By adopting her great idea of the “Birthday Month”, I’d persuaded the Missus to let Jazz and I enjoy a bit of Munro-bagging while we were up in Highland Perthshire. This isn’t something we do much and so we were looking forward to stepping up a gear for walking in mountains rather than our usual Southern Upland hills. Clearly with terminal decrepitude only moments away we weren’t planning on doing anything silly and so Ben Lawers easily popped into mind. The route has the advantage of starting way up the hill, has a great path, and yet is the 10th highest hill in Scotland which makes it sound impressive.
Years ago, in an ill-advised extended-family jaunt we’d tried to do it but were turned back by strong winds. So, today we’d have fun and put that old bogey to bed. It would have been ideal to do it on my birthday: I may be old but I’m not (that) stupid – I’m not doing it in continuous rain, so the planning committee postponed it until today.
The Missus dropped us off at the NTS car-park and sped off to tootle about in Glen Lyon. We headed off up the excellent path through the woodland beside the Edramucky Burn. The sky was blue, the air was crisp, I wasn’t at work: all was well with the world. Our athletic pace forced me to discard a few layers as we headed up through lovely autumnal colours. About now we we were caught-up by a friendly chap who made complimentary comments about Jazz. I suspected he had a visual impairment but it turns out he was a retired gentlemen who volunteered for the Dogs’ Trust – we like this guy. As the gradient steepened it became clear we 1 were holding him back: this is when he dealt the blow – only a week ago he’d had heart surgery to add some stents to his ticker. So he zoomed off up the hill leaving me to “consult the map” on a path that you could navigate blindfold. A nice chap, and I’m sorry we didn’t catch your name – I was too busy trying to catch my breath.
The path does a zig-zag up onto Beinn Ghlas, the first Munro, with a triple of false summits. This was pretty straightforward so long as we took ample opportunity to stop and admire the views. It’s a cliche about walking in Scotland’s mountains, but the blue skies we had at the start had disappeared and we were now in a cold blast with cloud rapidly forming: on come those discarded layers and the hat+gloves. Despite having all the necessary navigation gear, this is one of the those mountains that you could walk without a map 2 because the path is so well defined and obvious.
As we climbed we caught sight and sound of a Red Deer rut going on below us to the south: not as good as Glen Fender, but not bad. At the summit I’d planned to make full use of the 5-bar phone reception to phone my friends and daughter and have a birthday gloat. All dropped into voicemail. What is the point of modern communications technology if it can’t be used at times like this to annoy people who are working? I was about to rant to Jazz about their selfishness when I realised she was off on the pull 3.
The bellowing of the Red Deer had recently been replaced by a shepherd giving instruction to his top dog Danny-boy who was tearing about the flanks of Ben Lawers. Jazz liked the cut of his jib and headed off to flirt. It was now the second kick of the day was delivered: Danny-boy‘s owner was a shepherd of greater years than me who was running over the hill in a cheap pair of wellies and ancient body-warmer. 3000+ feet up a hill running over heather after his sheep and screaming at Danny-boy. Humbling. We had lunch watching them work the sheep over the hill before pressing on to Ben Lawers itself. This is steep but straightforward and nicely devoid of false summits.
Unfortunately by the time we reached the top we were back in cloud and so the chocolate stop was view-less. And then the magic happened: the clouds parted just long enough for us to get a view of Lochan nan Cat nestling in the corrie below us. We then chatted with the various people up here: for a Thursday it was pretty busy 4. There was an amusing show 5 as a party of 2 couples split up with the men heading off to finish the rest of the Lawers ridge while the wives headed back to the car. Unfortunately, 10 minutes after separating, the wives discovered that their menfolk had the car keys! Cue one wife sprinting after them in cloud, while the other wandered off along the wrong ridge 6. Not good planning.
A kind 7 fell-runner took a photo of us for the “Yes I really got there, dear” evidence file. We followed him back down 8 with my knees giving their pitiful “You do know we’re 50?” protest. The SMT’s Munros book suggests just returning by the same route but I liked the look of the other path that goes from the bealach to the north corrie of Beinn Ghlas. As well as being deserted and peaceful, there were lovely views over to Glen Lyon – we’d recommend it, even if the SMT don’t.
So with a gentle descent back to the car and only a few passing showers, this was a good way to end a day out and about on some nice big hills. And excellent proof that advancing years isn’t a barrier to getting old in the hills: just don’t expect me to run over them in wellies.