It was close to midnight when I parked the van in a layby near to the Devil’s Beef Tub. What struck me when I stepped out into the night air was the temperature. Even on high ground in the Scottish borders it was stifling. With midge avoidance in mind I slept in the van with the doors and windows closed. By morning the inside resembled a comfy oven.
The Devil’s Beef Tub is a superb natural feature, just up the road from the attractive town of Moffat. The deep gash in the steep hills looked rather glorious in the morning sunshine, but the best positioned layby had been commandeered by a tour bus and scores of happy snappers.
I was not there however to enjoy the Southern Uplands as I had a date with some bigger hills in the Highlands. I had a four day weekend and with excellent weather forecast I was keen to make the most of it. Getting some mileage under my belt after work is a good way of ensuring a full day in the hills when I arrive. Having a campervan is brilliant as it allows you to drive until tired and then find a quiet spot for the night. I was soon pointing the Bongo north once more to navigate the tangle of wind turbines that welcome you to Scotland along the M74.
12 Kilometres with 1,110 metres ascent
The Lawers car park was busy when I arrived at 2.00pm. The National Trust for Scotland appears to have a different tack with regards to parking in comparison to its relative south of the border. There is a pay and display machine at the Lawers car park but it is only £2 and that is voluntary. Compare that to the £7 that you are charged by the National Trust to park just about anywhere in the Lakes.
The sun was absolutely beating down as I prepared some lunch and packed my sack. I had sadly left Reuben behind as the forecast was for temperatures up to 30 celsius in the Highlands. Those sort of temperatures whilst being dragged over Munros would do the hound no good at all.
Ben Lawers has been on my list of mountains to visit for a while now. However what has put me off is its popularity, I don’t like to share my hills with others. Therefore I had hatched a cunning plan. I would first of all climb Meall Corranaich by its southern ridge before picking up the path that contours beneath Beinn Ghlas. That way by the time I reached Ben Lawers most people would have returned to the car park. You have to be creative when you are a misanthrope.
Before I had even crossed the single track road and taken the path towards the summit I was dripping with sweat. Already I was considering just finding somewhere nice to sit out the afternoon in the shade. However that would be a waste of both a stunning day and the drive of several hundred miles. I put my head down and plodded onwards.
Just before the main path crossed over the burn I took a narrow trod towards a ladder stile over the deer fence. As well as the heat I was also glad that I did not have Reuben with me as it is rather hard to get a dog over a 12 foot stile on your own. As I crunched across dry bog towards the southern ridge of Meall Corranaich I slapped at the Cleggs which had decided to attempt to feed on my flesh.
The initial haul onto the ridge was hard work up steep grassy slopes. It was the promise of even better views that kept me going.
The lower section of the ridge was a complicated area of small but steep-sided knolls. Wanting to avoid too much in the way of ups and downs I skirted to the west of the ridge where I picked up a faint path. This contoured steep ground above Lochan na Lairige, the craggy Meall nan Tarmachan behind. I was looking forward to tackling the Tarmachan ridge the following day.
As I climbed I could appreciate the size and bulk of the Lawers hills. Ben Lawers itself being scarred by the final path to its summit.
It was the view to the north that excited me the most however. The nearby Glen Lyon hills gave a sense of space and wildness, the expanse of Rannoch Moor behind them. I was keen to head that way later in the weekend.
The summit of Meall Corranaich is nothing special in itself but the views are spectacular. I sat in the sun enjoying a cooling breeze as I munched a late afternoon lunch. Before setting off from home I had fanciful notions of doing an out and back to the Munro Meall a Choire Leith. The reality of the extra mileage and a lot of climbing put that idea to the back of my mind as I sat there. It’s all too easy to be ambitious when planning a hike from the comfort of a sofa. Besides, I still had Ben Lawers to climb.
The descent to the bealach was quicker and easier than I had anticipated, a good path leading the way. I then picked up the path that bypasses Beinn Ghlas. This was a delight as it contoured high above a lush green Highland Glen.
I was relieved to find a cold mountain spring in full flow under the shadows of Beinn Ghlas, the two litres I had carried were almost gone. I love watching the condensation form on a water bottle when you fill them from a cold spring on a hot day. I drunk my fill before the final pull to the summit of Ben Lawers.
I had hoped to have the summit to myself but shared it with three others. All good friendly folk and I had an enjoyable time in pleasant company. A young couple were on their first trip to Scotland and this was the first mountain they had climbed. They were loving it. The following day they were heading to Ben Nevis. With stunning weather forecast I hope they had a cracking time and have started a long-standing love affair with the Scottish mountains.
The views from the summit were staggeringly good, its rare to have such clear air on a hot summers day. They were the views of a crisp February morning with the heat of the tropics. All around were mountain after mountain rolling towards a soft horizon. Even Ben Nevis was clear to the north West, its bulk being unmistakable. I talked about the folly of wind farms in wild places with another solo hiker for a while. The conversation being started by him after noticing the very prominent Griffin wind farm to the east. It really is a dominant feature in that direction. Thankfully the mountains still take centre stage. At the moment.
Spending an early evening in a t-shirt on a high Scottish mountain is a novel experience for me. It was hard to tear myself away and set off back to the van. However I had one further Munro to climb. Being on the main path Beinn Ghlas is an easy bag. I was all alone on the ridge and made the most of the solitude and the view back from where I had descended.
The path back to the car park is in excellent condition and well graded down a series of zig zags. In fact the only scar on the hill is that on the final section to Ben Lawers summit. I was soon back at the fenced in section next to the burn, an area of trees and lush vegetation. Safe from the hoofed locusts that roam the hills.
The van was the last vehicle remaining and I considered staying there for the night. However I wanted solitude in the morning and a good launching pad for the Tarmachan ridge. I planned to approach it from an unusual position, so in the evening light I drove up and over the summit of the single track mountain road.