It’s one hell of a climb to the pride of Mid Ross, the 1,046m crown of the great whaleback mountain called Ben Wyvis – too much, really, for this scorcher of a summer’s day.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
But Little Wyvis, a couple of miles to the south-west, looked just the job at 764m, a good upward pull on a fine stony track, and no-one else to share the mountain with us.
Grasshopper ticked in the grasses, bees were busy in the wild thyme and bird’s-foot trefoil flowers. The thistles were out in royal purple, with dark green fritillary butterflies opening their black-and-burned-orange wings over the brushy blooms as they delicately sipped the deep-sunk nectar. Halfway up the mountain we stopped for a water break, and sat on a rushy bank to watch a meadow pipit perched on a fence post as it preened its speckled breast and dark wing coverts.
The zigzag track rose up the flank of Little Wyvis, the sun striking a million diamond winks out of its mica-sheathed rocks. We plucked juicy bilberries, sweet and sharp on the tongue, beautifully refreshing to the upward climber. The delicate white flowers of starry saxifrage dotted the acid-green sphagnum in the wet ditches along the track.
At the summit of Little Wyvis we found a little rocky cairn infested with scores of bees. Ben Wyvis rose to the north, a double hump with precipitous slopes facing in our direction. Through binoculars we saw the red and yellow dots of walkers sweltering in the sun as they struggled up the leg-twanging ascent. Rather them than us. Standing by the cairn we took in a truly stupendous view, from the lumpy mountains of Torridon way out west to the long sea lochs at Dornoch in the east, a vista of green mountains and steely waters that might fittingly have been labelled ‘Heart of Scotland’.
On the way down, two plump birds stood on a rock, staring us down. White patchy bellies, feathery feet, salt and pepper backs, and a bold red eyebrow on the male. A pair of ptarmigan, no less – my first ever sighting of these elusive birds of the high mountains. And just beyond them, a beautiful mountain hare motionless under a peat bank, his ears short and neat, his pelt ridged as though combed into dreadlocks. What a thrill.
Start: Car park on A835 Inverness-Ullapool road (OS ref NH 402639).
Getting there: A835 towards Ullapool from Inverness; 1 mile north of Garve, pass A832 turning; in another 1½ miles, car park signed on left just before bridge.
Walk (7 miles there-and-back, strenuous, OS Explorer 437. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Cross A835 (take care!); left for 100m; right up roadway. In 50m, left past gateway post (ignore warning sign – it’s aimed at 4×4 drivers!). Follow gravel track. In ½ mile pass barn (407640); on through deer gate. In another mile, at 2nd gate, left up track (418640). In another ½ mile, track forks (422646); continue to right here, up zigzag track. In ¾ mile, just below summit at 700m, rough track goes left (427643); ignore this, and keep ahead upwards. Go through remains of fence, and on up to summit cairn (430645). Return same way.
Conditions: Clear track all the way. NB – this is a mountain walk with 650m of climb; take hillwalking boots, clothes, equipment.
Accommodation: Aultguish Inn, By Garve, Ross-shire, Scotland IV23 2PQ (01997-455254; Aultguish.co.uk): cheerful, welcoming inn; also budget rooms and bunkhouse.
Info: Inverness TIC (01463-252401)