Having done my first wild camp in six months a few days ago up Beinn Trilleachan in Glen Etive, I feel like I have the bug again. So much so, that I couldn’t even wait a whole week before going again. After the weather forecast almost guaranteed me clear skies, I decided to make the short drive north towards Callander on Friday after work to head up Ben Ledi and spend a night under the stars. Jack would be joining me this time, our first camping trip together since we completed the Skye Trail last year.
It was around 5.30pm by the time we left the car park at the base of Ben Ledi. This was plenty of time to reach the summit and set up our tents before the sun went down. Knowing how popular a hill Ben Ledi is and considering how bonnie a day it was, I was expecting to see countless people up there also starting their weekend on this wee beauty of a hill. It turns out we passed just five people and a dog the whole way up which was quite a surprise. I saw more people up there on New Year’s Day!
After a short climb I realised something was different. It took me a while to register but then I realised the ascent path has been completely reworked as the old one was getting a bit worn. It used to dip down to cross a small burn but now it goes straight past it on the other side and continues quite far up the hill. You can still see the scars from the old path so hopefully they disappear in time as more walkers use the newly constructed one.
At this point, because it was so late in the day, the steep east face of Ben Ledi above us was blocking out the sun making the temperature feel a lot colder. This coupled with the intensely strong wind made the conditions just a bit chilly. You see bright blue skies and sunshine and always expect the best, but that’s rarely the case in Scotland. A little bit of sun and I always get carried away. Due to the wind blowing us and our heavy backpacks around so much, we were quite slow in getting to the top but after two hours we were there and with great views back to where we came from in Stirling. As much as I love going up the Ochil Hills in Stirling seeing as they are so close to me, getting up something like Ben Ledi only half an hour away offers so much more to look at when the summit is reached. The view west towards Ben Lomond and Arrochar were fantastic and only got better as the walk progressed.
After another half hour of walking we had reached Lochan nan Corp, which is just beyond the bealach that takes you down Stank Glen for the return route. Trudging around in the boggy grass for a while, we looked for the perfect camping spot that was dry, flat and most importantly, one that gave views of the impending sunset.
The wind was almost impossible to escape completely – I think I lucked out and got a better spot than Jack! – but we had soon found a great set of rocks to cower behind while eating a well deserved meal and finally getting to see the sunset. Unfortunately for us, Benvane was right between us and the setting sun so we couldn’t quite see the very last glimmer of it as it hit the horizon but the colours were still utterly spectacular. As time passed by, the orange glow intensified over the Arrochar Alps directly to our west. It was such a mesmerising sight that we sat there for nearly two hours soaking it all in before finally retreating to our tents out of the bitter cold wind which hadn’t relented all evening no matter how much we cursed it to.
After a terrible sleep in my tent a few days back when up Beinn Trilleachan, I was expecting more of the same thanks to the wind but I only woke a few times in the night. Not that I was unhappy about waking up at all as I got to see the clear night sky full of bright stars. I actually packed my fairly heavy camera tripod for this very reason so at 2.30am I was outside, braving the wind and about to set everything up for what I hoped would have been a successful astrophotography session.
Sadly that was not to be though, as in my rush to get my bag packed the previous night I had forgotten one vital piece of kit. I had my camera. I had my tripod. I just forgot the mount that connects the camera to the tripod. I was absolutely livid! The clearest night sky I’ve had while camping in the hills, dragging my tripod the whole way up there and not actually being able to use it. I fumbled around in the dark trying to find the missing piece, then decided to attempt some handheld shots instead with varying degrees of failure. In the end, I gave up and once again retreated back to my tent with my tail between my legs. It gives me an excuse to get out again soon though with renewed vigour to photograph the night sky.
The next morning we awoke to almost perfectly clear skies except for the strangest clouds I’ve seen for a while. So stretched and flat, they were not your typical fluffy white cloud. A quick search on the internet when I returned home revealed them to apparently be the rare Stratocumulus Lenticularis clouds. I have no idea what causes them, or even if I have deduced their type correctly but they certainly proved a fascinating sight for us.
We were soon thrust back to reality though as we left the limited shelter of our campsite for the night and realised the winds had still not given up. They were blowing just as strongly as they had the previous night so we made our way to the bealach as quick as we could and descended down into Stank Glen. The further we descended and the higher the sun rose made it feel like walking from winter into summer. We shed all our jackets and gloves and basked in the sun by Stank Burn. Maybe not the most appealing of names but trust me, it really was beautiful!
As we followed the path further down, we eventually reached the forest where we were shaded from the sun again. This final part of the walk may be short lived but it’s something I really enjoy each time I do it. Especially on a day like this. The sound of rushing water from nearby burns and the birds chirping their morning tunes as you catch faint glimmers of the sun in between the tree tops is a great way to start your weekend. Soon we were back at the car park around 10am which was now completely full. Many walkers just starting their day, without a clue in the world just how windy it was going to be up on top for them. On our way back we took a quick detour to Loch Lubnaig for some photo opportunities and to check how suitable it will be for kayaking which is something I will hopefully be doing there this coming week.
I’m beginning to really enjoy Ben Ledi as a short hillwalk now. I’ve been up there twice this year so far and will no doubt go again. After a fairly standard start to the walk, the views open up dramatically once you reach the south ridge to start the final ascent. Many people return down the same route but it’s definitely worth doing the full circuit to return via Stank Glen which doesn’t add much distance to the day at all but definitely adds a lot of beauty. Now that’s two wild camps in five days, I’m off to plan my next one!