ADVENTURE | Highland Road Trip and a Hike up Beinn Ghlas

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Referring to myself as a novice walker doesn’t seem right, as though learning to walk is a recent skill I’m yet to fully master. When it comes to hill walking however (or ‘Munro Bagging’ as it’s known in Scotland), I truly am a novice.

We love walking, but we don’t consider ourselves ‘proper’ walkers. Previously we had happily followed short marked routes around nature reserves, lakes and the odd longer trail through woodland and fields, but we’d never attempted an unguided hike up a mountain before….until now!

Loch Lubnaig

We all have to start somewhere however, and after heaps of research we booked an Easter getaway in Killin, near to Ben Lawers in Perthshire, which we decided was to provide us with our starting point on our journey to becoming slightly-more-competent hikers.

My vague aim for the trip was to reach to the top of Ben Lawers, or to get as far up it as my joints would allow. Weather didn’t come into our planning, as we were determined to head out regardless, as long as it was safe to do so.

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On the shore of Loch Lubnaig, not far from Killin

Loch Lubnaig

As is so often the case in the Highlands, the weather was not to be on our side, and as we set of at 7am on Friday morning, the forecast warned of rain and storms throughout the Easter weekend.

Killin Highland Lodges

Our cosy little woodland lodge

On arrival at the cabin (Killin Highland Lodges) we dumped our bags and took a quick look around. After 6 hours in the car we were eager to stretch our legs so pulled on our walking boots and headed straight out for a walk to explore the immediate area.

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The Falls of Dochart in Killin

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The stunning falls, a few minutes down the road from where we stayed

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In the woodland right behind our cabin, we immediately happened upon a waterfall, and just like that I felt like I could breathe again. A smile formed across my face that still hasn’t left. The sense of wellbeing I’d hoped to find here happened almost immediately; I really couldn’t have been happier.

Scottish Highlands Road TripDressed for the mountain, we park up at Ben Lawers Nature Reserve

The first day we awoke to gray skies and relentless rain. Undeterred we packed our rucksacks, grabbed our coats and jumped in the car to explore a little further afield. With no real aim for the day, the sign for Ben Lawers Nature Reserve appeared unexpectedly, so on a whim we turned off the main road to follow it.

Ben Lawers Nature ReserveParked up and off we go to explore Ben Lawers Nature Reserve

Up we climbed on a narrow road into the increasingly dramatic mountains, with Loch Tay sparkling far below. Having parked up we made a donation in the Scottish National Trust collection box, and proceeded to walk up towards the foot of the main Ben Lawers ascent, walking the beautiful nature trail past an endless series of waterfalls.

Ben Lawers Nature ReserveBen Lawers Nature Reserve

Ben Lawers ScotlandWe didn’t let the constant rain put us off

ben-lawers-walkPast the nature reserve boundary, we start to gain height as we ascend Beinn Ghlas

The landscape was magical despite the dull light and endless rain, and we walked, happy to be outdoors and feeling lucky to be in such a beautiful location. We chatted, made plans, laughed and exclaimed at the stunning landscape that seemed to change with every step.

ben-lawers-nature-reserve-13Feeling great as we approach the snowline on Beinn Ghlas

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The following day we awoke again to gray skies and rain, but the forecast indicated a more mixed day, with sunshine, showers, snow to be followed mid-afternoon by a thunderstorm. We headed out early and were amazed to see the change in the mountains from just the previous day. A decent fall of snow over night had rendered the tops of all the nearby peaks white, where yesterday they had been various shades of orange and brown.

ben-lawers-nature-reserve-10More snow as we continue the ascent

ben-lawers-nature-reserve-05Looking back down over Loch Tay

ben-lawers-nature-reserve-04Onwards we pressed, and as new snow started to fall and we reached the clouds

We made the decision then to walk only as far as the snow would allow us to. The walk up to Ben Lawers, means first reaching the peak of Beinn Ghlas at just over 1,100 metres. Taking the rapidly worsening weather into consideration, we used this as the new goal of our walk.

ben-lawers-nature-reserve-03A brief break in the weather

Our novice status made us nervous of attempting our first solo mountain walk in thick snow, and with the threat of a storm looming we decided err on the side of caution. By 11am we’d reached the end of the nature trail and were up on the path that reaches up to the peak of Beinn Ghlas. As we walked the sparse patches of snow began to grow until the whole landscape was white.

ben-lawers-nature-reserve-11Feeling good as we hiked on

The ascent of a mountain graded moderate to hard, was always going to be tough for me in particular, but I was delighted to feel strong and capable, and the smile never left my face. The weather made the climb a fascinating one, as weather front after weather front blew over us. In a few short hours we encountered everything from blazing sunshine and clear blue skies through to high winds, sleet, hail and snow.

We saw no other hikers during our ascent, but I could make out foot prints already in the snow, indicating at least 2 hikers were ahead of us, which helped put our minds at rest, it was nice to know we weren’t the only crazy people braving the weather up on the hill!

Beinn GlahsTwo sets of footprints in the snow reassure us we aren’t alone on the mountain

I’d read plenty of reports from people who had walked the route we took, and was aware that in winter and early spring, crampons were sometimes needed in order to reach the peak. Had we made the ascent the day before in the rain, before the fresh overnight snow fell we’d probably have made it higher, but as the snow increased in depth, our minds turned to how we’d get back down again.

ben-lawers-nature-reserve-14As the snow got thicker and the terrain got steeper we decided to head back down

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We continued walking until we reached a much steeper snowy section, and it was here that we stopped and made an assessment. At 920 metres, we decided that going any further would make getting down treacherous, and whilst I felt disappointed, as I had a good hour of climbing left in me, our confidence had started to waver thanks to the depth of the snow, and we took a quick break before starting our descent.

Beinn Glahs

Instead of feeling disappointed, I simply felt exhilarated. It was unlike any walk we’d ever attempted on our own, in a location so pretty it was just wonderful to be out there, regardless of whether we made it to the top or not.

“I have also learned that I am the type person who walks up mountains for fun. A realisation that fills me with joy and a deep sense of pride.”

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We didn’t make it to the top, but we learned an awful lot. Quite aside from the practicalities of walking on steep terrain in snow, I’ve learned that I am more physically capable than I imagined. I have also learned that I am the type person who walks up mountains for fun. A realisation that fills me with joy and a deep sense of pride, and I can’t wait to challenge myself next time. As a couple, it’s given us the confidence to pursue more challenging walks like this again, and we can’t wait to return to Scotland to properly conquer our very first Munro.

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