Archive for July 5th, 2010

July 5, 2010

Dun da Ghaoithe (Isle of Mull)

by backpackingbongos

Ok expensive regimented campsites are not really my thing.  Rows of large motorhomes and caravans give even wild places an air of domesticity which I seek to escape from.  The site overlooking the ferry terminal on Mull isn’t too bad and I did have a very magical experience there.  I was sitting in the Bongo with the side door wide open.  The view was good and I could see right down Loch Linnhe towards the mountains on the mainland.  To my side was a large expanse of scrub which was teeming with bird life, especially around the feeder right next to the van.  Suddenly movement caught my eye and a large stag with massive antlers stepped out of the scrub and slowly sauntered through the grass right past me.  A totally enchanting minute or so watching him slowly pass looking from side to side for danger.  He was soon out of sight before I realised that I did not get my camera out!

The reason why I spent a couple of nights in an expensive regimented campsite?  I was able to do a circuit of the Islands only Corbett peak straight from the door, so to speak.  Also it is nice to have a shower when the weather is hot!

11.3 miles with 1,080 metres ascent

Stocked up with water as the day looked like it was going to be a scorcher, I left the campsite and walked south to the edge of the village.  Just past the speed limit sign there was a cottage with a track leading past it.  Not sure if it was a right of way I gingerly passed the cottage, hoping that it was the track marked on the map.  It was and a fine mile long walk followed to Torosay castle, through large moss covered trees.  A splendid way to start a walk, flat and easy and under cool dark shade.  I was soon back on the main road but left it after a couple of hundred metres to ascend up a lane towards the bird of prey centre.  As I gained height I could glimpse the hills on the mainland through the trees which seemed to be having a competition as to who could be the greenest.  Once again I felt like I was in the tropics rather than off the west coast of Scotland.

The bird of prey centre seemed to be a figment of the map makers imagination as there just appeared to be a house.  Instead of a visit I nervously eyed up the track that snaked its way up the hillside towards the mast on the hill.  Even though it was only located at 430 metres it looked a long way to climb, a major problem when you ascend a hill from sea level.  I also knew that once I reached the mast there was still a long way to go.  I often break down long climbs or walks into easily manageable chunks.  Seems to make it easier taking one small step at a time (mentally speaking).  Anyway the track was a trudge in the shadeless sun and I felt embarrassed for myself when I had to sit down after reaching the 200 metre contour.  The view to the mainland was a gem though, I could see the whole length of Loch Linnhe to the snow flecked Ben Nevis.

It really is a tale of plodding, sweating and swatting horseflies.  I passed the first mast, celebrated and then plodded some more to the second mast where I celebrated again.  I was now off the track and on mountain proper.  The view to the ridge spurred me on and I felt my energy come back (after a nice sit down obviously).  The views had really opened up.

I did find myself looking at and considering climbing Sgurr Dearg, a Graham separated by Mam Lirein, a 500 metre pass.  A descending contour followed by an ascent would only add a couple of hours to the day.  However I knew that the peak has a ‘bad step’ just below the summit which is meant to be ok going up but be a little tricky coming down.  I was not in the mood for tricky.

The trig point is just a rouse to make you think you have reached the summit, a ploy to make you return the way you have come without climbing the true summit.  It’s there to ensure that you return home and have one of those ‘duh’ moments when you realise your error.  Just like I did all those years back when I climbed the Saddle above Glen Shiel or rather failed to get to the true summit.  It was misty that day so I sort of have an excuse.

Anyway the true summit of Dun da Ghaoithe is about a kilometre to the north west along a rather lovely ridge.  All the mountains on Mull were showing their full glory and I could see the small Isles with Eigg being pretty prominent.  The really spiky jagged hills in the far distance, maybe they were the Cuillins on Skye.

Another few hundred metres in the same direction and I turned right down an easy craggy slope to the ridge that cradles Coire na Circe.  Short cropped grass made the going easy.  I hit the 500 metre contour then took a direct line down to the stream, passing patches of pretty purple flowers.  If anyone knows what they are give me a shout.

Once down in the valley the going definitely was not as easy as the vegetation began to assert itself.  My aim was to make a beeline for the fence further down but combined with contouring round the hillside.  It sort of worked and I eventually got down to the 250 metre contour and found a nice large boulder to sit on just below a lone tree.  Big mistake.  The midges must have spotted me from a mile away, I was soon enveloped with my sweaty skin covered in the little buggers.  I never got to do the sitting down thing, instead I cursed and moved on.

The fence was reached and it then went really Pete Tong.  The way ahead was simply infested with Bracken, a carpet of green as far as the eye could see.  Not any old bracken this stuff was head high and hiding some pretty rough and rugged ground.  I did lots of cursing as I pushed my way through before becoming confronted with a deer fence which luckily had seen better days.  The bracken lasted an eternity until on my final push towards the Scallastle river it got even worse.  A forest had been clear felled and they had left loads of stuff to rot into the ground.  I was confronted with a strange raft of rotting wood stretching ahead of me which did not want to support my weight.  I lurched, crashed, thrashed and swore.  That ended and was followed by more bracken, then finally to top it off some nice bog which filled my boots.  I could have kissed the track next to the river when I reached it.  Possibly the most traumatic half mile I have ever walked.  I floated up that track wondering if a promised bridge I had read about when researching the route existed.  It did which meant I was where I was meant to be.

It was then I noticed a tick crawling up my base layer, then another, then another.  Loads of  them in all shapes and sizes.  It looked like that bracken was not a good place to go crashing about in.  I sat down on a rock next to the river and spent a good 30 minutes picking them off my base layer and a couple of rogue ones crawling across my belly.  It’s amazing how small some of them are.  The massive black and red ones are nasty to look at but at least they are easy to spot  At the same time that I was de-ticking the midges were having a field day munching on my bare back.  Sometimes I just hate the Scottish wildlife!

A track that is not marked on the map ascends the hillside on the other side of the river and heads in the general direction of Craignure.  I noticed something on the path which turned out to be a slow worm.  This one was about thirty centimetres long and it really was slow, it took ages to cross the path.  Slow worms are lizards rather than snakes and are definitely not worms!

The lush track took me back to the road speedily and with ease, passing a few signs describing the regeneration of the forest from alien species to native trees.

I was keen to get in the shower when I got back to the campsite to make sure I had picked off all the ticks I had collected.  A check of the weather forecast later that evening gave me the confidence to plan an ascent of Ben More the following day.  I was keen to do the scrambling route via A Chioch which I felt may benefit from being able to see where I was going!