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Benson, C.E. (1921) Concerning Arran. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 4 Number 14: pp230-236. Leeds: YRC.

Concerning Arran.

By C. E. Benson.

Everything on Arran that is to be written has already been written by better men than myself. It is possible, however, that all the Ramblers may not be acquainted with No. 56, Vol. 10, of the S.M .C Journal and the extensive bibliography therein. Wherefore I will essay.

In brief, amongst the granite peaks of Arran the scenery is superb, the ridges are splendid, and the rock climbing - well, I shall certainly never go to Arran again merely for the purpose of climbing, though if I do find myself there I shall equally certainly have a shot, if possible, at the Pinnacle Ridge on Cir Mhor, of which I was cheated by the weather.

My old friend, the late Mr. Baddeley, observes with much truth that "the only part of the Arran scenery which is strong enough to arrest the tourist's steps on his way to the Highlands of the mainland is that which lies between Loch Ranza, at the northern end of the island, and Lamlash, about two-thirds of the way down the eastern coast, the nucleus being the ridge which separates Glen Rosa from Glen Sannox." Within this area, too, lie the attractions for the scrambler and cragsman, though I am credibly informed, on his own authority, that our Pet Geologist spent a considerable portion of one summer poking around "baht 'at" in the neighbourhood of Blackwater Foot.

I would suggest for a first visit to Arran that the evening boat should be taken to Brodick, and thence to Lamlash. During the passage the ever changing views of the promised land are most fascinating, but let them not allure you to Brodick as a start, otherwise you may be tempted to make straight for the hills and keep on them day after day, thereby missing a visit to Lamlash, and with that the pick of the scenery, with the possible exception of the view from the hills above Glen Cloy. I don't know which of the two routes from Lamlash to Brodick presents the finer panorama, that by the high road or the one over the Clauchland Hills, but as anything almost (saving morasses) is preferable to the King's highway, the latter will probably be taken past Dun Finn, an ancient fort of sorts.

The interesting portion of the Arran Hills is bounded on the south by the String Road from Brodick to Blackwater Foot, on the north by the Sannox - Loch Ranza road, on the east by the sea, and on the west practically by Glen Iorsa. It consists roughly of two parallel ranges, the eastern running from Goatfell northwards to Cioch na h'Oighe, the western from Ben Nuis to Suidhe Fhearghas. These are joined somewhere about, midway by a lateral ridge from which rises the shapely peak of Cir Mhor (pronounced Keer Vore).

"Cir Mhor," writes a contributor to the Cairngorm Club Joumal, "is undoubtedly the finest hill in the island. . . . Bring forth the big hob-nailers, and hurry south, and you will not be disappointed." I'm not quite so sure about that.

The plan of the N.E. face of Cir Mhor, facing page 104 of the S.M.C.J. referred to above, is marked with red lines, indicating routes, as if the Editor had anticipated on paper the potential treatment of Lliwedd. The gigantic slabs on the saddle side are unmarked, and therefore presumably unclimbable. Certainly they look it. Further west there are three or four courses, and then, "it will be noticed that a broad patch of grass and screes divides the cliff into two sections," and, incidentally, ruins the climbing. Herein lies my quarrel with the mountain. I admit the grass, but I do not admit the scree. Granite disintegrated to the condition of coarse sand is not scree. In fact, the two-thirds of the terrace below the grass is in dry weather a gigantic sand heap, in wet a gigantic muck heap, much of it at a high angle, and studded with stones treacherously embedded.

I write the word "treacherously" advisedly. Generally speaking the dislodging of a loose stone implies clumsy contact of hand or foot, or some part of your person or of the rope. Not so on this "scree." You step cleanly and carefully over the wicked impediment, and proceed in comfort and security. Meantime the sand (scree, I mean) below the stone, disturbed by your foot, begins to slither away, keeps on doing it, till when you are thirty feet or so down, the stone gets a move on, starts in pursuit, and smites you unfriendly. Or else it may dodge you and attack some unfortunate below, provoking most reasonable but utterly unjustifiable reproaches concerning your incompetence as a mountaineer.

