Mull: Brocken Spectres and cloud inversions on Ben More

Initially planned for April, our trip to Mull was postponed due to lockdown. Having lead relatively quiet, sheltered lives over the last few months, it was a bit of a shock to bear witness to the bustle of Oban. It was thankfully short-lived as we were merely passing through on route to Mull, courtesy of the Calmac ferry to Craignure.

Arriving at the ferry port early we were offered the option of an imminent sailing but declined as current restrictions on the smaller boat meant staying in the car for the duration of the journey – not something that held great appeal. We opted instead to have a coffee and wait for the big ferry.

The journey to Mull was great with very smooth sailing conditions. Good weather allowed us to stay outside for much of the journey, enjoying the views as we progressed.

Arriving in Craignure it’s a relatively short drive to reach Tobermory, the colourful wee town of Balamory fame. Staying at the end of the village we’ve yet to see Josie Jump or Miss Hoolie. I’m pretty certain, however, that it was PC Plum we saw as we returned from our walk today. He really needs to have a word with some of the drivers – I’m assuming they’re locals given the speed they hare along the single-track roads! Quite alarming when meeting them head on at a bend!

Up bright and early(ish), we drove along to Ben More. The map and route guide suggested a large parking area just past a bridge. There were several bridges in the vicinity and a large track heading upwards from the roadside with a couple of vehicles already parked, without neighbouring tents, heralded our arrival at the starting point. Boots and rucksacks on, we set off on our merry way.

Ben More

The downside of this island munro is that although small in stature, 966 metres, pretty much all of these are gained from sea level. A good path all the way up eases the pain and it’s a short out and back route coming in at around 6 miles in total.

Initially we followed the track towards a house. On reaching (and passing through) a gate we followed a stream (Abhainn Dhiseig) for a short distance. Ahead, the path splits – the route guide suggests taking either branch as both converge further up. For reasons unknown, we opted for the one suggested as being more boggy – it didn’t seem too bad overall, although there was the odd dubby section to circumnavigate.

Gaining height steadily, Bruce commented that we were moving at a fine, slow pace. Easy to see who’s spent the last month or so playing catch up, away most weekends, as this was my happy pace; not too fast and not too slow, just trundling along.

As height was gained, the cloud shrouded the summit of Ben More and it could only just be seen in the shadows. This caused some excitement; the thick cloud, then the full sun melting through as we headed up the zig-zagging path. We realised we may be in for an inversion; Bruce suggested that the right conditions could also give us a Brocken Spectre, something I had a vague notion of but further explanation was required: BBC Brocken Spectre

As if by magic a circular rainbow then appeared! It was amazing! My delight was childlike, total glee at seeing these amazing colours! The photos don’t do it justice at all, colours becoming more vivid and fading in and out in the sunlight.

This may be why the final pull up to the summit seemed effortless. The slope steepened, the zigzagging path continued meandering up and before we knew it we’d reached the second last cairn – there were many on route – the summit cairn visible across an almost flat plateau. We were now high above the cloud. Through the inversion we could see some of the higher peaks peeping through – Ben Nevis and Ben Cruachan particularly standing out. This also gave great joy and made up for the lack of other views.

Reaching the summit we stopped for some time to drink in the surroundings and enjoy the sunshine. We chatted to a few other walkers, waiting to see if the cloud would clear further.

As we descended, the cloud did indeed start to break. Heading off the summit, I was surprised by the incline of the initial descent, not having noticed it being particularly steep on route up. Slowly and steadily we made our way off this slope and onto the easier paths below.

There were other walkers on route up and we stopped to chat to them (from a distance), hearing their stories and exchanging information on hills and routes. One individual was compleating and while he was on his last munro, others in the group were doing their first.

The clearing cloud gave great views of the small islands nearby.

Further down, we took the path to the left (closest to the stream); this was definitely better than that we’d followed up, drier underfoot with less bog to negotiate. Despite this, I still managed to get both feet covered in mud at different points and subsequently used the stream (twice) to clean my feet.

Finally reaching the car, we met the parents of today’s compleatist, eagerly awaiting the return of the masses. Having blethered to them for a bit, we were back on the road in plenty of time to catch a coffee and a pint before the evening chill set in completely. Another successful day out!

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