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!

16 Comments to “Dun da Ghaoithe (Isle of Mull)”

  1. The combination of head-high bracken, rotting rafts of decimated forestry, bog, ticks and midges is a familiar one – in some ways it’s the essence of off=the-beaten-track walking in Scotland. I love the wildness of much of Scotland’s vast open spaces, but having grown up in Sussex I sometimes crave the odd bridleway, waymarker or signpost to be getting on with. That would change the place though I’m sure.

    Some cracking pics again James and an engaging tale of perseverance in often adverse conditions. I think the flowers are ‘sea pinks’ otherwise known as ‘thrift’.

  2. A bit of trivia about the pink flower – Thrift. It was featured on the back of the old 3d coin. I can’t help thinking that a modern coin would more likely feature a footballer. Hope you got to see a sea eagle on your trip.

  3. My trip up Dun da Ghaoithe was done in December a couple of years back so I missed out on some of the summer “Joys” of wild Scotland. Sounds like one of those times on the hill when you just want to somewhere else, anywhere!. I did a similar route but the other way around which probably helped by the sounds of things also being winter there was much less energy sapping tall vegetation.

  4. Wow, just stumbled upon your blog and have to say what absolutely stunning pictures! A combination of beautiful scenery and an eye for photography I think.

  5. Pete, at least difficult terrain keeps the hoards away and lets me have the hills to myself! I was so pleased to see that track, its the hard stuff that makes you appreciate things. Just could do without the insects though! Thought that the flowers may have been ‘sea pinks’ but could not find any really good photos on t’internet to make sure. It may have been a tale of perserverence but it was one hot, flustered and slightly pissed off bongoer that was thrashing through that bracken! I tried sulking but there was no one to notice!

    Warren, not even sure what is on the back of any of the coins in my possession to be honest. Probably some famous dimwit. I think I saw an eagle but a long way away and no bins with me. I do think I may have spotted a basking shark just off the coast though.

    Paul, if I had of had a teleporter I may well have used it to be honest. If I had done the route the otherway round I would have probably retreated, given up and returned to the van. Loved your write up and pics of Ben More in winter, a bit more challenging that when I did it.

    ‘Mr sleeping bag?’ – cheers!

  6. There’s a pic of some sea pinks on p111 of your Jura guide!

    • *blush* I have never been the most observant person on this earth Pete! I do have to say that I am enjoying your book, have been spending a bit of time at work walking around Jura in your company. Next week we will be walking on Islay together, looking forward to revisiting An Claddach (or is it An Cladach?).

  7. A fine walk. Mull looks so good. Ticks are a real concern in the lush bracken. I have never got one that has burrowed into me yet but best to be careful.

    • Some people can be more of a tick magnet than others Martin. They do really like me for some reason, wish they did not. Remember that they do like to feed in places that are hard to see without a mirror or a very good friend!

  8. James, my winter trip up Ben More was a bit special, one of my best hill days.
    The rest of my week was spent doing low level walks as the weather was never quite so good.
    Saw my first otters on one coastal walk though which was a bonus.
    Managed Dun da Ghaoithe on a reasonable day, never finished my write up unfortunately!
    Nice quality on the Ben More video clip BTW.

    • Just one day like that can make a whole week of bad weather seem worthwhile Paul. The photos are stunning and the air looks so clear. Plus Ben More without a cap of cloud is a rare event!

  9. I know the feeling well: head-high bracken and who-knows-what underfoot at each step, the air is usually blue!. We sometimes work very hard for routes and scenery like that in solitude, I don’t mind forest tracks at all especially after epic struggles. The photos show the rewards.
    I don’t know if you get itchy red lumps as I do from midges and other examples of God’s humour, but I’m very wary of going to Scotland in summer. I’ve only ever had one tick: never seen a Scottish onslaught like that!.

    • It definately is very hard work sometimes in the search for solitude Geoff. Midges don’t seem to bother me that much, I get a red dot but they don’t itch that much. If you want to experience large volumes of ticks head to the west of Scotland. The island of Jura was dripping with them even in late October. For some reason they love me…………:(

  10. Another excellent report, James.
    Some would say that the slow worm sighting was a big highlight. I’m told they are quite rare in the Highlands, especially compared to adders.

    • Cheers Martin, have to say that I enjoyed meeting the slow worm as it was the first I have seen. I saw one adder but it got cross when I tried to get a photo, hissed at me and then slithered off!

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