After sundry excursions and alarums we reached the foot of what I take to have been the Stone Shoot Ridge. We may have missed our way, but if we were on the right route the Stone Shoot Ridge is not a climb - it is a kind of scramble-cum-walk, with certain intervals of bouldering, which become more pronounced towards the top. On the left is the Terrace, and on the right, I suppose, the Stone Shoot, a damp, uninviting trough. The crags that rise from the far side of this appear to be quite unassailable.

From the Stone Shoot Ridge we started across a steep incline of that detestable granite sand for something to climb. At this point the rope is more of a nuisance and a danger than anything else. We then ascended a very rotten groove which led to an impracticable-looking chimney. We turned to the right, dived into a tunnel, scrambled up a chimney or two (sound rock at last), and emerged on a beautiful little green platform.

I am told that a considerable rock fall has taken place since this portion of the face was first explored, and that the route is less complicated than formerly. Still it takes a bit of finding as it is. We were, however, not interested in that. We had come to Bell's groove, and what we were to do with it was something of a conundrum.

It fell to me to lead. The S.M .C.J. describes the groove as thirty feet of very hard work, and the S.M .C.J. is right every time. With all appliances and means to boot, i.e., the vigorous backing-up of my second, a man of might and height, it was just about my limit. I fancy that even our Almescliff experts might find it moderately interesting.

The season was late September, so we had to content ourselves with valsing up and down the Rosa Pinnacle, and hustling down Glen Rosa, darkness coming down just as we passed the gate at the entrance to the Glen.

Cir Mhor by CE Benson.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
Cir Mhor by CE Benson

I conceive that the bulk of the climbing on Cir Mhor is much of the same character, and that you are never committed to a course for any great number of feet. The Pinnacle route looks magnificent, far superior to the Needle Ridge, if the aréte be conscientiously followed, if that be possible. There is one gigantic notch that looks utterly impracticable. I am I sorry I had no time to attack the Ridge. I may as well here repeat my note in the previous number that, except from the side nearest the mountain, the Rosa Pinnacle will not go.

A'Chir is not to be compared with Cir Mhor for shapeliness, but as a sporting mountain I am not at all certain whether it is second. Personally I - shall keep my opinion to myself.

The A'Chir climbs are best studied by rounding the head of Coire Daingean from Ben-a-Chliabhain. You can thus look right into the A'Chir gullies, and guess what they are like, always keeping in your mind that Arran climbs "are not what they seem," with the exception, I would connote, of the Rosa Pinnacle, which looks and is impossible. At the head of the Coire, on a bluff properly belonging to Ben Tarsuinn, are two notable chimneys, neither of which, it appears, will go. The face of A'Chir across the Coire is seamed with gullies. The most attractive one is really two. One has no top, the other has no bottom, and they just pass each other about half way up. This gully has been climbed (see S.M.C.J., Vol. II, p. 366). The principal difficulty lies in connecting the upper and lower sections, but I conceive the fine-looking chimney that finishes the course must have given some trouble.[1]

The pride and glory of A'Chir is the ridge. It is glorious; far superior to anything I know of outside the Coolin. I have already made some notes thereon (Y.R.C.J., Vol. IV., p. 181). I would only add that the "good climb, involving a sensational traverse round a difficult corner" (S.M.C.J., Vol. 10, No. 56, p. 104), is eminently safe after the first pitch has been climbed, as the second man can tuck himself away in positions from which an elephant could not dislodge him, and the run-out of the rope is very short.

The climbing south of A'Chir, on Ben Nuis and Ben Tarsuinn, I know only by reputation, and the reputation is of a brand I do not covet. There is not much of it, and what there is is not of much class. The conspicuous curved chimney on Ben Nuis, climbed by Puttrell, Baker, and Oppenheimer, in 1901, has by tacit consent been placed on the Expurgatorial Index.

