Tuesday, 21 November 2017

ARRAN: Great Glens of the North (Marathon)

Meall nan Damh from the Great Glens of the North Marathon

Distance = c. 26.8 miles
Ascent = c. 3750 ft

Tough trail running connecting Arran's great northern trails.  

Advance warning - this route will destroy your feet & lower legs!  

Consider it 'The Pulveriser'.

Certainly not for those new to marathons.

But - the route is likely the best trail marathon on the island - if not one of the best in Scotland.


Route Overview

  • Catacol - Glen Catacol
  • Gleann Diomhan
  • Gleann Easan Biorach
  • Lochranza
  • South Newton/Newton Point
  • Cock of Arran
  • North Sannox
  • Sannox
  • Glen Sannox
  • Devil's Chimney
  • The Saddle
  • Glen Rosa
  • Brodick


Route Description

This route - for the distance - is very tough & tiring.  

On the Route Video I didn't time myself - I had ran the Three Lochs Way at a fast pace only 4 days before.  I was taking it quite easy for the filming of this route (averaging just under 9 mpm pace for the duration).

If you want to be a purist and run an 'exact' marathon, it's likely better to start the route at the entrance to Glen Catacol rather than at Catacol village itself.  However, the ins & outs of the glens (especially the bog-dodging in Gleann Easn Biorach) will likely make having an 'exact' distance close to impossible to achieve.  

Deciding on footwear is problematic for the route.  I ran it in a pair of trail shoes - but I'd recommend having two pairs of shoes.  Consider studded fell shoes essential for Gleann Diomhan & Gleann Easan Biorach.  

The path round the Cock of Arran is suitable for both fell & trail shoes.

Glens Sannox & Rosa would easily handle a light pair of trail shoes.

Keep in mind there are some short miles of road running to connect the glens i.e. very brief road run at Catacol, road running in Lochranza, the drop down into Sannox, and the Glen Rosa roadhead back to the ferry terminal.  I personally didn't want to destroy my studs on the road sections, hence opting for trail shoes.  

But if you don't take studs for the Catacol - Lochranza section, you may regret it.....!

If this rout were ever an 'official' marathon, I'd suggest runners wear full fell shoes (i.e. Mudclaws/PB's etc) until after the Cock of Arran, and change into light trail shoes at N Sannox. 

Route Familiarisation

I'd advise runners to try the route in sections prior to embarking on the full marathon.  

There are three primary sections:

Section A = Catacol - Lochranza
Section B = Cock of Arran
Section C = Glen Sannox & Glen Rosa

Each section on its own is worth the ferry trip.  

Also worthwhile is running sections A and B as a route (getting the bus back to Brodick from Sannox), and running sections B and C as a route.  

Ergo the route is actually six routes in total.  


Route Details

(accompanying photos at bottom of article)

Get the 324 bus to Catacol (£3:10 for a single at time of going to press.  Combined with the ferry cost, enjoying a marathon such as this one for under £12 isn't bad at all!!).  

If starting in Catacol village, ask the driver to drop you off at Catacol Hotel.  

Alternatively, he'll drop you off at the entrance to Glen Catacol if you ask.  

I began the route at the Twelve Apostles.  This is the name given to the twelve white cottages.  It makes for a logical start point (summer seat on seaward side of road).  

Head out of Catacol and you'll soon reach the white bridge over the Abhainn Mor.  On the L you'll see the sign for Glen Catacol - follow this, turning off before crossing the bridge.  

There's now no navigational issue - follow the trail!  

Key to the entire route is breaking off to join Gleann Diomhan.  Be sure you don't head all the way to Loch Tanna!  Refer to the photos for more detail.  

The pull up the Glen is quite tough, reaching a height of 1345ft (which you'll have to lose every inch of on your descent to Lochranza...).  This is an isolated, beautiful spot.

The col itself can cause navigational problems in thick mist, as there are a number of cairns on the open land.  Be weary of dropping off into Glen Iorsa!

Loch na Davie is little more than a puddle - slightly disappointing, given the lyrical waxing you'll hear of it if you take the Distillery tour.  

The worst underfoot terrain is Gleann Easan Biorach (i.e. Loch na Davie - Lochranza).  Tough, slow going in the glen.  Sections of path appear only to vanish into mud.  When you hit a pleasant section of path, don't get too excited - it'll soon vanish!  

This glen is rarely visited by walkers.  It is the domain of deer stalkers - of which the path is testament to.  

Again - I advise studs.  It is perma-wet bog.  

You'll reach the road in Lochranza at Ballarie Bridge - turn L and follow the road until you reach the R T-junction heading to South Newton.  Turn off here, follow the road to another T-junction, then turn L to head round to the Cock of Arran.  

'Cock of Arran' refers to a specific part of the headland - but assume common parlance is to use it to describe the entire headland. 

....Yes, yes, the Cock of Arran isn't a glen - but I enjoy the alliteration of the route title :)  

The Cock of Arran is a lonely area, and can feel quite desolate & isolated during wild weather.  Never high (there is one pull, though...) & never too tough - but you're hemmed in by the hills to your R, and cut off by the sea on your L.

