No Right Turn

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.

12 thoughts on “No Right Turn”

  1. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never tried Arrochar yet, just driven on north… :(

    And I’m jealous of the scope to get out so readily for evening jaunts. I must make a bit more effort…

  2. Ach, it’s easy for me though Matt, I’ve got so much stuff within easy reach. Still got home at midnight though, the descent took bloody ages!

    You have to get into the Arochar Alps, they really are a wonderful group of hills. All steep, rough and with characters of their own.
    There’s a route linking all the tops from The Brack to Ben Vorlich just asking to be done.

  3. The Cobbler is a magic hill, I’ve always thought it looks like something out of Lord of the Rings with its jagged horn like profile! I do find the approaching zig-zag path from the car park never ending, though. I believe there’s an older path which leads straight up, will be looking out for that next time.

  4. Aye, the original path cuts through the trees about 20 feet from the wooden gate at the road, it’s really rough and has some surprising navigational aids all the up it… But it’s good fun and takes you straight to a great ascent route for Beinn Narnain.

  5. Sad to say I’ve never been all the way up the Cobbler. About 10 or 12 years ago we went up the path but got soaked and turned back near the top. Done all the nearby munros and most of the Corbetts but not the Cobbler.

    I must admit that it kind of scares me. There seems to be a fatality most years. How tough is it to get to the top?

  6. Looks like a great night out. Pictures are ace as ever. I want to do the Cobbler.
    I’m doing my tent review tonight. Finishing off a few fine details.

  7. Chris, the summit of the Cobbler is one of those things that become a victim of hype, stories and scary looking photies. It’s now hard to approach it without having all that stuff in your head.
    There’s two elements to it, the actual rock you have to move on and the drops around it.
    Climbing through the gap is a bit of fun and you’re onto a ledge about 3 feet wide at most I think, it’s smooth with cracks and lumps and does angle outwards a bit, but it’s okay either walking or crawling. The next bit is like climbing up the bonnet of a transit van, or a giant clam?! It’s a polished slab that again leans out towards the drop, but more so this time. The exposure at these two bits (both only a few feet) is what a lot of folk will find the hardest part to deal with, and rightly so. The rock is smooth, and while there’s lots of edges and knobbles to grip as you cross and climb it, a slip will be almost impossible to stop as there’s not enough distance for you do do anything if you’re moving quickly. The drop is quite a long one
    At the top of the sloping slab there’s a pull up the leaning boulder and onto the top, which is also a bit slanted and feels smaller than it looks from below, now with added exposure on the other side, down into the coire. It’s like standing on the head of a 600ft tall pin.
    Coming back down is where I’ve been most careful in the past, that sloping slab can look like a ramp into thin air, but it’s short and once on the ledge you’re as good as home.
    The moves are all “easy”, but the exposure makes it all very different, and serious too. The joy of it is, you can go a little bit at a time and it’s easy to turn back if you’re not happy, just like I did the other night.
    Worth crawling through the gap to see how you feel.

    Ange, even without the summit, it’s a wonderful walk.
    Fine deatials you say? Won’t be like any of my reviews then…

  8. It kinda is Chris, and sometimes it’ll depend on how you feel on the day if you can do it or not.
    I wonder if it’s the trickiest mainland summit?

  9. Lotsa hills like that. Sometimes it depends on who I’m with or if I am alone. Sometimes I am braver on my todd. I’ve been on the ridge on Skye only once and I was scared witless but other tricky things I’ve been ok with.

  10. The Cobbler holds a special place in my heart. It was the aim of the day on my first real hill adventure when visibility got so bad we had no idea where we ended up. This was way before the new path that makes the majority of the route ba doddle. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been up there though I always try to do it at a “quieter” time.
    Threading the Needle is a right of passage on this hill but you do have to be in the right frame of mind to do it but it is an amazing feeling when you are on top :-D
    I still feel I have loads of it to explore too as I’ve still to head off down to Glen Croe
    Oh for many more adventures on The Cobbler and the rest of the Arrochar Alps :-D

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