For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!
In April 2021, the governments of England, Scotland and Wales were finally united in relaxing Covid-19 regulations to allow cross-border travel between the nations – about time too, as we wanted to travel in Scotland and would have to cross out of Wales to pass through England to get there! First on our list of places to visit was Bute and the Argyll Coast, an area not really noted for its mountains.
This was probably our least planned trip to date, with decisions on destinations being made whilst still travelling. A water-service stop for the campervan found us near to Arrochar, a place I had only driven through in the past (also a place that does have a mountain or two!). Scottish Forestry had opened up a couple of venues nearby for overnighting in campers, one of them just round the corner from Ben Arthur, a mountain we had never visited. So, that was the next day’s fun sorted.
Ben Arthur (Beinn Artair in gaelic) is much better known as ‘The Cobbler’, so called because the summit rocks are supposed to look like a cobbler bending over his last. At 884 metres (2900 ft), The Cobbler misses out on achieving the status of being a ‘Munro’ by just 30 metres (100 ft), but the unusual summit features and easy access make it one of the most popular mountains in Scotland – that would do nicely, thank you.
The day started cloudy, with the possibility of rain always there – mind you, that means nothing in Scotland, where you can easily experience all four seasons in one day. The trick is to ‘travel hopefully’ and as we emerged from the forest on to higher ground, we had patches of blue sky to go with our first view of The Cobbler. Behind us was the impressive profile of Ben Lomond, last visited just seven months earlier (see post #295) and yet another popular mountain in the Southern Highlands at 974 metres (3195 ft).
Our route for the day was a simple ‘there and back’ version. The area is steeped in mountaineering and rock-climbing history and is known as the Arrochar Alps. Although this was my first visit, I already knew the history of the two large boulders known as the Narnain Boulders – they were once a popular climbers bivi site, especially in the late 1800’s and the 1920-30’s, when rock climbing exploration was at its peak, but they also provided us with shelter for a coffee break.
Then it was onwards. The path climbs gradually to a meeting of the ways near to the mountain pass of the Bealach a’ Mhàim – from there, our route headed roughly south up a steep set of steps, but the best views were across to some of the other peaks of the Arrochar Alps, Beinn Ime (1011 metres) and Beinn Narnain (926 metres), both of them Munros.
It’s The Cobbler that commands attention though – there are three high points distinctive enough to be called peaks. We passed under the North Peak on our way to the Middle Peak, the highest of the three. The true summit of the Middle Peak, known as Arthur’s Seat, involves a ‘hands on’ scramble ascent of a rock pinnacle with a drop below, but the lower South Peak is accessible only by rock climbers. We passed a few minutes chatting to a guy who had last been on the mountain thirty years previously, but then it was time to head down.
Returning by the outward route gave us the chance to take in the views from fresh angles, with the distant Ben Lomond competing with the Arrochar Alps for ‘view of the day’. Near the Narnain Boulders we came across a pair of red deer who were clearly used to humans and Border Collies. ‘Mist’ likewise showed no interest in them – it was nearly time for the dog’s dinner, and time to head for home.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock except those tagged Colin Park and Peter S, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence