With the lovely summer weather continuing I packed my bag and headed for the hills of Cowal this week. My target was Bishop’s Seat, which stands at the head of Bishop’s Glen behind Dunoon at a height of 504 metres.
Bishop’s Seat was a good bit higher and further from town than previous microadventures and right on the limit of being commutable on foot. During my research I’d only been able to find one walk report from Bishop’s Seat, which only fuelled my eagerness to visit.
I love getting the train along the Clyde, there’s so much history there that most people ignore as they delve deeper into their copy of the Metro. Unfortunately I had to stand all the way to Gourock so didn’t get to see much of the view but it made me all the more grateful to get a top deck seat on the Ali Cat, the Argyll Ferries boat that would take me over the Firth of Clyde to Dunoon for the start of the trip.
The ferry crossing gives you great views up Loch Long and Holy Loch towards hills and mountains but I was pretty fixated on the view ahead. I knew the numbers, but Bishop’s Seat looked pretty high for a quick overnighter and I started to think I’d underestimated it a little.
While sat on a hill by the castle eating fish and chips I took in the amazing views over East Bay towards the Arrochar Alps and Ben Lomond. I also had another look at the map for a backup plan just in case I didn’t have time to make it all the way to the top.
An old forest road starts up the hill from the western end of John Street and winds up Tom Odhar to join a much newer track which, much to my dismay, had two timber trucks driving along it as I approached. There were massive stacks of timber by the sides of the track, 30 feet high and so long it felt like you were walking through a tunnel and the air was full of the smell of sap.
The scars of felled trees are pretty horrible to look at but I was really glad to see it being cleared here for two reasons: the views and the midges!
My whole trip was thrown into jeopardy as I came around into Bishop’s Glen to be faced with a no entry sign. I would just about have time to get the last ferry, but I really didn’t want to give up. Thankfully there was a forestry worker driving down the hill towards me and he was going slowly enough that I managed to ask him if it was ok to continue. After the initial panic it all worked perfectly – their shift had just finished and they wouldn’t be back on site until 6:30 in the morning, so as long as I didn’t touch equipment or timber stacks it was ok to go on.
Along the track the views across the upper Firth were fantastic. I could see three previous microadventure spots: The Slacks, Cumbrae and Dunrod from the forest road and even Loch Lomond in the distance.
Because I’d taken so long to find fish and chips I had a bit of a race against time for the last mile or so to the summit, which involved crossing pathless peat bog after reaching the end of the forest. The report I’d found suggested wearing gaiters and although we’ve had a warm dry summer I packed them just in case. This was the best move I made all day!
As soon as I stepped off the road I was in spagnum moss, heather and knee deep tussock. The going was tough, and because of the lay of the land there weren’t many views to distract me. Light relief often comes at the best of times and as I stumbled over some tussock and shouted at no-one in particular, a family of red grouse took off from underneath me, almost as shocked as I was!
Just before the final push to the summit there’s a view to the south down Glen Fyne, which lines up perfectly with Rothesay Bay on Bute and perfectly frames the mountains of Arran. Unfortunately it also brought into view a flock of sheep huddled around the trig point summit, where I’d planned to sleep.
The sheep did move off without any fuss as I got closer and as I came onto the summit of Bishop’s Seat I was hit by a wonderful cooling breeze for the first time since I’d got off the ferry. The views were spectacular. To the north I could see as far as Ben Cruachan, to the west the Paps of Jura were peeking over the Cowal Hills and I could just pick out Ailsa Craig almost 50 miles south.
Yet again my timing was pretty good. The sun started to set almost as soon as I’d put my new lightweight Trimm sleeping bag into the Hunka. The glens around me were filling with mist and the hills and mountains to the west were cast in shadow by the orange sky and it was so peaceful. I’d hike through peatbogs for days just for half an hour of that!
The five mile hike was taking it’s toll and I called it an early night after taking a couple of photos as the lights came on across the Clyde in Gourock and Greenock.
My alarm went off at 4:30 am as expected, but it was a bit of a shock when I stuck my head outside. Not only was it freezing and really windy, I was in thick cloud and couldn’t see more than 20 feet. There was to be no sunrise for breakfast or taking in the views as I headed back to work.
Although I’m capable of navigating by map and compass and always carry a GPS unit as backup I was a little worried about the walk back down. I could follow a fence back to the road, but the visibility was so low I couldn’t skirt around the most uneven and boggy parts without losing sight of the fence. I wasn’t sure I’d budget the time for map/GPS navigation. There was a more direct path off the summit heading into the forest, but I had no idea if there had been forestry works around it so decided the fenceline would be easier.
Putting my newly acquired Go Ape skills to use I actually had more fun going down, as I shimmied along the fence when the going got tough! Progress was quick on the way down, both because I was keen to get out of the cloud as soon as possible and because I didn’t want to get stopped by felling and have to find another route.
When the cloud did end it ended abruptly. At about 800 feet the temperature rose and the view opened up so that I could see across the Clyde. There was a silver sheen to the whole world and an eerie silence. It was hard to tell what was sky, sea or land and other than the raven sat beside me there were no other signs of life.
This continued all the way down the hill until the very end of the forest track when I met the three forestry workers on their way back up the hill for a 6:30 start. The first ferry of the day was quiet and I was again the only person on the upper deck but I was rewarded with views of gannets, cormorants, a razorbill and a small flock of storm petrels.
I slept for most of the train journey and even had time to stop off at home to hang up my damp kit and have a shower before work. As I’m sure my colleagues will testify I was absolutely shattered by the end of my work day, so I think I’ve found the limit of a school night microadventure. Or maybe I just need more practise!
With the Commonwealth Games coming to Glasgow this week (and in the case of the marathon, quite literally coming to my doorstep) I’m going to try and find some smaller microadventures close to home that I can cycle to, as public transport will be tabloid level chaos. If anyone has any ideas of where to go, leave them in the comments!