Holy Isle: Arran Mountain Festival

Lucy: Today I was volunteering for the Arran Mountain Festival. The festival's strapline is "Small groups, big walks, huge fun" and it certainly delivers. Every year I lead the Holy Isle walk, in partnership with Russell and Elspeth Cheshire from the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST). Whilst our walk isn't the biggest, it has lots of adventure in the form of a trip over to the island in Russell and Elspeth's RIB and the feeling of being marooned, if only for a few hours.

Today the weather was pretty wild, with strong winds, and a bit of mist on the summit of the island (Mullach Mor, 314m). There's a bit of a scramble over the top, spiced up by the crosswind, which the team enjoyed. Once we had descended back to sea level, we took a leisurely stroll back along the coast passsing nesting oystercatchers and curious seals.

Arran 700s

Somewhere in the clag on the Western Hills.

Somewhere in the clag on the Western Hills.

Lucy: What a day, what an amazing, sore, exhausting and ultimately uplifting day.  We were truly blessed with the weather, and with generous helpers who all played their part in getting us through our Arran 700s trek.

Kirstie's partner Mark was up all night on a lifeboat shout, but still managed to drive us to Pirnmill for our dawn start. Kirstie's wee search dog Caileag joined us and we headed for the Western Hills, still swathed in clag from the previous day's weather. The first few summits came thick and fast, ticking off the Beinn Bharrain ridge, serenaded by Golden Plover.  These "peeper squeakers" as we called them accompanied us all the way around the top of Glen Iorsa and up on the the Leac an Tobair of Caisteal Abhail. The mist cleared and it was super exciting to get our first glimpse of the eastern part of the island.

Getting up on to Caisteal Abhail was a monster, and was the point at which I began to doubt myself, but Kirstie kept the banter going and after some food we both felt better.  Cir Mhor was a doddle and we were given an extra bounce by four gentlemen who kindly emptied their wallets in support of the cause.  Things got mentally tougher as we traversed under A'chir, for an out and back to Beinn Nuis via Beinn Tarsuin (so good we climbed it twice). It was a bit grim to pass A'Chir twice and not climb it.  Even wee Caileag started to lose her enthusiasm and it began to rain.

A'Chir Summit

A'Chir Summit

Morale was saved by dropping in to Glen Rosa to meet Mark and Wally. The rain stopped and Caileag had the chance for a nap with Mark while Wally made himself in to a human boulder problem, physically getting us on to the summit block of A'chir. This was the bit that had been daunting both of us thoughout our preparation and with that over, it was as if a weight was lifted from our shoulders.  The four of us and Caileag skipped under Cir Mhor and up to the Saddle to meet Arran MRT Team Leader Alan McNichol, waiting with a huge flask of tea, biscuits, Jelly babies etc. We cooked a bit of scran, and were ready for the last three not insignificant summits. Caileag, bless her, was done in and returned down the Glen with Mark and Alan.

Up, up, up, with help from Wally...

Up, up, up, with help from Wally...

I'd always known that the climb out of the saddle would be hard, but Wally stayed with us and helped to pace us up the ridge. It was great to have his company as we ticked off North Goatfell and Mullach Buidhe (the second summit of this name of the day).  Finally, before we knew it, we were on Goatfell. Absolutely punch drunk but over the moon.

So its a huge thanks to everyone involved, especially our Arran MRT colleagues who were out on a shout late on Saturday night but didn't call us, thereby not jeopardising our attempt.  Of couse we'd have turned out if asked, and postponed the challenge, but they saved us from this fate as well as successfully finding a missing person on a dark, damp night in a remote part of the island.  This is what MRTs do, made up of volunteers who unquestioningly put themselves forward to help those in need. I've met some of the finest people on the planet through MR and if you ever need them, they will do their best to help you. 

We enjoyed the challenge despite the hard graft,  and the biggest thrill is seeing the amount of money we have raised so far for our own Arran and Mulanje MRT in Malawi, a team with very few resources, who not only save lives in the mountains but support vulnerable people in their community,  a place with little or no safety net. 

We both love being part of an MR team, the teamwork and camararderie are a big part of the reason why we do it,  as well as wanting to help those in need in the hills that we love. MR work is expensive, and rightly free in the UK at the point of access. MR teams depend on public donations to do their work.  Thank you for your support (and to Kirstie and Wally for these great pics)! Please keep the cash rolling in. https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Arran700s

The Saddle and the Goats

Wally writes: Today I was on the ridge above Glen Rosa with two clients from the Alpine regions of Europe, Beatrice and Elizabeth. Although our mountains are a little smaller than theirs, they punch above their weight and we had a very enjoyable day traversing the highest ridge on Arran.

