Published 28th May 2019, 20:09

    TWO consecutive night ascents of Goatfell, two walks of striking contrasts.

    The recent spell of decent weather and arrival of the full moon had raised expectations of perfect midnight manoeuvres for the Arran Mountain Festival walks.

    The Flower Moon is said to be the brightest of the year, and 12 months ago I had walked to the summit of Ben Lawers in brilliant light with the BBC Landward team. I was hoping for more of the same.

    I had already enjoyed a fine night walk in the Galloway hills en route to Arran, a 4am round of Tarfessock and Kirriereoch Hill, and it still looked promising on the Friday ferry journey over, Goatfell's pin-sharp ridges standing out like pencil lines against clear skies. Unfortunately, by the time midnight rolled around, a rogue front had swept across the country and engulfed the island.

    There had been some doubt about the timing. We thought we might just make it up and down by the time the rain moved in. A walk under the glow of the Flower Moon would have been nice, but we would have settled for staying dry.

    It quickly became obvious that neither was going to happen. We set off at 1am in persistent drizzle being blown in from the east on a strong breeze.

    We caught a brief glimpse of the moon, then we entered the same gloom that had snuffed it out. The higher we rose, the windier and wetter it got. Head torches were nullified, the beam bouncing back from the cloying grey making each step forward a surprise.

    There were two groups of three along with myself and guide Jeremy, and I was encouraged and somewhat bemused by their cheery outlook on a night of saturation coverage. There was, however, a unanimous decision to forgo the usual 'tourist' stops and just get round and down as fast as possible.

    There's an old saying that you should never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Well, I now feel I have a handle on the inner demons of Aquaman after walking a few miles in his underpants.

    We were soaked through. Nothing was untouched; the constant driving wetness had penetrated layer by layer. The rest of the day was spent sleeping and drying out the gear.

    Despite a better forecast, I had that Groundhog Day feeling as ten of us set off at 1am on the Sunday morning. There was moisture blowing through at ground level that suggested we might be in for soaking No.2 when we reached higher levels.

    As we rose, so did our hopes. The temperature was higher, the wind negligible, and the earlier rain spots had halted. We could make out the dark silhouettes of the mountain slopes all round, and the twinkling lights across the Firth of Clyde. The coast was clear.

    It all disappeared again as we approached the high bowl of Corrie Lan, but this was merely a temporary blip, a layer of cloud which had set up camp in the dip. We had a night inversion.

    Soon we were above this gauzy sheet, sitting among the rocks on the ridgeline as the first real sparks of pre-dawn light brought more feature to the lines. The cloud moved half-heartedly around the contours, sometimes rolling, sometimes caressing, but always leaving something to see. The views changed by the second, the full moon coming and going in a series of unveilings that brought gasps of satisfaction from these midnight ramblers.

    The final section of the walk along and up to the trig point summit was accomplished without the need of torches. Instead we got the corrie we had come through flooding with light. We arrived in time for sunrise, but the banks of cloud lower down were never going to let us get away with that as well. They did concede a few more moon sightings, and we all agreed that was good enough for one night.

    There was one last surprise. As we neared the turn point on the ridge into Coire nam Meann, we were treated to a spectacular light show spilling across the water. The sun may have been blocked off by the clouds, but it was now starting to gain the upper hand. High blue sky was brushed with yellows and pinks, and the waters of the firth were shimmering with gold stripes as the cloud was broken into irrelevant wisps.

    I felt happy for the group, but it was tinged with a little disappointment and even guilt that those descending 24 hours before had missed the glory of the night and the morning. Then again, there's always next year.