Sunday was a sunny, warm day with high cloud and the perfect day to take my son into the mountains for the first time. He is an active scout, but because his troop does not have anyone with a mountain leader’s certificate, they haven’t been taken into the hills, so this was his first mountain of any description.
Fully-packed with water, hot coffee (for me) and several home-made bread rolls filled with the traditional cheese, we set off for the car park at Succoth, arriving there about 1040. We were on our way at 1045 and headed off up the Allt a’ Bhalachain route towards the Narnain boulders and the start of the assault on The Cobbler. Just before we set off, to demonstrate the popularity of this hill on a sunny Sunday, a coach disgorged a party of twenty other walkers to start the same route. It was a fair procession that proceeded up the hill in bright sunshine and onto the new route that the Forestry Commission have marked out. I had originally intended to follow the classic route straight up from the road, but missed it, for which I was later to be very glad.
An hour’s walk brought us to the Narnain boulders and a rest stop. From here we took the direct scrambling route up between the north and west summits of The Cobbler, which felt like quite a slog. We then joined the common path up to the west peak and the summit proper, although I did not make another attempt on the summit boulder itself, and meanly told the lad that he wasn’t to try it himself. There were plenty of people who did top the hill out, but the refusal for the lad was more for my nerves than his safety. The views from the top were good and I envied anyone up Ben Lomond that day. Having eaten lunch, we set off across to the north summit, which is a far more pleasant place with good rocks for sitting on and admiring views. Then down to the bealach and the start of the assault on Beinn Narnain itself.
The ascent from the bealach to Beinn Narnain is no more than about 300m and up a gentle slope, but I was completely whacked by the time I got to the top and was a little concerned at the energy levels I had left. It’s not that this was a difficult walk or a lot of ascent; more that I was in poor condition not really having done any walking at all for a couple of weeks.
The summit of Beinn Narnain is a rocky plateau, with the highest point marked by a trig point. I took a photo of the lad here because I’d forgotten to take one on top of The Cobbler. The photos were on slide film, so won’t be posted here immediately (Her Maj had commandeered the digital for the day). The views from Beinn Narnain were even more spectacular and Ben Nevis was clearly visible to the north-west, as was Ailsa Craig 110km away down the Clyde estuary. To the west, it was possible to see as far as Colonsay and the cliffs of the south-west coast of Mull. It was even possible to pick out the shape of Dun Dubh, the hill above this village, and I was able to confirm the identification when I got home and checked the alignments on a smaller-scale map.
After finishing the coffee and eating another roll, we discussed the route back down. Plan A had been to return to the bealach and back down the way we came; the longer but less steep way. From the summit, the direct route could be seen a couple of hundred feet below the summit cliffs, although the way onto the start of it was not immediately visible. People were coming up this way, so I asked about the route and was told that it had a few scrambles and a few exposed areas, but wasn’t too difficult. We followed on where others had disappeared and found a rocky chute descending over the edge of the summit plateau, and headed on down. The scrambles were all okay, if a little loose, and the path wound around some fairly spectacular steep slopes to reach the south-east ridge of the mountain proper. The next section, over gentle hills on the ridge, was very pleasant and we were enjoying the route down. Unfortunately, below about 1500′ the route became moderately steep, not in itself a problem, but the ground underfoot was uneven, loose, large stones which rolled and gave poor footing. When the route finally arrived at the old haulway for the hydro schemes, it became sheer purgatory with the track lying straight ahead and down, down, down, seemingly interminably. We passed a few other people on this same route and no-one had anything complimentary to say about it. It was strength-sapping on the legs, holding balance, and hard work on the knees, coming down all the time on shifting stones. We were utterly exhausted when we got back to the car, but delighted by the walk and revived by the ice cream and cold drinks bought from the garage before we drove back home again.
A thought for a different day would be to head west from the Narnain boulders and ascend The Cobbler by the south-eastern ridge, passing under the south summit and then extending the route off Beinn Narnain along the ridge of Creag Tharsuinn to the small top of A’ Chrois and then down its gentler ridge to the forest track and back to the car. This would provide a pleasant ridge walk and a descent down clean ground for the addition of only a couple of kilometres.