Report on Arran "Day Trip" (part 1)
30 August 2008
?We?re on a Road to Nowhere".................Part 1
?Day Trip? to Arran?s West Coast ? Coire Fhionn Lochan
I had been meaning to take Irene up on a long standing invite to walk in her part of the country. At long last provisional arrangements were made and, with a few possible dates in mind, Irene contacted Dotty. By the time we reached the week of the trip the expedition had escalated into a full blown Shills/Air Na Creagan Club outing to the island known as ?Scotland in Miniature?. In fact the party count on the Brodick ferry was an impressive 11people + 2 dogs. That 11+2 count will now remain firmly locked away in that little part of my brain on which hangs the large notice... ?Do not open...EVER!?
The Fatdog was to have a doggy friend on this trip, a young Italian Spinone called Sophie. Well, that would take care of breakfast! The ferry crossing was a most pleasant affair. The water was as still as a millpond but grey clouds covered the mountain tops. It looked like I wasn?t going to see those famous Arran hills on this my first trip to the island. Fifty Five minutes from Ardrossan our 11+2 piled off the ferry at Brodick and onto the bus which would take us around the north coast of the island, via Lochranza, to the hamlet of Thundergay (or Thunderguy) on Arran?s west coast. The vague plan was to stroll from here up to Coire-Fhionn Lochan and from there decide what route the remainder of the walk would take.
The Demon Bus Driver from Hell
The bus was filling up fast so I marched the Fatdog up to the back to make it easier for everyone else to get on. The middle of the back seat gave me a superb view down the passageway and out of the bus?s front window. I should have realised what I was letting myself in for when, in the total absence of sunshine, the young driver fired the bus up, pulled on the sunglasses and slammed the accelerator straight to the floor. Along Brodick main street we hurtled, my bum spending more time off the seat than on! I looked out of the rear window to look at the speed bumps. ?Those bloody things must be well out of specification!? I muttered to myself as I looked backwards. Not a traffic calming measure to be seen! I shuddered. If the main street was this bumpy how bad would the rest of the road be. Sadly I knew I was about to find out as suddenly my head, closely followed by the bulk of my anatomy (if not my breakfast), shot upwards in the general direction of the bus roof. Along the NE Arran coastline we hurtled occasionally catching glimpses of the impressive ridge up to Caisteal Abhail as our mobile bouncy castle rocketed past. Like an oversized space hopper the coach bounced its way towards Lochranza. From my vantage point the view down the bus and out of the front window was spectacular. It reminded me of a racing simulator as the view flashed intermittently between foliage, road and open skies. As we screamed past Sannox the full scope of the now significantly undulating terrain became available to our less than considerate conveyor of passengers. Time and again the bus launched itself skyward to come crunching down on its ever weakening suspension. The occupants grasped anything fixed down in the vain hope of even a modicum of stability. The Fatdog eyed me reproachfully from her spread-eagled position on the floor. Once past Lochranza the road hugged the west coast and eventually we screeched to a halt at the small habitation of Thundergay. Legs like jellies, we wobbled our way off the bus. Welcome to Arran!
Having survived Arran?s ?Big Dipper?, the 11+2 kitted up, strolled up the track past the houses and ambled onto the open hillside. The weather at this level was clear, still and warm. As we?d been travelling for some time FD was desperately trying to find a source of water. The 2 dogs were grateful for the appearance of a small stream crossing the track. There was an excellent path through open moorland following the line of Uisge Solius Mhoir with the surrounding purple tinged heather bringing a welcome touch of colour to the landscape. All of a sudden, to the cry of ?SNAKE?, the party ground to a halt. A somewhat bemused adder, up until this point chilling out happily on the gravely path, suddenly found it had become the centre of attention of a noisy bunch of bloody tourists. It half heartedly flicked out its tongue at the offending 2 legged irritations and gave us all a hard stare, no doubt marking our cards for any subsequent encounters. It did however hang around patiently for a couple of minutes to pose for photographs, before slithering off into the heather at the side of the path. The dogs were put on their leads. This was the first time I had seen one in my 2 years walking. Given FD?s natural curiosity (she?s incredibly nosey) she would be an easy target for a pissed off adder, a fact that has concerned me somewhat since our hillwalking adventures began. The remainder of the walk to the lochan was uneventful. This had been an easy pull up to around the 300m mark. I seem to recall it was just after 1pm or so when our rucksacks hit the ground and faces were fed. The lochan?s tiny white beaches looked most appealing, so FD went for a paddle before settling down to her usual lunchtime harassment routine. Today the lunch party had the added complication of a second canine moocher. Where the Fatdog is an out and out sponger Sophie is an out and out thief! We were well warned about leaving anything remotely edible on the ground. Gordon discovered to his cost that you never lie on the ground to have lunch with hungry canines around. It?s tantamount to an open invitation.
