Roger Butler is joined by a pair of junior hikers for an ascent of an island Munro
SOME BAGGERS LIKE to leave Mull’s only Munro as their final summit, choosing to make a full weekend of it and perhaps even getting the party underway on the ferry out of Oban. But when our little ones started to talk about climbing a Scottish peak, we deliberately opted for Ben More as their first big tick.
There were several reasons for this. Firstly, the fun of being on an island and, more particularly, the fun of being on top of an island. Secondly, the views, which are often considered to be the finest on the west coast. And thirdly, the fact that there could be no cheating, since any ascent of Ben More starts at sea level and therefore offers a real challenge to two young and enthusiastic hillwalkers.
The most popular route starts by Loch na Keal, but again we were determined to do things differently and decided an approach from the south would be a touch more adventurous. Who wants to plod up a well worn path when you’re setting out to climb your first Munro? The view across Loch Scridain convinced us we’d made the right decision, with its mirror-still surface providing perfect reflections of the ridges leading up to the top.
Ben More, Britain’s last active volcano, blew its top 60 million years ago but still dominates much of Mull and is quite capable of creating its own weather. Our day was largely blessed with azure skies, though not everyone has experienced such benign conditions. Geologist and early Munro-bagger Dr John MacCulloch thought Mull was “a detestable island; trackless and repulsive, rude without beauty, stormy, rainy and dreary.”
We had no such worries and were soon marching up heathery terraces and jumping over swift-flowing streams to reach the foot of the main south-west ridge, marked by a couple of small lochans. Gravelly zigzags were the focus of our attention for the next half hour, though I had a nice chuckle when asked “Daddy, when will we reach the sky?” What they thought was the top proved to be just an inevitable hump, but sighs of disappointment were soon replaced with whoops of glee as they bounded along a fine crest towards their summit.
Celebratory flapjacks were followed by a game of island I-spy, pointing to the Uists, Skye, Rum and even distant Arran. Then it was back to the lochans, from where we walked west, slowly now, onto Maol Mheadhonach with views out to Iona, Coll and Tiree. A gap in some forestry led us down to the road by Loch Scridain, and it was then Daddy’s job to pound the tarmac in order to deliver the car to the tired but happy troops.
- From car park head uphill, initially following Allt Eas an Ime.
- Continue N over a series of terraces to reach less steeper ground, then aim for small lochans on the broad plateau summit of Maol nan Damh.
- From here climb NE up stony SW ridge of Ben More.
- Reach grassy ridge and walk N to summit shelter. Retrace steps back to Maol nan Damh, then walk W over grassy slopes to reach Maol Mheadhonach.
- Turn due S to descend, via Maol na Coille Moire, between forestry plantations. Follow stream down to B8035, turn L to return to start.