This entire marathon is never 'remote', given you're on trails all the way, and only ever a few miles from the road.  However, round at the Cock of Arran is probably the remotest point of the route (or maybe The Saddle - but it feels less 'cut off'). 

There's a bouldery section that will cause a drop of pace.  There's a path all the way - but I didn't include it either on the photos or in the video as it is an enjoyable section I'd rather the runner discover for themselves.  

Reaching Laggan will likely take longer than you imagine.  The similarity of the terrain throughout this section can make the miles feel long.  

However, you'll soon pass the azimuth marker (on your R) and reach the road.  Pull round and uphill after the bridge (quite steep) to join the main island road.  Turn L and drop into Sannox.  

Upon entering Sannox, you'll see the bus stop on the L.  The entrance to Glen Sannox is on the opposite side of the road, just after the white cottage.  Enter the Glen, passing the cemetery and pulling round for the best views of the day.  

Glen Sannox itself is a very easy run - go fast if you have the energy.


Devil's Chimney

This merits a more detailed description.  

At the head of the glen you'll encounter a 'problem' upon your ascent to The Saddle.

The chimney is a scramble.  Prepare yourself for it, as it may seem steep if you expect a path all the way to The Saddle.  

Many walkers have turned back at the Chimney.  It is rumoured a few have cried.   

There are three possible ascents:

The Chimney direct
The rocks to the L of the Chimney
The scree slope to the L again

I'd completely discourage you from trying to pull up the scree slope.  It is loose & rotten.  

The rock rib just to the L of the chimney is good, solid rock.  But it may feel exposed if you aren't used to scrambling.  

The chimney itself will likely feel 'safe' due to its enclosed nature - but there are two potentially awkward moves.  

The first awkward move: you'll know when there.  Keep to the R and pull up on good rock.  If short, you'll probably find yourself utilising knees to pull over!  

The second awkward move involves surmounting a slanting slab.  Again, if you are short, it may cause problems - you may need a 'punt' from a friend.  Keep to the R - the rock above and to the R of the slab itself has great handholds.  Take your time, feel for the handholds, and you'll be fine.  

Don't fall when ascending the chimney - a fall could/would be very nasty indeed.  

There are no more technical difficulties after those moves.  The Chimney soon peters out into path.  


Glen Rosa is simple, and requires no description other than keep to the path!  

Be as fast as you can be through Glen Rosa.  It is a spectacular glen for trail-running.  

You'll soon reach the road, from where it is an obvious journey back to the ferry terminal.

Have fun


Twelve Apostles in Catacol.  Route start point

Follow the sign - turn off before the bridge

Lower Glen Catacol.  Very beautiful

Great stuff.  Rarely visited

Feels like a mini Lairig Ghru

Beinn Tarsuinn.  Our route heads round to the L of Beinn Tarsuinn

Note the fence in this image (off to the L) - the path heads up & along this fence.  Be sure not to miss this, otherwise you're heading along the wrong glen!

Note the cairn.  This marks the turn off point for Gleann Diomhan

Follow the fence uphill to a gate.  At the gate you'll notice another path coming in - however, the route described to this point is likely more obvious for a first-time visitor, hence the suggestion
Second deer fence, looking back down the glen

High up Gleann Diomhan, looking back to Meall nan Damh

At the col/bealach, looking to the main peaks (Caisteal Abhail, Cir Mhor, A' Chir, Beinn Tarsuinn, and Beinn Nuis

The path curves round to the L - despite the look of this image.  The scree/rock outcrop coming down from Caisteal Abhail is Carn Mor

Glen Iorsa - Arran's wildest glen by far

Loch na Davie soon comes into view

Loch na Davie.  Very shallow.  Beautiful spot, but not much of a loch!  Still, it's a nice feature

Torr Nead an Eoin soon looms into view

Shot for the climbers.  The line of Aquila is obvious
Above image, with routes added.  I'm surprised there's been no winter ascent of Verdant Gully.  If cold enough, I'm going over for a look this season.  And for a look at the short gully over to the R

Round at the Cock of Arran, just before the rocky section

Beautiful sandstone rock formations.  But keep your eyes peeled for mermaids.  They'll lure you into the depths on the basis of a false promise.  Actually, that sounds like most modern relationships!

Great path.  But it doesn't last long!

Fionn Bhealach looms high above

Laggan.  Note the painted windows

Good going here

Shot for the boulderers - the forest has recently been cleared, and has revealed two large boulders that would certainly be worth a visit for some first ascents

Take the L here, cossing the bridge (the R heads off to the pony trekking centre)

Yip - Cioch na h-Oighe looks spectacular from here

Fast downhill running to Sannox

Enter Glen Sannox just after the cottage

Glen Sannox.  Stunning

Cir Mhor & Hunter's Ridge, The Castles off to the R

Looking to Mullach Buidhe

Devil's Chimney.  Yes - it is quite steep.  The tricky sections are within the chimney i.e. just to the L of the large overhang in this shot

Approaching The Saddle, looking back down Glen Sannox

In Glen Rosa, looking back to Cir Mhor (stunning mountain from any angle)

Lower Glen Rosa

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