Sunday, 4 December 2016

ARRAN: The Nowhere Hills

I'm giving you false hope with this image.  The route is actually something of a bog trot

Arran's toughest Fell-run?  Probably.

The Nowhere Hills ascends Arran's most inaccessible hills - on some of the toughest terrain you'll ever run.

A true tendon-snapper for die-hard fell-running nutcases only.

You've been warned...!



Prepare yourself....

Lower Glen Iorsa, then:

1)  Sail Chalmadale (1575 ft)
2)  Cnoc Breac (1404 ft)

Crossing of Tanna Bog, then

3)  Cnoc Breac Gamhainn (1194 ft)
4)  Beinn Tarsuinn (SW summit; 1729 ft)
5)  Beinn Tarsuinn (N summit; 1824 ft)
6)  Beinn Bhreac (1886 ft)
7)  Beinn Bhiorach (1594 ft)
8)  Creag na h-lolaire (1407 ft)
9)  Meall Mor (1627 ft)
10)  Creagan nan Caorach (1106 ft)
11)  Cnoc Leacainn Duibhe (755 ft)

Descent via Cnoc Buidhe/Cnoc an Uird to Lochranza.

Looking at the map, you'll see that every hill jammed between the Western Hills & the main Arran range is ticked in this route.

It's a tough one, and the product of 5 prior visits to determine best route.

Don't be fooled into thinking lower = easier.  To do so would be to commit a grave error of judgement.

Distance on map = c.14 miles, but add at least 1.5 miles for the ins & outs required to dodge bogs en route...

Assume the route is c.16 miles.

Runners will already know distances should always be taken with a pinch of salt when fell-running.  More important is terrain (and, possibly to a lesser extent (route-dependent), ascent).  



Route vid Here

As with most North Island routes, get the 324 bus.  

The bus journey takes over an hour to reach the start point (Glen Iorsa path, just before Dougarie Lodge (Dougarie is pronounced 'Dougray', as in actor Dougray Scott)).  

If you're unsure where to go, just ask the driver.  He'll give you a shout as/when.

Get a Day Rover ticket (cheaper than two singles), as you'll be returning by bus from Lochranza.  £5:70 at time of publication of this article (Dec 2016).

With a Day Rover you can get on/off the bus anywhere you please.  But keep in mind the buses run in accordance with the ferries.  

Enjoy the great views, or set your alarm for about 50 minutes after boarding and have a snooze.  

If getting the first bus on a weekday, you'll have some entertainment between Lochranza & Pirnmill.  

Pirnmill is the primary school for these parts; around 8 or 9 kids get the bus to school from Lochranza.  

Bus tickets folded up as paper aeroplanes will scream past you at speeds approaching Mach 3.  

It's the only bus journey where flight squadron attack is guaranteed.


Start point is at sea level (as with most Arran routes).  

At the start point.  Glen Iorsa is well signposted; no navigational difficulties at all.

Description unnecessary

Lower Glen Iorsa.  Really beautiful, and rarely visited.  Sail Chalmadale, first peak of the day, is the leftmost hill in this shot

the Beinn Lochain hills, as seen from Glen Iorsa

Sail Chalmadale & Glen Iorsa

Beinn Nuis & the Iorsa Water

Fell-running begins just after the Scaftigill Burn (i.e. once beyond the final stretch of forestry).  

After fording the burn (don't concern yourself with trying to keep feet dry; they'll be soaked within a minute of crossing the ford anyway), simply break off L on to the moor, heading up the ill-defined SW ridge of Sail Chalmadale, leading to Loch Sail Chalmadale.

Looking along Glen Iorsa from the initial ascent of Sail Chalmadale

Arran's Western Hills soon come into view.  And what a view

Joining the Stalker's path; Sail Chalmadale beyond

Loch Sail Chalmadale.  Really beautiful.  Disturbingly still & silent...

Looking S from Loch Sail Chalmadale.  Photographers: get yourself here!

Shot for the climbers among us.  Sail Chalmadale's crags.  They'd provide a few bouldering traverses, but it's a long trek with a mat

The Castles (& Witch's Step), Cir Mhor, Beinn Tarsuinn & Beinn Nuis soon enter view

Photographers: Sail Chalmadale is a great location for dramatic shots of the Western Hills (as seen in the image below), and for a different angle of the main hills.  

Consider ascending Sail Chalmadale for an easy, short day.  

