Helen Rose: Hillwalking Diary February 2003

Arrochar Alps February 2003

Photo: Arrochar alps. About an hour's drive from Glasgow's West End there is a group of hills known as the Arrochar Alps. They are to the west of the village of Arrochar at the head of Loch Long. I don't know who dubbed them the Arrochar Alps but I would be interested to hear from you if you know the answer. No prizes other than a mention on the website!

Depending on where you decide the boundary is there are thirteen hills with four of them qualifying as Munros as they are over 3,000 feet (Beinn Narnain, Ben Vane, Ben Bhuiche and Beinn Ime). However, most of the others are just under three thousand feet and Beinn an Lochain was initially classed as a Munro but was then demoted when it was measured again and found to be just 20 feet short of the magic 3,000 feet. Apparently, attempts were made to build a very high cairn on the top to qualify as a Munro but unfortunately the wind blew the cairn down!

I love walking all of these hills in all seasons and know them well but the most spectacular is Ben Arthur, which is known as the Cobbler as it looks like a cobbler bent over his last. There are three peaks on the top and a very scary little optional climb, which involves crawling through a rock window ('Argyll's Eyeglass') and up some airy ledges to the flat roof. Legend has it that every Campbell chief had to prove his manhood by climbing to the top!

Photo: Arrochar alps. The Cobbler is particularly lovely in winter, when there is snow and ice, and crampons and ice axe are necessary. There are many rock climbs on the Cobbler and it attracts a number of rock climbers who are good to watch on the pitches as the path runs under the climbs. The Micra Shist mountain is most striking to look at on the approach to Arrochar from the Loch Lomond road. As it is not a Munro, you would expect there to be very few walkers on it but this is not the case. It is popular all year round and by far the busiest that I have been on. I walk it at least once a year and know the route well.

Anyway, here is a quick guide to walking up the Cobbler. The start of the walk is from the car park at the head of Loch Long and there is a good path through the forest leading to an ascent on some large concrete sleepers, which are reputed to have been a part of a railway at one time. There does not seem to be any definite reason for the railway but I assume it was linked to quarrying. This section is always very busy as it also leads to Beinn Narnain and A'Chrois. The path leads past the Narnain Boulders, which are two large rocks and a convenient stop for a teabreak.

After tea, you carry on up the well defined path to the three rocky peaks where the path passes under the rocks but it can be treacherous in icy conditions as there are drops to the side of the path so crampons are important. Once the bealach is reached there is the choice of going on the peak known as the Cobbler's Wife, which is a short scramble, or going on the Last, where the rock window is, - or why not do both?

Photo: Arrochar alps. The return is by the same route and the complete trip takes around six hours depending on stops and fitness. From the top, the views are tremendous over to Loch Lomond and a panorama of mountains as far as the eye can see. From the car park it is only a few minutes in the car back to Arrochar and a good selection of pubs, my favourite being the Village Inn where there are wonderful views over Loch Long to the Cobbler. All this and only an hour away from home. A great day out! In future articles, I may write about other hills in the Arrochar Alps.

Coming attractions: More Arrochar Alps and walking in Japan

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Thanks to Frances Rickus for the photos