The most northern Munro – [# 252]

Ben Hope (927m)

  • Pronunciation:             Ben Hope
  • Translation:                  Hill of the Bay (Norse origin)
  • Total distance:              7.7km
  • Total time:                     3hrs 3mins
  • Total ascent:                  919m
  • Weather:                        Very overcast with many summits covered in hill fog. Very windy with associated wind-chill. Stayed dry throughout.
  • Start / end location:    Off road parking on the unclassified road north of Altnaharra about 3km south of Loch Hope.  [OS Map Sheet 9 – Grid Ref: NC 463 477]
  • Map:                               A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

Looking north along Strath More from Dun Dornaigil broch with Ben Hope to the right

There had been a nasty Atlantic depression sitting off the northeast coast of Scotland for the last couple of days, which had produced some torrential and persistent rain and storm force winds.

Looking west down the steep slopes of Ben Hope into Strath More and the western hills behind

Elaine nearing the summit of Ben Hope with Strathmore River below and Ben Klibreck in the background

Last night we were parked near Ullapool in the hope of tackling a few Munros nearby. However, the heavy rain had swollen all of the burns and rivers to an extent that made them hard or dangerous to cross. So, rather than waiting it out for a couple of days to see if the weather improved, we decided today to travel even further north to try our luck around Ben Hope – the most northerly Munro of them all.

We deliberately took our time driving north from near Ullapool to see if the weather improved: stopping off at Tesco in Dingwall (for provisions) and then for coffee at the Falls of Shin Visitor Centre – owned by Mohamed al-Fayed, and nicknamed the Harrods of the North!

We left the ‘van a few miles south of the hamlet of Altnaharra and continued by car along an unclassified single-track road through Strath More to the start of the climb. [Altnaharra was famed last winter for being the coldest place in Britain and is also the joint record holder for having the coldest recorded UK temperature at -27.2°C on 30 December 1995.]

Cameron at the summit cairn and Trig Point on Ben Hope

Waiting off, as we had done, to start our walk in the afternoon had been beneficial as the weather conditions had improved significantly and we were actually rewarded with a dry weather window – albeit still fairly cloudy.

The west face of Ben Hope, which rises abruptly from Strath More, is breached by a steep path that follows the course of the Allt a’ Mhuiseil burn directly from the car park. We climbed this rather soggy path as it ascended in a northeasterly direction to reach a more gently inclining broad terrace. Before properly joining the terrace we turned sharply to the east and began climbing steeply once more for another 100m until the angle eased. Here we met a couple who had already ascended the hill and were on their way back down. They mentioned that the weather hadn’t been too favourable for them on the summit.

Dun Dornaigil broch in Strath More just to the west of Ben Hope

We climbed the last short steep section to finally breach the long west-facing escarpment of cliffs. Once on the top of the cliffs we turned northward and followed the line of the escarpment as it inclined at a more modest angle all the way to the summit cairn of Ben Hope at 927m or 3,041ft. From the summit we did manage to catch a glimpse of Ben Klibreck many tens of kilometres away to the SSE – the only other Munro nearby. Looking down into Strath More, the river and pools reflected brightly the sunlight that broke through the grey skies – it was very beautiful.

We retraced our steps back to the car and caught up with the couple that we’d met earlier on the hill as they were having a coffee in their car. We then drove south back towards Altnaharra, but stopped after 2km to look at Dun Dornaigil, an Iron Age broch (stone round-house) that sat near the roadside. The other couple then joined us at the broch and we chatted about how archaeologists and historians didn’t really know, with certainly, the purpose of brochs: were they defensive, were they status related, were they both?

We then drove back to our ‘van, parked to the south of Altnaharra, after having had a great day conquering Scotland’s most northerly Munro, Ben Hope, and glimpsing Iron Age Highland living at the fascinating Dun Dornaigil broch.

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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