Ben Vane wasn't supposed to be our walk for today. It was supposed to be The Tarmachan Ridge but a couple of things caused a rethink. The weather for one: MWIS said it would be cloud down to 300-700m, rain and cold at 900m. Of course in Scotland if you allowed the forecast to decide if you stayed in or went out, you'd probably never leave the house. The second thing was a late invite to Robbie's Drams 10th anniversary whisky tasting bash in Ayr from 2-6pm.
As Harry Hill would say, "Now I like hills but I also like Whisky. But which one will win? Fight!!!!"
In the end it was a draw and here's how...
I'm not the quickest of walkers especially on the way back down. My going up speed has improved a bit recently but coming down must be torturously slow for my hill climbing buddies so I decided that as Tarmachan was a 2 hour drive there and back we would settle for a near to home hill and as Ben Vane was the smallest it made good sense as I recokoned we could crack it in jig time and even with the 4k walk out and back. So Ben Vane it was.
The next problem was timings - how do you get from up a hill to Ayr and leave the car at home? You start at 4am. Thankfully my wife, as she stirred at 3am, when I got up to get ready, walk the dogs and have breakfast, mumbled something like "Remember and leave a note of where you're going" as she turned over and went back to sleep.
As I was driving out of the driveway I remembered two things - put the bins out and leave a note of where we were going, the latter I posted through the letterbox so they would all see it and off I went, picking up Andrew at 4.15, we arrived at Inveruglas by just after 5.
The day was glorious.
Blue skies, clear mountain tops, Loch Lomond flat and untroubled, cool clear air - a perfect day but so as not to jinx things we really didn't discuss it much as we set off along the side of the A82. We arrived at the bridge in no time. I seldom travel light when I'm out walking but even Andrew had to take his pack off to get through the kissing gate. It must be one of the smallest out there. We headed up the tarmac road completely ignoring a small path that went off to the left into the trees. Only after we had climbed up and round did it suddenly strike me that that path - not on the map - must be the reason for the slightly off-piste route on the WH route for this hill! Doh!
The tarmac while not generaly pleasant makes for an easy start and we were glad of the ability to make a good bit of speed so early on given our plan for part 2 of the day. The electricity sub station-y bit of the walk is not pretty but it is soon past and Ben Vane comes into view. It really doesnt look big framed as it is by Ben Vorlich and A Chrois.
Despite the warnings about the boggy path and despite the clear path up one side of the base of the hill you can just about see in the photograph, we opted for the "obvious" route just beyond the wee bridge. It is wet to start with but as it approaches the foot of the hillside, it becomes progressively more peaty boggy rather than just water lying on the surface. Andrew, our group's mountain goat so called because of his ability to tackle even the most difficult (for me) of paths, had been slightly ahead of me when all I heard was an "Aargh!" arriving on the scene just in time for me to see him pulling his foot out of a foot deep peat bog. Be warned!
We made our way up to the first "flat" bit: No, the only flat bit till the top.
The mountain looked tiny from here and very do-able inside an hour but how wrong I was to be. We spotted the big rock with a cave under it, hereinafter referred to as Sheep Cave (because there were sheep outside it when we noticed it) and decided to make it there for second breakfast, having just finished first breakfast.
It really wasn't that long before we reached the cave: which isn't really a cave it's just an indent but would certainly suffice as shelter if the weather got really bad. However we move on and up fairly soon afterwards and leaving sheep cave and grassy hillsides behind we ventured into a steep rocky terrain that was exciting and varied. Although the path continues - or should I say paths continue as there are often choices - steadily uphill there are opportunities to do your own thing depending on your taste for adventure.
We soon arrived at the aptly named Death Rock (we named it that) because as you approach it it looks quite unassuming and normal. You could probably stand on it as Andrew did
and think nothing of it until you go beyond it and look back to discover most of it is not attached to the ground and its barely 1 metre width is all that stands between you and a drop of a couple of hundred metres by the time you bounced off of the various rocky ledges occupying the space immediately below.
We pressed on but had almost forgotten about the false summit thing. We actually thought that the top we could see WAS the top but then as we rounded another corner and saw the "top" we thought to ourselves, it looks as if we've climbed our munro in under 2 and a half hours, only to find another top.
Something inside though reminded me that there is a vertical bit of scrambling to do to reach the top and we definitely hadn't reached that bit but then we did as I thought, to discover that it wasn't THE bit.
In a kind of masochistic way the false summits give you something to complain about! However the true summit eventually appears and looks like something out of LOTR, a top protected (apparently) by a circle of rock over which there seems to be only way and that is by climbing up and through them. It was a great way to reach the summit - there was 100% involvement in the process, feeling that you had achieved an Everest like challenge. And we had beaten the cloud which was now starting to lower considerably and was heading towards us from Arrochar fairly speedily having now covered The Cobbbler and Ben Vorlich too had dropped out of sight: Ben Vane was next....
The summit of Ben Vane is uninteresting and a marked contrast with the rest of the trip.
There may have been a pool of water once there but today it was a dried boggy bit of peat. We quickly crossed to the true summit at the far end and as we headed back to the rocks to begin our descent discovered a path which avoided the rocky scramble altogether. To be quite honest, given a choice, I'd go for the scrambly bit again! Anyhow we headed down the path and found a sheltered sort of bit overlooking Ben Vorlich at the bottom of the summit lump for what had become third breakfast. And now, just after 9am we met the first walker on his way up. He was quickly followed by a whistling speed-climber (I can think of no other words to describe him): I said to Andrew how the heck can he whistle and walk up hill when I can barely speak when I'm going up hill?
As we descended we encountered more and more walkers on their way up and we felt really good having completed a munro before many were out of bed [it was also MUCH less embarrassing for me as no one passed us on the way up and again (while we still climbed up to the top) as they were on their way back down]
On the way back to the car the wet marshy bit just before the forest road usefully cleaned the worst of the bogs from our boots and after a brief stop, we sped off down towards Inveruglas again (this time taking advantage of the shortcut at the Railway bridge!)
Next stop, Ayr for the 10th Anniversary Robbie's Drams Bash.
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