Circuit of Glen Sannox
Cir Mhor, Caisteil Abhail & The Witch's Step
The map I have used for any references is OS Explorer 361, Isle of Arran 1:25000.
The Walk In
The walk up to the head of Glen Sannox follows a gently inclined path up the Glen along the bank of the Sannox Burn. For the most part the path lies on the true left bank of the burn (ie the left bank as you face the direction of water flow).
Starting from the parking available at Sannox Bay (South Sannox village) there is a landrover track next to the small cottage (Ref 017 455). Follow the landrover track up the hill a short way and through a couple of gates (remember to close these behind you). The path goes past some navigation beacons and some disused mine shafts before arriving at a smallpile of mining waste. You can either skirt around this on the path or walk directly across it; either way you will arrive at the Sannox Burn.
On the right as you walk up the glen you'll see the Devil's Punchbowl (Coire na Ciche) - an impressive corrie and a nice start to the day. For the less adventurous this presents a nice walk on its own.
There is a path up either side of the burn but the main path is on it's left bank so it's as well to cross here. Assuming the water level is not too high this should be feasable without getting wet. There's little point in heading for the other ford (003 451) further on as the burn is narrower here and the water is likely to be a little deeper.
Once you have crosses the burn, follow the distinct path up to the head of the glen. The path is generally good (if a little boggy) until you reach the head of the glen - here it becomes really boggy so careful progress is called for (unless you're already wet).
If the weather allows the views of the mountains around the corrie are spectacular - the deep notch of the Witch's Step on your right leading to the more civil summit of Caisteil Abhail. Towering over the head of the Glen is the centrepeice, Cir Mhor with its imposing cliffs - it is reputedly the best peak on the island although it was unfortunalely shrouded in mist when I visited.
The path you have follow so far is marked all the way to the col known as "The Saddle" which lies between Cir Mhor and North Goatfell (Ref 977 430). In order to attain the saddle it is necessary to keep on the path. Press on through the peat bog until you reach the confluence of the two streams at Ref 982 435 - here you will find the beginings of The Yellow Brick Road. I think it is Historic Scotland who are the current caretakers of the land here. The immaculate (and welcome) stone path leads immediately across the burn then steeply up the hillside until a weathered whin dyke is reached.
Once the dyke is reached the stone path peters out although the way forward/upwards should be plain enough. Scamble up the dyke itself or up the left hand side. The rock is mostly solid and clean and should not present any trouble in reasonable weather. If the weather is poor then care should be taken as a slip could leave you underneath the cliffs of Cir Mhor.
The exit at the top of the dyke leads directly up (and slightly eastwards) to The Saddle, from where you can either turn NW to Cir Mhor or SE towards North Goatfell.
From The Saddle head NW up the grassy hillside following a much less distinct path. This eventually leads you into a nasty, steep and very tiring scree gully. Climb this to it's conclusion: a grassy hillside where one side falls off into Glen Rosa. You should be at approximately 975 431. The path now goes around the summit slightly. This should present few difficulties in good weather but in less than perfect visibility careful map/compass work is required.
NOTE: if the weather or visibility is poor then the summit of Cir Mhor is not a good place to be. Be content with traversing the mountain in poor conditions rather than getting to the summit: it is flanked with the cliffs that fall vertically back into Glen Sannox.
Countouring around and slightly up will lead you to a scree path above a steep drop. This is the path underneath the Rosetta Stone - navigate this area carefully and slowly (there is a good path) until you reach 972 432 where the path begins to lose height and head northwards around the lip of the corrie.
I would like to describe the summit of Cir Mhor but I was travelling through thick clouds and rain so I didn't actually see the pinnacle or the stone much less take any photographs. If anyone wishes to they can email us either pictures or a description or Cir Mhor (or anything else!).
Caisteil Abhail & The Witch's Step
Continue around the lip of the corrie keeping close to the edge (not too close in winter).
Should it prove necessary the corrie can be descended from 967 440 on a bearing to the stream at 974 436 where there are the beginnings of a path back to the start of the Yellow Brick Road. This is often used as a descent route for those who have traversed the Witch's Step from East to West - this descent is safer (and less fun) that descending the dyke from The Saddle.
Once on the summit of Caisteil Abhail you will see the two "castles". Beyond these to the east lies the Witch's Step. If visibility is less than 15-20m this should not be attempted (unless you've done it before). There are cliffs all around the castle and the descent of these may seem like an easy scramble to begin with. Going the wrong way here in poor visibility is not a good choice. Making sure you're not following the ridge northwards and into North Glen Sannox scamble down the east ridge from the castles until you come the the prominent (and deep) notch that is the Witch's Step.
The step can be taken directly if you're a confident scrambler, or if you prefer the more difficult ascent on the far side can be avoided by following a path that leads from the bottom of the cleft around and up on the Northern side of the ridge.
The best way to descent is to follow the ridge above Glen Sannox across the top of Suidhe Fheargas and then down to the shoulder/col at 993 460. From here you should head downhill (SE) to meet the Sannox Burn and the path you approached by. Follow the path back the way you came.