A walk around Ben Nevis

Not everyone who enjoys a breath of fresh Highland air aspires to the summits or to be a hairy mountaineer, clanking with the ironmongery of rock or ice climbing. Some share the view of John Ruskin that mountains are best appreciated from below.

This is a walk for those of a Ruskinian persuasion. It offers a humbling view of perhaps the finest canvas of mountain architecture in Britain ­ the north-east face of Ben Nevis ­ without a need for a rope, ice axe or crampons.

Climbers may not give much thought to the two-hour walk into this great mountain amphitheatre ­ their sights are on the ridges and gullies above ­ but the path by the rushing water of the Allt a' Mhuilinn burn can be a pleasure in itself. It certainly reveals a much wilder and more dramatic side to our highest mountain (1,344m) than does Glen Nevis.

Start at the Forestry Commission car park at Torlundy, two miles north-east of Fort William off the A82. The car park is signed; turn right of the main road between buildings to cross a narrow bridge over the railway and immediately right again on an unsurfaced track.

Leave the car park by the heavily signed track at its western corner ­ dip your boots in the disinfectant trays while the foot and mouth crisis lasts ­ and after a few minutes branch right on a well-made footpath marked by a bootprint logo on a post. It rises to the edge of a forest of pine and birch then contours south-west above the golf course.

The stone-chip path ends at a deer fence with large stile and a sign, "Allt a' Mhuilinn", pointing uphill. Follow the eroded path through thinning trees to the open hillside. The path reaches the bank of the Allt a' Mhuilinn burn at a vehicle track that is followed for a short distance to its end by another deer fence and stile.

For the next hour or more the path follows the east bank of the burn. It is peaty and boggy in places but navigation is no problem. Looking back there is a vast view over Fort William and Loch Eil to the snow-etched ranges of the north. Ahead, the rocky cirque below Ben Nevis is opening out. Finally, the burn is crossed and an ascent over pinky granite slabs and turf ends at the only building on the walk ­ the Charles Inglis Clark Memorial Hut. The CIC hut, commemorating the son of a climbing family who was killed in the First World War, is the best known base camp in Scotland. Above it are classic routes such as Tower Ridge, Point Five Gully and the Orion Face.

The knoll of the CIC hut is the highest point of the walk. There are two options for the return leg, depending on transport. One is to retrace your steps to the car park. The perspective of the pools and rapids of the Allt a' Mhuilinn is completely different and you will have an opportunity to watch for birds such as dippers, bobbing like giant wrens on stream boulders.

The alternative, if a pick-up can be arranged, is to traverse the north-west shoulder of Carn Dearg and descend by what used to be called the "tourist track" into Glen Nevis. This route starts just below the CIC hut and contours north-west to the mountain shoulder before swinging south above the waters of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe to meet the tourist track, now marked on the Harvey map as the "Mountain Track" to discourage ascents in sandals. Finish at the Youth Hostel.SG

Six miles, 625 metres of ascent. Allow four hours. Map: Harvey Superwalker Ben Nevis, scale 1:25000, waterproof (£7.95).