Isle of Arran
The Great Northern Trek


Prologue

For 2005 the AHWC decided to head abroad for the first time and venture to the Isle of Arran for its 4th annual expedition. We were encouraged to do so by Graham Kentish who, having visited the Island commented to the rest of the group on its beauty and suitability for walking. So back at the end of 2004 the first plans were put in place for our trip. It quickly became clear that a circular walk would not be possible due to the lack of suitable places to stay, particularly on the West coast, but a bunk house was found at High Corrie and was booked. This also meant that we would need vehicles on the island so a long car journey and ferry trip were also factored in. However by early spring 2005 the bones of a plan were in place and participants for the trip came forward.

The final make up of the group was – Mike Venables who cooked dinner and assisted with breakfast, Dave Fillery, who cooked breakfast assisted with dinner and tested the fire safety equipment, Mark Smith who drove one vehicle and drove Mike mad, Dave Rogers who we thought would be useful if anything caught on fire, John Anderson who took lots of photos and identified wild life, and Colin Watkins who kept this diary. All of those people had been on at least one previous AHWC trip and we were delighted to be joined by 4 new members of our esteemed company, Ian Carpenter who has a lot of experience of walking but had a habit of veering towards letter boxes while he did it, John Stevenson who took even more photos than John A as well as video, Peter Goodyear, who turned out to be a Suduko expert and Dave Dael who won the prize for the best walking stick on the trip.

We were sad not to be joined by Martin Turner and Les Wallace who had other commitments (lack of commitment I call it) and worryingly Graham Kentish who after recommending the place didn't make the trip.

The planning was finalised at a meeting in the coach and horses the week before we travelled. The tone for the trip was set as we discussed the route we would take to the ferry at Ardrossan, and where we would break the journey for refreshment. Mike was all for getting up 2 hours before we went to bed and then thrashing the vehicles all the way to the ferry before stopping. The rest of the company felt 05.30 was far early enough with a stop in the midlands and one further north before we crossed the border. Finally a compromise was reached. Or rather Mike gave in.


Day 1 - Thursday, 29th September

We left Billericay in 3 cars early (very early) on the morning of September 29. As we left Billericay at such an early hour our thoughts did turn to Graham, almost certainly still tucked up in his bed warm and comfy and wondered how much he would be missing the opportunity to be up at that time with the prospect of an eight hour car journey ahead…..

Somewhere on the M1 we each made contact by phone and worked out that Mark with Mike, Dave D and Dave F was ahead of Colin with Ian and John A and behind them was John S with Dave R and Peter. Nearing the midlands we began to see signs and get traffic news of problems on the M6 so we decided to take the A50 to avoid them. Those who could read a map turned off the M1 at junction 23 A and headed towards Stoke. Mike however navigated his group toward Nottingham.

One can only imagine the scene inside Mark's car as they discussed Mike's inability to spot the fact that they had missed the junction. Those who witnessed the ‘conversation' that followed this incident were unable to repeat much of what was said, but apparently someone in the car immediately behind was able to hear the entire exchange between Mark and Mike.

At Uttoxeter we stopped for a break, a coffee, and change of drivers in my car. However, Ian didn't appreciate the audience he had for his attempt at moving it, and the way they noticed his constant stalling. Stoke turned out to be a car park with road works holding us up badly, but once through we cruised up the M6 towards our next stop, the Red Rooster at Penrith.

This place was a favourite stopping point of Mike's, which should have told us something before we got there. The food was a lot like Mike. Lots of it, basic and cheap. Various versions of the big breakfast, bigger breakfast even bigger breakfast, mega breakfast etc etc were ordered and consumed. Cars were refuelled and drivers rotated once again. John A however made the smart move of pulling away out of sight of the rest of the group, as he too managed to stall the Saab.

We journeyed further north crossing over into Scotland, and then off the motorways onto the comparatively quite of the road towards the east coast and eventually to Ardrossan. Across the short channel we could see Arran, which apparently means the weather is good. If you can't see it it means the weather isn't. Simple folk the Scottish.

Ardrossan is typical of many towns on that part of Scotland, post industrial and feeling very down at heel. We parked up and wandered towards the few shops there were looking for refreshments, a bank and somewhere to spend an hour or so before the ferry sailed. As we stood in the street waiting for those that needed cash to draw it from the machine, Dave F (AKA sniffer of the yard) commented that he could detect the faint smell of curry and wondered if any one else could. We pointed out that he happened to be standing with his back to an Indian take-away. All those years of training weren't wasted were they Dave….

We found a café and after a round of very reasonably priced teas and coffees and several comments about Dave's detective skills, we wandered toward the marina, where some dreamed of owning one or other of the magnificent boats moored there.

