Bagging the Welsh dragon in the Black Mountains
Crossing the Black Mountains, starting at Pandy and moving on to Hay-on-Wye, the route has incredible views and a line of trig points ending in one decorated with a Welsh dragon.
For National GetOutside Day on 30 Sept, adventure athlete Ben Turner invited people to run with him to the summit of Ben More in Scotland.
For me, #GetOutside is the epitome of Ordnance Survey, so when I was asked to host a meeting for the first National GetOutside Day, it was an honour and I didn’t need asking twice.
I'm training to run 16 marathons in 16 days in 16 UK National Parks, so I thought it would be apt to link the GetOutside day activity with my training for the 16 National Marathons.
Having recently moved to Scotland, and the Isle of Mull my spiritual home, the setting was perfect for a run up Ben More.
Ben More is the only Munro on the isle of mull and the only island Munro outside of the Isle of Skye. It’s a modest 966m located on the central belt of the island, surrounded by Corbetts and pure Isle of Mull wilderness. When linked with the Corbett of Beinn Fhada to the East, you are in for a great day out up to the summit and along a generous ridge, descending tp a point about 3km from the starting carpark.
It is important to note that in adverse weather or poor visibility, it is not advisable to link to the two peaks without strong prior knowledge or experience of the route and conditions.
The scene was set, now to see if there would be anyone interested in joining me. Shared throughout Ordnance Survey and social media domains, interest was wide, but commitment was not. It seemed too much to ask to come to a remote Scottish island on a wet weekend for a run up a remote mountain with a strange man! Add to that it being the most remote of the Ordnance Survey organised GetOutside Day activities.
Nevertheless, I kept on with my plan to run to the top of the mountain, whatever the weather.
The weather the day before was wet to say the least, continuous rain blessed Tobermory with its presence from about 7pm and didn’t stop through the night. Sleeping in my car the night before the run meant I heard the onslaught of weather outside. I was warm and cosy inside, and tomorrow was another day. No problem, I thought.
The morning was kind at 7am, my alarm clock went off and I was greeted with one of the same Tobermory mornings that made me fall in love with the town. I was optimistic for the day ahead, even if it was late September and the Scottish West Coast.
The weather decided to change and bring bands of heavy rain separated by stubborn areas of sunshine and blue sky, this was a great day for a run. Cool, but likely to be rewarding with a view from the summit.
Start: NM 4943 3598
Starting the run at Dhiseig is the main car park at the base of Ben More, its not the biggest car park in the world and means that folk tend to park on the grass, leading to eroded parts of the side of the road.
If you can carshare to the start, its always better, as long as you can get back!
Waypoint 1: NM 4963 3569
The track starts well up a gravel 4x4 track before splitting off to the main ascent. What follows is a lovely trail into a small glen between two spurs of the mountain, this can be very wet and boggy in areas, especially after heavy rain, but the ground remains solid, provided you can jump puddles!
Waypoint 2: NM 5161 3343
As the path steepens, it becomes rocky and a good path leads to the start of the more exposed spur top. A steep hike will bring you to the top of the spur and although it isn’t narrow, the rounded top if the spur does channel the wind and it can be quite strong from the North West.
The rocky path twists and turns its way towards the summit shoulder of Ben More, well waymarked with cairns that link up on a bearing to the summit cairn should you have zero visibility. A short flat finish will bring you to the summit shelter cairn. The cairn is built up inside a ring of rocks that offers great protection from the wind.
Summit: NM 5265 3306
If you are lucky enough from this point to get a break in the clouds, looking south will bring the Ross of Mull into view, a long peninsular that sweeps to the South Western tip of the island, and onward to Iona. Looking South East, you will see far hills of southern Mull, and the ridge leading to Beinn Fhada to the East. To the North the isle of mull will dominate the view as it stretches out to the Island of Ulva and the brick shaped Treshnish Isles.
From here, you have a decision, descend the way you came, or keep going along the ridge to Beinn Fhada and descent the rocky spur to the road followed by 3km of road back to the start carpark. With the wind, rain, cloud and distinct lack of view, I chose the former.
I love fast and technical descents and I was in the mood for exactly that!
The rocky and steep descent is actually really good fun, whether you walk it and take your time, or run down it, the twists and turns are almost cambered, and you can really get stuck in to the speed. Once the rocks start to become sparser, you are met with a grassy, muddy single-track trail that winds its way back towards the stream.
From here you can either cross the stream and take the obvious path back, or you can stay to the west of the stream and follow the less trodden path back down. The latter is a grassy, sometimes slippery but incredibly fun running route that turns to parkour at some points! This eventually re-joins the main path before the deep gorge (its fenced off quite well) and the last 400m will bring you to the car park.
Should you run this, it is likely to take you in the realm of 2-2.5hrs, should you walk, it is likely to take you about 4-4.5hrs at a leisurely pace.
It is vital that you go well prepared, therefore I suggest the following equipment:
Anything else is based on the common-sense approach to hill, walking or mountain running, ask yourself, “has it been designed for this?”, if the answer is no, leave it at home and find something fit for purpose.
No tracksuit bottoms or flip flops please!
Following 7 years as an Adventure Training Instructor in the British Army, Ben decided that he would become a freelance instructor for groups and individuals anywhere in the UK. Mountain leader, personal trainer and motivational speaker, Ben has a great love of the outdoors and all it has to offer.