A wet and windy winter week on Mull pt1

by backpackingbongos

My New Year plan turned out to be far too ambitious.  I was going to spend a few nights at my favourite spot on the West Coast of Jura.  However the weather once again was not playing ball.  After a ten hour drive I would have to catch two ferries, drive another hour and then walk for seven hours.  With storm after storm rolling in my enthusiasm quickly diminished.

I was still very keen to spend a few days amongst rugged coastal scenery, somewhere to escape the madness of the New Year period.  Batteries needed to be recharged after a busy December at work.  To make things easier I decided that the Bongo would be both transport and home for a few days.  There was suddenly a calm day forecast so I bought a CalMac ferry ticket to the Isle of Mull.  I would worry later in the week about the weather on the return journey.

There is a 9.45pm sailing on Fridays so I was able to drive up to Oban in a day.  In the end it only took nine hours from the Midlands which meant arriving four hours early.  The Bongo became a convenient place to snooze that time away.  It was far too wet outside to stroll around the town.

I found it disorienting arriving on the Island at 10.30pm.  The unfamiliar single track road towards Fionnphort was challenging for the Bongo in the dark.  Being one of the first off the ferry I frequently had to pull over to let traffic pass me.  It is easy to tell when a ferry has arrived on the island as a line of traffic snakes its way along usually deserted roads.  Rush hour is dictated by CalMac.

I stopped for the night at a small car park near the summit of the road through Glen More.  A few stars were making an appearance as I made up my bed.

Ben Buie – 717 metres

It was pitch black outside when the alarm woke me at 8.00am.  This was a bit disorienting as it felt like it was still the middle of the night.  In fact during the whole trip I was surprised at just how short the days were on Mull at this time of year.

The sight that greeted me when I finally stepped out the van took my breath away.  Arriving at night I had no idea at the view that was hidden in the dark.  I visited the Island a few years ago in summer but I had forgotten just how stunning the place is.

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A few hefty showers passed by whilst I was having breakfast and packing my sack.  After they stopped the surrounding hills were covered in a light dusting of snow.  The boiling clouds and rising sun provided a spectacular light show over the lochs to the south.

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The weather forecast was for a bright morning with little wind before another weather front rattled though in the afternoon.  Keen to climb at least one mountain during the week I settled for a there and back walk up Ben Buie.  It is a mountain that I admired on my last trip to the island, sadly not having enough time to visit its summit.

The ascent up its north ridge was  straight forward until around the 550 metre contour.  Then out of nowhere the clouds descended, which meant that careful navigation was needed on the wide undulating ridge.  Snow was encountered at around 650 metres, just as the rocky slopes of the north peak steepened.  This was rapidly melting which meant that there was no point in putting on my microspikes.  What would usually be very easy scrambling was a little tricky in the slushy conditions.

The highest point sits to the south of the summit ridge, the ascents and descents from the north peak appearing much more than on the map.  Probably because a combination of mist and snow exaggerates your surroundings.

Typically when we were half way back down the cloud lifted and remained above the mountain tops for the rest of the day.  Rather frustrating considered we had set off early to get the best of the weather.

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We arrived back at the van early afternoon, however with darkness falling so early there was not enough time to head off for another walk.  The Bongo was pointed back down Glen More as I was keen to explore some coastal scenery the following day.

Lochbuie

The road to Lochbuie is stunning.  Narrow and twisting is ascends steeply through woodland before taking in the northern shore of Loch Spelve.  Here the force of the recent weather became apparent with seaweed covering sections of the road.  An old yew tree in a cemetery had some of its limbs torn away, scars on its ancient trunk gleaming under a grey threatening sky.

The light was fading as I arrived at the small parking area in front of the old post office.  A quick stroll with Reuben before it got dark was an opportunity to stretch our legs as a very long night was in front of us.  It was dark by 4.00pm.

During the evening the wind picked up, rocking the van.  I could hear the waves over the drumming of rain on the roof, a comforting sound as I lay in bed reading.  A twelve hour sleep was very enjoyable.

The wind had died down by dawn, the rain becoming intermittent.  I had no real plans for the day apart from exploring the coast south of Laggan Sands.

Several expensive looking 4×4’s passed us on the track to Lochbuie House.  As we walked in front of the grand looking building it was evident that people were gathering for a shoot.  A collection of Barbour, tweed and gun dogs.  Soon after going past Moy Castle the peace was shattered by a cacophony of shotgun blasts.

We only ended up walking a couple of miles beyond Laggan Sands, I took my time as the coastline was absolutely stunning.  I cursed leaving the binoculars in the car as I spotted two White Tailed Eagles circling overhead.  One even doing me the favour of perching on a small island a few metres offshore whilst I was having an early lunch.

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Back at the van it was tempting to stay for another night.  However being surrounded by houses I was not fully getting my ‘wild’ fix.  Before leaving I visited the local shop which is located in what was the old post office, a small wooden shed like structure.  This is not staffed and relies totally on the honesty of visitors to leave the correct amount of money.  Having places like this exist left me with a warm feeling as we drove off in the Bongo to find another stunning spot.

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14 Comments to “A wet and windy winter week on Mull pt1”

  1. So often we have had to evacuate the upstairs bit of the Bongo when camping like this. The winds of Scotland and several square metres of fabric acting as a sail. I phoned the owners club to ask if a Bongo had ever turned over – no apparently, but it feels that way. Great stuff from the homeland once again – you spend more time in Scotland than Sean Connery.

    • I have to say that I did not risk putting the roof up at all that week. I would just lay there worrying that it will get damaged and I won’t be able to put it down again.

      I think that I would be a happy man if I moved to Scotland.

  2. Place I would love to walk across James. That van made for a comfy way to explore there.

    • Lots of scope for backpacking on Mull Martin. Lots of varied scenery to explore.

      The van is a fine way to get out of the weather and spend the long nights of winter.

  3. Yet to go there. I think it might happen this year, with a family visit. My mum has sworn to visit each island in turn, south to north! More great photees. Looks lovely and…empty at that time of year.

    • I would look forward to your photos if you went David. It’s a cracking place.

      These are the first lot of photos that I have shot in RAW and used Aperture to process. It will be a steep learning curve.

  4. We keep talking about going to Mull at February half term (5 weeks from now), but haven’t fully made a decision and booked a ferry yet. Looks rather gorgeous and atmospheric though, and I suspect it probably has some nice wild van camping spots…? Reuben looks a bit fed up mind, in that photo you took of him in the snow!

    • It really is a perfect place to take your van Chrissie. There are endless fantastic wild van camping spots. I think the doggies will love it, maybe even more than Reuben did………

  5. Mull is a good Island to explore. Mind, I recall finding myself bushwhacking on parts of the coast and having to navigate by compass. Cracking photos James. Poor Reuben, he looks a tad dejected.

    • I could imagine doing some bushwacking in the summer Dawn, the bracken would be very high then. Reuben was none too keen on the snow conditions on the summit. Thanks for your comment.

  6. More stunning scenery – a very enjoyable read – thanks 🙂

  7. A great read. Looks like you made the most of the weather and the light. Mull looks fantastic. Love that first shot of the bongo parked up. Look forward to part two.

    • Thanks. Just going through my photos for the second part, there does appear to be some sunshine whilst I was there. However my camera stayed put away in the rain, of which there was a lot. Changeable weather does mean some great light.

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