Beinn an Lochain was one of my very first hillwalks and to this day is still one of my favourites. That might be a little surprising for someone obsessed with bagging Munros as this little hill is just shy of that honour but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. At only four miles long, it’s not a long day out either but being so short makes the ascent steeper, with lots of interesting wee scrambles to keep things interesting along the way.
It had been a while since I last visited my old stomping grounds of the Arrochar Alps and ventured up the Rest And Be Thankful to tackle Beinn an Lochain, the last time was with my dad in the snow a few years back. We had to turn back as the conditions were too dangerous to walk in without winter gear so it was fitting that for our first walk together in almost two years, we would attempt it again in winter. The heavy blanket of snow that covered the hills in November was sadly long gone though, so we’d be dealing with wind, rain and bogs instead.
I made an excellent start to the day after jumping the small burn next to the start point; running to catch up with Billy, I ploughed one leg straight into a bog almost up to my knee but somehow managed to avoid total embarrassment and kept myself standing on two feet. That’s the one thing I disliked about Beinn an Lochain, the bog at the bottom that never seems to disappear, even in summer. I was optimistic that it would be worth the effort though, even with dark clouds lingering above us ominously from the get-go.
The one good thing about the weather was how windy it was, which I hoped meant the cloud had a chance of passing us by at some point. Throughout the day it would constantly come and go, giving us brief glimpses of the surrounding hills and the many false summits ahead of us. Each time it cleared, we would stop to see what hills we could and talk about our many exploits in the area from recent years.
As the cloud constantly shifted around thanks to the ferociously fast winds, we would capture short glimpses of the next summit ahead of us before disappearing again just as quickly. Although it’s still a steep wee hill with very few flat sections on the best of days, it felt like it was sapping more energy from me than normal as I never could tell how close we were to the summit as the cloud never revealed the full landscape to us at once.
The closer we got to the summit, the steeper the walk ahead looked but as we’d both been there before, we knew it was nothing to be concerned about with no snow or ice to contend with this time. It did mean we had more scrambling to do though and even though it was very straightforward, it was still incredibly enjoyable. The wind was really whipping about at this stage and as we neared the first of the two summits, I commented that “these conditions are perfect for Brocken spectres!” The sun was low in the sky, straight ahead of us and the cloud was thin enough to see the sun through but constantly being moved around in all directions.
As we passed the second summit, I turned around to take a photograph and for the second hillwalk in a row, I was now staring straight into a gloriously bright and colourful Brocken spectre. I couldn’t believe my luck! It took me five years of hillwalking and 100 Munros to find one and I was now standing in front of my second in a row. We hung around for a while, taking it all in and trying to get some interesting photos. The wind was making things extremely difficult for us though as every time we lifted the camera to take a photo, it would shift the cloud in a different way and the Brocken spectre would disappear again.
The cloud would eventually take over completely and our ten minutes of magic ended. Sheltering from the wind behind some high rocks, we sat on the wet grass in heavy rain eating our lunch and we couldn’t have been happier. The only issue was that we now had to head back down which is always the worst part of the day, especially when you are descending further and further into the wind and rain with no views to enjoy whatsoever.
I’ve now been up Beinn an Lochain four or five times, but I still can’t believe how lucky we were this time; the sky only managing to clear for the ten minutes we stood on the summit and treating us to such a fantastic sight. It made all the wind, rain and mud worth it. Much like the Isle of Arran is often referred to as “Scotland in miniature”, I have always thought the same of the Arrochar Alps, and Beinn an Lochain in particular. The short distance walked, coupled with some simple scrambles near the top, and of course a fantastic Brocken spectre, make this the perfect day out when you don’t have the time or energy to travel further on foot or higher north to the Highlands. I’m looking forward to my next adventure there already. Maybe next time I’ll take the tent and spend the night on the summit.