On holiday in the Arrochar Alps

Neil Reid on summit block of The Cobbler

The author on top of Ben Arthur – The Cobbler. Picture by Lloyd Gibbs

Long past time for a trip away from the Cairngorms, so I took the opportunity of a sort of work day observing an MCofS navigation course near Balmaha to sneak a day in the Arrochar Alps.

Saturday morning was an early rise to meet with MCofS Mountain Safety Adviser Heather Morning at the Lomond MRT base at Drymen, just to get a taster of what went on at the one-day navigation courses run by the MCofS in conjunction with the Walkhighlands website.

Navigation lesson near Loch Lomond with Heather Morning, MCofS

MCofS Mountain Safety Adviser Heather Morning teaching navigation near Loch Lomond

It was an entertaining day, tramping around Conic Hill by Loch Lomond and seeing the enjoyment in the client’s faces as they learned the tricks of the trade with map and compass.

Then it was off round Loch Lomond and across to Ardgarten and a tired, hungry, sweaty trauchle up through the woods above Succoth to the open hillside and a camp by the Narnain Boulders on the way up to The Cobbler.

The evening wasn’t too great, with low cloud and drizzle but, despite some shrouds of cloud around the summits on Sunday morning, there was little doubt it was going to be a scorcher.

The Cobbler, capped in cloud, in the Arrochar Alps

The cloud-capped Cobbler at 7 am, from my pitch by the Nairnain Boulders

Breakfasted and packed up, I cut diagonally up the side of Beinn Narnain, soaked to the knees from wet grass and from the head down with sweat, for the lack of wind meant it was midge hell if I stopped for as much as a few seconds, so the steep, grassy gully I chose to join the south-east end of the ridge was taken almost non-stop. What a way to start the morning, and it hardly even 7am!

Narnain from the south-east is a great way to climb a hill, full of shattered rock scenery which has to be wound through, giving an air of adventure without ever being hard or dangerous – and as you gain height there are ever increasing views down Loch Long, through to the Gareloch and through to Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond beyond, its summit piercing a persistent layer of cloud.

Beinn Narnain in Arrochar Alps

Looking up Beinn Narnain

Beinn Narnain

Looking back down Beinn Narnain past the Spearhead

On a mission, I didn’t pause more than a few moments at the summit and headed on down towards the Bealach a Mhaim, giving a damp crossing to start up the equally damp Beinn Ime, the highest of the Arrochar Alps.

Beinn Ime, highest of the Arrochar Alps

Beinn Ime from Beinn Narnain.

After a steady plod, weighed down by my full rucksack, I stopped for about half an hour at the top. It was still early in the day, so I decided I’d take in the Cobbler on the way back to Arrochar – if my legs would take it!

I’d first been on Ben Arthur about 30 years ago, when I’d only been to the easy north top, then about 25 years ago when I climbed the classic Recess Route, again finishing on the north top, so it was about time I took in the centre top, the highest of the three and boasting the legendary scramble through and up the summit block.

Legs were definitely feeling it by the time I got to the col between the north and centre tops though, so I took a big swallow from my water bottle and left the sack against a rock while I went first to the North and then to the centre tops.

Looking through hole in summit block of The Cobbler, towards the north top

Looking through the hole in the summit block towards the north top

And the centre top really does live up to its billing. Clamber over a few blocks and you’re faced with a triangular hole through the summit block. Crawl through and you’re on a ledge – wide enough in all conscience – which leads along to the left, with a big drop onto hard-looking rocks below. The only ‘technical’ bit follows, a mini-scramble/clamber up into a cleft between two blocks and up onto the highest point for the ultimate summit pose. Wouldn’t want to do it in the wet, right enough, but not nearly as fierce as it looks.

Neil Reid on summit block of The Cobbler

My summit shot, courtesy of Lloyd Gibbs

After chatting with Lloyd Gibbs, who took the photo of me which heads this post, I headed off to reclaim my sack and head off down the precipitous direct path down the front – although it was to be said the steps at the top are a huge improvement on the scree scrabble I seem to recall from quarter a century ago.

Then it was the long haul back to the car in heat which was becoming increasingly unbearable and a hugely welcome hamburger and refrigerated Coke at the Arrochar garage before a drive home, arriving just in time to see Andy Murray’s last three points to victory at Wimbledon.

Quite a nice day, all in all.

North summit of The Cobbler from below

Looking back up from under the north summit of The Cobbler. The path comes down somewhere here.

The Cobbler, in the Arrochar Alps

And a last view of The Cobbler before heading down to Arrochar

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10 Responses to On holiday in the Arrochar Alps

  1. peta says:

    great article and great photos. 🙂

  2. walt says:

    Looks like a good day out,great photos

  3. David Steane says:

    Hi Neil

    Great photos! Reminds me of the day I climbed the Cobbler. Left my wife and my two boys in the car park at Arrochar, then up to the summit, and back down again in three and a half hours. I got someone to take my photo stood on the summit of central peak, as you did. One of my quickest ever ascents (2hrs 50 to the top).
    I’d managed a somewhat more leisurely hill walk over Vane, Ime and Narnain a couple of years earlier…


    • David Steane says:

      Meant to say 1hr 50…and according to my log of the walk, I overtook at least 20 folk, and a couple of dogs. I had a five minute rest at the Narnain Boulders, and again at the top, then descended in 1hr 15. It is one of the best Scottish mountains – and not even a Munro…

      • One of the best Scottish mountains – and you went and rushed it like that! 😉
        It can be good when you’re feeling fit, just to cruise past everyone and move fast on the hill. Just a pity I don’t feel that fit that often. 😦

  4. jim ryan says:

    Have traveled a fair bit and have to say the Arrochar Alps are a playground that’s hard to beat .

  5. What an excellent write-up! You’ve piqued my excitement for a planned wild-camping expedition to the Arrochar Alps this month. Thanks very much.

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