Sunset from the Summit: Caisteal Abhail

A fantastic wild camp on the summit of Caisteal Abhail – Arran’s most northerly and second highest corbett – similar to a trip that my dad and I undertook a couple of years ago. Once again we were treated to a spectacular sunset and a good test of our (yet another) new tent, the Wild Country Trisar 2D.

[August 2017]

As with all Arran adventures, our journey started aboard the MV Caledonian Isles for a pleasant hour-long crossing from Ardrossan to Brodick. Once across, rather unusualy for us, we started our adventure on foot rather than making use of the island’s bus service. Our usual way up Caisteal Abhail involved a bus journey to North Sannox, where the river is followed before detouring along a long winding ridge before a final push to the summit – a steep but relatively quick way up this mountain. We had opted for a longer, less steep route from Brodick. We followed the good track up Glen Rosa before taking a branch to reach the bealach between A’Chir and Cir Mhor, before a slightly steeper (but still less steep than the mountain’s north ridge) pull to reach the summit.

Beginning our journey – Goatfell from Brodick Bay

After a couple of miles of road walking to reach the outskirts of Brodick and the entrance to the valley, we were soon in the very scenic Glen Rosa, following a landrover track at first, which then turns into a narrower – but still very well made – path to the head of the glen.

Entering the glen

Upon reaching the branch in the path (where one path continues to the saddle and the other climbs to reach a bealach between Cir Mhor and A’Chir) we stopped for a short rest, starting to struggle with the heat and humidity. It wasn’t particularly sunny but had been for most of the day beforehand, so walking along the valley floor was not unlike sauntering around in a greenhouse. Still, nothing some water and a snack couldn’t fix and we were soon on our way again.

Cir Mhor and a weary walker

We started to gain height quickly and the views of Cir Mhor’s craggy and rocky slopes were magnificent. However, as we had now dropped out of the wind to ascend the steep slopes, a lovely swarm of midges decided to pay us a visit. If there’s one thing worse than being too warm, it’s midges, so we pressed on to reach the bealach and hoped that there would be enough of a breeze to rid us of our new friends.

Cir Mhor
Looking back to Goatfell
View from the bealach

Thankfully we were greeted by a refreshing breeze upon reaching the bealach, so we stopped once again to cool down and take on some much needed water, taking time to admire the panoramic views of Arran’s western hills.

We were soon on our way again, traversing the slopes of Cir Mhor to reach the ridge which connects it to Caisteal Abhail. The light was now beginning to fade and the hills began to turn shades of orange and yellow in the dying light, so I was hopeful for a picturesque sunset.

Nearly there – Caisteal Abhail

Another reason for choosing this route to our campsite for the evening was water. Although there are an abundance of burns and streams on Arran to a height of a few hundred metres, finding a decent flow that’s anywhere near a path becomes slightly more difficult when nearing the summits. However, there are 2 very obvious – and very refreshing – springs on Caisteal Abhail’s southern ridge. These are both marked with cairns and a very helpful person has even carried up a section of plastic guttering and wedged it into one of the springs, making it delightfully easy to fill up water containers. After a stop at this handy spring we set off once more on our final push to the summit.

Fading light on Cir Mhor and Goatfell
Goatfell, Cir Mhor and Beinn Tarsuinn – 3 of Arran’s 4 corbetts

After setting off at around 1620, we reached the summit of Caisteal Abhail at 2050, 4.5hrs after setting off from Brodick. 1000m of ascent and 12km after leaving Brodick in very warm weather, we were pleased enough with this speed!

The next job was putting up our new tent, which was remarkably easy to do. The Trisar 2D was very solid once pitched and everything seems very well constructed. It’s around 4kg but for a mountain tent with more than enough room for 2 plus kit, we thought that wasn’t a ridiculous weight to be carrying, considering it’ll do anything from summit camps in lovely summer weather to camping in the Cairngorms in hard winter (we’ll need to see about that though…).

Tent pitched with a good view

Once we had our gear sorted we found a couple of comfortable seat-shaped rocks and enjoyed a meal while watching a spectacular sunset over the islands of Jura and Islay.

A spectacular sunset over the Southern Hebrides
Couldn’t resist an adventurer pose

Once the sun disappeared over the horizon, we tidied our cooking equipment and settled in for the night, grateful for some sleep after a tough climb to reach our spot for the evening.

Dusk over Kintyre

After a decent night’s sleep in our new tent, we woke and began packing up ready for the day’s adventures. Despite quite a stiff breeze blowing in the morning, the tent was very sturdy and stable and after inspection, none of the guylines had loosened and no pegs had escaped, so we were both pleased so far with the performance of our new mountain tent.

We finished packing and enjoyed breakfast with a view before getting ready to set off towards the first challenge of the day, the Witch’s Step.

Arran’s mountains in the morning
Some stunning Arran scenery

After a quick detour to visit the actual summit of Caisteal Abhail – one of two large tors – we proceeded east towards the Witch’s step, a huge rocky cleft requiring a fairly tricky scramble to reach the bottom of the “step”. This was made slightly tougher by having a bigger bag than a usual daypack, but we reached the bottom of the step with no real issues, pausing for a moment to admire the breathtaking views.

Approaching the Witch’s Step
A long way down

Now the difficult section was over, we dropped north to skirt round the eastern pinnacle of the Witch’s step to rejoin a good path towards Suidhe Fhearghas. It was very difficult not to look back to admire some of the island’s most amazing features.

The Witch’s Step and Caisteal Abhail
My dad’s turn at an adventure pose

After a fairly flat section from the Witch’s step to Suidhe Fhearghas, the path began to drop significantly to reach the valley floor below. Although the path is visible, it was particularly loose and slippery so we took our time reaching the foot of the hill.  Once we were off the hill, the path then became significantly boggier than before, but we pressed on to reach the bottom of Glen Sannox, where once again we were greeted with awesome views back towards Arran’s mountains.

Glen Sannox

We reached the remains of some old mining works where a slightly better path is reached and we soon rejoined the main track up the valley and headed towards the village of sannox to wait on the bus back to Brodick.

Back on “solid” ground

Unusually for us, we reached the bus with only minutes to spare rather than the best part of an hour, so we boarded and headed back to Brodick to catch the ferry home.

Looking back to Arran from the ferry

Yet again, we had another very successful trip on the Isle of Arran, testing out a new tent and becoming more efficient and better at packing and selecting which kit to bring and leave behind with every trip we undertake.

After hoping for another munro bagging adventure in Lochaber, the lack of decent weather ruined our plans, so I am definitely itching to get back out and explore some more of bonnie Scotland!

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