Thursday, 29 October 2015

Ben A'an

A mighty wind terrorised the trees lining the A84. A swirl of leaves filled the air, sun caught in vigorous death. The forecast gale had materialised. A Munro in Breadalbane seemed a punishment exercise in such conditions. But it was too sunny to do nothing. A forest walk... a lochside... a half-height hill perhaps? The solution came to us both at once.

Ben A'an in the Trossachs. Beauty without exposure. And the opportunity to explore some of the newly-opened Great Trossachs Trail, which runs from Inversnaid on Loch Lomond to Callander, home of the world's earliest recorded organised football match.

Breezy Loch Achray:


Arrival in the Trossachs is heralded by a shaggy Highland cow at Callander then the small, wooded hills of frontier country. This was the first tourist area in Scotland, made popular by Sir Walter Scott, but as he is unfashionable these days I promise not to mention him.

The intention was to repeat a previous walk - a circuit of Ben A'an and a wander along Loch Katrine, with a return on a section of forest road rebranded as the Great Trossachs Way. 

Sometimes though events conspire against plans made in the comfort of your home, and that happened here. Where was the path up Ben A'an? It has disappeared into an area of fenced-off forestry felling. 'Alternative route Ben Venue car park' said a sign. I wasn't aware there was a Ben Venue car park. We found it, and started our walk on the alternative path. Slippery, slidy, muddy... Ben A'an's modest altitude was hard gained. 

Ben A'an from the approach path:


But what a hill it is! Seemingly steep and impregnable, it is in fact quite easy. The sun was still out on the top, the only other people here a holidaying German family asking for a photo. They had climbed a hill in the Trossachs and seen a Highland cow in a field by Loch Achray. They looked like they were having a fantastic time. Well, wouldn't you?

View from Ben A'an:


We descended west from Ben A'an, a little-known route that allows you to walk a circuit rather than head back down the muddy path. I had come this way before, but this time messed up. The trick on reaching a fence is to *not* cross it at a stile, but follow it down to a stream and then follow this to Loch Katrine. Instead we crossed the stile and became lost in a wilderness of heather, bracken and oozing bog. A huge stag watched us for a while from the forest below, wondering what we were up to, before legging it, muscles rippling under his shaggy coat. It is a good thing deer aren't aggressive creatures. 

Loch Katrine from the west side of Ben A'an:


After this wrong turning the stuffing had been knocked out of me. It had started to dull over and I wasn't fully convinced I would find the right way down to Loch Katrine. (In retrospect, if we had just kept going a bit longer we would have found a way down.) So we retraced our steps back to the top of Ben A'an and down the slippery ascent route. Beaten by Ben A'an! I thought I was made of sterner stuff, but the hills always have a lesson to teach us. 'Land of heath and shaggy wood' indeed.

Did I say earlier I wouldn't mention Sir Walter Scott? Damn.

On the Great Trossachs Trail, earlier:

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