Fell
Mist over Goat Fell

For those that don’t know, and it would seem that was quite a few judging by the number of walkers with their waterproofs tied round their waist (and those were the ones that had bothered to bring a waterproof at all), mist is a cloud of tiny water droplets suspended in the atmosphere – It makes you wet!

And at only 40m shy of a Munro, the summit is as treacherous as any Scottish mountain on a wet and windy day.

Walkers without Waterproofs
Walkers without Waterproofs

This wasn’t the first time I had climbed Goat Fell and I admit, on a few occasions, the weather has been very kind and a light fleece is all that would be required but more often, the weather at the top is drastically different from that at the bottom.

The smooth gravel path became boulder strewn with thigh high boulders making each step a big effort.   Visibility had reduced to around 20m or so and the wind demanded attention and with it, came the rain. 

The wind was relentless at the top and the boulders provided little shelter.  The usual views of the paps of Jura and even the famous saddle in the Sannox valley below us had been completely whitewashed from the picture, so we didn’t hang around and quickly descended to calmer weather.


Proof that it can be lovely at the top of Goat Fell
It was time to leave the island behind and head back to the city but not before we stopped off at James – Arran Chocolate for a well deserved, at least we thought it was well deserved, chocolate fix.

Relaxing on the ferry, watching the gannets spear another shoal of fish, the mist started to lift off the mountain and although I love the sound of the rain and wind on the tent and the smell of morning when I poke my head out the tent, I was glad to be going back to a warm, soft bed after the soggy night and weather beaten day we’d had.

  Gannets Diving in the Firth of Clyde
Gannets Diving in the Firth of Clyde


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Red Deer Rrelaxed at Richmond Park
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