For a Glasgowish mountain inclined bloke, there’s a hill which has been a glaring ommission in these pages.
It went well with the pipes in Rutherglen and I found myself back at base around 1530. The sun was shining, and I fidgeted for a wee bit before taking decisive action, that being replacing cotton with merino and hitting the northbound A82. With a brief stop for sammidges I pulled into the Arrochar car park at 1735. I paid for those 25 minutes of chargeable parking to 1800, just in case.
I hadn’t climbed Beinn Narnain yet this year, which is all wrong, and I was looking forward to visiting my favourite hill. The weather hinted at possibilities around dusk and I fired up the “new” track through a cloud of blossom and buzzing beasties, beads of sweat already soaking into my cap under the hot sun.
I passed a few folk heading the other way, ranging from shorts and trainers to trad-clad walkers to tourists in flip-flops to families where dad was carrying the picnic in the sole rucksack. Put a track in and folk will use it, what will today’s visitors remember from their trip up this one? Glorious views of loch and mountain, Scotland at its best.
Ben Lomond pokes it’s nose up across the pass to Tarbet, and as you climb, it grows in bulk, you might be getting higher and further away with every step, but it looms up behind you and above you. It’s coming to get you.
I stood where the old track meets the weir and the path heads to the Narnain Boulders and beyond. I love this spot, it’s so familiar now, but with endless broken rock and streaks of grass spread before you, the route through it can be different every time and I’ll never tire of it.
I reached the Narnain Boulders and stopped, the craggy coire rose above me to the wonderful crags at the summit. I still just stood there though. The Cobbler had taken my eye all the way up the track, dark, almost black with a few streaks of golden light catching the higher faces as the sun sank behind it. A few wisps of cloud spilled over the summit, pink with refracted light, before vanishing into nothing in the dark grasp of the sunless crags. I haven’t climbed the Cobbler in years, it’s too busy, too eroded, covered in litter. I stood some more, I gazed up to Narnain, it’s flank ablaze with light. But I didn’t turn right, I strode onwards, down to and across the river and started the climb to the Cobbler.
It’s rough, it’s rocky, it’s a clamber, it’s an ascent to delight the heart and free the soul. Rippled rock rises at every turn and soon jagged shards thrust overhead as the north peak cuts into the sky above you. It feels high, wild, and today: empty. I just grinned and grinned. I stopped on a little crag to have a drink and a photie and spied a fell runner far below. He’ll beat me to the top I thought. And sure enough, on the last rise to the notch on the ridgeline he caught me. We chatted for a while and he was off. Out-of-hours meetings on the hill always feel a little different, I like that.
The sun was low and the heat was disappearing, I worked around the jagged rock to find the surprisingly flat top of the hooked north peak. The view is outstanding, Cruachan is the most obvious superstar here, but Arran, Ailsa Craig, Mull, all them regular hills to the north, all there and in rich warm tones of brown and orange. Oh, autumn is coming I tell you.
Skipping back down the bare rock to the coll I made the short push to the real summit to catch the sun going down, it was heading towards the horizon. Funny how it looks very lazy all day, up in the middle of the sky, then give it a line to aim for and it races for it.
I took my pack off and crawled through the gap in the summit rocks. The rock was cold and I shimmied along to the little sloping slab and stopped. Nobody knows where I am, I’m on my own, I have a child. The last time I was up here and did a dance on the summit rocks the third observation didn’t apply. With a drumming of fingers on rock and a chewing of bottom lip, I reversed course with thoughts of dinner. Good call as it turns out, by the time I got to the little cairn a few feet away the light was nearly gone and the detail in my surroundings was going. I lit the stove, pulled on warm clothes, hat and gloves, and revelled in the moment as the sun spilled through the distant streaks of cloud in flashes of orange and red.
I phoned Joycee and told her where I was, I still didn’t go back to the summit though, hot coffee, chicken and stuffing, the chill air rubbing my cheeks, that was more than enough for now.
I stayed until I couldn’t feel my fingers, I reheated them with a hot chocolate and Vanilla Fudge bar from M&S, but it was after 9, and really was time to go home.
I took the track around the back of the south peak, jeez you forget how big the rock is around there, both the huge sheer face and the wonderful boulder field it grows from. I did this in moonlight, the headtorch stayed in my pocket, I surprised some very shaggy looking sheep, a few birds and gave a hare a heart attack. Only a couple of minor slips too, wonderful fun.
I could see the moon lighting up the Narnian boulders across the glen below, so I curved back towards them rather than face the wider river at the end of the ridge. The easy angles slopes were knee-deep with grasses, and the gentle breeze rocked the cottontails back and forth in a silvery whisper, I was walking through a field designed by Disney.
A hop and a skip and I was back on the track. I turned to look at the Cobbler. What a wonderful evening it had given me, what a fantastic hill, what an idiot I am to have left it so long.