The Arran Challenge seems adventurers aiming to bike and run to the summit of the Isle of Arran’s highest mountain, Goatfell, between mainland ferries. The article was published in The Scots Magazine. If you enjoyed reading it, why not buy another Scots Magazine, or a subscription.
What’s the challenge?
The ferry from mainland Scotland to the Isle of Arran is timetabled to take 55 minutes. Between each return ferry in winter, from the island’s port of Brodick to the west coast town of Ardrossan, is around three hours and 15 minutes.
Of course, there’s no rush to leave the popular isle, yet three hours is also the perfect window for a challenge: To bike and run to Arran’s highest point and be back in time for the next ferry home.
The adventure seemed plausible on paper. From Brodick to the start of a southerly ascent path on the mountain of Goatfell is 2.5 miles.
From base to Goatfell top is just over three miles – and from sea level to summit is 2867ft. To return, I would simply reverse the route.
I expected the challenge to be tight for time. Various websites suggested that the fastest walking time for Goatfell would be 4.5 hours in summer conditions. At running pace I hoped to cut the time by about 50 per cent.
Like many best-laid plans in Scotland, on the chosen day the weather forecast for my autumn Goatfell Challenge had changed from cold and clear to warm and wet. A choppy sea also delayed the Calmac ferry so it docked at Brodick 15 minutes late.
By the time I’d pushed my bike up the ferry ramp, it was past 11am. I had no idea whether this would affect the rest of the ferry times that day – and I didn’t want to waste time asking at the office.
Bike and run to Goatfell summit
I turned on to the Arran coastal road and pedalled with haste towards Cladach Visitor Centre, where I would start running. I decided that a headwind at this stage was better – and a tailwind later on would be helpful.
At first, the main path on Goatfell winds gently up through woodland and I enjoyed a comfortable running pace.
Every so often, I glimpsed patches of blue sky – and I was treated at one point to a beautiful view of Glen Rosa below, but mainly I was grateful for the cover of the trees. The damp air had turned to drizzle and the higher I ran, the wetter it became.
This was not my first time on Goatfell and as the forest gave way to open moorland, I was sure there should be views of the mountain. For the time being, however, I focused on a steady speed, ensuring I had enough in my legs for the steeper gradient later on.
I can never decide which Scottish season is my favourite but despite the wet and the lowering clouds, I enjoyed nature’s autumnal tapestry of warm browns, russets and oranges.
So far, there had been no need for a map and compass, although as I pushed upwards and into denser cloud I kept a close eye on the ground ahead.
By now, the wind was at buffeting speed and the air temperature had dipped. I stopped to add a layer of clothing and gloves.
The mountain is craggy higher up and the path had become become rockier and less defined. Heading towards the eastern shoulder of Goatfell, I could feel a quiet determination ignite in me.
In clear weather, the summit direction would have been obvious, yet in cloud I was a little disorientated.
I noted a fainter path heading east, while the main route goes almost directly west and on to the steepest part of the ascent. All around were huge boulders and I was forced to walk and scramble through the wet and muddy terrain.
There were numerous mini summits but still no sight of the summit. Looking anxiously at my watch, I realised time had slipped by.
I’d hoped to do the climb in 90 minutes but I knew I needed to be quicker than that because the descent was not going to be straightforward due to the conditions.
At an hour and 17 mins I topped out. The usual reward for making it to the peak is a fabulous vista of the granite ridges of other Arran mountains and even a sight of Ireland. I simply felt fortunate to be able to see my watch at the end of my arm.
There was no time to stop anyway and I quickly about-turned to return on the same path.
A wrong turn on the descent
Sadly, I was too eager to get off the mountain and a silly error turned into a a high-speed chase. Except, for too long, I was unaware of my mistake.
On the way up, the path to the coastal village of Corrie had seemed obvious enough to avoid. In retrospect, I can’t recall seeing the junction as I descended.
My pace had quickened and it appeared I was making excellent progress downhill and in what seemed to be the right direction. But I was surrounded by cloud and rain and it wasn’t possible to see more than a few metres ahead.
The more I descended, the less “right” it felt. Sadly, by the time I knew for sure I was off-route it was too late to do anything about it. It would have been a good idea to stop to check my map but I preferred to push on rather than stop.
Instead of returning south, I’d ended up going east and had joined a gravel track that came to an end at the A814 at Corrie.
I came to a halt, finally, and made a few calculations. From Corrie, the signs said it was six miles to Brodick, although fewer to where I’d left my bike. There was now only 25 minutes before the timetabled ferry to the mainland.
But, my brain niggled: “Hadn’t the ferry been later that morning? Was there a chance the day’s schedule was behind?”
Even on fresh legs, however, I doubted I could cover 3.5 miles on foot and 2.5 miles by bike in time, let alone after running a mountain.
Yet, I don’t like to give up easily and I’d spotted an alternative to the road, on a section of the Arran Coastal Way Although a tarmac run might be quicker, it would be along a busy road and the Coastal Way slightly cut a corner.
I didn’t stop to think for long – but I did keep my eyes peeled for the right path.
With adrenaline surging and my mind swinging from hope to disappointment and back again, I ran as swiftly as I could along a forest track.
Autumn had again painted the flora a gorgeous palette and, now I was below the clouds, I could see the sea shimmering under a brightening sky.
The coastal path crossed the southern path on Goatfell and as I reached it, I turned left, urging myself to speed downhill. The bike was still attached to a tree and I hastily unlocked the padlock and jumped on.
I still didn’t dare look at my watch and I reckoned it was pointless anyway. Either, I’d make the ferry because it was late, or I would have to wait another three hours for the next one.
By now, my head was pounding, my leg muscles burned and I felt nauseous.
But then hope glimmered. I thought I could see a ferry at the terminal. Closer still and I saw passengers still disembarking.
The hoped-for tailwind propelled me on and as I joined a small queue of walkers and cyclists, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Actually, I was still catching my breath as I boarded the ferry, relieved and elated that I’d completed my Goatfell Challenge, albeit with a detour.
It turned out that the next ferry had been further delayed by weather, giving me just enough spare minutes to catch it – and then sit back for the journey back to the mainland.
Goatfell route: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/arran/goatfell.shtml
- Bicycle (road or mountain bike)
- Running clothes
- Waterproof jacket and over trousers
- Trail shoes
- Map and compass
- Survival blanket/bivi bag
- Hat and gloves
- Lightweight insulated jacket
- Ferry timetable and ticket
- Map and compass.