My companion had walked Ben Venue via the usual routes several times, so we wanted to try something a little off piste. The cruise down Loch Katrine seemed like a good way to get a different approach direction, and would add a bit of distance, which was our main reason for walking in preparation for an epic in a couple of week's time.
After an hour on board, we shouldered our expedition weight packs and disembarked at Stronachlachar to bright warm sunshine at 11.30. The single track road on the south side of the loch is easy walking, with only a little rise and fall as it gradually gets scratchier into the wilds. We reached the track end at the sheepfolds above Glasahoile by just after two, and stopped for lunch. And then started again, as the midges started to take an interest. One sandwich down, we thought we'd grab the rest once we'd gained a bit more height. The footpath south started out obvious enough, but as it crossed several boggy areas it became increasingly vague and threaded, until it reached a *locked* gate in a deer fence. It was outside the stalking season, so over we went.
As the path ran out a few hundred yards beyond the fence, we had to decide whether to aim straight up Beinn Bhreac then Creag a' Bhealaich, or aim straight for Ben Venue. The 10km or so had started to take it out of our legs, and we didn't fancy the idea of losing altitude between the subsidiaries and Ben Venue, so decided to plough on south east towards the top.
We crossed the small but steep ravine of the Allt Glasahoile fairly easily, but this would be difficult in wet conditions or if in spate. Over the burn was where the trials began. I've done plenty of off-path walking in my time, but for some reason this stretch really hurt. Maybe it was the peat hags, maybe it was the thick heather, maybe it was the boggy ground. Whatever it was, combined with the gradient, it turned what had been a walk in the park into a teeth-gritted, sweaty plod from rock to rock. We picked our way upwards and gradually to the south, aiming for the obvious notch in the ridge NE of the the Bealach na h-Imriche. After almost two hours of stopping and starting, sweating and panting, we reached the notch. I have (almost) never been happier to see a cairn pointing to the main path.
The rest of the ascent we did the *normal* way, thank you very much. It was 5:20 pm before we reached the second summit and realised we hadn't had the rest of our lunch, which we ate admiring the lowering sun playing on the lochs. We fairly trotted back down the main path into the de-forested areas south of the summit, and before long it started teeming down with rain. The only other potential complication to the route was the path back to crossing over the Achray Water - at NN493062 we thought we might have to hack through the undergrowth as the OS Explorer shows it disappearing. It doesn't - indeed it's a veritable motorway.
We got back to the car at 8pm, wet and knackered, but beating your own path provides a certain sense of achievement that you just don't get from auto-piloting on a well trodden obvious one.
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