If you asked a child to draw a picture of a mountain it would probably end up looking something like the magical peak of Cir Mhor on the equally wonderful Isle of Arran.
Standing in splendid isolation at the head of Glen Rosa Cir Mhor’s renowned granite slabs rise to an impossibly sharp summit which only has enough room for four people (maybe five at a push) to sit comfortably and marvel at the breath-taking panorama that circles her walls. Cir Mhor sits amongst her bigger neighbours of Beinn Tarsuinn, Caisteal Abhail and Goat Fell and affords exceptional views of all three.
Translating from Gaelic as The Big Comb, it isthe last few hundred feet of Cir Mhor that really sets it out against the competition. Her slopes are a mass of contorted columns of rock which twist and turn to the summit demonstrating quite clearly the immense pressure and movement within the earth that took place when this wonderful landscape was formed around 400 million years ago. The layers of rock, including Dalradian and Ordovician Schist’s, have made Arran a playground for geologists, walkers and mountaineers for decades.
For the average walker reaching the summit of Cir Mhor does not provide too many problems. The iconic Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry will transport you to Brodick from where an excellent bus service will drop you at Glen Rosa road end. A short walk passes the highly recommended Glen Rosa campsite (a beautiful spot to spend a night), and then a great path runs right along the wonderful, natural amphitheatre of Glen Rosa. A steep path then climbs onto a ridge and then second steep climb up a narrow path passes around and over beautiful cream coloured boulders to the top.
Cir Mhor’s position is crucial to its success as it sits centrally on Arran whilst Arran itself is beautifully positioned between the Scottish mainland and Ireland and the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. On a clear day the flowing contours of the Paps of Jura emerge above the long leg of Kintyre which extends to Sanda Island and then onwards to the coastline of Northern Ireland. The rolling Galloway Hills rise conspicuously above the flatter plains of Scotland’s south west, as do the Pentlands to the east. Looking north there is a myriad of illustrious mountains to choose from including the prominent outline of Ben More on Mull, the formidable peaks of Glencoe and, towering above them all, the vast summit plateau of Ben Nevis which, if you are really lucky, may for once be free of cloud. It is a truly exceptional vantage point.
The Old Man of Storr is truly remarkable especially as it manages to stand out from the truly remarkable landscape of Skye. Sitting at the base of The Storr on Skye’s most northerly peninsula of Trotternish, The Old Man of Storr rises to 160 feet and is just one of a number of rock pinnacles separated by weather and erosion. Like much of this region it was formed around 65 million years ago from Tertiary lava but unlike much of Skye (particularly the Black Cuillin) The Old Man of Storr is within reach of most walkers, which is no bad thing as a view of this nature deserves to be enjoyed by as many as possible.
The Trotternish Ridge runs for nearly 20 miles from Portree to Staffin, and forms the backbone of the Trotternish Peninsula. The ridge culminates at The Quiraing, an astonishing and dramatic series of pinnacles and gullies, which has an atmosphere all of its own. The Quiraing translates from either Gaelic or Norse as ‘the pillared enclosure’ and when in amongst the jagged, craggy surroundings it is easy to understand why. Good paths run beneath and then along the steep cliffs visiting such iconic and dazzling settings as The Prison, The Needle and The Table.
Climbing to the Old Man of Storr is relatively simple. A great track leaves from the A855 just north of Loch Leathan, and ascends through beautiful woodland out onto an astonishing landscape, one that over the years has, deservedly, achieved iconic status. A steepish climb passes by the pinnacles and then finishes on a flat plateau and here it is worth stopping to spend a little time enjoying the superb view of The Old Man and a breathtaking vista across Raasay to the Red and Black Cuillin, north over the flatter plains of Staffin and west, across the rough seas, to Applecross and beyond.
An 18 mile circular walk over 2 of Britain’s finest mountains makes for a long day but the views and passage through an extraordinary landscape is worth the exertion.
Leaving from the stunning Linn of Dee, a few miles from Braemar, the beautiful Glen Lui travels by Derry Lodge to the base of the mighty Derry Cairngorm. It is then a long pull over the summit and then onwards onto the mighty Ben Macui.
