Distance 11.5km | Ascent 1012m | Scramble rating Grade 2 (but very short) | Go there any time when the rock will be dry and the breeze gentle.
Ben Arthur in the Arrochar Alps is much better known by an alternative name: The Cobbler. The shoemaking pseudonym is a result of its profile which, thanks to the unique rock outcrops that form its summits, is said to resemble a cobbler bent over his work. And yes, you read that right. Summits – plural. The Cobbler has three. The North Peak is the most easily claimed, offering nothing of any real difficulty for seasoned walkers. Conversely, the South Peak requires either very exposed scrambling or outright rock climbing to reach, and is widely ignored by walkers. The Central Peak, at 884m The Cobbler’s true summit, sits between them both geographically and in difficulty; an angular, multi-faceted tower of mica schist. The only way up is to scramble. The moves are simple but the route devious and the exposure big. It won’t take long, but the memory of it will last a lifetime. Here’s how it goes…
The best start is from the car park beside Loch Long in Succoth (NN294049). Cross the road, zig-zag up the forested hillside, and follow the Allt a’ Bhalachain. The three peaks of The Cobbler will soon come into view, followed by the rest of the mountain as the Narnain Boulders are approached.
Beyond these charismatic rocks, the path forks. Either continue right and follow the path through Coire a’ Bhalachain around the back of The Cobbler on a gently climbing path to the bealach between the North and Central Peaks, or turn left to ford the stream and take the shorter but steeper route to the same spot. From here, ascend south-west to the summit.
Standing looking at the summit block, it appears unassailable. But there’s a sneaky way in. A rocky ramp leads around to the side of the pinnacle, revealing a hole straight through the tower. This is variously known as ‘Argyll’s Eyeglass’ or ‘the eye of the needle’ and the first step of the climb is to crawl through it – much easier without a pack on.
On the other side of the hole is a ledge. Around 1m in width, it slopes in two directions: upwards towards the summit, and outwards towards thin air and a drop of 30m. It’s fairly intimidating. When wet, it’s also treacherously slippery. It’s best to abort your ascent and remain on the safe side of the window in anything other than bone dry conditions.
Assuming your head for heights is good and the rock is dry (this is your last chance to bail if it isn’t), the way is upwards along the ledge where, at the far end, a short clamber up good holds ends on the top of the summit blocks. Deep cracks fissure the rock and from up here the tower seems more like a pile of delicately balanced blocks than a single solid lump.
With the highest spot under your feet, the retreat is by the same way. Take great care on the climb down to the ledge and back towards the window – it’s trickier in descent. Squeeze back through ‘Argyll’s Eyeglass’ and return to safer ground. Descend by whichever path you skipped on the way up to cover some new ground on the way back to the car.