The Goet – A Walk in the Mist
12 October 2008
I came close to forgetting about this one. I let a backlog build up of days out minus their “tails”, a heinous crime if ever there was one. As a result of this, some would say welcome omission, I have to recount such travels from memory or again, as some would say…make it up! Needless to say this gives me no problem at all. It’ll just be like all the rest.
I had high hopes for today’s walk. A number of other commentators had in the past been most complementary about the location so the Fatdog and I were looking forward to our visit. Well I was, the Fatdog was more likely looking forward to lunch. As we rolled up to The Glen Clova Hotel I noticed immediately that we weren’t the only thing that had rolled up. Above Loch Brandy an uninvited mass of dull grey cloud had also rolled up…and then rolled over the hills to the east. While this is generally of little consequence to most hillwalkers, FD and I are acknowledged as being leading exponents of fair weather hillwalking i.e. we like to see where we’re going.
The Goet being today’s destination I was aware that, once up on the plateau above Loch Brandy, the intervening terrain was fairly featureless and navigation considered tricky in cloud. Oh good…just what I didn’t want. However the circular route up and around Loch Brandy would be easy to follow without any serious risk of wandering off, so I decided we would head up and see if the cloud could be persuaded to lift a couple of hundred metres.
I should make it clear at this point I don’t have any particular worries about navigating in cloud. Although I’ve never had to use a compass in anger, I did a lot of surveying in my younger days and therefore used to maps, calculating bearings etc. I know about compensating for magnetic north and working out distances by pacing. I just don’t have any particular desire to do it. I want to be able to take pretty pictures!
So, brimming with confidence we set off through the car park towards the hill at the back of the hotel. There was a short section of native woodland and then it was onto the open hill on a five star path all the way to Loch Brandy.
As we were ultimately heading towards the Goet we could have struck east at Loch Brandy thus short cutting the walk. On the other hand if we went up The Snub, the steep spur to the north of Loch Brandy, that would get most of the serious uphill done for the day and it would be the hillwalking equivalent of “feet up” time after that. We forked left up The Snub.
It wasn’t a very hard pull to be honest and soon we were looking down into the rocky bowl holding Loch Brandy. Unfortunately the low cloud had sucked the colour out of the day and the view had a weary flatness to it. Disappointing I have to say.
But something always turns up and today it was a massive shear crack. The shear crack suggested that some time in the future a very large chuck of The Snub is going to find itself in Loch Brandy. This begs the question – where will Loch Brandy go when this happens? It’s probably been like this for a few thousand years so I wouldn’t go and book seats for the event. Just don’t wander too near the edge…you never know.
I looked at the cloud squelched flat on the top of the plateau to the south east and wondered. This would be slightly out-with our comfort zone. Did we go for it? Of course we did.
I had checked the map and as long as we picked up the trail from Green Hill, later forking left towards Muckle Cairn, all we then had to do was pick an appropriate spot to cut right and wander uphill across some open moorland and eventually we would blunder across the summit of The Goet. Off into the clammy mist we toddled.
It was like a scene out of horror movie. The dank mist swirled ominously as solid stony moorland gave way to dark festering peat haggs. The black tortured earth appeared to heave around us as the path cut through suppurating bog . Ghostly lights gleamed eerily below the surface of the dark fermenting sludge. Speaking frankly these mind games are not the thing to become involved in when out walking on your own in these conditions, where all that stands between you and the dread Legions of Hell is a tubby Labrador with an oversized appetite.
Fortunately I tend to know when things are going pear shaped and I was pretty certain they were going pear shaped right about now. We had been following the path south east in cloud for a wee while but a couple of things did not feel right. I had by now become accustomed to the Headless Horseman and the Screaming Banshee, but I could sense the path veering right and down…when we were looking for left and down. I could also catch glimpses through the swirling cloud of high ground to our left, which according to my map, should have been physically impossible. We were pretty obviously not where we should have been. I guessed we had missed the fork somewhere further back. But I wanted to know exactly where we were. Out came the compass. The Horseman and the Banshee stopped prancing and wailing respectively and peered over my shoulder, interested in what was about to happen next.
My god, compared to working a precision surveying instrument the compass is a somewhat fussy beast and can be incredibly indecisive about where it wants to point. I had north in at least 6 different positions…and I reckoned one of them was south!
The Headless Horseman and the Screaming Banshee were pissing themselves laughing by this time and buggered off into the mist leaving me to a torturous slow death by compass reading, their eerie laughter mocking me as they went looking for more heroic prey.
Eventually the spinning needle agreed to point in one direction and I lined it up on the map. Our path appeared to head due south which was unfortunate as the path we wanted was heading east. To check the path we were on was definitely running N-S we followed it for a further 100m and did a further check. Still N-S – so the path wasn’t changing direction. It was about time we did!
Back up the path we trailed.
We never did reach the fork. As we walked back, off to our right, I could see what appeared to be a number of small piles of stones. I was sure that these marked the location of our path (or graves of…”Aaargh!”). Now all I had to do was work out where to leave this path and strike out across the cropped tundra-like surface towards the Goet.
We were to have a bit off help from now on as from time to time the cloud cleared fractionally in front allowing glimpses of the terrain to come. We picked out a large rocky landmark to the right, headed for it, with a view to picking out Stoney Loch from there. From that position we should have both a line to the summit and a line of sight back to the track. Once we found the little lochan it was plain sailing. All we had to do now was keep going SE and up until we tripped over the trig point.
Then out of the mist loomed something which ensured that there was no way on earth we could get lost from now on– a swath, some 20 to 30m wide, of ATV tracks and a bloody great electric fence.
With no views to speak of we had a very quick lunch and headed back down the mess of tracks until once more we reached the path. By now the cloud had deigned to disperse and a views were beginning to appear, mainly to the north (or maybe south if you ask my compass). We had only headed a short way back towards Green Hill when an enormous mountain hare ambled across our path.
I began to murmur the well worn horse racing commentator’s line…
and on the word “…off!” The Fatdog predictably launched herself at full pelt after the big bunny.
The hare sat patiently, watching the galloping Fatdog lurch towards her. It waited for a few seconds before setting off at, for a mountain hare, snail’s pace. Almost immediately FD gave up in disgust and wandered back sheepishly. With no more sport to be had the big hare lazily bunny-hopped over the nearest rise and into the distance.
With the clouds now a respectable height above the tops we had a clear view of the way back. We dropped down to the south of Loch Brandy on the circuit path then strolled back to the car along the main access route.
Even with the cloud lifted I have to say that this was one of the most insipid walks we’ve been on. I’ve no doubt they’ll be a few who may contradict me on this one but I didn’t even find the drama of the cliffs above Loch Brandy very dramatic. For example, Coire-Fhionn Lochan on Arran is fairly similar but seems to have more character. The moorland itself wasn’t quite bleak enough to be interesting and was probably more atmospheric under cloud.
High above Loch Wharral a Headless Horseman and a Banshee were having a post haunting cup of tea ruminating on the fact that hill walkers were disappointingly softer than they used to be. It was hardly worth the effort these days and those peat haggs were far too piddly to be worth haunting in the first place. The Horseman pulled out a map and pointed. The Banshee wailed in agreement and they both disappeared into the moisture laden curtain of cloud. A scrap of antique map lay on the ground where they had been, a ghostly print smudged over a spot on the map…Debyshire!