After a very long time since my last wild camp, I was buzzing with excitement to finally get on the ferry and over to one of my favourite places – the beautiful Isle of Arran – for my first wild camp of the year. The most difficult part of organising myself was deciding where to go as it had been so long that I couldn’t decide where to visit first! I eventually settled on Caisteal Abhail and I’m so glad I did!
It’s very difficult to concentrate on work when you have the excitement of a Friday afternoon ferry journey to Arran, but I soldiered through the day and headed off for the 1515 boat from Ardrossan, which wasn’t quite as busy as I’d expected given the recent shift in restrictions in Scotland. The weather forecast was looking pretty good other than a bit of a breeze, but this is always most welcome on the way up a mountain as it saves overheating with a heavy pack on. After the ferry, it was a quick jaunt on the bus to North Sannox, where I started my afternoon’s walking and headed up North Glen Sannox, smiling from ear to ear at the thought of actually heading on a proper adventure for the first time in a such a long time. What a good feeling – freedom at last!
The ascent is gentle at first and climbs slowly alongside the pretty burn with several waterfalls and some lovely views. After a couple of kilometres, I reached the edge of the tree-line and after a hop across the burn and a short trudge through a slightly wetter section, the ascent began properly with a steep pull towards Sail an Im. I was so glad to be back exploring that I really wasn’t bothered about how difficult or steep the terrain was and barely noticed how quickly I made the height.
The views up and down were absolutely superb on what was a calm, but slightly hazy, afternoon. After Sail an Im, the gradient eases slightly and from there it was a fairly consistent climb up the last 300m or so of ascent towards Caisteal Abhail and my home for the evening.
I was making good progress along the picturesque ridge, stopping every now and again to soak up the views and remind myself that I was on my first wild camp of the year at long last.
A short distance from the summit I stopped to put on an extra layer as the wind was pretty cold. I was glad I’d brought my winter sleeping kit as although there wasn’t any snow on Arran’s hills, it was still barely above freezing and would surely drop below that during the night.
After about an hour and 45 minutes, I reached the summit and stopped to admire the awesome views across Arran’s other high hills, before settling on a place to pitch my tent – you’re certainly spoiled for choice up here!
Sunset was due around 2030 and with an hour or so to kill, I headed downhill towards Cir Mhor to the small spring about 150m below the summit to pick up some water for the evening. I always like this quick journey down and up without a bag as it reminds you just how much your kit weighs when you’re able to hop around rather easily without it!
After collecting my water, it was time for tea and my first camping meal of the year too. What a weird feeling it was to be making one of these again, but it’s tough to beat for both convenience and variety. I hastily polished off my dinner and stood for a while to watch the sun disappear behind a bank of cloud west of Jura and Islay. With the haze and the cloud it wasn’t the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever witnessed, but it was still such a good feeling to be watching it atop a mountain.
After the sun disappeared I retreated to my tent and got myself ready for a chilly but peaceful night’s sleep.
I woke around 0445 in preparation for a sunrise, but after opening my tent door and noticing a blanket of cloud on the horizon, I wasn’t hopeful. Still, I was awake now, so after a quick breakfast of a protein bar and I got myself packed up and ready to go. Although the sun wasn’t up yet, the clouds hanging around below the summits around me were pretty awesome to watch.
As I set off south towards Cir Mhor, the sun briefly made an appearance through the cloud. My first sunrise of 2021!
As the light grew stronger, the views around me only improved, with Caisteal Abhail looking particularly special behind me.
I stopped just before the path plunged below me into Glen Rosa to de-layer as I’d set off with most of my layers on and by now I was a little bit warm to say the least. After a quick swig of water I headed off to make quick work of the stone steps and was soon heading down the good path on its way out of Glen Rosa.
To me, there’s something really special about early mornings in the mountains. The weather is often calm and it’s almost always either empty of people or very quiet. There’s a real feeling of solitude and independence and it helps me appreciate my surroundings and how lucky I am to be able to travel through these amazing landscapes at will.
After my ‘moment of enlightenment’, I pressed on and headed for the start of the Land Rover track at the end of the glen, stopping occasionally to look back at Cir Mhor behind me. I was making pretty good progress and kept up the pace, soon reaching the tarmac road a mile or so from the A841.
Upon reaching the tarmac road, it was another couple of easy miles to Brodick, which I reached a smidge under 2 hours and 20 minutes after departing Caisteal Abhail. With a 10-11kg pack on, I was rather chuffed with this progress! I had a long wait until my 1105 ferry home, so I headed to the Co-Op for a morning snack and simply sat and admired the views of Goatfell and Brodick Bay for a good hour or so.
It was far too long a wait for my first wild camp of 2021, but here’s hoping that restrictions continue to ease and I’m able to make up for lost time and cram plenty of adventure and exploring into the rest of this year!