If doing the hill on its own, head along the Glen to Loch Iorsa (you'll also get some great shots from the loch), and ascend Sail Chalmadale from the Loch.  Descent can be made via the ascent route included herein.

There's a car park opposite the start of the Glen Iorsa track.

If travelling on your own transport, cross the String, then take the Machrie back road.  

Sales pitch not required with this image

Sail Chalmadale summit, looking to the Western Hills.  Fine spot indeed

Now the nowhere really begins.  Consider the ascent of Sail Chalmadale a pleasant preamble

Looking at the above image again, this time with relevant route details added:

Pools of Iorsa (unnamed on OS map), as seen from Sail Chalmadale.  Kelpies dwell here.  True story

Glen Iorsa is a stunning, wild glen.  But I wouldn't recommend it for through-travel.  I recce'd it as an initial option for this route; going is very tough.

The Pools of Iorsa are scarily dark...


Cnoc Breac is the northernmost point of Sail Chalmadale.  Things start to feel remote after Cnoc Breac.

Looking back to Sail Chalmadale from Cnoc Breac

Descend from Cnoc Breac to the NE corner of Lochan nan Cnamh.  

You're now entering a superbly desolate environment that is almost never visited.  

You'll have it all to yourself.

...Which means... 

...Don't sprain/break an ankle!

True wilderness.

Worst-case scenario: if you do have to endure a slow & painful death, you'll likely have a lump of bog named after you.

Or maybe get a mention in the local newspaper.

Maintain good form by focusing on the positives whilst perishing.

Beinn Bharrain, Mullach Buidhe, & Beinn Bhreac from the descent to Lochan nan Cnamh.  Glen Scaftigill is the glen dropping off to the bottom L corner

After Lochan nan Cnamh you'll encounter the most serious part of the route, and probably some of the most serious terrain S of the Highlands.  

Cnoc Breac - Cnoc Breac Gamhainn is an area of very serious bog.

...Tanna Bog.  

Cross on a day of high cloud/no cloud.  In mist/cloud you'll most certainly become lost.  

The ground is featureless sponge interspersed with very deep bogs.

Each step is a potential ankle/leg injury.  Or a soaking/drowning.  

Be careful out here...

Tanna bog, beyond which can be seen Loch Tanna & Beinn Tarsuinn.  The small rise to the R of Loch Tanna is Cnoc Breac Gamhainn

The Castles, Cir Mhor, & A' Chir from Tanna bog.  Cnoc Breac Gamhainn is the lump in the middle distance

Western Hills from Tanna Bog

Cross the Allt Tigh an Shorraim (the small burn dropping to Glen Iorsa from Loch Tanna), after which the bogs become very deep.

If you need convincing:

Superbog en route to Cnoc Breac Gamhainn (seen ahead).  Myra Hindley would've loved this neighbourhood

Fell-runners should, in my opinion, be known as Bog-Jockeys.

Let's see if it'll catch on.  

If fell-runners take offence, they lack a sense of humour.  Or don't fell-run often enough.

On a more sensible note: I personally wouldn't class the ascent of a hill via a man-made track a fell-run.  Assume on this site that fell-run refers to running up/over trackless hill/moorland.

Running up/down Goatfell via the Tourist Path would be a trail run (as you're on a trail).  


Cnoc Breac Gamhainn is probably the remotest hill on Arran.  

I'm holding the delusion in my mind that I have the first ascent of the hill.  If anyone has ever ascended the hill, do let me know.  If you're dead, it doesn't count, so don't bother contacting me.  

The hill isn't on any list-ticker's list of hills to ascend.  

Cameron McNeish would hate it, call it dull & boring, then enthuse about it in a TV show 6 weeks later.  

In terms of sheer inaccessibility/awkwardness, it's one of the finest in Scotland.  

Let me add a new list for list-tickers:


Desperately Awkwards

My first nomination for the Desperatly Awkwards is Cnoc Breac Gamhainn.  

Beinn Tarsuinn from Cnoc Breac Gamhainn.  The small moss-covered boulder is the summit.  I add again: I'm claiming first ascent

Rare views.  Garbh-coire Dubh, framed from Cnoc Breac Gamhainn. The peaks are The Castles, Cir Mhor, A' Chir & Beinn Tarsuinn

Western Hills & Loch Tanna (Arran's largest loch) from Cnoc Breac Gamhainn.  Beautiful.  But quite eerie.  Fine spot for a bothy

The land between Cnoc Breac Gamhainn & Beinn Tarsuinn is still boggy, but nothing like the Tanna Bog.  

