Mission to Mull | Part Five
Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Day 7 - The Lone Cottage
I feel like I took yesterday's day off for granted. The plan is to climb Ben More today; to get ahead of the weather, we're aiming to get to the base at 09.30.
Get up. Have shower. Don't have shower. Shower cold. Leave water running. Pack bag. Return to bathroom. Shower still cold. Why shower cold? Where sentence determiners go?
It appears no-one is getting hot water in their showers (remarkably, the cottage has en-suite bathrooms throughout). Blast. I sidle into the cubicle, tactically flapping tepid water towards me like Buddy in Elf.
Pleasant shower complete, I grab some breakfast and make the all-important mid-walk sarnies. I am then reliably informed that one member of the group had a successful (warm) shower. Good. I’m glad. That’s great to hear. Mine was fine.
It has become impossibly easy to zone out when walking the Lighthouse Path into Tobermory. After spending a week in the West Highlands, I’ve become numb to the stunning yet vast expanse that is the Sound of Mull, with rows of faded green tors forming the first line of defence on the Mainland. I’ll miss it when I’m gone.
08.30. The car’s loaded up. Nowt is open in the village as we set off; the high street is quiet, save for fishermen and harbour staff preparing for the day’s activities.
There are two roads out of Tobermory: the Main Road, and the Other One. The Other One leads up to Glengorm Castle, through Dervaig, and across to Calgary and Treshnish (which is really fun to say). The Main Road takes you down to Salen, where you can either head towards Craignure and around to the Ross of Mull - the island’s southern peninsula - or west along the ‘scenic route’ towards Loch Na Keal and Dhiseig. Our destination is a car park just outside the latter.
The use of ‘just outside’ is brave, given the scarcity of infrastructure on Mull. Whilst it’s labelled as a place on most maps, Dhiseig is in fact a single cottage in the foothills of Ben More. To my knowledge, this is the smallest labelled settlement on any Ordnance Survey map. Actually, that does a disservice to actual settlements - this is just a single building. By the looks of things, you can rent the cottage through Ben More Estate, so it’s not even a permanent residence.
Amazingly, we still initially struggle to find a parking spot, primarily because the ‘car park’ is a widened section of the verge where other cars have been left. Look away now, NCP.
For context, Ben More is an inactive volcano, and is to blame for the formation of this hideous landscape. That’s obviously sarcasm. I’d almost say the ‘scenic route’ sign was underplaying things a bit. They should have a big neon board saying ‘HOLY MOLY HAVE YOU SEEN THIS NATURE AND STUFF IT’S AMAZING’, because it is. It stuns me that there are some people who just live here normally, doing normal human things, yet they’re a ten minute drive from stuff like this. It puts living in the city into perspective.
We manage to find a gap in the traffic to cross the main road. The trail starts off as part of the driveway up to Dhiseig, then peels off in front of the gates. It hasn’t rained significantly this week, but the ground is saturated, presumably something to do with an immovable, thick cloud perched atop the peak of Ben More. We cannot see the summit, and it cannot see us.
The sound of flowing water draws us to the right, where we find the first of many waterfalls. This forms the lower section of Abhainn Dhiseig, the stream that our trail follows nearly all the way up to the peak.
We reach another fork in the path after a couple of hundred metres. Route A takes us directly up the mountain, whereas Route B loops around to the south, adding an extra hundred metres or so to our ascent. We opt for Route A in the hopes that the saturated ground ahead will not impact our climb. Eh-ehh, incorrect choice. The landscape is unforgiving, and the boggy soil drastically hinders our progress, leaving all of us with damp feet and muddy clothes. No tumbles just yet, thankfully. There’s a high wind, but at least it’s not raining or cold, so conditions could be worse.
We follow the winding trail up. According to the GPX route I downloaded off some random site online, the route crosses over the abhainn at an indeterminate point. We find a shallow section of river and hop across, further wetting our footwear in the process. The gradient suddenly ramps up from 1 in 7 to a more challenging 1 in 4, which rapidly becomes a challenge for the majority of the group as we persevere up the slope. The sun is obscured by the upper slopes of the munro which, combined with higher wind speeds, has caused the ambient temperature to drop rapidly in the past hundred metres of elevation.
We sensibly decide as a group that 600 metres - approximately two-thirds of the way up - is a suitable ‘summit’ for us. It’s an amazing view.
Out come the sandwiches, as well as a couple of packs of crisps. Someone hands me a new Ketchup flavour, which immediately becomes my second-favourite flavour ever behind the Margherita Pizza crisps you may have seen last summer. They were so good. So good.
I check the map on my phone. We’ve somehow managed to veer off-course by a fair margin, meaning our easiest route down involves strafing across the mountainside to reach the trail and descend from there.
We find the trail once again. This section is covered in scree, which offers far more grip underfoot than the morass that we ascended up. We begin to descend, passing far more hikers than we did on the way up. One woman is carrying a toddler on her back in a harness, which would be a remarkable achievement up any climb, let alone Mull’s highest peak.
The latter half of the descent gets a bit ropey. The scree fades away on approach to the crossing point of the stream, and the northern side rapidly becomes marshland again. I stumble three times, with the latter occasion leaving me needing medical treatment - I cut my finger on a blade of grass, somehow?
Bandaged up, but covered in more mud than desired, I lead the group down the final stretch of the mountain. We reach the driveway in one piece, yet my boots then decide to give way for the hell of it on the gravel. My watch - which was recording the hike - then dies too, adding insult to literal injury.
My muddy backside and the general fatigue of my fellow explorers means we choose not to stop for a coffee on the way back to Tobermory. The drive is almost completely silent, with most members of the group napping in the car behind me.
I ask to hop out at the post office as we pull into Tobermory. It’s lunchtime, so it’s closed. No, wait, it isn’t. A woman has appeared out of thin air to unlock the door. She goes to shut it, then sees me outside.
“Come in?” she offers tentatively.
“Yeah, no, are you open?” I stutter.
“Yes, sorry, just had to pick up my son from an appointment. Come on in!”
She seems friendly. I place my mail on the counter and ask for stamps.
“Is there a post box I need to put them in, or…?”
“No, no, that’s fine, I can stamp them and you can leave them with me.” she replies.
I thank her, pay, and leave. I then remember that the top postcard includes my anecdote about the gang bang song from earlier in the week. Ah. It’s fine, I’ll be gone tomorrow. Please don’t judge me, Miss Post Lady.
An obligatory visit to Co-op, then a laboured walk back to the lighthouse. We’re all very tired. Climbing up two-thirds of the forty-ninth-tallest peak in the UK does that to you.
I spend the afternoon consolidating my collection of photos from the week, as well as prepping things for our departure tomorrow. We keep dinner simple, as we have to carry any rubbish and recycling with us into Tobermory when we leave. I suffer a demoralising defeat in chess at the hands of my girlfriend’s father, before we move on to the last few card games of our holiday before bed. I lose those, too. Again. The competitive part of me is glad that this holiday is almost over.