Eventually we boarded the ferry and as time was getting on we decided to have our evening meal there. That was where we met Kevin, an Evertonian who served in the restaurant on board. How a native of Liverpool came to be working on board the Ardrossan to Arran Ferry was not a conversation we got into, but he did make his views on football well known to all.

In an under an hour we docked at Brodick, and made our way to the bunkhouse at High Corrie. The brochure had said that the track from the main road to the bunkhouse was passable with a suitable vehicle. We soon discovered that the list of suitable vehicles would include llamas, helicopters, various 4x4s (Les where were you when we needed you) and a Hummer. It probably didn't include Galaxys, or Sharrans and definitely not Saabs. We took the lane one vehicle at a time, Mark first who arrived reasonably safely but accompanied with a strong smell of burning clutch plate. The Saab did not fare so well and one corner in particular proved a problem. Eventually it got round and John followed behind.

At the top we found our dwelling for the next few days. It took an hour or so to find tables, assign bunks, unpack food and supplies, rebuild the clothes rack in the drying room, fix the thermostat in there as well, find the leak in the roof, (did I mention it was raining) and work out that some of the heating didn't work.

The day ended with tea, chat sudoku and cribbage. And so to bed. Mark snored.


Day 2 - Friday, 30th September

After such an early start on the first day it was probably understandable that we rose a little later than may be our habit. The weather was wet which was the pattern for the next few days. Dave F and his assistant cooked up an excellent breakfast of porridge followed by a fry up. This was an excellent preparation for the walk ahead.

Our plan was a gentle walk along the coast from Sannox bay to Lochranza of about 11 miles. The walk would be mostly flat and would be a gentle start to our four days of walking. The plan was that most of the team were dropped at Sannox bay, then Mark and John S drove to Lochranza, dropped one car and returned with the other. They dropped us at a bus stop and drove off to the end of the route.

The bus stop was actually more like a small car park and I stood next to the road looking for the car to make sure they didn't miss us. As I did so the bus turned the corner, and the bus driver seeing me naturally pulled in and opened the door. He sat and looked at me, and I looked at him, blankly. “Are you getting in?†he asked. “No†I said. He mumbled something in Scottish, probably a traditional welcome for visitors to the island, and drove off. We decided that it might be best if I didn't travel on that bus route unless absolutely necessary….

Eventually the drivers returned and we set off. The early part of the walk was through some woods and the ground was very soft wet and muddy underfoot. With the intermittent rain it made the going a lot harder than expected. We broke out of the woods and continued along a beach under high cliffs. The walking here was easier but still the rain came and went. We stopped for lunch in a cave higher up the cliffs and after sustenance carried on. The path was soon interrupted by rocks which forced us higher up the cliff and at times it seemed we were rock climbing rather than walking. At this point, as we clung to the rocks, cold wet tired and wondering how we were going to get down to the beach, someone did mention what a good idea of Graham's it was to choose Arran and how much he would miss this. The going was very tough, but eventually we found a way back down and onto the beach and an easier path. By the time we rounded the headland and found Lochranza what had been planned as a relatively easy walk had turned out to be quite challenging and exhausting. A quick tally found no (new) major injuries.

Lochranza was a small place, just a bay with a few fishing boats and houses dotted along the coast. There was a hotel, a distillery, a small golf course and a church where a wedding was taking place, with all the guests and bridal party decked out in traditional dress and colours. On the golf course we spotted some red deer, including a young stag, as well as red squirrels.

Most of the party retreated to the hotel for refreshment whilst the rest of went to get the other car and then onto the shops to stock up. I am not sure the Co Op at Brodick had seen so much food being bought all in one go before, certainly their trolleys weren't up it. This was proven out in the car park when a tiny stone caused the trolley I was pushing to cartwheel over and empty its contents over the floor. Fortunately the contents survived the excitement and we made our way back to the bunkhouse with it all where Mike concocted a memorable meal. Unfortunately I can remember what it was, except it had lots of onions in it. Dessert though was a magnificent apple crumble.

The evening was passed in drying off of clothes, games of cribbage and Sudoku. Mark snored again


Day 3 - Saturday, 1st October

Early in the morning those of us nearby heard strange cries and stamping noises from Mike and Dave Fs room. Not wanting to interrupt, and dreading what we might see if we did, the rest of left them well alone. Apparently it was nothing worse than cramp. This morning Dave F again produced an excellent breakfast, same menu as before, and managed to raise the more tardy sleepers by setting off the fire alarms whilst grilling bacon. At least we now knew they worked.

Today we had a much easier walk, round on the Southwest side of the island at Machrie Moor and the Kings cave. Before we set off we posed for group photo, and Mike insisted on making us all smile by cleverly stepping into a pool of mud up to his knee as he rejoined the group. He is so committed to the well being and enjoyment of the group.