You'll sink a bit, but won't drown.

Both summits of Beinn Tarsuinn, seen from the wild land N of Cnoc Breac Gamhainn

Looking back to Sail Chalmadale from the ascent to Beinn Tarsuinn

Sail Chalmadale & Loch Tanna.  The small, higher loch is the Dubh Loch

The very fine Paps of Jura, seen over Lodan Ruadh ('Lodan' = puddle/small pool).  The impressive peak to the R is Meall nan Damh

Cir Mhor, N. Goatfell, Stacach Ridge, Goatfell, & A' Chir from Beinn Tarsuinn's SW summit.  Wild stuff indeed

Mull from Beinn Tarsuinn

...Now that's a view!  Meall nan Damh from Beinn Tarsuinn

The land of both summits of Beinn Tarsuinn is very similar to the Cairngorms (think Ben Avon/Beinn a' Bhuird).  Similarly, navigation in mist/cloud is treacherous.

Descend ENE from Beinn Tarsuinn's SW summit, and ascend in a northerly direction from the bealach (with a very slight trend E).

I reiterate - this is tricky in mist, due to the featureless nature of the land.

A' Chir's West face, seen from Beinn Tarsuinn.  Climbers: surely the cliff below the summit would yield a few lines.  Very similar to the Souwester area of the Rosa.  And it faces the right way...

More great views of Jura.  Meall nan Damh looks particularly fine from Beinn Tarsuinn.  It's a brilliant hill

Sail Chalmadale from Beinn Tarsuinn's N (highest) summit.  The peak to the R of the cairn is Mullach Buidhe

Take note: Arran has more than one Mullach Buidhe, and more than one Beinn Tarsuinn.  Be sure you are referencing against the correct hills on the map!

From the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn initially trend ESE, in the direction of Pt. 514m, before heading NE to the bealach between Tarsuinn & Beinn Bhreac.

The descent is loose & bouldery.  Watch the ankles.

The boulders are too large for the descent to constitute a scree run, yet too small to freely jump over.

Looking back up the descent slope:

Looking back up the descent from Beinn Tarsuinn.  It's steeper than this photo would suggest

You could head further ENE and avoid the boulder slope, but you'll still hit boulders.

Just make a beeline for the bealach.

Head for the marker cairn at the head of Gleann Diomhan where you'll also meet the path (the path heads round to Loch na Davie).  Cut across the path, heading straight for Beinn Bhreac.

Beinn Bhreac, seen from just before the path heading up from Gleann Diomhan

My suggested ascent line for Beinn Bhreac is as follows:

Keep to the grass/heather, where possible.  The granite boulders are quite loose in places.

Glen Iorsa, seen from the ascent of Beinn Bhreac.  Off to the L is Beinn Nuis.  The small distant peak to the R of the glen is Sail Chalmadale.  Beinn Tarsuinn rises to the R

Sail Chalmadale, Loch Tanna, Dubh Loch & the Western Hills from Beinn Bhreac

Looking beyond Gleann Easan Bhiorach to Fionn Bhealach from Beinn Bhreac.  The cliff on the R is Torr Nead an Eoin

Looking NNW to the remaining hills

The above image, with names:

Meall nan Damh & Lochan a' Mhill, seen from the Beinn Bhreac descent

Beinn Bhiorach from the Bhiorach-Bhreac bealach.  Fine little summit; the most peak-like in the area

The northern hills of this run (i.e. Beinn Bhreac - Cnoc Leacainn Duibhe) make a great round from Lochranza.  Thoroughly recommended.

Beinn Tarsuinn, seen from the ascent of Beinn Bhiorach

Fine shot.  Western Hills from Beinn Bhiorach.  In the middle distance is Beinn Tarsuinn (the N ridge, profiled here, gives a good ascent from Glen Catacol).  Gleann Diomhan is the deep valley closest to us, with Glen Catacol beyond

The Castles from Beinn Bhiorach.  Cir Mhor pops its head above the slopes of Beinn Bhreac to say hello

Next on the hit list

Above image, with names:

The ground between Beinn Bhiorach & Creag na h-lolaire is hugely boggy.  As with Tanna Bog, distance will be added here to overall route length.

