Ben A’an – a Trossachs ‘Mountain in Miniature’

Start: Ben A’an car park; on the A821

Time for ascent: 1 hour Length: Round trip of 4.5 miles; 1500 feet of ascent.

Managed to winkle my oldest son away for a half day outing to this beautiful little viewpoint above bonnie Loch Katrine, my favourite Trossachs loch. It was just too lovely a day in November and the Trossachs are at their best in autumn. A 75 min drive from the south – side of Glasgow and we met up at the hill’s car park, already, at 10.30am , very busy for a Friday! It’s a great family hike too, steep at times but with an excellent path, more like a rocky staircase. No difficulties except for the usual huff and puff of ascent.An hour to the top is comfortable, but unfortunately that was not what was in store for me this time.

The car park is on the A821 300m east from the turning to Loch Katrine, on the road between Callander and Aberfoyle and beside Loch Achray. It costs £3 to park so have coins at the ready.

The path rises quite steeply from the off, a big gravel track before the stone steps begin.The commercial forestry has been cut down fairly recently and some of the trees left are looking a wee bit poorly.But it will soon re-grow and it does actually open up the views much earlier – I actually prefer it now to the darkness of the conifers that used to hem in each side of the path.The hill looks as if it is insurmountable without a rocky climb from here, but in fact the path goes round the back, from where it is an easy stroll to the top.

I had made the mistake of saying that when Chris and I had last been up Ben A’an with Gregor, my younger son, we had whizzed up in around 40-45 mins; with Gregor doing it in at least 5 mins less than that.We had been knackered with the pace but of course, that target time was now in Alasdair’s mind as we headed uphill today! Very soon he pulled away from me, despite hanging back every now and again until I said  – ‘ see you at the top!’ Not much fun waiting for a 60+ year old Mum to catch up.However, I wasn’t too far behind and kept the exhausting pace up. I had far too many layers on but then a stupid psychological bit of nonsense crept in and I didn’t want to lose time by taking anything off – a youngish couple was coming up fast behind me too, I saw them looking up at me almost as a target to over-take (well, so they should, seeing an oldie ahead and they being in their twenties.)

The steeper section

So I found myself keeping doggedly on, on and upwards, not slacking the pace at all, despite sweating buckets and my thighs burning with the effort.It had become a silly pride thing, a test of my fitness (rather than my sanity, I’d failed that one.) A slight panic when the path got to the steepest section – steeper than I remember, it always is, that last bit – up by a little burn where I managed to lose the track completely. Before I knew it I was hanging on by my fingernails to clumps of heather and earth, dragging myself up a small cleft in a rock. What the……??? I finally scrambled up onto the top of a slab, panting, nails now black with peat (lunch at the douce little Lake of Mentieth hotel later, what a state I’d be in!)but thankfully, I’d reached the path again.

‘The Couple Behind’ had made no such mistake and were rhythmically pounding up behind me – I’d lost ground! Chin down, walking poles moving like Billy-o, I clambered on, watching the patches of ice which covered the slabby path as the rocky little summit appeared on my left.

I don’t know what happened to that young couple;  they either took a breather or stopped for photos but I never saw them again until I’d been on the summit for 10 mins or so.

Alasdair had made it in 35 mins and I finally clocked (gasping) 40 mins as I clambered up the final rocky path to the top.

From the top looking back
Ben Venue above Loch Katrine

Fabulous views for all the effort it is (and this time, a lot more effort than I’d planned.) Below, the Steamship the Sir Walter Scott, full of passengers, made its way up the dark waters below Ben Venue, the small mountain opposite.What a day for a sail, if you were well wrapped up.The temperature was about 6C, no wind, very pleasant in the sun.

The summit was busy as it often is.The rock Alasdair is on is easily ascended from the other side but there is plenty of room on the summit, with lower flat rocks and heather to sit around on without any clambering required. We spent a good half hour up there, enjoying some tea and snacks and savouring the beautiful views.There were good views to, via the zoom lens, to the Arrochar Alps, west of Loch Lomond.

The Cobbler, Arrochar Alps

A hard place to leave on such a day, but lunch beckoned at the lovely Lake of Menteith Hotel, a little gem of a place right on the loch (or lake,  one of the few so named in Scotland where ‘loch’ is the normal description.)

Nice food, nice people and a fine outlook over the dark blue waters. A place where in summer, Ospreys hunt and a little boat goes over to the ruins of Inchmahome Priory, allowing a visit to the tiny island where the 13th century Monastery sits, once a refuge to Mary Queen of Scots.

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