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The Full Pirnmill Thrill: Beinn Bharrain to Meall nan Damh

The Full Pirnmill Thrill: Beinn Bharrain to Meall nan Damh

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Thu Jul 26, 2012 10:56 pm

Route description: Pirnmill Hills: Mullach Buidhe of Beinn Bharrain

Grahams included on this walk: Beinn Bharrain

Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Meall nan Damh

Date walked: 24/07/2012

Time taken: 7.5 hours

Distance: 17 km

Ascent: 1030m

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Another brief visit to meet up with relatives holidaying in Arran (we are in with the Jet Set, us :lol: !)... This time parents, sister, niece & nephews, who had a holiday house in Brodick for the week. I’d finished off the Arran Corbetts earlier in the year, with a great day’s walking over Beinn Nuis, Beinn Tarsuinn and Cir Mhor, so I fancied trying a different bit of the island. Now, in addition to its four spectacular Corbetts, it’s easy to forget that Arran also boasts a very fine Graham, Beinn Bharrain. I am about 85 per cent sure that I climbed it as a teenager with my dad, but there remains that 15 per cent of doubt :? – did we maybe just do the northern peak, Beinn Bhreac? My dad couldn’t remember for sure either. I had “bagged” the Graham on the walkhighlands website on the basis of my vague teenage memories, but this had been causing me some anxiety, so I thought I’d better do it again to be sure :-| .
I was intrigued to read in Andrew Dempster’s book “The Grahams” that Beinn Bharrain boasts a “miniature A’Chir-type ridge” which “provides the most sporting ascent to the summit”. Although the comparison with A’Chir was more than a tad intimidating (I’ve seen A’Chir and it looks scary :wtf: ), I like to think that I’m a sporting sort of chap :lol: ... I thought I might go and have a look at it if the weather was halfways reasonable; I could always just go up Beinn Bharrain the easy way instead if it looked too hard. The plan was to make a full day out of it, by walking the whole length of the Pirnmill Hills ridge, starting with Beinn Bharrain’s south peak and going over the main peak, Beinn Bhreac and then taking in the Marilyn of Meall nan Damh.

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My sister had kindly agreed to drop me off and pick me up, which gave me a rare opportunity for a linear route :D .
Getting the boat over from Ardrossan to Brodick the afternoon before, the sun wasn’t quite splitting the skies:
WR 1.jpg

However, the forecast for Tuesday 24th was much better, and right enough, the morning was at least dry. The usual route up Beinn Bharrain starts from Pirnmill, where a farm track heads uphill immediately to the left of the Lighthouse Cafe & Restaurant, directly across the main road from a “Footpath” sign (that’s the track to the LEFT facing the Lighthouse Restaurant; not the initially more likely-looking track to the right immediately beside the Allt Gobhlach burn which actually heads nowhere much). The track bends left, then fairly sharply right again uphill, and then sharply left towards a farm. Where it takes the second left turn, a wee path continues straight ahead over a stile. This is handily signed “Footpath”, courtesy of the Arran Access Trust (a great local initiative to ensure easy access for walkers all over the island :clap: ).

The path, intermittently a bit swampy but pretty good overall, heads through some attractive woodland and eventually forks at a wee burn; the route takes the right-hand fork, again marked with an “Arran Access Trust” arrow sign:

The path then crosses a fine big ladder stile over a deer fence to reach open countryside.

Things now started to get seriously scenic, with a rather impressive waterfall appearing on the Allt Gobhlach: presumably our lovely dry 2012 summer had helped to make it somewhat more suggestive of Niagara than it might normally be :lol: !

The path rises to the left of the Allt Gobhlach until Beinn Bharrain’s northwestern corrie, Coire Roinn, comes into view. Coire Roinn is made up of two ridges thrown off by the Graham: a big, gentle, curving ridge that forms the southern and western corrie rim; and a short, sharp ridge heading NNW from Beinn Bharrain’s main summit which forms the eastern corrie rim, and which features the “mini-A’Chir-type ridge”. On approach, this looked very fine indeed, and thankfully not nearly as terrifying as A’Chir itself :) .