There's a small track leading to Meall Mor, but you'll have to break off it to head out to Creag na h-lolaire.

Plenty of deer in these parts.  This entire area is the preserve of stalkers.  Hillwalkers are rare beasts up here.  Local authorities have licensed the shooting of any walkers/runners spotted in the vicinity of these hills

Glen Catacol & Western Hills from Creag na h-lolaire's summit (another rarely-visited spot.  But far less remote than our earlier hills)

The cairn on Creag na h-lolaire isn't at the summit.  Drop down to it for fine views of lower Glen Catacol

Catacol Farm & Catacol Village, seen from Creag na h-lolaire.  Twelve Apostles also clearly visible (google it)

From Creag na h-lolaire head to the 389m bealach, where an easy ascent can be made to the summit of Meall Mor:

Summit cairn on Meall Mor (lower N cairn beyond)

Two Beinn Tarsuinns in the one shot!  Looking to the main hills from Meall Mor.  In the middle distance is Beinn Bhiorach (NE ridge dropping to the L of the shot), with Beinn Bhreac beyond.  Off to the R is Beinn Tarsuinn

Looking back to the main summit of Meall Mor from the N summit

Loch Ranza & Newton Point from Meall Mor

Climbers: here is a good shot of Torr Nead an Eoin.  The line of Aquila is clearly visible:

The deep chimney rising from the R of the grass shelf would surely give a good two-pitch winter climb after a cold spell/hard freeze...  Very short walk from Lochranza...

The descent of Meall Mor is very steep grass/heather.  In anything other than fell shoes, you'll fall/slide.

When dropping off from Meall Mor, keep to the R of the gully, joining it slightly lower down.  Obvious when there.

Only two hills left to go!

Looking to the final two of the day:

The Doire Bhuidhe, seen from the descent of Meall Mor.  Plenty of ATV tracks hereabouts; none indicated on any map (OS or otherwise)

Fine beasts on the Doire Bhuidhe

With regards the ATV tracks: the main access ATV track heads along the Abhainn Bheag from Catacol (useful to know if you fancy a shorter circuit one day):

ATV access track heading up/alongside the Abhainn Bheag

Fairhaven & Catacol Bridge, seen from Creagan nan Caorach

Have a look at the route video RE Creagan nan Caorach.  Be sure to visit the W top (this is where the above image was taken from)

Looking across the Doire Bhuidhe to Cnoc Leacainn Duibhe from Creagan nan Caorach.  Note the ATV track: follow it for most of the way, then break off W to the summit

Summit trig of Cnoc Leacainn Duibhe.  This is the only trig of the day, and makes a fine, fitting conclusion to the round

Meall nan Damh & Creagan Fhithich from Cnoc Leacainn Duibhe (Catacol Bay off to the R)

Glen Catacol from Cnoc Leacainn Duibhe.  On the L is Creag na h-lolaire

Loch Ranza, South Newton, and Torr Meadhonach, seen from Cnoc Leacainn Duibhe

Head NE to Cnoc an Uird, meeting the ATV track at the burn.  Again, this track isn't indicated on any map.  But it's a fine track.

Brilliant track.  Only known by stalkers.  That is, until this article

Almost finished

End of route.  Job done

Choose your finish point at will.  It could either be the road itself, the pier (only a hundred metres or so to the R from your exit point), or Lochranza Castle (again, only a very short distance away).

I opted for the pier as I didn't want to wreck the Sunday Bests by running hard on concrete.

Lochranza Castle.  I'm surprised a Londoner hasn't yet purchased this (like most of the rest of Arran) and converted it into a craft shop/art gallery.  I'm in need of a £380 bespoke wooden placemat; someone had better get on this, and fast 

Classic view of Lochranza Castle

In any instance, the fell running is done for the day.

What a route!!


Consider a visit to the distillery (cafe upstairs; they do a fine soup).

I don't drink, so I wouldn't purchase any whisky.

That, plus purchasing a bottle would require a small mortgage/selling of bodyparts.

If you do like whisky and fancy a bottle, consider offering one of your children in exchange for an anniversary 21 year old bottle.  It's a good deal, and financially, in the long run, the more sensible option.  

But the soup is reasonably priced.

Soup at the distillery.  At £250,000, it's fairly reasonably priced

Final shot of Torr Nead an Eoin to keep the climbers happy (this is the classic view of the crag, as seen from Lochranza)

Have fun - and watch those ankles!


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