A grey day on Ben Lawers but there's still plenty to lift a walker's spirits

There are a number of starting points for a day out on Ben Lawers and its neighbours.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 15th June 2016, 1:00 pm
Ben Lawers falls just a few feet short of 4000 feet in height and is a very popular choice with hillwalkers  and well known for its alpine flora.
Ben Lawers falls just a few feet short of 4000 feet in height and is a very popular choice with hillwalkers  and well known for its alpine flora.

At the foot of Beinn Ghlas, the car park for what was the NTS Visitor Centre, (now razed), provides ample space for cars. There’s limited space at Camusvrachan in Glen Lyon too.

However, if you don’t mind buying a pint or two at the end of your walk (Oh, the trials and tribulations!), the proprietors of the hotel at Lawers Village are happy to let you park there.

Naturally, this was the option we went for.

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A little further along the road, the Lawers Burn trickles below the tarmac. On its east bank a track goes to buildings at Machuim.

Under a line of pylons a path continues through scruffy land and this you can follow all the way to Lochan nan Cat.

We left it to make a bee-line north on damp and uninspiring ground to the rather dull skyline that is one Munro of seven that can be linked on a long summer’s day.

Meall Greigh, (hill of the horse studs), though bland, reaches the height of 1000 metres.

We climbed the hill not so much to bag a Munro, as to get high quickly and in uncomplicated fashion.

We arrived at the cairn in dense mist.

A much better hill is its neighbour due west, Meall Garbh (rough hill).

Slightly higher at 1116 metres, this fine hill is craggier, hence ‘‘rough’’, particularly on its steep southern flank.

To reach Meall Garbh we simply followed the path past a big erratic boulder as it slavishly dogged to an un-erring line of fence posts.

After a slightly boggy bealach it was up again all the way to the summit cairn.

There were, as yet, no views of the panoramic type. What we did have though, as we dropped south of west, and as its waters peeped in and out of the ever-shifting cloud, were splendid glimpses of Lochan nan Cat.

Though there are many small bodies of water throughout the Highlands known as Lochan nan Cat, I have to say this particular one is probably the only one I’ve come across that actually resembles a cat sitting when viewed from above.

On grass interspersed by slabs, the path dove down again.

The bealach below is a fantastic spot for a look at the rugged cliffs of An Stuc and Ben Lawers.

Here, in many an all but inaccessible nook and cranny or sheep free ledge, have been discovered rare alpine flowers.

No wonder that The Natural Trust for Scotland guards the area jealously.

Ahead rose the sharp cone of An Stuc. The blessing of coming at the hill from today’s direction is that we didn’t have to descend the now hideously eroded slope; it can be bad enough going up from here!

But there are no real problems, just a bit of simple, if scruffy, scrambling on loose but steep ground.

Soon enough we were standing at the top.

The cloud was beginning to rise a little though still we had no decent long range views.

We raced down the broad back of An Stuc’s south ridge on sheep cropped grass.

The hills in these airts contain limestone which not only gives rise to a rich and varied flora, you are also guaranteed wonderful grass for walking on. Where rock protrudes it is schisty and often glistens when damp.

We headed for the next rocky little tump, a top called Creag an Fhithich, ‘‘the crag of the raven’’. The tight little bealach between it and An Stuc is probably the finest spot for a view of ‘‘the cat’.

There, way below us and definitely ‘‘smug as a cat on a rug’’ she sat, lazily watching the world going by.

Creag an Fhithich is a pimple soon passed. A shame really as, along with An Stuc, it was one of the few summits that day which remained below cloud level.

Directly to our south Ben Lawers’ 1214 metre summit was invisible.

Well over a century ago one laird of the lands dominated by Ben Lawers wasn’t satisfied with the fact that the mountain was the highest in the Southern Highlands.

He wanted his hill to stand tall amongst the mighty four thousanders. Thus he set his work force the task of erecting a cairn some 18 feet high. Thank goodness that eyesore has long since disappeared!

Mind you, said laird paid his workforce most generously for their toils – he gave them each a book of poems!

We sat by the trig point in an eerie world of gently shifting mist.

Most days Ben Lawers teems with walkers; so far today we hadn’t met a soul.

But, even as we ate and drank, there came wafting up to us the sounds of heavy boots on rock and intermittent puffs and grunts. We were joined by a middle aged couple and their collie dog.

Ben Lawers is one of the few hills from which I’ve witnessed a ‘‘glory’’, a phenomenon related to a Brocken Spectre.

I’d climbed the hill from the then still open visitor centre with my son. It was his first-ever mountain walk.

Again there was cloud, though underfoot the rock was covered in verglas. Having reached the summit by 5am we decided to wander over to An Stuc before returning by the way we’d come.

As we arrived back on Ben Lawers the clouds began to lift a little, yet not before treating us to shadowy images of ourselves, complete with rainbow coloured halos, waving back from Beinn Ghlas one mile away.

Today our intention was to drop off Ben Lawers via its sharp east ridge.

First though we wanted at least a bit of a view of the other hills that make this little range such a popular attraction. To that end we descended on the staircase path south-west to the next bealach.

Beyond unseen Lochan na Lairig, hidden from us by Meall Corranaich, rolled the magnificent rollercoaster ridge of Meall nan Tarmachan.

It was a wide bealach that we stood on. To the west was the scene just described, to our east, way below us, snaked the black waters of Loch Tay.

From the bealach we could have walked easily down the mountain’s vast grassy flank due east and all the way to our starting point but that would have been a waste.

Instead, and because the mountain stood so close, we climbed onto Beinn Ghlas and back into the mist before retracing our steps to the reigning trig point. From there we located the stony top of the aforementioned east ridge, in the mist more reminiscent of a place of slag heaps than the fine hill it really is.

We followed the narrow spine until we were able to tumble down grassy slopes to the lonely reed-fringed Lochan nan Cat. With soaring grassy slopes on either side, we wandered along peacefully.

We passed concrete sluices which have stolen the burn’s main flow to leave an almost dry bed of water-worn stones. Beneath those pylons once again, then Machuim, and after that the road and at last the pub!

Ben Lawers: OS map – Lanranger Sheet 51, start/finish – Lawers Village; NN608377, distance – 20k/12½mls, ascent – 1700m/ 5577ft