The walk took us through some woods, down a path onto the beach, past a very eccentric gentleman in his plus fours, and then to the Kings cave. This is reputed to be the very cave in which Robert the Bruce met the spider and learnt that if you don't succeed try and try again. Personally, I prefer to give up as there is no point proving what everybody is already thinking, but he was Scottish and very determined. Inside the cave we found lots of graffiti from many different eras, much of which we couldn't make out. Dave F couldn't help but express his cynicism at the authenticity of the claims regarding Robert the Bruce. He felt that the place was too obvious and easy to spot. Far easier it seems than the Indian take away in Ardrossan, so maybe he had a point. Sniffer of the yard seemed to think a cave just to the right afforded more privacy and was drier and therefore more appealing to the average Scottish arachnid.

After the caves, we made our way across to Machrie Moor, along a path where the local farmer had forgotten to put a style in when he remade his fence. Undaunted we climbed, fell or tumbled over the fence as each of us and went on our way. We were heading for a group of standing stones in the middle of the moor. On the way we passed a mound which is the site of an ancient hut circle, which seemed a good place to shelter from the wind and rain and eat lunch. We carried on across the moor and found the stones, pictures of which are often used to promote the island. The stones are very ancient and the whole area was quite atmospheric.

We made our way back to the cars and the returned to Brodick via the south of the island so that in the day we had circumnavigated Arran. At Brodick we stopped for provisions and as we got out Mike suddenly let out a yell and announced his legs had stopped working. We all hobbled round the Co Op and stocked up with onions.

That evening we were joined by Matt Goodyear, who claims he cycled up the drive to the bunk house, it is true he had a bike with him but none of us actually saw him do it. Matt was just in time for dinner, which was something with onions in it. Another cosy evening passed in the bunk house before we all turned in. And so to bed. Mark snored again.


Day 4 - Sunday, 2nd October

Come home to a real fire, let Dave F cook breakfast. This morning Dave surpassed himself, not content with rousing the happy campers with the smoke alarm he managed a full scale blaze. Many hands were quick to come to his aid as flames leapt from the grill. Most of would have expected Dave R to be there at the front, dousing flames, giving instruction and imparting years of professional experience in extinguishing conflagrations. Wrong. Dave calmly watched continuing to read his paper as others dealt with the crises, only once all was dealt with he did comment, something about “that wasn't a real fireâ€. Shades of “you want to get yourself a real camper vanâ€. One day that man will get us into trouble.

Once the fire was dealt with and breakfast consumed we headed out towards Brodick for some supplies. The papers hadn't arrived as the ferry was later on Sunday, but there was an encounter between Mick and the buxom lady in the pie shop which will remain unreported because it no doubt grew in the telling. Suffice to say he may not be on her Christmas card list.

Today's walk would start near Brodick, take us along Glen Rosa, over the saddle and down into Glen Sannox finishing at the bus stop at Sannox bay. The view along Glen Rosa was just as I imagined the Scottish Highlands, a U shaped valley, with a stream flowing through it, high cliffs on wither side. The walk was fairly easy almost to the saddle, but the weather as ever was rain on and off. About two thirds of the way to the saddle Mick and Dave F turned back took the vehicles to meet us at the other end, the rest of the party, now including Matt made for the top of the saddle. This was a ridge that linked two higher peaks and formed a barrier between the two glens.

Glen Rosa was more or less flat until about a mile from the saddle and then a not too difficult climb began. As we climbed we could hear a Stag calling, and then we spotted him and his family on the opposite side of the valley. Half way up we stopped for lunch then pushed on up the steepening climb to the top of the saddle. The view from the top was breathtaking and for me it was worth the whole trip alone. Many photos were snapped from there, as well as large amounts of video as paused to take it all in. At the top we saw two other parties, a young couple who turned right and went up into the mist towards Goat Fell, the island's highest point, and a larger group who turned round and went back the way we had all come. We had planned to go down into Glen Sannox.

The map showed the climb down to be steep and rocky. It wasn't wrong except for the omission of the word very. Maybe very very. We scouted round to find a suitable path but there seemed no clear way down. The rocks in front of us were loose and the rain made them even more difficult to navigate. The going was very difficult and very slow, and without Matt's experience and encouragement some of us may have found progress impossible. After some time, and a few false paths we were all gathered one behind the other going down through a steep gap between the rocks. The path had steps seemly cut in, but each step was about 2 foot deep.

