The International Connection
Arran: Scotland in Miniature
One for the Goats
(A Messy Mountain Climbing Adventure)
Quickly scanning the map spread out in front of me, I made out the Isle of Arran in tiny red letters. I trawled through the murky waters of facts in my mind until I reeled in a skinny, flapping critter–Arran: Scotland in Miniature. Highlands, lowlands, the coast, mountains. It might well be the only opportunity to catch the best scenery this wet and wooly country had to offer.
One gets to Arran by catching a ferry from Ardrossan, a town on the western coast of Scotland about twenty-five miles southwest of Glasgow. In just fifty-five minutes, the island of Arran comes into view. I couldn’t wait!
Armed with my rucksack and The Rough Guide to Scotland, I settled in for a pleasant ferry ride and started to set up my route for five-day t.rek on the island
“Trav’ler, are ye?”
“Yeah, I’m trying to figure out the lay of the land.”
“My wife saw ye there with your head in the book.’She’s American, that one,’ she said. Your first time to Scotland?”
“Yeah, it is.”
The man continued on in a friendly way. “Arran ’tis a scenic place to see. Ye made a good choice there, ye did. “
“Aye, so she did,” his wife agreed.
The lady, a svelte woman in a powder blue raincoat, braced herself against a sudden fierce gust of wind. She smiled, shielding her eyes from the strands of dark hair that whipped about having escaped the scarf she wore.
“Are ye just planning where to go now?” she asked.
I nodded. “Are you from Arran? Do you have any recommendations?”
“No, Robert, my husband’s family is though. We can tell ye a fair number ‘a places to see if ye’d like.
“That’s be great!” I took my pencil and notebook out and waited, leaning forward, to decipher their words through their Scottish brogue.
“Broddick has a castle but ye can see that later.” Robert began.”Now Goatfell, the highest peak on Arran–” I grinned as he rolled his r’s exactly like I imagined a Scotsman would. “–’tis magnificent and one ye’ll not be wantin’ to miss.”
“Oh no. Tis your best bet for today. Not such a hard climb if the weather holds.” his wife agreed.
“Goatfell is what we Scots call a ‘Corbett,’ a very high mountain ranging from say … what would it be, Ginny?”
Ginny pushed the strands of hair away from her eyes. “Mebbe from 2500 to 3000 foot.”
“Aye. With a slope about –would ye say 500 foot, Ginny?”
“That sounds about right, Robert. So it does.”
Intrigued, I decided straightaway to climb Goatfell. I could see the craggy summit from the ferry.
As we pulled into the harbor, I thanked the couple for their help and waved goodbye, eager to be on my way.
A recreational hiker with few international climbs under my belt, I had not put much thought into the climb. Thus said, I committed some major blunders as I set off to master the mighty Corbett.
To begin with, I hiked for forty-five minutes from Broddick before I even reached the base of Goatfell so I didn’t begin my climb until midday. I climbed up the steep grade while watching several climbers come down, smiling and energetic. I huffed and puffed to take in as much oxygen as possible, and they carried on light conversations with one another. I lugged my monster backpack on my shoulders and they slung small knapsacks over theirs. I hadn’t the energy to quench my thirst and they gave each other high-fives and downed bottles of spring water. I stumbled around in everyday sneakers and they zipped by in sturdy leather climbing boots. I had a sneaking (huff!) suspicion I’d be limping (huff! puff!) down rather than climbing up.
I should have known better than to climb a mountain called Goatfell. Right from the start, I could imagine my sarcastic friend, Julio, remarking, “Didn’t the name clue you in at all? Where do you think they got that name to begin with? If the goats can’t even stand up without falling, what chance have you got?” I smiled as I imagined that conversation.
Shortly into the climb, I dropped my brand new camera and banged it on the rocks. Retrieving the camera proved a challenge as the path was steep. But I got a hold of the strap and pulled it up, dented but still operable.
The fickle Scottish weather drove me crazy. I couldn’t decide if I needed my jacket or not. One minute the sweat would pour off me and I’d tear it off. The next, the sun would snuggle up in the clouds for a short nap so the chill crept in. At first, I quickly threw on my jacket but as sure as I did that, the sun would blaze again. After being taunted by the elements a couple of times too many, I stopped playing the quick change artist and kept it in my sack. Once, thunder rumbled and splashes of rain pelted me. I longed to put it on and tighten my hood but I refrained.
Climbers passed me in both directions. No one had a rucksack anywhere near the size of my own. Goatfell meant serious climbing and that meant light loads. But what could I do but limp along, persuading my shoulders to do their part along with my clumsy feet.
Sloosh! The meandering creek invaded the pathway. I tried to get a grip but had a tough time slogging on in my treadless tennies.
“Hey, are those waterproof?” I called out to a climber fitted in top-of-the-line hiking attire down to his leather boots. In fact, several hikers, looking dry and fit, filed past me just then. No one answered my silly question. Of course, they were. I imagined myself shaking a fist at their smug silence but my hands had a tough job just trying to keep me from falling. “Arrgh!” “Ooops!” “Uh-oh!” “Eeeeee–!” “Aaah!” and “‘Scuse me!” frequently escaped my lips as I bumbled along.
Shortly thereafter, I encountered an older fellow who seemed to be having his share of obstacles on the trail, too. “Goot a hule in m’ shuu,” he mustered to me while plodding on. It took me a moment to realize his predicament: a hole in his shoe. If he could on in spite of his age and difficulties, I would just have to go on, too.
Then I met the next climber. “It gets much worse over the crest.” What? Worse than this! “It’s cloudy, ye canny see anythin’ at the top. It’s hard to find the pathway, too.”
That’s all it took! I reached a fence that I supposed divided the goats from the kids and collapsed. Then I turned back.
I let out a long breath and gulped down a swig of water to fortify me for the long ‘trip,’ down Goatfell. “Here we go again,” I said, bending over to tie a loose shoelace.
Later, I thought about how much this messy journey paralleled my spiritual life. I wondered how equipped I really was to scale my own real-life Corbetts. Did I stay on course with my daily devotions? Was my prayer life strong? I was tired of tripping. I needed to develop that secure footing I should have with God. Sometimes I blazed for Him and other times, I napped, hiding in the shade.
Lord, make me a strong climber and well-equipped for whatever comes my way.
What kind of traveler are you? Do you prefer to travel alone or with others? Do you change your plan spontaneously or do you prefer a set plan? Have you ever traveled abroad? Have you ever been unprepared for where you’ve gone? Looking forward to all your comments!
You have just read, “Goatfell, A Messy Mountain Climbing Adventure” by Amy L. Bovaird. © Copyright March 9, 2015.