Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ben More (Mull)

Ben More on Mull (not to be confused with its namesake near Crianlarich), is the only island Munro not found on Skye. It's a shapely mountain with expansive views, whose 966m summit lies at the centre of a collection of ridges which sweep up from the sea.

It's a fine looking hill, visible for miles around and one which I have seen many times - but only recently managed to climb. My wife and I managed to get a few days away without the kids this summer (thanks to the grandparental support services - London branch). After exploring Ardnamurchan we went to Mull, a place we had visited on our honeymoon back in 1996. Just as in 1996, Mull looked fantastic, the sun shining on  great mountains, sea-eagles hunting over the lowlands, and seals in the lochs. And just as in 1996, I fancied a day in the hills and my wife had her eye on a series of pottery shops!!

This time - the hills were the winners! And after a brief mishap with the car (it turned out to be nothing more than a stone trapped very noisily in the brakes), we went in search of Ben More.

The access road to the central westward thrusting peninsula of Mull (B8035) leaves the main road at the village of Salen. After Gruline it skirts the delightful Loch na Keal - a quiet, single-track road through gorgeous scenery. The usual access route for the hill is at Dhiseag, where a track heads southwards past a high-set house. Recent flooding has washed away some bridges on this road, which are currently being repaired in a series of major roadworks. We were forced to abandon our car about two miles before Dhiseag and walk along the road to the access track. 

The climb from Dhiseag is a long drag, hard work and quite boggy in places - even though we were walking after a spell of prolonged dry weather in West. Paths of various quality come and go as thousands of walkers have worked their way up these slopes. The path on my OS map peters out after a mile or so, but later editions of the map indicate that it continues high onto the mountain's ridges.

The climb from Dhiseag contains no technical difficulties (all these are on the other side of the hill - where adventurous hill-walkers can seek their thrills); but the middle section of the climb is relentlessly steep and hard work. The 'path' bifurcates numerous times amongst scree and boulders, but re-unites on the ridge leading to a huge cairn.

From the summit, the eyes are immediately drawn to Ben More's other top, A Chioch (top photo), over which is an alternative ascent route, then over the curving southern ridge (middle photo), and westwards down Loch na Keal over the cluster of small islands to the Isle of Ulva, just of Mull's coast.

The car-problem earlier in the day meant that we were quite short of time and needed to head straight back down the route we had come up, and in beautiful evening sunlight we trudged down the hill to Dhiseag. Our initial thought had been that the road closure was a pain, an inconvenience, and an annoyance. How wrong that turned out to be. Rather than cursing the enforced road-walk, we found ourselves walking in warm evening sunlight, in the silence of a closed road, with view to our left of the beautiful loch, and to the right - constantly changing glimpses of the ridges and peaks of Ben More which had been our conquest of the day.

Aching feet were removed from boots (my wife's had some nasty blisters), and aching limbs were put in the car - and we drove back; feeling sore, weary and content; towards hot showers and then some food at the splendid Craignure Inn. The best day of the summer, maybe?

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