I’m writing this from Brodick, Arran, three days into my inter-island journey on the Scottish west coast. I’m in the fortunate position to have been commissioned to write a travel book on these wonderful islands.
Today is a ‘rest day’, after 48 hours of excessive physical exertion. First there was the Goatfell hill race, a brutal 13km run from sea level in Brodick to the mountain’s 874m pinnacle. I wasn’t in the best hill shape: the result of a fortnight of road running in London.
The race follow the so-called tourist track up Goatfell, but is a combination of rocks and large boulders, meaning no two steps are the same. I could feel myself tiring with every stride, resisting the urge to stop. The decision to quit running and walk is a major one. There’s no going back. Once you’ve allowed yourself to stop running, breaking that rhythm, however slow, the mental battle is lost.
I clawed my way up mud and rock to the summit, running the final few yards, and sneaked a glimpse to the west, where an extraordinary vista of sea, mountains and islands stared back. That fleeting glance reaffirmed my faith in my sport. The self-doubt, the self-loathing, the self-criticism was gone in that moment. Of course, those feelings came back as soon as the descent started, but that’s the heaven and hell of running up hills.
On the day after running up Goatfell, it would have been perhaps sensible to take it easy. Why I made the decision to walk to Lochranza – 15 miles by road from Brodick, goodness knows how far over the hills – I don’t know. My legs were heavy, my pack heavier, but I’m glad I did, if only to realise that there’s more to Arran’s mountains than Goatfell. Highest it may be, but it’s certainly not the finest.
Take Cir Mhor for instance, the hardest Corbett I’ve ever climbed: extremely steep and arduous. I then headed north to Caisteal Abhail, an easier climb but topped by a series of rock protrusions resembling castles, hence the mountain’s name. Coire nam Fuaran lay to the south-east, the scene of the infamous Goatfell murder.
Alas, Lochranza was a further five miles away, across pathless hill-side and then on a sopping wet path. Rarely have I been so glad to feel concrete under my feet.
Onward to Holy Isle tomorrow and Bute on Wednesday…