The west of Scotland offers some of the best hiking trails in the UK. Join us as we hike through the Arrochar Alps and attempt to bag our first munro.
I’ve always been told that the north of Scotland holds the most beautiful scenery.
This is where you can find the infamous Highlands, Isle of Skye, Shetland, the Orkneys. All the wild, wind-swept scenery that you have only ever seen on those huge advertising posters that they glue on to the grey walls of your local tube station each summer. There’s lone mountains reaching for the dark clouds above. Waves brutally throwing themselves towards the shores. Abandoned churches, forlorn castle ruins, forgotten heroes. It’s the home of untamed beauty, despair, hope, independence. In more ways than one, the north appears to be the epitome of Scotland.
Recently, however, I have slowly begun to embark on a quiet love affair with the west coast. After spending some time in Oban last spring, I discovered that Scotland has so much more to offer than simply just the north. The west of Scotland is just as beautiful, just as wild, just as wind-swept. And the west also offers some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Scotland.
Enter, the Arrochar Alps.
Arriving in Arrochar
Arrochar is a wee village situated on the shores of Loch Long, and only a mountain away from the more famous Loch Lomond. In other words, we are only a quick train journey away from Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest (and best!) city. We arrived by train at 7 in the evening – only to discover that we were the only guests in the village. At our hotel, a bus filled with German tourists had just set off. We filled the silence with a glass of wine at the local pub, The Village Inn, while mapping out our hiking routes for the next morning. If you’re looking for a hotel in Arrochar, you can find a good selection here. Be aware though, there is another pub in Arrochar – Ben Arthurs Bothy – but, trust me, this is not a place you want to spend your rainy evening in. Head to the Village Inn instead: it’s cozy, offers cheap wine and delicious and heart-warming food. This is the kind of place where the bartender will add pepper corns to your gin & tonic because “come one, you need to live a little!”.
As you can see, this is as wild as the nightlife gets around here.
Trekking The Cobbler
We originally chose Arrochar for two reasons. Firstly, the Arrochar Alps are located quite close to Glasgow. That makes it a great option for those of us who need to jump on the early evening train after finishing work on a Friday. Secondly, we chose Arrochar because I wanted to bag my first munro. For those of you who are not too familiar with the term, a munro is a Scottish mountain with a height of over 914 m. The practice of ”munro bagging” is popular amongst hikers here in the UK, and the aim is to climb all the officially listed munros. There’s approximately 282 of them, so it’s about time I get started to be honest.
We originally set out with the plan of climbing Beinn Nairnain. Unfortunately, the Scottish weather had other plans for us. After only 40 minutes of hiking, we met a heavy rainstorm and we decided to change our route. Instead we chose a trail headed towards the rather impressive Ben Arthur, known as the Cobbler. Despite being only a wee bit too short to be called a munro, the Cobbler is still a magnificent mountain and it offers a rather breath-taking view. The mountain is also a great way for the locals to predict the weather, and our server at the Village Inn told us that
If you can see the top of the Cobbler, it’s going to rain. If you can’t see the Cobbler, it’s already raining.
Wise words indeed. And a rather good indication of how the weather normally acts here in the west.
Yet, only 30 minutes away from the peak of the Cobbler, we once again had to give up. The rain was too heavy, and the fog made it near impossible to see the trail ahead of us. We accepted our final defeat, and decided to head back down towards the village. Despite not making it to the top of my first munro, we still had a magnificent hike. And of course, we celebrated with a pint!
What to remember when hiking the Arrochar Alps
- It will most likely rain, so bring waterproof clothes. This is the hike where I learned the hard way that my jacket was far from water resistant.
- Never go anywhere without a map. If you use your phone, download the map before you go. There’s basically no signal as soon as you leave Arrochar village.
- Bring enough food and water.
- Bring good shoes. My walking boots are in Norway, so I decided to use my running shoes. Big mistake. While I did avoid getting any blisters, my beloved New Balance turned out to be slippery as hell. In fact, they were so slippery that I fell off a wet rock and ended up in a very damp mud hole. Moral of the story: bring hiking boots.
And – I kid you not! – as soon as we finished our celebratory pints down in the village, the weather cleared up and revealed a beautiful, blue sky.
Difficulty Level: The Arrochar Alps can be perfect for most experienced hikers. It’s steep, so it might be quite challenging for beginners.
Time: Approximately 3-4 hours.
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links (which probably won’t get me more than a small americano on monday morning)
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