At 2034 feet, South Uist’s Ben More may not be one of the highest of that name in Scotland, but it is the only Graham and the highest mountain on the island, where we were spending a two week holiday. This of course made it irresistible to me. We’d been monitoring the weather forecasts for some time to ensure that we picked a good day for the ascent, and we weren’t disappointed. In fact, this was to be one of the few days during our stay that the summit was free of cloud for the whole day.
There are very few paths on South Uist, but we did manage to find an old peat cutters’ track that led towards the foot of Ben More and only left us with around half a mile of bog to cross before the going eased as we started to gain height.
We were surprised to find that there was a faint path leading up the mountain, though it was quite easy to lose it in the heather and peat hags that we encountered at intervals.
As we gained height, St Kilda appeared on the western horizon, and I was surprised at just how big it appeared to be, given its distance. Both Hirta and Boreray were very clear and seeing them certainly intensified my desire to get there someday.
Most of the ascent is really quite easy and pleasant, with improving views all the time. The view across to Hecla and Ben Corrodale is particularly impressive. I had really wanted to do a grand traverse of all three mountains from Loch Skipport in the north to Loch Eynort in the south, but the complete absence of public transport to either end of the route meant that I had been unable to organise this, although it did occur to me that this traverse could be incorporated into a longer backpacking route, with an overnight stop at Uisinis bothy. Food for thought for the future…
Not long before reaching the summit ridge, we had a superb view of a white-tailed eagle soaring directly overhead, though unfortunately it was still too far away for us to be able to take a photo with the camera we were using.
The highlight of the route is undoubtedly the summit ridge. This offers pleasant easy scrambling in places, with impressive drops on both sides and a traverse path for the cautious. Never able to resist anything like this, I tried to stick as closely as possible to the crest, which was relatively easy as the day was calm – something of a rarity in these parts!
The views from the summit were every bit as good as I had expected, ranging from St Kilda in the west to Ben More on Mull in the east, with the hills of Harris, Skye and Rum all clearly visible. Even the diminutive hills on Coll and Tiree could be picked out. Closer to hand, the view down into the wild Glen Hellisdale was awe-inspiring, with Ben Corrodale and Hecla standing proudly behind it. The contrast between the western side of the island with its flat machair and endless sandy beaches, and the wild, uninhabited mountains of the east was really quite striking.
An enormous cleft splits the north face of the mountain, and it looked as though it was possible to walk round the head of it and up to a promontory to its east, so I decided to go and take a look. Walking away from the summit, we were accompanied by a couple of golden plovers for some time, both of which came obligingly close enough for photographs.
Looking down into the cleft was really quite awe-inspiring, and it looked to me as though it would be possible to climb up it from the glen below, though I doubt that anybody ever does as there are no doubt easier routes even from this side. Apparently the cliffs on the northern side hold some interesting climbs, first recorded in the 1930s, and given their isolation, probably little repeated since then.
I usually dislike going up and down the mountain via the same route, but on this occasion I was more than happy as it allowed me to repeat the summit ridge and to enjoy uninterrupted views across the machair and over to St Kilda.
It seemed to take no time at all to reach the bog at the bottom. As we were passing the lochan again, we noticed a diver out on the water. Although it was too far away to be absolutely certain, we decided that it was probably a red-throated diver, a first for me.
Some photos by Georgina Collins