Ben A’an – a summit of surprises
For Bondholder Irene Hrynkow, springtime in Scotland proved a magical experience, particularly the ascent of Ben A’an – small in mountain terms, but no less rewarding than its more imposing brethren. And, lying just across Loch Achray from the Bond’s Tigh Mor Trossachs home, a peak that Bondholders have come to call their own!
The trek up Ben A’an conveniently starts just a short distance from the front door of our Tigh Mor cottage. The track winds up and through pine forest. Nothing remarkable so far but noticeable is the number of people toiling up and down on this damp, misty spring morning. It seems that this mountain, unlike other more serious Scottish mountains, is beloved by all manner of people for its charm and accessibility. Don’t let the well worn path put you off but enter the spirit of the climb as you greet large families happily negotiating the descent or overtake young parents encouraging their tiny offspring over rocks and streams. This walk is to prove very different from many of Scotland’s bigger and more isolated mountains that attract the ‘hardened’ walkers and climbers. In fact, more delights than we can ever imagine lay in store for us.
The April mists clear as we walk and warm sunlight begins to slant through the trees. The cuckoo calls from afar and pale primroses and wood anemones brighten the darkness of the forest floor. The winding path climbs through the forest until we suddenly emerge from the trees and a striking view of Ben A’an’s conical peak is revealed.
The ground levels for a while and the dense conifers are replaced by delicate birch trees where soft green leaves cast dappled shade onto the open ground, a good place to pause before tackling the final ascent that becomes more steep and rocky, although never too challenging. Rock climbers can be seen on the craggy face of the peak but the tourist path follows the tumbling burn to the right and then curves round the side of the North peak before the final short pull to the top. The summit of Ben A’an stands at only about 460 metres (maps differ as to its true height) and the reward for such small effort is immense. Its twin rocky peaks, ‘a wee rocky scramble,’ are enjoyed, it seems, by all who reach the top, and reveal breathtaking views in all directions.
Ben A’an is known as ‘the mountain in miniature.’ Its true Gaelic name Am Binnean means ‘small pointed peak’ but the craggy summit and impressive views conjure the feel of a much loftier mountain. Almost the full length of Loch Katrine is now in view. The summit of nearby Ben Venue has disappeared behind vaporous clouds and below its flank a lone steam ship ploughs a silver furrow through the soft grey water of the loch. This is the landscape that inspired Walter Scott to write his epic poem The Lady of the Lake and it is easy to see why.
Bonnie Loch Achray nestles in the valley to the South and the heather and moorland of Meall Gainmleich stretches to the snow-capped peaks in the North. The peaks of Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps are masked by denser cloud to the West but the scene is still magnificent. The top is a place to linger on a day like today when the cloud dissipates and the sun brightens the rocks, which provide welcome shelter from the cool breeze. It is one of the busiest peaks that I have ever visited. Couples and families enjoy the chance to sit and enjoy the view. Enthusiastic photographers snap indiscriminately and dogs forage hopefully for scraps left by picnickers. Constant chatter and babies’ cries can be heard. One woman even feeds her baby in the shelter of the rocks.
Coal-black ravens glide above us and below us colourful butterflies flit amongst the heather. Then suddenly the celebratory mood of the day is heightened as a small child begins to blow a profusion of bubbles which catch on the breeze and whisk past us. It comes as no surprise then when the mellow notes of a flute begin to drift on the air and I turn to see a seated woman playing soft melodies while her companion patiently holds and turns her music pages. This peak really is a magical place and, at this point, I truly would not have been surprised had tiny fairies flown from crevices and danced before us for our delight.
As we reluctantly begin the descent we encounter a young man whom we had overtaken earlier, now encouraging his two very small children up the final part of the climb to scramble on the summit. He has forgotten his camera but, in the true spirit of the day, he convinces his children that it is truly better to remember this moment and keep this picture in his head forever. The children smile back at him, utterly convinced and somehow that promise sums up the spirit of this beautiful day.
It is just a short wander from the peaks to the summit of the less visited Meall Gainmleich, higher than Ben A’an but more rounded and dotted with tiny gleaming tarns. Here solitude can be found, a peaceful place to sit awhile before heading downwards through heather, bog and grasses and rejoining the path. Returning on the same track is no hardship. In fact it is a pleasure and as we meander down I think to myself that I wouldn’t want to change a thing about this extraordinary day.
As the light fades I catch the scent of the first bluebells of spring and almost find myself looking for the forest fairies as they flit over flowers and through the trees in the darkening woods.
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