open country

For years we have been up and down the mountains of Arran, clinging to the rough granite in the sun, in the rain, in the mist and occasionally in the snow and ice. We have made our way through glens and woodlands up to the high ridges that flow like crests, interrupted by jagged rocks and large buttresses. I can walk some of them in my mind.

I told my father I often go there when I am sad or lonely or people are bringing me down – I go up to the high places. I remember at the time there were nasty people at primary school, my parents sent us up in the hills during the summer holidays and bank holiday weekends.

The south face of Goatfell looked over the house on Arran as we looked out to the mountain. Even as a young teenager I led a group of relatives up the hill at my mother’s request. I looked down on their progress from the boulders on the eastern shoulder, Meall Breac – big boots, arms folded – arrogance of teenage years.

I still cannot beat my father up the slopes. I started with that rhythm – walk, breathe, walk, breathe. I waited for my father at the first deer gate but from there he was off and I grew slower. We approached the big rock that sits up on the bank of Corrie Burn; when you walk by you can see it is two rocks or one split in two by some violent event. Then on the shoulder of Meall Breac we reached another set of rocks that I always recognise – I call them “the patio” because of their incongruously ordered formation.

On January 2, the ground had a fine cover of snow belying the ice beneath. It was this environment that we had to wind our way through to get to the summit. The water had run down the sections of path that are laid with granite steps to hold off the erosion and had set thick as it oozed over the granular curves.

Getting near the base of the summit cone, a noise suddenly encroached upon the silence, I stumbled as something flew in front of me, very near. A raven was swooping close – I imagine he was looking to see if we had spare food. I was not surprised, the pickings on this frozen lump must have been slim.

The deep, resonant croak of the raven gives it away immediately. I am unsure whether it wished to get my attention as it swooped low and cut in front of me. I hope not. In mythology the raven is a harbinger of death.

As with most beautiful mountains, the last few hundred metres to the summit are steeper, the boulders lying closer together so that I could use them to pull myself up. Occasionally I kicked some toe-steps into any snow fields that would give way to me.

As I arrived on the summit, there was the trig point and the square cairn with the orientation plaque; between them one of the most breathtaking views in the world – the aggressive crags that make up Cir Mhor and An Caisteal. I felt I had come home.

Once I started to turn around, I thought I would never stop – every emotion that spells joy is there; each view raising my heartbeat and making me giddy until I think I will fall the hundreds of metres to the Rosa Burn. For a short time, I am the raven flying around the peaks, looking down on the coombs of rock on Stacach, driving down steeply at Dearg Choireih.

I notice tracks on a boulder. Large bird prints showing the articulation of the raven’s feet are clear. Dad and I head off towards North Goatfell but the ice coupled with the more rocky terrain force us to return the way we came.

Below the shadow of Am Binnein, I realise that the gurgle from the burn is slightly dulled and I cannot hear my father. I pinch my nose and blow air inside my mouth – pop. I had not re-adjusted the balance of air pressure in my ear drums for the drop in altitude. I am aware that the heady sensation of hillwalking is created by the loss of even pressure in the ears and that dank smell of peat and scratchy heather.