Ben Venue has a reputation for providing a lot of view given its sub-Munro height, but previously I’d dismissed it due the route length (14km) and reputation for being a bogfest. Our recent long but very enjoyable slog over and around the Galloway hills convinced me to reconsider it, and when I discovered that its path had been upgraded just a couple of years ago, I decided it was worth a go.
Ben Venue as seen from an early point on the route from Loch Achray
At 1am, having had a few hours of suprisingly good sleep, I stumbled out of the van with my two furry companions securely attached to my belt. Purely out of a desire to keep the van safe – and not at all due to the crazily early departure time – Susan had offered to stay in bed, so it was just the three of us.
Sleep-deprivation aside I like really early morning walks best of all. I take a perverse pleasure in heading out in the dark when all sensible people are tucked up in bed, guided by my head torch and two enthusiastic black noses. As is usual our first mile was very stop-start due to sniffage, pees and poos, but after that we made rapid progress thanks to a firm, mostly dry path backed by frequent signposts to eliminate navigation concerns. After about an hour we passed a notice that we’d come to the end of the signage, but the trail continued as normal up ahead and I commented to the pups that this was going to be one of the easiest hills we’d ever done. That of course was something I should never have said out loud, and shortly afterwards we came to the start of a field where the path flat-out disappeared.
I scanned the field ahead carefully with my torch, and saw a couple of wooden stakes in the ground. With nothing else to follow, and the map suggesting that we should continue in roughly that direction, I took a few steps into the field towards the stakes, and sank past my ankles. Bog juices immediately seeped into my boots and I let out a long sigh. Beanie and Biggles both turned to look at me and I told them what they already knew: “well pups, it’s bog time again!”
We trudged our way across the field to the start of an incline, where PathFinder Biggles quickly latched onto other walkers’ footsteps; a little further on we rejoined the path. This wasn’t quite as dry and firm as the first section, but it led us almost directly to the trig point on one of Ben Venue’s two high points with 75 minutes still to go before sunrise.
Beanie and Biggles love climbing up and down hills, but they don’t like hanging around for ages in the cold and wind. Fortunately I was prepared for this eventuality, having strung our big orange Vango Storm Shelter from my camera bag. In my head, this was how the next hour or so was about to play out: I’d throw the shelter over the three of us, giving me a wind-free place to swap my sweaty base-layer for a dry thermal and to put on the pups’ coats. We’d then while away the time until sunrise in our torch-lit abode having treats and cuddles. Basically it was going to be a bit like being under the covers with a torch as a kid.
That is not at all how things went. I unpacked the shelter easily enough and got it over me and Biggles, but Beanie – who always feels the cold the most – was stuck outside. Pinning the base of the shelter against the rocks with my feet to keep it from blowing away, I coaxed Beanie inside, at which point Biggles somehow ended up outside. I reached out and dragged Biggles in, only to watch Beanie sneaking back out under the rear edge of shelter. This was crazy; inside the shelter was warming up nicely thanks to the elimination of windchill, but I couldn’t keep the three of us together inside it for any length of time. At one point I tried getting Biggles to park his bottom on the base and settle down so that I’d have both arms free to haul Beanie in and get her onto my lap. I was almost there when suddenly the shelter was whipped out from under my feet and up over my head, leaving both me and The Beanster outside. My first thought was “wow, that must have been a powerful gust of wind” but in reality it was Biggles, who’d decided to make a bed and was rapidly winding the shelter round and round himself. He was cosy now, but the rest of us were shivering in the cold and dark. After a struggle I freed the shelter from his lordship’s grasp without ripping it, but never succeeded in getting us all inside simultaneously. If Vango storm shelters could have a theme tune, it should be The Hokey Cokey.
The struggles with the shelter did at least kill some time, and between that and a few expeditions between the two summit points on Ben Venue, we lasted out until the sun finally appeared.
Not long until sunrise now..
And there it is…
The view towards Loch Katrine was superb!
I kept trying different shots and rewarding the pups for their patience until, in a moment of carelessness, I spilled the remaining contents of the treat bag on the ground. For once in his life Biggles was alert and immediately set about vacuuming everything up while Beanie was still trying to get her snout into my trouser pockets. With no treats remaining, I had a choice: face the most intense woofing I’d ever experienced, or share some of my own private stash of extra tasty coated peanuts with the furry types. You can probably guess which option I chose.
Biggles takes in the view, while Beanie stays focused on my peanuts
The journey back was peppered with stops for layer removal as the temperature rose, and as we got back onto that splendid first section of the path the pups were happy to slurp from, and cool their feet in, the various streams we crossed.
When we got to within 50 yards of the van Biggles started pulling like a train and Beanie began dancing on her rear legs. I assumed they were overjoyed at the thought of being reunited with Susan, but then the real reason became apparent: Susan had filled their breakfast bowls and left them out by the entrance to the van.
Contented post-breakfast naps for two, please!
I’m not saying that Beagles don’t offer unconditional love like other dogs, but a big serving of breakfast definitely helps.