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Arran 40th

Date: June 3rd - 7th
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney

Earlier significant birthdays have usually been raucous one night affairs with copious amounts of drink but for the 40th I decided to get away and spend the weekend climbing some classic rock. Milestone Buttress on Tryfan, Howling Ridge on Carrauntoohil and Mont Aiguille in the Vercors were all early runners but the isle of Arran and the A'Chir ridge won out, mainly because PJ and I could get the ferry to Scotland for free with our Tesco vouchers!

We got the 1pm Larne - Cairnryan ferry and cruised in blazing sunshine to Ardrossan and the 6pm ferry, just about making it after an extended supplies shopping trip in Ayr. The Lochranza campsite is a quare spot, quietly nestled beneath the hills and right at the mouth of the bay and a short walk from the Arran Distillery. To my mind the only reason to stay on a campsite instead of wild camping is the availability of your morning shower and the powerfully hot Lochranza ones do not disappoint!

We'd settled on Pagoda Ridge for the Saturday, 220m of Scottish Severe (which tends to be a little more severe than your average Severe). It leads onto the A'Chir ridge and quick and able climbers with plenty of time can merge both into a huge day out. That was my plan initially but PJ had put a hard week in at work and wasn't up for the usual 6am reveille so we didn't start the walk into Glen Rosa until 10am. We were both eager beavers though and marched past several groups of walkers, reaching the left branch of the Finn Choire path (3.5 miles) in about an hour.

You follow the burn to the col at 350m, then contour left under the buttress into Coire Daingean across some VERY rough sloping heather, where I gained a huge heel blister courtesy of the ever slipping boots. After that struggle we could spy the cello shaped rock on the skyline that identifies the middle of the ridge and aimed for the rock line beneath it. You can bypass the first 2 pitches by climbing into the grassy gully on the left and though we hadn’t intended to we aimed too high and ended up below the start of the 3rd pitch.

As I was still thinking of bagging the A’Chir too I suggested we just start there and scooted up the easy slab. Mournes heads would quickly spot the similarities between this rock and Bearnagh slabs and it’s not unlikely that Arran and Co. Down were once the same joined up bit of land. So… great friction, somewhat off the vertical, no bloody protection! In fact over the whole 220m I only used 8 bits of gear. That’s not to say I would have loved at times to have placed far more.

The 4th pitch started with an airy move round a nose and then up a short step onto a concave slab. Lots of small pockets and narrow but thick edges. Think I placed 1 cam in a dirty undercut mid way up. I ended up in a tight sloping corner with all my weight on my toes as PJ sprightly moved up behind me, really enjoying the grippy rock. I was enjoying the moves too but the long run outs were making me nervous.

The guide suggests starting the 5th pitch by swinging up a big spike, round a nose and then teetering right on some small edges. One look at it made me think “Severe my arse!” and I went down to have a look at the alternative which was a strenuous pull up onto the slab. I even moved PJ down there to belay below me but couldn’t do the move.

I ended up going back to the spike and teetering above PJ thinking “If I skite off I hope she can hold us both!” Imagine a 2 foot wide, 60 degree sloping shelf containing a scattering of small pockets and edges attached to a ten foot dimpled wall that has no hand holds, so that moving across it is all in the balance and placement of the feet. Add in the drop behind PJ because we’d moved right of the last pitch and I was about as nervy as I’ve been on any good VS / HVS.

Anyway, I made it but the climbing continued in the same vein and of course there was no protection in sight. I ran the 5th and 6th pitches together searching for a decent belay stance and in 50m of climbing I placed 2 cams. I eventually found a big crack and gratefully placed a huge hex in it, allowing PJ to climb up to me and then on up to the cello.

Above the cello I ran the last 2 pitches together again. The climbing was slightly easier but perversely the scary climbing below had given me a boost of confidence and I found myself seeking the harder lines to test myself. PJ made short work of it too, not once calling me on the wee 2-way radios that we’d to-and-froed on earlier. I’d recommend that anyone doing multi-pitch climbing get a set of these babies. Instead of shouts of “Slaaack!!” and “Take in on Reeeedddd!!” you can just go “Csssk! Darling can you tighten up a little on red and let the blue hang loose a minute until I move over this big step? Over.” Plus you get to use military phrases like “Roger”, “Wait Out” and “Wilco”. It’s brilliant!

