The Tent Killer: A Bad Case of Wind on Arran

Despite a mixed weather forecast, my dad and I decided to embark on another wild camping trip on the Isle of Arran, but this time in a place that neither of us had ever visited. We had no real plan after our first night, but after an extremely windy few hours during the night and some damage to my prized tent, we decided it might be best to call a halt to our trip and retreat home.

[June 2017]

Our journey began the same way every other Arran adventure does, with a pleasant sailing from Ardrossan to Brodick. We opted for the 1520 boat to give ourselves a few hours of daylight once we arrived at our camp spot for the evening to ensure we had enough time to find a good pitch. We arrived in Brodick and took the bus to the small settlement of Thundergay on Arran’s west coast. From here, we followed a well constructed path to Coire Fhionn Lochan, a popular spot on the island and our home for the evening.

Just above the settlement of Thundergay
One of a few steeper sections of the well walked path

The walk to the lochan was just under 2 miles and was fairly easy going, apart from a couple of steeper sections that – after a sizeable late lunch on the boat – took us by surprise!

We arrived at the lochan around 1800 and began looking for a place to pitch. There was an ideal section of grass at the western end of the lochan, but due to the rather gusty weather, this wouldn’t be the most ideal place to pitch up for the night. We walked around the southern edge of the corrie and found a decent enough spot nestled below the high corrie walls, hoping this would keep us slightly more sheltered than across the lochan.

A tussocky pitch for the evening

My dad had decided to purchase a new tent too, in the hope of trying to go on trips with a slightly lighter pack than usual. He opted for the Force Ten Helium 100, which weighs slightly more than my laser comp, but packs down just as small and has a more robust groundsheet, taped seams and the famed TBS system than comes on most Vango/Force Ten tents. After pitching our tents among quite tussocky ground (this wasn’t too much of a problem as our air beds would cancel out the worst of the lumpy ground), we had ourselves a bite to eat and settled down for the evening to watch a lovely sunset over the lochan. After the sun disappeared below the horizon, we crawled into our tents ready to turn in for the night.

A beautiful spot for the evening. Spot the tents!

However, around 2200, my tent door opened and in came my dad, pleading for a space in my tent for the evening. As I was half asleep with earphones in listening to music, I had not noticed that the wind had picked up significantly. It was already breezy by the time we arrived at our spot for the evening, but was now probably in excess of 60mph or so. He had decided to take down his Helium as the tent was contorting itself into all kinds of shapes due to severe gusts. Being a good son, I offered him a space in my Nitro, which I can now confirm definitely is a genuine 2 man tent as it took us and our gear comfortably. After a few minutes of excitement, I nodded off to sleep, somehow managing to ignore the wind that was battering my tent.

We woke up just before 0700 the next morning to what was still very blustery weather. Thankfully, my tent wasn’t flapping about too much so no pegs had escaped or moved during the night. Not really having much of a plan, we decided that rather than camping high for the next evening, we would either find a low level pitch somewhere or just come home after a decent day’s walk. We packed up our gear and I got out the tent ready to take it down. This was when I discovered the extent of the damage to my beloved Nitro. The tent’s rear pole – 1 section is pre-bent and the rest should be completely straight – now had a seriously bent section towards one end, obviously where the wind had blown the tent and kept it in that position during the night. Unfortunately, I was in too much of a huff to photograph the damage (and had fixed the pole when I arrived home – thankfully – before I realised I still hadn’t taken a photo of the bent section), so took the tent down as quickly as possible, losing a peg in the process.

Still, a mishap such as this would not stop us, so we decided to carry on and either find another pitch for the evening or at least get a decent walk completed before returning home.

Leaving our campsite

From the lochan, we headed east uphill on a newly constructed path towards Glen Catacol. From here there were great views back down to our pitch for the previous night as well as of Arran’s Corbetts once we reached the highest point of the path.

Looking back to Coire Fhionn Lochan from the path summit

We stayed on this well made path to near the top of Glen Catacol, roughly a kilometre from Loch Tanna, a wild camping location from a couple of years ago. We crossed the Abhainn Mor – a crystal clear and very picturesque river – and stopped to refill our water bottles and take a layer off as the drizzle that had been with us since we packed up had now eased off.

Meall Nan Damh and Glen Catacol
Abhainn Mor

After sorting ourselves out, we continued on the path through and out of Glen Catacol at the village of Catacol, where we stopped for an early lunch. There is a concrete road bridge that passes over the Abhainn Mor as it reaches the sea and this made an ideal lunch stop as the river was shallow enough to find a dry spot underneath the bridge as the rain had now started again and was getting heavier. We had a hearty pit stop and set off towards Lochranza along the A841.

Looking back towards Glen Catacol from the A841

Being just a couple of miles from Catacol, we reached Lochranza very quickly and stopped at the Sandwich Station near the ferry terminal for some ice cream, a fitting treat considering the rain! Still, it’s never the wrong weather for ice cream! This didn’t take long to polish off and we were soon on our way in what was now pretty heavy rain through the village towards the Postman’s Path, which goes to Laggan Cottage on Arran’s northern coastline. We pressed on and made good progress up the well graded path and continued downhill towards Laggan, where we stopped to decide our next move.

Although the rain was beginning to ease, the wind was still fairly strong with very strong occasional gusts, not great weather for camping. Around Laggan was the ideal location for another night’s wild camping (a usual haunt for us) and after scouting out a few potential sites, we decided that it was just too windy to bother with another night’s camping. As we were now as far away from a road as it’s possible to be along the northern coast of the island, we decided to continue South East towards the village of Sannox.

The going was easy thanks to the flat, well constructed path. Although boggy at times, much of the path is either grass or rock, so we made good progress towards our finishing point for the day. It only took around an hour and a half to reach the village of Sannox from Laggan – a little under 5 miles in total.

Impending doom – the weather we’d chosen to escape from

Although only 1 night’s camping and a battered tent, the trip was definitely still a success. On day 2 we walked almost 16 miles, which was fairly decent going considering the poor start to the day. We arrived in Sannox around 1745, so 16 miles took us around 9.5 hours with a few lengthy stops. Both my dad and I have noticed a fairly decent increase in walking fitness following our West Highland Way trip, so perhaps we are now capable of slightly longer backpacking journeys, something to think about in the near future.

With still almost an hour to wait for the next bus back to Brodick, we dumped our packs and sheltered in the bus stop. However, a very nice couple saw us now drenched in the bus shelter and offered us a lift to Brodick. This was gladly accepted as it would now allow time for a trip to the chip shop in Brodick, something that has become somewhat of a tradition whenever we visit the island! The 25 minute bus journey took just under 20 minutes by car, leaving us plenty of time before the ferry home to Brodick. Soaked and tired, we strolled over to the chip shop and purchased a ridiculous amount of chips, a consolation prize for the journey of great hardship. We gladly devoured the lot and waited for the ferry home. Arran 1, James 0. For now!

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