Arran – A Coward on Cioch na h’ Oighe

20 11 2011

October 2008

During my friend Richard and my second trip to Arran, I plucked up courage to attempt Cioch na h’Oighe from Glen Sannox. I’d already sent Richard to do it alone the year before, however, he was by no means sure it was my sort of thing.

Cioch Na H’Oighe from Sannox

We decided to do a round over the Cioch, along Mullach Buidhe to North Goatfell, down the North Goatfell ridge to the saddle, down the ‘dolerite pipe’ and back via Glen Sannox.

We were staying at a self-catering cottage at Corrie so it was but a short walk up to Glen Sannox to start. After briefly starting up the glen, a faint track turns off left shortly after some marine navigation lights towards the Devil’s Punchbowl corrie (probably about a mile). The idea is to get to the mouth of the corrie and from there a gently rising path cuts round the side of the Cioch. However, being the impatient sort, I got fed up of the walk to the corrie (it was boggy, tiresome and we’d lost the track) and took us straight up towards the path – a bad move really. Doing that takes you up extremely steep heather – so steep you have to grab it to keep your balance. There are also large areas of slabs which you have to work your way round – it feels a bit precarious above a large, nearly vertical slab at that angle!

We eventually reached the path and contoured round the hill to where the path starts to go straight up the Cioch. This is not a very nice part of the route as it first sets off up a patch of very steep slabs indeed with a bulge at the bottom and no hand or footholds. Richard had warned me about this bit and we cast about trying to find a way round it but without success. I asked him how he got up it last time and he said he just ‘launched himself up it’! So, letting him go first to show me, that’s what we did. I’d say you probably go up about 30 feet of slabs in total – a fact which made me very nervous about having to come back down if I didn’t like the narrow ridge from the Cioch to Mullach Buidhe.

The climb up the rest of the Cioch is at a very steep angle for about 600 feet but is just on a path through the heather with a few small rocky steps and doesn’t really have any problems.

Suidhe Fhearghas from Cioch na h’Oighe Ascent

We soon arrived at the top… I had my camera and Richard was looking around the very small and airy summit and suggesting angles for photos, however, I really wasn’t happy to stay there long at all and insisted we get on with the ridge (hanging about makes me lose my nerve). I led off along the ridge which at that point is around 2 feet wide with a large vertical drop into the corrie on the left and a very steep and loose slope into Glen Sannox 2000 feet below on the right.

The Cioch

Cioch na h Oighe

Cioch na h Oighe & Devil’s Punchbowl Corrie

Richard on his way to meet me the year before after his recce
Ciogh na h Oighe & Richard

It was essential to watch where you were putting your feet on this bit and only tread on the clearly visible ‘path’ as the heathery bits which posed as path on the left over the crags had bits of daylight showing through here and there 😮

Several times the narrow path met a craggy bit across the ridge and dropped down to the right to find easier routes up the side of them. We clambered over several of these narrow craggy bands and after a couple of hundred yards or so we’d cleared all the difficulties and the ridge got much wider. The route then ascends Mullach Buidhe.

Casteal Abhail from Mullach Bhuidhe

Caisteal Abhail Witches Step Across Glen Sannox

It is an easy and pleasant walk on a good path across Mullach Buidhe and then you drop down to the col before North Goatfell to meet the route coming up from Corrie village. The col is a great place with some interesting weird rock formations on it and superb views. From there it is a very short, steep and straightforward ascent onto North Goatfell.

Our descent ridge on the right
North Goatfell from Mullach Bhuidhe

North Goatfell from Corrie col

View from Corrie col & weird stone

From there it gets exciting again… we dropped northwest down the North Goatfell ridge to ‘the Saddle’.

Cir Mhor from North Goatfell ridge

This is mostly okay but keeps you guessing (or stressing 🙂 ) at the top. Towers loom into view with a sheer drop off to the right and very steep and loose scree to the left. (The steep crags to the right are where some guy threw another guy to his death after meeting and robbing him on the ridge about 100 years ago!)

On North Goatfell ridge – 2nd tower

However, when you get to the towers, there is mostly a good route round to the left.

