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SOTTISH ISLANDS EXC SKYE

There are twelve Top 500 Summits on the Scottish Islands excluding Skye. The Top 500 Summits lie on the Isles of Arran (4 summits), Jura (2 summits), Mull (3 summits), Rum (2 summits) and Harris (1 summit). As there is only one Munro outside Skye, Ben More on the Isle of Mull, the other eleven Top 500 Summits include nine Corbetts and two Grahams.

The mountains are listed below:

1    Ben More (Mull)                           3,169 ft                         2    Goat Fell (Arran)                           2,871 ft

3    Caisteal Abhail (Arran)                 2,818 ft                        4    Beinn Tarsuinn (Arran)                2,710 ft

5    Askival (Rum)                                 2,664 ft                        6    Clisham (Harris)                            2,621 ft

7    Cir Mhor (Arran)                            2,621 ft                         8    Beinn an Oir (Jura)                        2,575 ft

9    Ainshval (Rum)                               2,562 ft                        10  Dun da Gaoithe (Mull)                  2,513 ft

11  Beinn Talaidh (Mull)                      2,499 ft                        12  Beinn Shiantaidh (Jura)                 2,484 ft

The quality of walking on the Scottish Islands tends to be unsurpassed anywhere in Britain. The sea is never far away and on a good day the sun shimmers over land and sea.

However, my favourite two walks are Arran’s ridges and the Paps of Jura. Both are classics and have long been highly regarded. Details of walks on the other islands can be found in my book ‘The Top 500 Summits’.

1. The Arran Ridges

Distance 12 miles (20km), 6,500 ft of climbing, 9 -11 hours

Goat Fell                  2,871 ft

Caisteal Abhail      2,818 ft

Beinn Tarsuinn     2,710 ft

Cir Mhor                  2,671 ft  

Access to Arran is easy. The ferry runs from Ardrossan to Brodick practically every hour during the summer. The circuit described below starts only two miles from where the ferry docks at Brodick. The four Corbetts form a compact group in the north of the island but there is some scrambling required on the walk, particularly coming off Cir Mhor. Goat Fell, the highest in the group, was the first Scottish mountain I climbed, back in 1969, so it holds a particular affection for me.

Goat Fell from Brodick
Goat Fell from Brodick

Park at the Glen Rosa road end (only two miles from Brodick)and walk 2.5km along a good path up Glen Rosa, heading west then north west. Just after a footbridge, a path branches off to the left. Follow this west then north west as it ascends the hillside to the summit of Beinn Nuis (2,598ft). As the drop from this hill is only 270ft it does not qualify as a Top 500 Summit or Corbett. However, Beinn Nuis is the start of a ridge which goes over three Corbetts, then some brutal scrambling around the’ Witches Step’, finishing above North Sannox Bridge.

Scrambling on the Witches Step
Scrambling on the Witches Step

The path now continues along the ridge heading in a northerly direction, dropping 270ft then climbing 400ft to the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn. From Beinn Tarsuinn the path descends north east then splits, the right hand branch goes over A’ Chir and the left hand one traverses round the west side avoiding all difficulties. On our last visit we took this path to traverse round the west side of A’ Chir. The ridge over A’Chir is exposed and requires scrambling so should only be attempted by experienced walkers with a good head for heights. A’ Chir is 2,444 ft qualifying as a HUMP and Graham top.

The two paths join up again near the bottom of A’ Chir’s north ridge. You will then descend to just under 2,000ft. From here head north east and follow a path which traverses round the east side of Cir Mhor (which is ascended later). The path reaches the bealach between Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail at just over 2,000ft. From here it is a straightforward ascent of 800ft to the rocky summit of Caisteal Abhail.

Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail from near the summit of Goat Fel
Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail from near the summit of Goat Fell

From the summit of Caisteal Abhail, retrace your steps in a southerly direction to the bealach and this time climb steeply to the magnificent rocky summit of Cir Mhor. To climb Goat Fell, the final summit of the day, you now have to make  a difficult 1,200ft descent east to the Saddle (1,400ft). Most of the scrambling involves lowering yourself gingerly down slabs of rock. From the saddle a path climbs south east to the top of North Goatfell (2,684ft). From here, follow the path south which descends just over 200ft before the final climb to Goat Fell, the highest point on the Isle of Arran.

From the summit of Goatfell follow a path east. This path eventually descends to Corrieburn Bridge, a good spot to finish if transport is available. Assuming no second car is available, turn right at just over 2,000ft and follow a path south which leads to the Cnocan burn, and, with careful route finding, back to the start in Glen Rosa.

2. Paps of Jura

Distance 9 miles, 3,600 ft of climbing, 6-7 hours

Beinn an Oir               2,575 ft 

Beinn Shiantaidh     2,474 ft

Jura lies north east of Islay and is named after the Norse for Deer Island. After the ice age deer and wild boar were hunted on Jura and flint arrowheads used to hunt them are the earliest evidence of human beings in Scotland. In addition George Orwell lived on Jura in 1948 whilst writing 1984.

Jura is 28 miles long by 8 miles wide and its main feature is the three cone-shaped peaks known as the Paps of Jura. Such a description of the Paps do not do them justice. Once, on the Mull of Kintyre, we watched the Paps turn red in the setting sun. They are a place of dreams, tough walking in an incredible place. The Paps of Jura, iconic out of all proportion to their size, should not be missed.

The walk described below takes in the two highest Paps which are the two Top 500 Summits on the island. The third Pap, Beinn a’ Chaolais can be added but at least another two hours walking will be needed, because of the rough nature of the terrain.

It is a long way from the mainland to the start point. If taking a car over, two ferries are required from the Mull of Kintyre, one to Islay and a short one from Islay to Jura. The walk begins at the bridge over the Corran River on the A846. The A846 is the only road on the island and runs up its east side. From there a path leads in a direct line to the head of Loch an t-Siob. On arrival at Loch an t-Siob walk west along the side of the loch, then climb west of north to the col between Beinn an Oir and Beinn Shiantaidh.

Beinn an Oir, right and Beinn a’ Chaolais from Beinn Shiantaidh
Beinn an Oir, right and Beinn a’ Chaolais from Beinn Shiantaidh

From the col there is a path up the north east ridge of Beinn an Oir to the summit. Return the same way to the col and then climb the west ridge of Beinn Shiantaidh which narrows towards the summit. Ten years ago we found a box below the cairn with an old visitors book but it may have disappeared now.

Descend south east down boulder and steep slopes to the north side of Loch an t-Siob. From there walk back along the path to the A846 and an enjoyable night in Craighouse.