Tom Weir | To Wild Places (II)

A Perfect Day on the Cobbler


Read Part One


It was an easy walk to the Narnain Boulders and now that we were close in to the corrie floor it needed little imagination to see how The Cobbler got its name; the slender pinnacle—the highest point of the centre peak—resembles a man with a hammer bending over his last, with the bulkier hunched shape on the right, his wife, and on the left, shapely Jean, his daughter.

We struck off for the north peak, rising swiftly on a well-trodden path through beetling slabs of wrinkled mica-schist which were a mere foretaste to the rock architecture to come, a world of overhangs and strange jutting beaks.

We thought we had it all to ourselves until we heard voices and the clink of steel on steel, and I spotted a party of helmeted and roped climbers in the vertical slit between overhangs known as the Right-angled Gully.

We arrived on top to watch the second man of the party of four, edge up the final moves of the vertical crack which was led for the first time by Jock Nimiin in the ’30’s when it was considered to be the hardest climb on the Cobbler.

The leader grinned when I told him this.

“Now, it’s for beginners,” he said. “None of this party has climbed before. They’re from Jordanhill College for Teachers and for them this is just another ‘activity’, part of their course as physical education instructors. It doesn’t follow they will be mountaineers. This is rock climbing, with specialised boots and safety aids that were unknown in the early days.”


Sport or Stravaig?


Leaving them to their sport I couldn’t help reflecting on the difference in attitude between theirs and mine.

Armed with gear and guided by a trained leader they were engaged in rock sport, a form of athletics shown now as television entertainment in which the star performers are described in extravagant phrases such as “the finest climber in Britain “.

They are men who train on indoor climbing walls and on rock outcrops to attain world champion boxer fitness. From our armchairs we watch a very first ascent up a blank wall, or not quite blank, for the star climber has roped down it to inspect the face and brush the possible holds clean.

As well as looking for cracks to insert wire chocks, he puts in one piton, telling us as he does so that a lot of climbers will criticise him for it.

He says he knows he might die, but he has to challenge the rock rising sheer for 160 ft. Well, it’s all very wonderful in a way, but does it make sense? Not to me, I’m afraid.

What we were looking for was a special place out of the wind, and in the sun, to have lunch in sight of the best rock scenery of all three peaks.

And we got it on an airy eyrie with a mica slab as back-rest, while John got out his birthday cake and Pat poured a refreshment guaranteed to do his health good while not affecting the steadiness of his feet.

John usually has a nap at lunchtime but not today. Soon we were packing up for the climb up to old man Cobbler himself whose bare rock prow is to be reached only by an airy traverse along a shoulder blade exposed to a big drop below.

They were content to leave it to me and enjoy the absolute silence of the summit, where neither sound of bird nor of man could be heard.


“It’s very, very rare in this modern
world to hear silence”


This remark was from John as we scrambled on along the ridge to the south peak, Jean, on which the rest had no intention of making conquest.

So while they sunned themselves I enjoyed the succession of little rock walls leading directly from the col to the sharp summit from which I looked clown on narrow Loch Long winding to the widening Clyde dimmed by haze.

This summit also enjoys the noblest aspect of Ben Lomond, elegantly pointed, and it was good to reflect that, for the next few years at least it has been reprieved from the threat of “hydro-electrocution”.

When I rejoined the others John asked Pat and me to go on ahead as he wanted to linger and enjoy the marvellous rock scenery and atmosphere of the corrie, since it might be his last visit here.

Later we all followed the burn from the corrie down through the trees and past the waterfalls. Back at the car for tea out of the flask we left it had been a good birthday party.

I had enjoyed that day on the tops immensely.


Read the third part of Tom Weir’s To Wild Places feature next Friday!


Katrina Patrick