It seems to me that early November might just be the most perfect time for walking. As I stood atop Beinn Nuis on the Isle of Arran, surveying the surrounding landscapes, I felt a calmness wash over me. It was pretty chilly up here to be sure but I had jackets, gloves and a hat to guard against the nip. What you don’t get in summer are the crystal clear views allowing you to see out as far as Ireland. Instead you’re usually confronted with a haze that blurs detail near or far.
When you walk on the verge of winter you also get the mountains to yourself – bliss, that’s what it is. It is quite simply pure escape to be high on a mountain summit with no one else around and the beauty of Scotland on display before you. Pure bliss.
We’d had some debate over which mountain to climb on our short weekend break on the small Scottish Isle of Arran. Goatfell is the popular choice but as we had arrived into Brodick my eye was drawn by the seemingly perfect horseshoe to the side of Goatfell: the Three Beinns. They stood tall, a little jagged and a much more interesting walk than Goatfell and so that’s what we decided to do.
Setting out in the early hours the car trundled carefully down the track to the carpark right at the bottom of Glen Rosa. I remember thinking that the morning light was soft for November – it was going to be a beautiful day. Knowing better that to trust my initial judgement of the weather and mountains I shoved an extra layer into my pack, already bulging with just-in-case gear, strapped my gaiters over my boots and made sure my map was to hand.
The track in was flat and easy, and a nice way to warm up the legs before the real challenge began. Instinct told me that we’d have a steep haul up coming very soon but was grateful for the gentle start for my body to adjust to the weight of my rucksack. Sure enough, just after we hit the bridge we turned left and followed the stream upwards. What started out as an obvious path soon turned into a stream itself as we waded through water and long grass alike. Giving myself some kudos for remembering to pack my gaiters – and wear them – my feet stayed nice and dry.
Coming to the gate we came out onto a wide and significantly flatter stretch of ground but still incredibly boggy. In fact the ground was so cut up that we couldn’t see much of a path anywhere so we headed for the higher ground. We could see the mountain side we were heading for so opted for a direct route, which was possibly one of the best decisions we could have made. As the ground sloped gently upwards it became gradually less boggy and walking became significantly easier. There was just one thing in our way…
The gorge stretched out for as far as we could see; steep sided and a little treacherous looking with a stream running through the middle. I realise I’m not selling this walk at the moment but rest assured – from this point onwards it the walking becomes sublime. Crossing this gorge was like crossing into Narnia; the difficult and slightly dull trudging through the sludge suddenly turned into firm ground underfoot and the excitement of starting to actually climb up to the first peak, Beinn Nuis. Large boulders started to litter the landscape, making the terrain much more interesting to move through and easy to climb up the steeper slopes. All the way the sheer sided cliff face of Beinn Nuis stared us down, daring us to continue. Single track path wound its way around the mountain side giving us beautiful views of the horseshoe in front of us. I do love it when you can see where you’re going, and where you’ve been. It gives you such an accomplished feeling, giving you a good enough reason to justify thoughts like, ‘damn, I’ve walked this far?!’ and, ‘go girl, you’re nailing this’.
The views – well, what can I say… You’ll have guessed from the start of this blog that I’ve just about been convinced that walking in early winter is one of the best times of year. It was something special in its crisp clear clarity. As for Goatfell, who wants to be on it when it looks so sublime from a distance? With a pointed summit and long ridges leading up to it, its popularity is probably well founded but, you know, it will be there for another day. I had absolutely no qualms about the choice we made climbing the Three Beinns.
The ridge down rolled onwards, wrapping around in the signature curve of a horseshoe walk. Broad and grassy, it sprawled before us with grace allowing us a gentle walk down before climbing up again onto the broader summit of Beinn Tarsuinn. The view out to Goatfell only improved; we’d swung around enough that we now had view of North Goatfell, which only solidified my determination to come back one day to walk it. The views out to the north of Arran (over another Beinn Tarsuinn) were not to be sniffed at either. You could see all the way out to the sea; from here you really could appreciate just how small this little Scottish island was.
The path had been a clear single track from beneath Beinn Nuis and following it led us to the most technical part of the walk: a short scramble down to the col between Beinn Tarsuinn and the much more gnarly A’Chir, Bealach an Fhir-bhogha. This brought forth a mixture of frustration that there would be snow here to make the difficult part more testing and laughter at the ridiculousness of how we looked hugging the rocks to get down.
From here we continued to follow the path down towards the third summit, Beinn a Chliabhain. The path, just a small dotted line on the map, didn’t actually go up to the summit and once we realised this we immediately headed off piste to climb up. A large drop off to our left down into Glen Rosa had me swerving quickly back to the safety of lots of rock under foot.
With the sun starting to sink, the light had regained that beautiful softness it had shown at dawn, making the colours look deep and rich. The sea of Brodick Bay was a deep alluring blue and Holy Mountain far below looked like a mere pimple. The path slowly dropped down between boulders and slabs of rock winding its way lower and lower. We were sad to lose the high ground, especially as our return journey was a near repeat of the way we’d come in which meant one thing: bog.
By the time we’d reached Cnoc Breac, 274m lower than our last summit, Beinn a Chliabhain, the path had petered out again. This meant winging it. Of course, had we not been able to see the gate we’d arrived by we would have been much more careful. As it was, there was only one way to go and that was down. There was nothing but broad and gentle mountainside in front of us, which meant just heading in a straight line towards that gate, weaving in and out of the worst of the bog as we did. More than one of us ended up in the mud, as the gentle incline was just enough that our boots went skidding out from underneath us. Having done so well to remain dry until this point, all three of us ended up a little soggy by the time we’d reached the bottom.
Light was fading fast as we sped along the track back to the car, spirits high after a good mountain day, fresh air and awe-inspiring views. Despite the chill from a few slips on the way down the weather had been perfect, offering a mountain day that rivalled all of my best mountain days to date.
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