Lunch over it was time for the group to part company. Bryan, Julie and Gordon (plus Sophie) had decided not to head up onto the ridge above the lochan but to cross to its NE corner and descend into Glen Catacol from there. Our group comprising the rest of the party had its sights set on the high ground and so cut east onto the shoulder of Meall Biorach and started the steep upward plod.
The Ridge above Coire-Fionn Lochan
The cloud and haze had cut down the range of the views across to Kintyre. In fact the coastline was about all that was visible as we ascended. The wind picked up as we climbed, swirling grey tinted cloud across the various tops of the ridge. It was an uneventful journey to the cairn at Meall Biorach (551m) and again from there to the ridge at the 653m spot height (unnamed top NR 905, 450).
The Giant Mushroom Cult of Air Na Creagan
FD and I wandered a short distance away from the main group to see if we could catch a view to the south towards the nearby Graham top of Beinn Bhreac. No chance...the cloud was too low and hanging determinedly around the southern summits. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed, only a metre or so from where I was standing, a solitary mushroom of gargantuan proportions sitting proudly on the hill?s summit. Once my companions from Air Na Creagan discovered this unusual object they encircled it enthusiastically.
So enthralled were they with this unexpected lump of fungus that, standing a short way off, I thought it prudent to strain my ears for sounds of ritual chanting. The Fatdog was giving them funny sidelong glances. At the first sign of a large wicker statue I was out of here! The cloud prevented any views of Arran?s spectacular ridges and indeed the possible ridge walk to Beinn Bharrain, the Graham to the south, was also blotted out by a dull grey blanket. The consensus was, in the absence of any views, there was no point in walking further along the ridge?especially when we could descend into Glen Catacol and head for the pub at the west end. Northwards and downwards we went into the bealach between Beinn Bhreac and Meall nan Damh. There was then a debate about our descent into Glen Catacol. While it was reckoned we could just launch ourselves off the hill from the bealach the more conservative school of thought suggested that we curve back around the hill following the high path towards Loch Tanna before dropping into the glen, crossing the burn and so reach the main glen path on the valley floor. The latter option proved more popular so perversely we curved around the hillside in the opposite direction from the pub! This however proved to be a good choice as the hillside below looked fairly treacherous, as the other party had found out earlier to their cost. Our path began to drop towards the burn then, as we rounded a bend, we came across a massive scar on the hillside. We dropped down into the heavily scoured gorge and up the other side. From our slightly elevated position it looked like we could shortcut the path by dropping down a grassy slope to the valley floor. While myself, Kathryn and Peter charged down the slope the others, in their infinite wisdom, decided that a gorge walk would be a fun way to make the descent. It was the sort of gorge that had big red flashy capital letters over it saying? ?DO NOT GO THIS WAY!?
I decided I would stick with my nice, safe, cropped grass slope thank you very much ?as my feet promptly shot into the air landing me on my bum, cursing the damp, treacherous, hillside. On reaching the path that would take us out of the glen I looked back up the hill to find that the other group, having abandoned their gorge challenge, were tentatively easing their way down the slope. Not only had the gorge been a bit tricky to negotiate, it had also been inhabited with starving midges keen for some fresh meat. Glad I missed out on that little treat.