On North Goatfell ridge-tower

There was just one which you had to descend down a steep runnel of rock, wedging yourself in all the way down with both your hands and your feet, all the time heading very steeply down towards what looked like a tiny stance at the edge of the void.

North Ridge Tower – looking back up after descent

Stacach Ridge to Goatfell from North Goatfell ridge

Cir Mhor from descent to Saddle

After that bit it was all plain sailing down to the Saddle where we stopped for a hot drink and a bite.

Rich contemplating N Ridge after descent

I’d heard bad things about the ‘Dolerite Pipe’ – a geological sill heading steeply down to Glen Sannox from the Saddle so decided to watch a group ahead descend it. They looked to have some awkward moments but got down okay so we set off to follow. I found it very steep, full of loose scree, slimy and damp but you had three choices of route. One was down the pipe itself (the route I was on), the other was a rib of firmer but narrow rock going down next to it, and the other was just steep with a sketchy scree path. I didn’t want to erode the whole mountain by using the sketchy scree path as, if everyone does that, it will just get wider and wider and erode the whole mountainside. Richard went down the narrow rock rib which he said was solid and dry and why the hell didn’t I get out of the pipe and onto his bit? Dunno but I didn’t!

After the pipe you pick your way down some quite wet, slimy and loose bits of mountain to the glen but they are neither steep nor worrying – you just have to watch your footing. On reaching the glen we had a very pleasant walk back by the river on a great path and in the sunshine. I think it had been sunny all day but it was a pretty absorbing route so I didn’t really notice! 🙂

The North Goatfell Ridge to The Saddle




10 responses

12 01 2013

Great photos & no sign of your mountain cowardice 🙂

This looks like an interesting route to gain Goat Fell’s main top but I’m not sure if my dog would appreciate the descent route down to the saddle that rock tower looks a bit awkward.


12 01 2013

That was definitely my bravest walk on Arran – I actually enjoyed it though – I wouldn’t fancy going down the Cioch though – those slabs would be horrid in descent. You might have trouble getting your dog up the first slabs unless it’s light enough to hoist up? You could always get one of those harnesses people seem to be using nowadays. I’m not so sure a dog couldn’t get round the actual tower anyway on the steep ground to the left (while descending) – a person would probably find it a bit steep and scrabbly but a dog might not mind?


12 01 2013

He’s only a small terrier so I can manage a short scramble providing I can lift him up/down to the next ledge and then climb up myself. Although he’s pretty good by himself but easily gets sidetracked by sheep/birds/other dogs & walkers :\


12 01 2013

I think he’ll be okay to be honest – especially if he’s a small dog and liftable where necessary… It’s quite a short bit of scrambling.


22 11 2011
David Seòras

Im impressed. For a mountain coward, I think you did pretty well here. Nice photos


22 11 2011

It wasn’t bad really – the slabs at the start are the worst bit I think. I certainly wouldn’t descend the Cioch!


22 11 2011
Scotlands Mountains

Agree Carol,fantastic island with magnificent hills.
You seem to be doing ok for a “coward” if you don`t mind me saying so.
I think if you are up for it you will manage most of the Cuillin ones 🙂


22 11 2011

I don’t do that well for a coward – fancy having to be roped up to do just one end of Liathach! 😦 But none of the scrambling I did on Arran would have been ‘graded’ I don’t think. I actually bypassed the Stacach Ridge while Richard did it one day as the blocks on the tors just looked too big and vertical (mind you bypassing it was a bit loose and nasty!). But of course I certainly don’t mind you saying so 😉


21 11 2011
Paul Shorrock

Great post Carol, with superb pics!
I have unfinished business here – I set off to follow your route a couple of years ago, but bailed out due to heavy rain and strong winds. Having seen your photos I can’t wait to get back.


21 11 2011

Unlucky – I would definitely have bailed out in the same conditions!

We were blessed with great weather for both of the two weeks we’ve spent on Arran so far (autumn 2007 & 8). What a superb island that is though 🙂 The mountains are great and even a mountain coward like me can do quite a bit of the scrambling as everything’s so grippy!


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