I have recently concentrated my blogs on the V7S or my foreign climbs. This one is a little different. I have blogged about Marilyns before – see here and here for example. The objective for this trip was to visit the Marilyn high points of two islands off the west coast of Scotland. I had already signed up for the RHSoc Mull meet some months before. Then one of the organisers arranged for these two islands to be visited. I thought it too good an opportunity to miss. They are relatively unvisited. Gometra is an island off an island (Ulva) off an island (Mull) off an island (Britain). I thought that was an interesting fact.
There is a small ferry that crosses the narrow stretch of water between Mull and Ulva. Normally the ferry does not run during the winter months from November to the end of March. But, I guess, the prospect of over 10 fare paying passengers was not an opportunity to be missed for the boatman. So, special arrangements were made to get us across and back.
As a quick preface to this post, if you visit the islands, it is worth reading the informative Wikipedia entries on them before you go.
The ferry to Ulva runs from a slipway or jetty which is off a minor road (B8073) from Gruline, The cost is £6 return at the time of writing. There is generous rough (and free) car parking in the community car park a couple of hundred metres before arriving at the slipway.
The crossing only takes a couple of minutes and it is possible to call the boatman using signs on the building above the jetty. We did not have to do this because the arrangements were to take our group across at 8.15am. It had been an early start from Craignure where the group were staying. It took over 30 minutes to drive from Craignure. The day was a calm, if slightly overcast, with the threat of a front and associated rain moving in from mid-afternoon.
I had met Rich for the first time the previous afternoon on the ferry from Oban. As our objectives and approach were the same we agreed to undertake the climb of the two Marilyns on the islands together. For both of us it had been a long time since we had been to Mull, in my case 23 years when I attended a Munro completion on Ben More with a friend and her party.
From the jetty at Ulva we first walked past The Boathouse (used as a pub and cultural centre in the high season) and followed the rough vehicle track turning right at the first two junctions (ignoring the private drive to the first house on the right).
At this point there is a path opposite the Manse and chapel. Shown on the map as a vehicle track, it is in fact a muddy footpath for about 1km until it intersects with another vehicle track. We turned right here and we followed the vehicle track for a further 4km, passing the private bothy at Bearnus,
Use of the bothy requires pre-booking and it was locked when we passed by. It is certainly in a picturesque location with its view to the north west.
Having had a brief stop here for refreshments, we continued. We noted about 100m beyond the bothy a gate and adjacent stile that we would take later in the day. Rich and I had decided to head for the highpoint of Gometra first. A couple of others from our group had joined us here as we made our way to the Am Bru which is the even narrower stretch of water separating the two islands.
Here there is a footbridge. The distance from the ferry to the footbridge is over 7kms. It had taken us almost 2 hours to reach this point with the brief stop at the bothy.
From here it is just over a further kilometre to where the track swings sharply to the left just past another private bothy and a former cottage used as a rustic gallery. This bothy was open and had the unusual feature of a (pink) bath open to all to view! in the main room.
Shortly beyond this point there is a choice of approach to the high point of Gometra. Either continue along the track beyond Gometra House and then turn east up straightforward grassy slopes or (as we did) take the shorter but slightly rougher direct approach over point 129. Nearby is the distinctive top of Torr Mor which any visit can easily include.
We were at the top less than three hours after reaching Ulva.
The views from the top are astounding, ranging from Jura to the south, to Iona and Staffa (of Fingal’s Cave fame), to the Treshnish isles (including the distinctive Dutchman’s Cap), to Coll and Tiree, to Rum peeking over an arm of Mull) and even to the Outer Isles. We could see Ben More on Mull’s head over the shoulder of Beinn Eolasary with clouds brushing its top. Keep this hill for a good day.
We spent time marvelling at the views. Others from our party arrived in dribs and drabs. We descended the hill by our route of ascent and followed the track back – having a look inside the bothy (and the bath) and the gallery on the way.
The high point of Ulva is Beinn Chreagach. To do this we took a track leaving the main E-W track just to the west of Bearnus bothy as mentioned earlier. We had briefly considered an approach straight from the bridge between the islands over Beinn Eolasary, but the terrain did not look that promising that way.
In fact we missed the gate to this track at first because Rich and I were too busy chatting! Anyway once we were on it the track leads to a large sheepfold. A path (not shown on the Ordnance Survey) continues beyond the sheepfold up to the col between Beinn Chreagach and Beinn Eolasary just below Beinn an Lochain. From there it is easy to get to the crowning trig. Again the views are good. Skye is now in view but somehow there is not quite the same wow factor as for the Gometra views.
We descended in a north easterly direction to avoid the crags and made our way towards the E-W track. There are a couple of deer fences to climb over but otherwise there is no problem. We rejoined our outward route. This time, instead of taking the 1km muddy track, we continued along the vehicle track past A’Chrannag. At the junction just short of Ulva House the way to the ferry is signed left. In fact the signage on Ulva to other sights is very good. We followed the signed route back to the crossing.
We were back by 3.30pm and avoided the forecast rain. The boatman came out of his house. He was happy to transport just Rich and I back to Mull without waiting for any of the rest of the group. They were still scattered over the islands doing their own TuMP, HuMP etc bagging. A visit to ULva and Gometra is definitely a recommended trip. One of around 27 kilometres though only about 600m of overall ascent.