On the Pilgrims’ Trail – Ben More of Mull

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Ben More of Mull

IT was a curious celebration. Wet and miserably cold we huddled behind the wind-break on the summit of Mull’s Ben More, sipping champagne and pretending we were enjoying it. My wife just wanted to get down and into a dry set of clothes and another couple, who we had encouraged to come to the summit with us, were terrified we would leave them in the mist.

It was my party, my final Munro, and I was determined to live every moment of it, but a resolute wife usually has her way and I reluctantly agreed to put the celebrations on hold. A warm restaurant in Tobermory would help improve the champagne, and it did, but it had been an unholy quick raid to a holy island to climb a hill, and I knew deep inside that I hadn’t done Ben More justice.

I’ve been back to Mull several times since, including a nostalgic ascent during my walk across Scotland on the Pilgrims’ Trail. It is after all the highest of our hebridean mountains outside Skye and Britain’s last volcano! I took the opportunity of climbing the hill during the PT simply to try and get a view from the summit. In all the times I’ve climbed this hill I’ve never had a good view.   Would the PT ascent be any different?

Scientists say that about thirty-five million years the Hebridean archipelago was dotted with active volcanoes pouring out masses of molten lava. What is now Ben More was the last of these volcanoes and its great western lava flows created the wonderful cliffs of the Ardmeanach peninsula, the cliffs of Gribun, the island of Ulva and the amazing columnar rock architecture of the island of Staffa.

More hill walkers save Ben More as their final Munro than any other, but their reasons have little to do with the mountain’s volcanic past. Because of access difficulties you have to make a weekend of Mull’s Ben More and if you’re going to make a weekend of it you might as well make it a celebratory one. It can be costly too… Come to think of it if you’re going to make a weekend of it you may as well make it a week – there’s plenty of other mountain games to play on Mull besides climbing its only Munro!

Positioned near the west of the island Ben More is a fair distance from the ferry at Craignure. You can either take a car on the ferry from Oban, and drive to the starting point, or take a local bus to Salen from where you still have a seven mile walk to the foot of the hill at Loch na Keal. A bike would be useful, and cheaper to transport on the Oban/Craignure ferry!

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On the ridge between A’Chioch and the summit

As its name suggests, Ben More lords it over the island. This ‘big hill’ can be seen from all points of the Mull compass and radiates ridges in a number of directions from its summit cone, the best of which is that which connects with neighbouring A’Chioch, a superb rocky highway that involves a steep descent to a rock-girt bealach then an even steeper, rocky scramble that leads directly to Ben More’s summit.

As one of our Wilderness Walks television programmes about 15 years ago, the then Culture Secretary and Munro-bagger Chris Smith and I approached from Glen Clachaig in the north-west after starting on Beinn Talaidh. We were linking A’Chioch and Ben More with a long walk to the tip of the Ardmeanach peninsula from where we could see Iona, the burial place of Chris’s great friend, the late John Smith MP.

Most walkers tackle Ben More from the B8035, on the south eastern shores of Loch na Keal. The lovely Abhainn na h-Uamha, complete with tantalising pools and waterfalls, ambles up the length of Gleann na Beinne Fada to the obvious saddle in the ridge between Beinn Fhada and A’Chioch. From the saddle steep and rocky slopes lead to the summit of A’Chioch.

The route to Ben More continues to the south west as a superb rocky ridge, involving a steep descent to the rocky bealach. Crags fall away steeply to the north-west and there are a couple of big gaps in the slabby wall which can be easily avoided. A steeper, rocky scramble leads directly to the summit of Ben More at 966m. This final climb to Ben More looks steep and difficult from the bealach but don’t be discouraged, it’s easier than it looks.

We folmed the whole ascent of the hill for the Pilgrims; Trail programme. I hope you enjoy it tonight.

The Pilgrims’ Trail BBC2 Scotland Sky & Channel 970 6.15pm tonight and 6.30pm tomorrow

 

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