Within the British Isles it is only Ben Nevis that climbs higher than Ben Macdui. Rising to 1309 metres above sea level Ben Macdhui’s huge summit plateau looms high above the Lairig Ghru and the infant River Dee and it stands proud over a litany of iconic mountains including Braeraich, Cairn Toul and Sgor Gaoith. The origin of the name Ben Macdhui is uncertain with popular theories suggesting it translates from Gaelic as either Mountain of the Black Pig or Hill of the Sons of Duff. It is also said that Ben Macdui is home to a yeti-like creature known as Am Fear Liath Mor (the Big Grey Man), although, as yet, any reports are unsubstantiated and may simply be a grumpy looking hillwalker.
Derry Cairngorm used to be known simply as Cairn Gorm (from the Gaelic An Carn Gorm, the Blue Mountain, due to its blue colour when seen from the Linn of Dee) but the prefix Derry (anglicised from Doire meaning oakwood) was added later to distinguish it from its more famous neighbour of Cairn Gorm, the mountain which gave the full Cairngorm range its name. Derry relates to the woods of Glen Derry that sit at the base of Derry Cairngorm, which is actually a far shapelier peak than Cairn Gorm. At 1155 metres Derry Cairngorm is the 20th highest mountain in Scotland and its position amongst the higher Cairngorms means it offers a superb spot to look onto Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul and further afield to Lochnagar and Beinn a Ghlo.
There can’t be many cities with a volcano slap bang in the centre but Edinburgh is one such place. Arthur’s Seat dominates Scotland’s capital and is a conspicuous sight for miles around. The underwater volcano that eventually formed Arthur’s Seat was active until about 335 million years ago with glaciation then forming the profile we see today. Salisbury Crags, which circle the lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat, also shaped the theories of renowned geologist James Hutton (who taught at Edinburgh University in the 17th century) regarding the age of the earth.
A spectacular walk through Holyrood Park climbs along the rim of Salisbury Crags and then a steep pull gains the summit of Arthur’s Seat. It may only be 251 metres in height but the panorama is as good as anything in Scotland. Edinburgh’s celebrated skyline, Fife, East Lothian (with Bass Rock and North Berwick Law particularly eye-catching) and the rolling Pentland Hills is just a small selection of what can be seen.
From both Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags you also get a fine view of Holyrood Palace. It was here in 1566 that Mary, Queen of Scots’ husband, Lord Darnley, was brutally murdered by Mary’s private secretary David Rizzio, instantly becoming one of the most notorious episodes in Scottish history.
The beautiful village of the Isle of Whithorn is located at the southern tip of the sparsely populated Machars region of Galloway, which itself is one of the most sparsely populated areas of Europe, making it a great place to walk. The Isle of Whithorn used to be an island but a causeway was built, along with a harbour, around 1790 linking it with the mainland.
St Ninian’s Chapel sits a short distance from the harbour. Many think the chapel was used by St Ninian but it dates from around 1300, approximately 900 years after St Ninian established his mission, Candida Casa, The White House, at nearby Whithorn. However the chapel was, for many centuries, the first port of call for pilgrims wishing to give thanks for a safe passage by sea before they travelled by foot the few miles to St Ninian’s shrine at Whithorn.
An amazing walk begins at the Isle of Whithorn and culminates at Port Castle Bay. Sitting at the the far end of the stony beach is St Ninian’s Cave. Although there has never been irrefutable evidence that St Ninian used the cave as a retreat a series of excavations from the late 1800’s revealed several stone crosses and carvings dating from the 700’s. They are thought to have been the work of pilgrims and monks from Whithorn who would have used the cave for retreats.
Chill Out: The origin of the name Braemar is unknown but translates from Gaelic as ‘The Upper Part of Mar’ (Mar being an ancient district of Aberdeenshire). The village sits at a height of approximately 1100 feet and therefore temperatures regularly plummet during the winter months – the mercury has dropped to a teeth chattering -27.2ºC on two occasions (in 1895 and again in 1982). Braemar is perhaps best known for its Highland Gathering, the origins of which dates back to the 11th century. During this time King Malcolm Canmore III organised a foot race to the summit of Creag Choinnich in order to find the fastest runner in the land to be his royal messenger. The idea of the Highland Games seems to have emerged from this race as well as competitions at Clan gatherings that were drawn on to select the strongest, fleetest, and the most skilful warriors. Queen Victoria ensured the success of the games into modern times by attending them in 1848.
Nosy Neighbour: The Gathering also includes a hill race to the summit of Morrone which means ‘big nose’ or ‘promontory’. It rises to 859 metres above sea level and there are superb views of, amongst others, Ben MacDui, Derry Cairngorm, Cairn Toul, Braeriach, An Socath and the magnificent meanderings of the River Dee.