Standing at 2,866 feet, Goat Fell is the highest mountain on Arran. On our first visit to the island, we decided against trying to reach the summit. It would have been by far the furthest and highest Rowan had walked, so we didn’t want to over-do it and potentially put him off days out in the mountains. But for our latest visit, and with Birkhouse Moor under his belt, we decided he would probably be ok. We just needed a decent mountain forecast during the week – and we were in luck.
Finding a car park near the Mountain Rescue Hut (rough postcode: KA27 8DE) we crossed the A841, passed the shops at the Cladach Centre then climbed some steps into the grounds of Brodick Castle. Rowan and Pebble led the way along tree-lined paths until we reached the castle. There has been a fortress on this site for many centuries, but the current building dates to around 1844 when extensive refurbishments were undertaken by the Hamiltons. The building occupies a commanding viewpoint over Brodick Bay and it is possible to explore the house and grounds. But we were going to need all day for our walk so we passed through, following a sign to Goat Fell.
We made our way through the castle grounds and through a gate leading into some beautiful mixed woodland. The path wound its way through the trees and across footbridges until we reached another signpost – in one direction was the Hamilton trail and the other, to Goat Fell.
Once on the main track we found ourselves surrounded by huge pine trees, their tall straight trunks reaching towards the sky. Springy moss grew underneath and me and Rowan couldn’t resist wandering away from the path, among the trees to see what we could find.
From here, the navigation wasn’t a worry (at least in the amazing weather we were experiencing). The path we were on would lead us all the way to the eastern shoulder of Goat Fell, then a left turn would take us to the summit. As we walked on, the pine forest gave way to more mixed woodland growing within a sea of bracken.
Arran is home to a number of pairs of Golden Eagles, so when we heard a bird calling, we scanned the sky in excited anticipation. We spotted it circling and swooping, high above the trees. Rowan, who loves birds, was desperate for it to be a Golden Eagle. It was huge, and I hoped that I may have been able to zoom in on my photos to maybe have a go at identifying it. But alas, my photos were pretty terrible and I haven’t been able to find out what it was, though Rowan is still convinced it was an eagle. The mystery bird eventually disappeared from sight and we continued onwards, noticing that our target for the day, the summit of Goat Fell, had just appeared, peeping over the treeline.
The wildlife discoveries continued as we went, with Rowan noticing a massive “bear paw print” on one the rocks. We would have to keep our eyes peeled. Anything could have been watching us from behind the gorgeous pink, purple heather.
Gently climbing, the path narrowed to a muddy track and we squeezed thorough, letting faster hikers pass as we went. Soon, the trees began to clear and the path widened again. Behind us we could see Brodick Bay beyond the pine covered slopes. It seemed as if we had covered quite a lot of height without too much effort.
After just over two miles, and having climbed around 875 feet, we reached a footbridge. We walked for an hour and half, and it was lunch time. Just a little way down from the bridge we found a perfect spot to stop for a butty. We had covered around a third of the height so a refuel seemed like a good idea before the steeper terrain was upon us.
After dinner, we continued upwards, passing through a tall, deer gate which took us out of the National Trust for Scotland land (though maybe the gate was there to stop the bear, from earlier, partying on the summit). Goat Fell loomed ahead and to our left, across Glen Rosa, we could see the jagged ridge of Beinn a Chliabhain and further back, the pyramid peak of Ben Nuis.
The going was rough underfoot, but it was still a nice, gentle climb lulling us into a false sense of security. We stopped for another rest, taking in the view, or maybe having a little snooze.
In contrast to the softness of the trees and bracken earlier in the walk, our surroundings had become rocky and boulder strewn, and this theme continued until we reached the shoulder where we would turn left for the final climb to the top. Here, the path was busier as we met people making the climb from Corrie. It was possible to look down the valley into the little village, with Cumbrae Island in the distance and the Scottish mainland beyond.
By this point, we had walked about three and a half miles, climbing about 1,800 feet. It had been a lovely stroll, gently rising from sea level through forests to the rugged landscape we found ourselves in. Across to our left, we could see the jagged Stacach Ridge heading over to North Goat Fell, and while we weren’t going to tackle that traverse, things were about to get a bit tougher. The last near 1,000 feet to the summit was going to be a lung busting slog in just over half a mile. Phew! I knew I could puff and pant my way to the top, but what about our tired, little, snooze on a rock bear..?
I needn’t have wondered. Rowan loves this sort of climb, skipping from rock to rock like a veritable mountain goat, leaving me wheezing in his wake and wondering whether the “eagle” could fly in like a feathered hero and carry me to the top, as they always seem to for Gandalf. Rowan had obviously saving himself for this mountain fun and while a few steps were really big and he needed a little hand, he took the rest in his stride. As we drew level with the broader south shoulder of the mountain, I stopped to look at the views. To the south was Brodick, Holy Island and beyond that, Kingscross Point and behind us Coire Lan nestled above Corrie.
After a hot 45 minutes, we got there and what a top! We had picked the best weather forecast of the week and as such, it was fairly busy (although nothing compared to some of the Lakeland summits). But the views! We found a large flat slab to sit, eat the rest of our dinner and take it all in with the usual brew and a couple of photos at the trig point.
There was amazing mountain scenery in every direction. Cir Mhor, Caisteal Abhail and the Witch’s Step with its deep cleft running towards the valley below.
The steep slopes and gullies of Beinn a Chliabhain, A’ Chir to the right and Beinn Tarsuinn behind. You could almost see the glaciers, carving out the vista before us.
And North Goat Fell and Mullach Buidhe. In every direction were mountains I’d love to visit!
With so much to marvel at, we hung around for around an hour, soaking up the different views and exploring the slabs around the summit. But eventually, it was time to head back down. Returning the way we had come, far reaching views to the south of the island accompanied us all the way back. Rick went ahead with the furry pair, as me and Rowan negotiated the steep climb down. Rowan found this part more nerve wracking, but he did brilliant regardless.
We’d left the summit during late afternoon, making the most of the longer days, and as the path levelled out a little there weren’t too many people about. It was a perfect opportunity to let the mutts have a little off lead time as we followed the path back down to the forests.
Before long, we reached the bridge where we had stopped for lunch. It was still really warm and from here, we followed the Arran Coastal Way to the start of the walk. What an amazing day out, walking just under eight miles and climbing 2800 feet. I can’t wait to get back at some point, post Coronavirus vaccine, and explore more of these magnificent mountains. If you liked the look of this walk, you can find the route here.