We sat in the car at the Mull of Oa Monument car park, the end of the road, the day already hot at the back of 10am. ‘Well it’s only about a 2 hour round trip, this hike – just under 8km, less than 300m of ascent.Easy peasy.’ Oh how wrong I was!
That time was according to the route I’d traced on the Ordnance Survey App on my mobile, which is usually fairly accurate.What it doesn’t take into account though is the difficulty of the terrain and we were about to ‘enjoy’ a wade through knee deep heather on a single – boot – width sheep track.Exhausting! In fact, I read one source (after the walk, typical of me) that described it as ‘difficult.’It isn’t as such apart from the terrain which is rough. However, this is a wildly dramatic walk and the scenery more than makes up for it.The heather was an absolute glory of pink and purple, just gorgeous against a sea as blue as the Aegean.
We set off east on a good track before leaving it to go through a couple of gates, taking us onto the open grassy field in the photo below.This was the opposite direction to that given in Walkhighlands, but I agreed with Chris that getting out to the furthest point of the walk first, the harder section, was better.That done, we could amble back.
Beinn Mhor lay ahead, a low, knoll hill rising above the cliffs of Oa and with great views to Ireland’s north coast, as far as Malin Head.But our objective seemed an awful long way away!
A short boggy interlude at the next gate as we crossed a burn on some wobbly planks, was soon behind us as the terrain changed from emerald green grass to tussocky heather and bracken.The scent in the air was beautiful, with the heady sweetness of the heather and clover and the evocative smell of summer bracken (which I love, though I know it is destructive stuff.) There’s usually a strong scent of sheep too, the island is heavily farmed but that’s an earthy scent I like; it must be in my blood – I’m peasant stock , as Chris often says:) Soon however there was a less pleasant, very pungent aroma that I recognised immediately – the smell of Goat’s Cheese. Sure enough, ahead of us, a little line of wild goats scurried off through the heather, all long shaggy coats and beards and impressive horns. I’m not a fan of domestic goats but these wild ones in the Highlands are quite handsome beasts, albeit their scent assails the nostrils a mile off.
We picked up one of many small, snaking paths heading in the general direction of the hill, but these were so narrow and the heather so high at each side, that you really had to lift your feet high at each step to avoid tripping.It led to slow and quite tiring going but the views were great.On the way out we kept more inland to get to the top quicker; most of the photos are taken on the way back, when we headed out on the small detours above inlets and bays and following the cliff top more closely.
Eagles nest out this way but we hadn’t had any sign of them so far.They are sedentary 80% of the time so….not easy.
The ascent itself was barely noticeable really, very gradual and the views out to sea and over the broken coastline got better and better.In an hour from the car, we finally reached the summit where there was a Trig Point and some nice flattish rocks to sit and have an early lunch.
Arran’s mountains lay away to the east, visible above the Mull of Kintyre; Rathlin Island lay south, backed by the low hills behind Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast, where I’d been last summer.I remember looking north and seeing Islay’s outline! It’s always nice to have views to places you’ve got to know a little and built some memories around.The great wide inlet of Loch Foyle was obvious and the furthest west we could see must have been around Ireland’s Malin Head, another very scenic area.There are strong connections between the communities of Islay and Ireland still.
Cold ham sandwiches with coleslaw went down well, a lot of water – it was so hot and almost windless – and as ever I was reluctant to pull myself away from views over the ocean – next stop west, America.
But pull ourselves away we had to do, the American Monument now beckoned, a superb if tragic place nearly an hour away.
Nice to be going downhill now but it was the heather overall which really was such a memorable part of the walk. It was everywhere, in hues of pink and purple – even some lucky white heather – clothing the hillside and moorland in a haze of colour.
Chris usually keeps close to cliff edges but I always head away from them and there was no way I was climbing up the little grass-topped rock stack – Dun Athad – half way along on the way back.On the top are the remains of an ancient Dun or Fort.The access was too vertiginous for me.
The path began to descend further and we had a short, stiff pull up onto the last portion of clifftop before the flatter walk to the 131m high Monument – which felt quite hard on the legs. It was nothing really, but heat and terrain and the fact we’d now been walking on the go for 3 hours instead of 2 and weren’t finished yet, had made a difference.Age doesn’t come alone either!
Other wildflowers had returned now – harebells and red clover, vetches and buttercups, all lending a lovely swathe of colour across the grassier terrain we were now on.
Then a very fast flying raptor swept the sky in front of us – it was a Peregrine Falcon, a thrill to see.We saw one the last time we were in this area, perched amongst the crags – it took a Ranger on the Guided Walk we did to point him out to us, otherwise we would never have seen him.Classic territory for them up here.
The Monument is a superb spot scenically, albeit a desperately sad and moving one.Information boards describe the two tragedies that happened within months of each other in 1918 with the loss of 600 men on the troopships the Tuscania (torpedoed by a German U Boat) and the Otranto (collision with another ship), the troops swept into the cold cruel sea.
We spent a while just sitting here in the sun, the sea now sparkling in the afternoon sunshine and much more benign than it had been on the nights the ships went down.
Weary legs took us back to the car on the constructed path from the Monument, really pleased we’d done the whole walk and seen a new part of this lovely island that few visit.A quick look at Walkhighlands description of the walk once we were back at the car (better late than never) revealed an expected time of 3 – 3.5 hours so we felt better about that! I thought we’d just made a meal of it and were too slow. As Chris said, there’s life in the old legs yet!