Unfortunately there was still a lot of cloud about, but the forecast was for improving weather as the day went on, and the Clag was promising to clear (I could just about hear it sullenly mutter “I promise”, like a teenager who has just required significant bribery to tidy his or her bedroom :-| ).
For anyone seeking an easier way up Beinn Bharrain, there are at least three good options: walk up the gentle western rim of Coire Roinn; walk straight up the corrie to the headwall where a wee path cuts up to the bealach; or approach the Graham from the north, via Coire Fhionn Lochan (my intended descent route). However, that would have been dashed unsporting, what :lol: ?
Closer up, the eastern rim of Coire Roinn looked even more impressive. However, the initial problem was, how to get up there? The ridge ends in a rocky buttress, which presented what looked like a truly hard scramble up big cubical blocks of rock. Fortunately, however, on walking a bit further up the corrie, it proved possible to clamber up steep slopes of heather and boulders without having to put hand to rock too often. It was steep and pathless, but it got me up all right. I topped out just south of the buttress at the end of the ridge, where I found one of those “natural sculptures” with a humanoid profile that seem to be an Arran specialty. Having managed to completely miss the Old Man of Tarsuinn when on Beinn Tarsuinn earlier in the year, I am patenting this one as the Old Man of Pirnmill! He clearly has a beard and a tache, and is sporting some sort of big bunnet :wtf: :

(He is actually at an oblique angle, as if gazing up at the sky, but I cheated and tilted my camera about 30 degrees to make his profile look vertical.)
From here, the ridge just looks fantastic, a delightfully knobbly thing with those marvellous big rounded knuckly rocks that seem to be another Arran specialty, and which make for such excellent scrambling :D . It is short, but definitely sweet! On the whole, it isn’t as hard as it looks, with a path of sorts bypassing most of the main obstacles without too much hard hand-work.

There was however one bit that gave me pause for thought, where an unavoidable rock tower blocks the way just before the last section of the ridge.

To my relief, I made it up this fairly uneventfully, and from here the ridge levels out to join the main body of the Corbett.
As Andrew Dempster’s book notes, the slight disadvantage of going up the steep eastern ridge of Coire Roinn is that a bit of back-tracking is required if one wants to take in the southern summit of Beinn Bharrain. I’d undertaken to walk the full ridge, so back-tracking it was then :-| . The Clag now closed in relentlessly, but I found a good path running south from Beinn Bharrain’s main 721m peak down to its southern Top of 717m.
Confusingly, the main summit is named “Mullach Buidhe”, Yellow Hill, on the OS map, which names the southern Top as “Beinn Bharrain”. However, everyone on the island (and this website, as well as Andrew Dempster’s “Grahams” book) just seems to call the whole Graham “Beinn Bharrain” :? . Also confusingly, the northern Top is named Beinn Bhreac (the Brindled Hill), a name that’s shared by at least FIVE other hills on Arran alone. Why were those early mapmakers so fond of doing this? For instance, does Glen Roy REALLY need three Corbetts all called Carn Dearg, and two Grahams both called Leana Mhor :wtf: ? It always reminds me of Monty Python’s “Eric the Half a Bee” (“...and Kemel Attaturk had an entire MENAGERIE, all named Abdul...”). There must be an explanation somewhere :? .
Mountain nomenclature aside, it was a pleasant enough walk south through the Clag along a broad ridge to the south top, whatever it’s called. There were some nice big granite slabs, easy on ascent but a bit slippery on the way back down:

Next came a rocky wee tor, which actually looked marginally higher than the “official” cairned south top when seen through the Clag, although it is apparently a couple of metres lower.

Shortly after this comes the cairned South Top.

From here, I just turned and walked back up the path again, passing the end of the “mini-A’Chir-type ridge” to head on north-east to the Graham’s main summit, which is marked by both a trig point and a big cairn, just for good measure :D .

