Just over eight years ago The Biggly Boy experienced his very first hillwalk: Ben Ledi. He made a ton of noise on the way up, a ton-and-a-half of noise on the way down, and we never got so see any views because the summit was in cloud. We revisited Ben Ledi last weekend, and I’m happy to say that things went very differently, in all respects.
Ben Ledi is one of Scotland’s most popular hills, and if you’re going up it and don’t like crowds, you’d better get an early start; we started so early we actually left home the previous day. I parked up the Beaglemobile below the mountain just before midnight on Saturday, with the intention of snatching a few short hours of sleep before heading to the summit on Sunday morning in time for sunrise. Ordinarily something like this wouldn’t make me the least bit apprehensive, but Susan had a big gym session the next day and wanted maximum rest before it so it was going to be me and two naughty Beagles alone in the van overnight, with no responsible adult to guide us.
Things didn’t get off to the greatest of starts. Some other people had also parked up, presumably planning the same thing, and the best spot I could find was right by a really big puddle. I reversed in, hoping to make my exit the next morning as easy as possible, but this put the puddle right by the van’s sliding side door. Ever since we got the van, Susan’s been thinking up ways to keep Beanie & Biggles from bolting out of the door the instant it opens; as it turned out, that muddy but not particularly deep puddle worked really well. Neither of our two pups was at all keen about stepping down out of the van into the murky, wet brownness below for a leg stretch and piddle. I actually had to lift Beanie over it, and Biggles only jumped out after a lot of encouragement and an excited countdown.
Back in the van I put the lights on and served up a late snack for myself, and two cow ears for my furry companions. Biggles finished his lug in record time, but still not quite fast enough to grab a piece of my pork pie before I’d consumed it; after all these years with Beanie & Biggles to copy I’ve become quite good at speed-swallowing, though I do still chew things a bit first, so haven’t quite achieved Beagle mastery level yet.
I checked my watch and realised that I only had at most three and a half hours of sleep ahead of me. It was time for bed! I pulled the rear seat out into it’s sleeping configuration and now, without Susan to hold the pups, I had to play several rounds of “transplant the Bigglet” as I struggled to get the bedding into place without any furry lumps underneath it. Oddly Beanie seemed quite content to sleep on the drivers seat, but I called her into bed with me and Biggles to maximise warmth. We all slept remarkably well – there was only minimal fidgeting and bed-hogging, but when the alarm went off I awoke to an atmosphere thick with fart gas. It was arranged in layers – a stack of three distinct aromas – one of which was presumably my own contribution, fueled by that pork pie. It made that first lung full of clean, cold air all the sweeter as we exited the van.
The path up Ben Ledi is the best I’ve ever seen; clear and easy to follow, relatively bog-free and very well maintained. Unfortunately, maintenance was ongoing at one short section we encountered. The path suddenly turned into deep, sticky mud with a JCB digger somehow floating on top of it. I didn’t float of course, and neither did Biggles; I had to carry him through it, keeping one hand free to use the side of the digger for purchase. Had we been going up in daylight I might have seen the little diversion that bypassed all that boot-swallowing muck..
Despite that small hiccup we made it to the summit in plenty of time for sunrise, but to my surprise we discovered that someone had beaten us to it! A hardy fellow had actually spent the whole night up there in his tent, and he hadn’t had two furry hot water bottles to keep him warm. Beanie greeted him by doing a particularly frantic version of the biscuit-summoning dance, while Biggles gave him a stern woofing. I tried to have a conversation with him in between Biggles’ outbursts, but my mouth was malfunctioning from the cold and everything came out a bit like John Hurt in The Elephant Man. I suspect the guy thought we’d all just escaped from a local care home, because he packed up and headed off down the mountain in short order, leaving us alone on the summit.
Although Ben Ledi has a summit cairn and trig point, its most natural focal point is the large metal cross sited just a little way down from the highest point. This is a memorial to Sgt Harry Lawrie who died while on duty with the Killin Mountain Rescue team in 1987. It turns out that early April is an ideal time of year for a visit because the sun lines up spectacularly with the cross just a little after sunrise.
We walked on past the summit to see what views lay beyond. There’s an alternative route down the mountain from here that passes through “Stank Glen”, however it’s not particularly easy to follow and since we’d already experienced “Stank Van” we just turned around and went back the way we’d come.
Things got warmer as the sun rose and our height reduced. We paused at a particularly nice spot for a couple more cow ears and a slug of water before continuing on.
The closer we got to the bottom, the more people we encountered starting out on their own journey up Ben Ledi. The car park was beyond full by the time Biggles had announced breakfast to everyone, eaten it, and been safely zipped back up in his travel crate along with Beanie for the journey home. It took nearly twenty minutes of queueing to get back out of the car park, with some new arrivals having to reverse back round a tight bend and over a bridge to let us out. If you ever get a chance to visit Ben Ledi, remember this: go early, really early, and always park facing out. And of course, take plenty of cow ears and a can of Chappie!