Sometimes,………there really are advantages to being a visually impaired hill-walker! Many times I have to admit, there are not!
Yesterday Nita and I headed over to the Isle of Arran to walk Goat Fell, ( the highest point of the island’s magnificent mountains). A couple of days ago the mountain forecasts seemed to suggest that there was a chance that the cloud would be so low that the higher tops would break through them. This is a magnificent sight to see and one that we’ve been lucky enough to experience on a couple of occasions in the past ten years. I’d often thought that seeing the dramatic rocky peaks of Arran in such conditions would be very special. It was of course a complete gamble and the chances were that we’d just have a walk in low cloud ….which for the most part we did.
We went across on the first ferry, arriving in Brodick at just before eight o’clock. It certainly looked promising as we looked across the bay to see a very low thick line of cloud shrouding Goat Fell and I immediately started to imagine the summit being clear and in bright sunshine. We did our normal thing of walking along past the golf course and up the beach to get to the start of the main ‘tourist’ path up Goat Fell.. It’s a beautiful little walk especially first thing in the morning and it gets the legs going before the need to do any ‘up’! The path climbs up through the edge of the Brodick Castle grounds before emerging onto the open hillside at a point where for many years a small foot bridge had crossed a small but fast flowing stream. At this point we were somewhat dismayed to find that a new ‘land rover’ track had been built from the estate to the bridge ….and said bridge had been replaced with a much larger one suitable for vehicles ….a small turning space made on the other side of the stream. We presumed that this was to help during the stalking season ….the main path up the hill passes through the deer fence by way of a large gate just a short distance further on.
Anyway, we didn’t really think too much about it and continued on our way. The cloud level though had risen somewhat and our hopes of getting above it at the summit now seemed very unlikely. It was good to get out again though and even though I was finding it difficult picking my way up the boulder strewn path in this rather gloomy light, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. We entered the cloud just below the point where the path reaches the main shoulder of the mountain. There was a brisk cold wind blowing and it encouraged you to keep moving! From this point the going gets steeper and the path rockier before you emerge at the summit. In fine weather this is a breath taking moment especially if it’s your first visit to the summit of Goat Fell. Yesterday however we could have been anywhere, the cloud was quite thick and I certainly didn’t feel like it was going to clear. It was cold too and after a brief stop for a summit picture we decided we might as well just head back and try and find a spot out of the wind for lunch, lower down. It was surprisingly busy despite the conditions and many people passed us both on the way up and down. My poor sight makes descending a slow and difficult thing and everyone seemed to go rushing past us. By mid afternoon we were back below the shoulder of the hill and most of the folk who had walked to the summit had long since got back to their cars.
At this point though, the cloud suddenly started to lift and break and very quickly the scene around us transformed from a dark and sombre one to a beautiful autumn afternoon with bright patches of sunshine illuminating the vivid autumn colours of the moor land around us. We found a spot out of the breeze and sat down to enjoy the warm afternoon sun, the beautiful views across to Beinn Nuis and the peace and quiet. This lasted for about half an hour and was then broken by the noise of an engine. A good way below us Nita said she could see a strange vehicle moving quite quickly and as we watched it was driven at speed across the boggy moor-land below the steep flanks of Goat Fell. The vehicle and it’s occupants came to a sudden stop about one hundred metres from us ….and everyone got out. I can only hope that whatever the reason for this off road jaunt, it was a good one as its wheels had scarred the peat, grass and flora of this wild spot. Perhaps though, this was something to do with the local mountain rescue group…it would certainly get them up the lower slopes of the hill quickly. Anyway, whatever was going on, we left them to it and continued down the path to the new bridge …where we could plainly see the tracks of the vehicle at the point it had driven onto the moor.
If there was a genuine and urgent reason for this kind of off road vehicle use, then fine, but it would be a great shame if this new track and bridge are just encouraging more irresponsible off road driving enthusiasts
The afternoon was now a very fine one and we had a very pleasant wander back down through the woods to the beach. The trees in their autumn colours looked stunning in the late low sun. As I made my way back along the beautiful beach I reflected on the fact that my visual impairment had so slowed us down that we were still on the mountain when the weather finally improved ….I’d seen more than all the fully sighted walkers who had rushed past us and were no doubt in the pub by the time the sun came out …..smug or what?!