Summer Rule #1 in Scotland: Don’t let a sunny day on the Scottish west coast go to waste by spending it in the office. One such sunny day, I packed my hiking boots and boyfriend, sailed across to the Isle of Arran and climbed to the top of Goatfell. Do I have your attention?
‘Don’t worry – it’s a family-friendly hike. You’ll be fine.’
My partner – despite being the one who works out frequently during the week, while I lie on the couch eating a vegan brownie – does not like hiking very much. But in relationships, we all need to compromise sometimes, and so, on a rare sunny day in July, we set out together to climb the highest mountain on the Isle of Arran: Goatfell.
While reassuring my partner that he would be fine, I played down the fact that I had never actually been to the top of Goatfell. I tried once – three years ago, on a similarly sunny day – but failed because we didn’t even get as far as looking at the map before leaving the Glenrosa campsite. Inevitably we ended up on a steep slope of heather (ouch) and jumping our way across a boggy field (yuck). When we finally met the correct path, we were so tired, we followed it back down instead of up to the top.
Had I known then what I know now – I would have never called Goatfell ‘family-friendly’…
But let’s start at the beginning. Hiking up Goatfell makes for an excellent day trip from Glasgow, because you can reach the island in two-three hours by public transport (get a rail & sail ticket) for less than £16 return!
We had a “lazy” morning and left Glasgow on the 9.18am train, arriving in Brodick – Arran’s main hub – around 11am. We picked up a few supplies at the supermarket near the ferry port and made our way through town.
I had downloaded the description of the hike from Walk Highlands as well as the Goatfell leaflet from the local tourism board, which had a little map in it. Usually I would recommend to always carry a hiking map of the area you’re exploring in, but on a sunny day like this and with a simple hike like Goatfell, where the path is clearly marked and easy to follow, I didn’t feel that was necessary at all.
The only mistake we made was to follow the hike’s title rather than the description – and made our way to Brodick Castle to find the trail there, rather than cutting our walk by 30 minutes and picking up the trail already at the brewery. Not the most dramatic of errors to make though!
The first part of the trail leads through a forest with tall trees, continuously leading upwards. As the trees decrease in size, and the bush becomes thicker, the trail runs closer alongside little trickles of water – and this can only mean one thing: midges and other biting beasts. I had forgotten my Smidge insect repellant at home – what a rookie mistake – and regretted that as the third little beastie bit me through my leggins. I would scratch my legs all week…
Soon enough though, the trail emerges from the trees, the wind picks up a little and the sun makes your blood boil – no midge wants to get involved with that!
Slowly we climb on and welcome the first perfect resting place by a bridge leading a cross a little stream. By now, the sun is so warm, that I can’t wait to take off my shoes and stick my feet into the ice-cold water – what a relief!
Back on the trail, the traffic increases. The lucky ones are those, who are already on their way back down – they have most likely spent the night on the island and managed to reach the top before the midday heat set in. The rest of us are huffing and puffing onward – there is only one way up.
Despite the rough ground – lots of steps and slippery rock surfaces – there are many families on the trail, as well as people with dogs of all sizes. Maybe it is a family-friendly hike after all.
And while we wish ourselves back to the days, were we only had to carry 30 kilos of our own body weight, we reach another spot for our lunch break. The ground is still wet from the last days of rain, but luckily there are plenty of rocky surfaces to take a seat and enjoy our homemade humus, rolls and veggie sticks. Some fruit salad and nuts top off our meal and give us the energy to press on.
Ever since the bridge we the top of Goatfell has always been in sight. My favourite detail about this hill is that there are no false summits – you see where you’re going and you never have the feeling that you should have arrived already.
The last 30-40 minutes of the hike are the most strenuous. Even though the trail is still fairly easy to follow, it is now more of a scramble than a path. The sun is burning down – not a problem we have too often here – and the SPF 50 sun lotion comes in handy. The steps from rock to rock are getting higher and I’m incredibly glad, I packed my hiking poles. Every 10 minutes or so, we stop to drink some water and take in the view behind us.
And then, the path gets lost in a variety of tiny trails leading up a rocky face. I guess from here it’s about picking your line of attack and just going for it – and I am right. 5 minutes later we reach the top – sweaty and exhausted, but happy and overwhelmed by the beauty of the view that awaits us. This was so worth it!
The way down is long and weary. The hiking poles quickly become the most important piece of equipment, but even they can’t entirely protect our knees from scrambling down all those steps again. Two hours and some aching kneecaps later though, we reach the Arran Brewery – the starting point of the hike.
We arrive with plenty of time to get a drink before catching the last ferry back to the mainland at 7.20pm. The brewery is already closed, but the pub next to it, serves cold beer in their sunny beer garden. What better way to end a hike?
Here are a few tips for your hike up Goatfell:
– Bring plenty of water, especially on a hot day!
– Wear hiking boots or at least trekking shoes as the ground is rocky and rough. I was glad I didn’t hike in my trainers!
– If you wanted to have a cheeky beer in the mountains, I guess you could leave a bag with some bottles in the stream by the bridge (secure them with a rock) – by the time you’re back down, the beer should be cold!
– Don’t forget your hiking poles – they are
life-savers knee-savers on the way down!
– No need to bring your car across if you’re only coming for the hike. Get to the ferry terminal 10-20 minutes ahead of time, especially if you take the last ferry of the day!
Have you ever hiked up Goatfell on the Isle of Arran before?