As we gingerly climbed down (mostly on our backsides) aided by Matt doing his mountain goat impression, a young woman on her own came up towards us, more or less running. Why couldn't she make it seem even a little bit difficult? At this point Peter did a quick head count (that's what years of teaching does of you) and we realised we weren't all together. Another quick tally showed John A wasn't with us. After much calling and Matt searching he was located and we regrouped just below the bottom of the so called steps. About here I noticed I had lost the splint off my finger (long story) so Matt's first aid kit was pressed into service as he taped my fingers together. The climb became easier as we went down and we finally made it to the river at the bottom. The descent of about three quarters of a mile had taken well over an hour. Pity Graham was with us, after all it was his idea and he missed it

At this point we were all, with the exception of Matt, tired, wet and ready to rest. However the rain was back and there was no time. Somewhere on the climb down, the top of Ian's boot had parted from the rest of it. However he trudged on manfully looking on the bright side, it meant he had less to carry home. We made our way along Glen Sannox, as picturesque but wetter than Glen Rosa, towards where we hoped we would find the cars, which we did. Then it was back to the bunk house, showers drying out and dinner. Something that had onions in it as I remember.

That evening we all said farewell to Matt as he headed back to Edinburgh, and as he cycled down the track we all wished him well on those hairpins, and he headed off in to the night. After he had gone Mark commented to his dad how his experience and fitness on the hills had helped and how he wished he was in his twenties like him. To be told Mat was in his mid thirties was a great disappointment to Mark, and caused much muttering about a misspent youth.

Having lost my finger splint I needed it replaced, so I called the hospital to find out where they were and whether they had an A&E. With both questions answered the person at the other end inquired as to the problem, and then seemed genuinely disappointed that I wasn't going to be there until next day. And so to bed. And yes Mark snored.


Day 5 - Monday, 3rd October

This morning's breakfast was uneventful. No smoke, no flames, just good food. After breakfast Dave R was spied scribbling notes in a notebook. Rumours began to circulate of a rival journal of events. Whether this is just conspiracy theory or not remains to be seen, but accept no imitations.

I left early and headed for the hospital at Lamlash. It was a tiny place and at 10.15 I was their first A&E patient of the day. I think they were disappointed it was so trivial, and that they had to unlock the reception and turn the lights on just for me. Splinted and taped I went off to await the others.

On the way they had stopped to buy fish for dinner. Mick used one of his can't fail chat up lines and asked the woman serving him whether that was her perfume or the herring he could smell. I think the phrase is ‘she suffered a sense of humour failure'. Another Christmas card saved.

Once we were all gathered we headed for our walk, a circular yomp round the point at the eastern end of Lamlash. We had a steep climb up to an old hill fort, which was taxing after 3 days walking. At the top we stopped and lunched and in the absence of Martin Turner, Mark posed on top of the trig point for the customary photo. After a short descent we had a choice of route. The long route was on and up into the woods and then out to the main road and back to Lamlash or a more direct downhill path to the town. We split roughly half and half and met eventually back at the cars, the group taking the direct group having explored the shops of Lamlash first.

As we gathered at the cars Dave F picked up the stick that John S had been given by his son, carefully chosen for him in Norsey Woods and carried lovingly all round Arran by a proud father. Dave broke it. His training soon kicked in as he tried to conceal the evidence, but to no avail. The deed was uncovered and truth revealed. Much laughter at Dave's expense ensued.

We headed back to Brodick and explored the few shops along the front for souvenirs and gifts. After stocking up we headed back to the bunk house for our last evening. While we were sat enjoying a cup of tea there was a knock at the door, and we at first wondered if Matt had returned having never made the ferry the previous evening. It wasn't. We were joined by a cartographer from Ordnance Survey who was updating the map we had been using all week. He wanted to know some details of the bunk house, but we also took the opportunity to point out what we thought were some errors on the map, such as missing paths, fallen rocks, lack of styles etc. After much scribbling, and a cup of tea, he retreated probably wishing he had never come up the drive.

Dinner was another excellent affair, onion soup (had to be really) followed by fish. The two cooks did a great job the whole time we were there, preparing all of our meals in the bunk house. After dinner we started to pack and clear up, deciding not to return the place to that state it was in when arrived but instead to write a long list of things we felt needing fixing. Another pleasant evening, and so to bad. Yes he did.


Day 6 - Tuesday, 4th October

Our ferry was not leaving until midday so we had a leisurely morning after another fine breakfast. The rooms were cleared and cleaned and vehicles packed. We headed into Brodick and joined the ferry after coffee at the quay. Once on the other side we headed for Penrith and another stop at the Red Rooster. We planned to regroup at Corley on the M6 for a meal and farewells but we made such good time we decided to push on with just a quick pit stop at Corley and just enough overlap for our handshakes and good byes. The trip ended back in Billericay, another successful AHWC annual expedition with us all looking forward to 2006.

Thanks especially to Dave F and Mick for their culinary skills and to Mick for all the time he put in organising the trip.