At this point the Clag finally started to clear off, muttering ominously under its breath, to reveal some tantalising glimpses out west across Kilbrannan Sound towards Kintyre. Those views would just improve as the day went on!
The path continues north-east and then north along a big, broad, striding kind of a ridge, down to the bealach shared with Beinn Bhreac. It’s easy to see where the “Brindled Hill” gets its name, with both of its flanks being attractively dappled by scree slopes:

From the bealach, there is an intriguing view south to the rather fine Marilyn of Sail Chalmadale, standing in splendid isolation on the Steppes of Central Arran, a.k.a. Glen Iorsa. I’ve never climbed it, but it is definitely worth a look in the future.

There was a good view back to Beinn Bharrain too, with that great wee Ridge looking good from this angle:

Beinn Bhreac’s cairned summit turned out to be a grand viewpoint – good to see it in better weather; I got nae views when I was up this as a teenager!

From Beinn Bhreac the path splits, with one branch continuing to a minor cairned top and the other one bypassing this top to the east to head down to the bealach with the minor hump of Meall Bhig, at the head of Coireinn Lochan. I took the bypass path, and very soon my final target of the day, the Marilyn Meall nan Damh (“Hump of the Stag”) shuffled shyly onto Centre Stage. Another fine-looking hill, actually:

From the Beinn Bhreac / Meall Bhig bealach I carried on north rather than descending to Coire Fhionn Lochan, bypassing Meall Bhig to its east to head straight towards Lochan Ruadh, which is the wee lochan just at the foot of Meall nan Damh. From Lochan Ruadh, the southwestern flank of Meall nan Damh looks a bit intimidating, being steep and craggy :shock: . However, from the far corner of the Lochan, a fairly obvious grassy ramp cuts up to the left and then back to the right, providing a steep and pathless but otherwise straightforward enough route up.

An interesting thing, this. Sub-2000 Marilyns often tend not to get much respect (they still don’t have their own “book”, for a start :( , although it’s good to see them on the website) – however, this fine wee hill had easily the best views of the day from its rather impressive, cairned summit dome. The main ridge of the Arran Corbetts was looking spectacular to the east:

And to the west, there were fabulous views across Kilbrannan Sound to Kintyre and the Paps of Jura in the distance:

If there are more Marilyns as good as this (and there probably are), then I could easily develop the secret vice of becoming an Intrepid Sub-Marilyner :lol: , as well as continuing the standard slow ticking off of the Munros with the occasional Corbett and Graham thrown in for luck...
However, it had been a long walk and it was time to get back down. It was an easy enough stoat back down the way I’d come up to Lochan Ruadh, then back round the east side of the nondescript hump of Meall Bhig to the bealach with Beinn Bhreac, where a series of cairns sitting on big granite slabs mark the top of the descent path down to Coireinn Lochan.

The last bit of the descent route is an absolute delight, as the path heads down the east side of Coireinn Lochan, which holds Coire Fhionn Lochan, surely one of Scotland’s most scenic high-level lochs. The view down across it to Kintyre with Islay beyond was stunning; this photo really doesn’t do it justice.

From here I cut across to the main recently renovated stone path down the side of the Lochan’s outlet stream, Uisge Soluis Mhoir. This gives an easy and scenic romp downhill beside the tumbling burn :D , back down to the main road at the ancient and rather pleasingly named farmstead of Thundergay.
Although I didn’t bag anything grander than a Graham (which I may well already have been up in my youth :? ) and a Marilyn, this was a fairly challenging day’s walking, a lot harder than many of the Munros I’ve been up, but correspondingly rewarding. The Arran hills are fantastic; and the good ones aren’t all on the east side of the island.
Last edited by bobble_hat_kenny on Thu Dec 27, 2012 12:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Full Pirnmill Thrill: Beinn Bharrain to Meall nan Da

Postby Phil the Hill » Fri Jul 27, 2012 1:10 pm

Good report. I was up there at the end of May and my next report will be a similar route, minus the Marilyn. We were lucky enough to have perfect weather, so I got some good shots of the view from the summit. The scrambly ridge is certainly interesting. After doing the first bit, I decided I'd probably reached my limit and bypassed the final section.
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