I know there is some pretty scrambling to be had on the massive summit tors of Caisteal Abhail, and I have no doubt the great granite bastions that frown down on Glen Sannox from both sides afford courses of varying degrees of difficulty. There is one crag that, I think, may prove of more than ordinary interest if it can be found. I expect, however, this will be no easy matter. One day, looking across Glen Sannox, I saw on the side of the Stacach Ridge, between Goatfell and North Goatfell, a spacious amphitheatre of rock. It is, I should say, some three hundred feet below the skyline. In the centre of it rises a considerable pinnacle or pillar. It can I only be visible across the Glen in certain lights, and though my party had a look for it from above next day, we failed to find it, but then our time was limited. I think the inference is that it must have weathered less rapidly than the surrounding rock, and should therefore be of reasonably sound material.[2]

Coire na Ciche is sublime under any conditions. On the day of our visit the conditions were perfect. Right in front of us rose the precipices of Cioch na h'Oighe, away on the left were the gloomy recesses of the Devil's Punch Bowl, and in the foreground a noble herd of red deer. By and by an unconventional gleam of sunshine appeared in the shape of an engaging young lady, with shoes but no stockings. She tripped up to us and frankly informed us that she was looking for a gully, but could not find it. She accorded respect to the man of height and might, also to our third. On me she looked with tip-tilted nose, and demanded, "And do you climb?" with the accent on the " you." I replied, "I do a little, damsel," with the accent - no matter where.

The east face of Cioch na h'Oighe is intersected by five ledges, sloping diagonally upwards at an angle of about 45° from south to north. "They do not afford good climbing, as for the great part they are just walks, and for the rest nasty traverses. The situations and views are, however, splendid."

Whatever the splendour of the situations and views, you will not catch me on Cioch na h'Oighe again. "Nasty traverses" fills the bill. You walk up a broad heathery ledge. Suddenly it steepens and the heather ceases. Another step and you find yourself on a vertical face with nothing better than a most unstable heap of disintegrated granite to stand on. Before you, on the left, is a holdless granite slab, and along the base of this runs a fringe of that detestable granite sand. This is the traverse, and nasty it is. You next find yourself confronted with an A.P. wall of sand and grass, and so to more walking, &c. I suggest that if any party is misled into climbing Cioch na h'Oighe by the terraces, the lightest of the party should lead. He might be held in case of a slip (I think a heavy fall by a heavy man might fetch the whole party away), and the light man is likely to leave the grass and sand pitch in better condition than a climber of weight. The most unconscientious use of the rope is recommended to the folldwers, as the holds come away in clouds, and the last man may have to be pulled up a sand-shoot.

To finish up, the ridge walk from Cioch na h'Oighe along the range over Goatfell and down by the southern shoulder is very good. The reverse route, whether you take in the south shoulder or not (I strongly recommend its inclusion, if only to get off the beaten tourist route), is better, as you have the pick of the scenery before you. Best of all is the walk from Ben Nuis, over Ben Tarsuinn, over or round A'Chir, the former for choice if time permits, and so by the Peaks of the Castles and the Witch's Step to the summit of Suidhe Fhearghas. The ascent or descent of this hill is simply not good enough. It is just a gigantic heather buttress, animated by vipers, which are not satisfactory handholds. It saves time - and several other things - to retrace one's steps to the little col between Suidhe Fhearghas and Ceum na Caillich, whence there is an easy run down to the Sannox Burn.

I have already indicated in a previous number that it is well to keep strictly to the ridge line between the Castles and the Witch's Step, otherwise you may get nastily pounded amongst awkward slabs. With regard to the Witch's Step, the S.M.C.J. writes, "Under summer conditions a rope is a luxury." True, still I conceive that in the event of a slip on the slab an unroped climber would fall backwards and outwards on the North Sannox side, and probably be killed out of hand. I commend the luxury.

[1]"The gully . . . affords one of the best climbs in Arran, and it has the unusual merit of being absolutely safe, an attribute conspicuously lacking on some of the Cir Mhor routes." - S.M.C.J.

[2] I have since located this pinnacle, but had no opportunity of tackling it. Viewed from above it appeared to be clad in unassailable boilerplates. Possibly, however, it may go easily enough. One can't say in Arran without testing. The pillar is connected with the main mountain by a neck of rock, so that there are presumably chimneys or gullies on either side.