We approached via the lovely Glen Rosa, and from the Saddle took the steep scrambly ridge up to North Goatfell.  From there it was a steep rocky romp over and around the blocky tors of Stacach and on to the summit of Goatfell.  The sun shone all day! Good luck to Beatrice and Elizabeth who begin their circumnavigation of Arran via the Coastal Way tomorrow. Hopefully the weather will continue to be fine.

Beinn Bharrain

Lucy writes:  I've been working with Jen and Steve for the last couple of days and they have certainly brought some fabulous weather with them. Yesterday we explored Arran's wildlife in a leisurely fashion with the help of a vehicle and a spotting scope... enjoying resident wildlife such as otters and golden eagles, as well as a bit of excitement from some interesting passage migrants including whimbrel and black tailed godwit.

Today we headed for the Western Hills. The morning mist soon cleared and treated us to a stunning traverse of Arran's wildest hills. Thanks to recent dry weather the crossing of the bog to get to the base of the ridge was cristpy rather than squidy, and up high a fresh breeze kept us cool in the blazing sunshine. A magnificent day, and great clients to enjoy it with!


The Three Beinns

Wally writes: Today I went for a walk with Mallory and Sophie, and their trusty humans, Nicola and Russell. We headed up on to the Three Beinns ridge, a high level horseshoe at the quieter end of the Goatfell range.

The conditions were mostly kind to us.  It was a good day to chew the fat, talk about weather and the geology around us, and admire the expansive views. We found some ice and snow on the northern shady side of Beinn Tarsuinn.  At one point a snow shower came up at us from the depths of Coire Daingean, but mostly the sun shone. Thanks all for a great day's work in the hills!

Navigation Coaching

Wally writes: Yesterday afternoon I headed to the southern moors with client David for some navigation coaching to help him prep for his forthcoming Mountain Leader Assessment. It was a beautiful day, with wall to wall sunshine and amazing views of the northern hills, so we planned to navigate past sunset and in to the night to make the most of the featureless terrain.

Setting off from the highest point on the Ross Road, we criss-crossed the plateau, with David leading navigation legs as well as practicing relocation techniques by following me blind on other legs.

After the sun finally set, we enjoyed a bite to eat on A'Cruach, and then David navigated us through the darkness to the highest point on the String Road, where a vehicle was waiting. 

I'd like to wish David the best of luck in his ML assessment!

Summit of A'Chruach.

Summit of A'Chruach.

Hill Mission

Image credit: Kirstie Smith

Image credit: Kirstie Smith

Lucy writes: My friend Kirstie and I are raising money for Arran and Mulanje Mountain Rescue Teams. Mulanje is the highest mountain in Malawi, and the team there do amazing work with very little equipment or training. To encourage people to support the cause, we've set ourselves a crazy challenge, to climb all the 700m peaks on Arran in a day. At over 35km and 3,000m of ascent its going to be a toughy!

Today the training began in earnest.  We set off with Wally to help for a dry run of A'Chir, which will be the crux of our challenge. From the moment we roped up, we wrestled with an arctic wind, and even though I was wearing all my layers, I had the coldest hands I've had so far this winter. We bailed, and Wally in the most gentlemanly way, offered to carry the climbing gear off the hill for us while Kirstie and I pushed on with a traverse of Cir Mhor, Goatfell and North Goatfell.  Off we set, and although the wind never let up, at least were were moving fast and keeping warm.  With only 18km done today and 1400m of ascent, we realise that we have got a very big challenge on our hands! You can donate to our fundraiser here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Arran700s

Caisteal Abhail

Lucy writes: Yesterday dawned bright and beautiful again!  I met up with Charlotte and Electra for their final day out with me this week and we headed to North Glen Sannox. We'd left this day until last as I knew that there would be lots of old snow lingering under Caisteal Abhail and wanted to give it as long as possible to melt and soften in the warm weather. It was a good call, as by sunday,  it was only the final part of the North Ridge that was holding any quantity of snow. In the shade of summit buttress we found a little that was quite firm and needed care to traverse. Happily we'd carried ice axes in preparation for this short section.

It was a fun day out with incredible views and fanatstic clients...  and a fitting finale to Electra's birthday celebrations. Happy Birthday Electra!

The Eagles are Coming

Lucy writes: Today was another beautiful day on Arran and I was out with Charlotte and Electra again, on a wildlife watching Hotspot Safari. They'd been lucky enough to see otters earlier in the week, and so were happy to focus on other species today.  With the dry weather and excellent thermals, there was lots of bird of prey activity. We began the day with a hen harrier spot, and ended the day with lovely views of a pair of harriers.  However, most of the day seemed to be spent watching golden eagles, soaring in the skies above Arran's big glens. The highlight was watching a male eagle deliver a dead rabbit to his mate, who swooped down from on high when he called her to devour it.