WHEN it comes to Munro finishes, Ben More in Mull is the undisputed king of the mountains.
There have been more ‘compleation’ parties here than anywhere else and that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
So many see this as the perfect setting to salute the end of an incredible journey. The island setting has more than a touch of romance, the main route up is not too strenuous for non-mountaineers and it’s the chance to spread the celebrations over a whole weekend.
But coming up on fast on the rails is Beinn na Lap, a modest Munro which sits above lonely Corrour House Station. It is also a relatively easy hill to climb, and it has the added attractions of a train journey to reach the starting point and plenty of time to enjoy a meal and celebratory drinks at the remotest rail station in the country.
I joined Robert and his party at Bridge or Orchy station last weekend for the short hop to Corrour. The platform was busy – it turned out there was another group heading in for a final Munro party on the same peak. The platform is Corrour is short, so passengers all have to alight from the centre doors. With everyone spilling off at once, it had the feel of busy city station rather than a one-horse halt.
The weather had see-sawed all week; the first forecast was for a fine day, then it was rain, then it was back to sunshine and finally they settled on unsettled. And that’s what it was. Minutes after setting off, the grey curtains we could see off in the distance had encircled us, heavy rain being driven in on at a fair rate of knots by a fierce wind.
Twenty minutes later, it was clear, distant ridges lit by a burgeoning light, fresh pools of water on the landscape glistening and glittering, a clarity only seen after the clouds have unloaded their burden. Each step nearer the summit became warmer, every view opening up, from the Alders to the Nevis range, and all the way across Rannoch Moor to the horizon.
It stayed fine for the guard of honour, and the Champagne, whisky and cake, and then it was time for us to step aside and let Munro Party No.2 have their moment. A swirl of the pipes and a round of applause and then Stuart and his family and friends were on the podium.
The two parties then merged into one, pictures for posterity, new friends and old, reminders of an unusual and momentous occasion. Then just as we were packing up, another group arrived and unfolded a banner on the summit cairn, signalling yet another Munro finish. This was for Rob and Catherine, and it was real family affair, grandchildren leading the charge to the top.
Three Munro compleations within a few minutes of each other is extremely unusual, but then I suppose the timing of the trains mean the time frame for climbing this hill is more likely to produce a logjam. No matter, it felt like a grand experience that will never be repeated.
The clouds boiled up as we descended, the hail and rain came on, and then there was a low rumble of thunder. The sky blackened in every direction, forming a malevolent hand around us, and then it started about its business in earnest.
The cracks of thunder grew louder, the rain more relentless. Then the first fork of lightning, over to the east. Another touched down about 100 metres to our left, short but just as alarming. It felt like we were in Frankenstein’s laboratory and the creature was about to come alive.
We arrived at the station house soaked through, some concern for the third party still on their way down and now facing the worst of the thunderstorm. It was a great relief to all when they came in, wet through but none the worse for their drookit descent.
The station house was at bursting point, the party atmosphere in full swing, the staff coping admirably with this unexpected surge in the middle of nowhere.
Even having to pull on soaking wet boots on to now dry feet for the 6.25 train out didn’t dampen the spirits. The feet maybe, but definitely not the spirits. And there were plenty of those being passed round on the way home.