Once on top we headed for the top of Chir Mhor, following an initial path that soon results in some top notch scrambling and undignified manoeuvring over, into and under various clefts, chimneys and slabs. The ridge gets narrow and airy at some points and we had to do a short abseil also; it would give the Cuillin a run for its money, though it’s obviously nowhere near as long.

An hour had us underneath the big boulder, the top of which is the “true” summit. Better climbers than me have gained the top but try as I might I couldn’t get on it. The rest of the ridge and several rocky towers led on to the saddle way below us but it was already past 6:30pm so we dropped into a gully and started the long 2 hour walk out of Glen Rosa. We spied a group of 6 deer grazing away and managed to get close (because we were upwind?) but they eventually startled and ran off.

The next day was cooler, wetter and windier so we settled for a shorter day, hiking up Goat Fell 874m and then scrambling across the tors to North Goat Fell and Mullach Buidhe, both 818m. Well we scrambled the first tor, almost got stuck in a big cleft then couldn’t get down the steep wet rock and had to pull the rope out, so we settled for walking round the remaining tors. The second 2 peaks nearly didn’t get done as we shivered in the bothy on Goat Fell but donning the full Scottish winter kit got the heat going again.

Just below the summit of North Goat Fell we could hear a radio and the cricket commentary and out of the mist loomed a beardy figure who was climbing the Corbetts and taking photos for the publishers Cicerone. He took a picture of PJ similar to the one attached to this report. I know all you elite monkey boys wouldn’t deign to ever own a Corbett guide but if you ever read the next one out you might see her in it. On that subject I’m slowly learning that the height of a mountain and it’s “character” have no relation. Think Cobbler and Eiger. Both under the classic definitions of 3000ft and 4000m but would anyone say they weren’t interesting to climb?

After Mullach Buidhe we descended into Coire Lan and thus gained the road for a wee saunter back to the car. One hour and 3.5 miles of hard tarmac later we climbed achingly into the Touran and headed into Brodick for a welcome beer. Back at the campsite it absolutely bucketed down and we hunkered down and cooked inside the big Decathlon four man. Sometimes you’re glad you didn’t travel light. When the rain eased we had a laugh watching a pair of quibbling ducks waddle around the mouth of our tent, possibly searching for waterlogged worms. If there was such a phrase as “duck-pecked” it would have applied to this drake as he followed 2 steps behind his bossy missus.

The Monday was my 40th so we packed up the gear and went on a humorous and informative tour of the Arran Distillery where we learned many new whiskey facts and sampled some of their finest wares. PJ and I “ummed” and “aahed” while the English couple coughed and spluttered and only one of the American couple was brave enough to try the 57% single cask malt. Lightweights!

I can already hear the cries of “going soft” but we’d booked into the 4-star Auchrannie Spa Resort for a dose of steam baths, swimming pool and fine dining, of which we duly obliged. Top tip: if you’re ever in Arran you’ve got to try the Arran Blond beer, it’s delicious.

Arran still has loads to offer, not least the entire A’Chir ridge yet to do, so much so that we’re planning to come back in the summer and maybe hop on to Jura and Islay. Wales and the Lake District have been kicked into touch by the romance of the Scottish isles!

08 Jun 2011

Good to see a full-length report up here!

08 Jun 2011

Two steps behind a bossy missus! Got the T Shirt, Bard is back to his best. Great report.

08 Jun 2011

Arran is a great wee Scottish minature, with lots to do. Feasible and more economical to travel as foot passengers to Troon and take a local taxi to Ardrossan. Bikes can be hired on the island. Good report, and happy birthday!

11 Jun 2011

A Chir- Ha! I did the Ikea yesterday (funny enough with another bossy woman, I wonder could they be related?) Serious committment required, route finding problematical, and turning back is not an option!

Photo of Route