Idyllic weather (yes, even at the end of July!) and a not-to-be-missed opportunity to climb two of Scotland’s classic Munros over a long weekend. As both are accessible by public transport from Glasgow, rather than add to the already packed and dangerous A82, you can sit back, relax and wonder at the stunning landscape along the West Highland Railway, before and after your climb. Both hills also enjoy good, well-surfaced paths and don’t demand any real technical abilities.
Blessed with the clearest summer day in memory, according to our expert guide, Beinn Dorain’s ideal, central location in the Southern Highlands ensures a superb 360 degree panorama; so distinct today that the solid mass of Ben Nevis, jutting majestically out of the north end of Rannoch Moor, seems within touching distance rather than 40 odd miles to the north.
Round to the west, the spear-like triangle of Ben Cruachan is shadowed by the mountainous outline of Mull, Ben More obvious in the background; a few degrees to the south west, Jura is recognisable by its three iconic Paps; and with a further slight turn to the south, it is just possible to make out the craggy horizon of the Isle of Arran.
A view to die for and worth every step of the 1076 metre climb necessary to get here. Beinn Dorain and its slight lower twin, Beinn an Dorthaidh, tower over the River Orchy and the small settlement round the eponymous bridge, and give visitors a tantalising glimpse of the wonders that await, northwards, to Rannoch and beyond.
The 9.07 Mallaig train from Glasgow’s Queen Street arrives in Bridge of Orchy, at 11.23 (This train runs Monday-Friday until September 23. On Saturdays and Monday to Friday from September 26, the service leaves Queen Street at 8.21, arriving Bridge of Orchy 10.46.) It takes about five hours from the village station for the climb and descent; factor in an extra 45 minutes or so if you want to climb Beinn an Dothaidh as well. That should give you more than enough time to complete the route and have some refreshments before catching the return train to Glasgow at 18.56, but do monitor timings carefully and take into account possible changes in weather conditions.
The Bridge of Orchy Hotel is your only refreshment option in the village. It serves drinks as well as bar and restaurant meals and is right across from the station where you end your walk.
A cool drink in the pavement table outside the hotel, admiring the impressive hill we have just climbed, ends a memorable day among spectacular scenery in ideal conditions.
Travel – www.firstscotrail.co.uk
Maps – OS Landranger 50, OS Explorer 377
Refreshments – www.bridgeoforchy.co.uk
The weather, not only holds, but improves. So, with a one day window left before I go home, I’m up and out by 7am and it’s already warm and sunny. What’s not to like?
Ben Lomond, the most southerly of Scotland’s Munros is widely regarded as “Glasgow’s Munro” and, given that it’s less than two hours out of the city by public transport – admittedly not your average commute, but an hour on the magical West Highland Railway, then a water bus across Loch Lomond – it’s an appropriate and well- deserved accolade.
Leaving Queen Street on the Oban train at 8.21, arriving Arrochar at 9.35, we turn left out of the station for the 10 minute walk down to the pier at Tarbet to catch the water bus operated by Cruise Loch Lomond (between April and October) that links Tarbet with Rowardennan and Inversnaid on the eastern shore of the loch.
Sailing at 10am, the boat – fellow passengers include ornithologists, photographers, sightseers, walkers for the West Highland Way to Inversnaid, climbers for the Ben, cyclists for the heart of the Trossachs and Rufus, the black field spaniel, who looks up for all of these activities – reaches Rowardennan in about 45 minutes. From the pier a few steps through the car park towards the toilets brings us to the path marked “Ben Lomond”. And, from here, we just stick to the obvious, well-surfaced path. But remember, it can still be a bleak and potentially dangerous climb in poor weather, so do ensure you always carry a map, navigation aid, wet weather gear and adequate food and water.
The climb starts in woodland, for about a mile until we emerge into the open hill through a gate. Don’t be too surprised if you meet some unimpressed-looking Hielan coos monitoring your progress at this point.
Although fairly steep to begin with, the route levels out along the Sron Aonaich Ridge and after about two miles, we reach a final, steep section of switchbacks to the summit.
After some well-earned rest and another wondrous circular panorama – this time taking in the Arrochar Alps, Lochs Lomond, Sloy and Katrine, the Campsie Fells to the south and Lomond Hills to the east – either retrace your steps , or head north west from the summit, descending steeply along a rocky ridge, then across some stepping stones to the Ptarmigan Ridge. Here you will enjoy more breathtaking views of the loch on a straightforward route. Both paths finish at the car park.
The return boat sails from Rowardennan at 16.45, so it is essential to work out your timings carefully, particularly if the weather turns inclement: in our case, despite spending too long sunbathing and admiring the views from the summit, we make it back with enough time to enjoy a cold drink at the Rowardennan Hotel.
Arriving back at Tarbet Pier at 17.30, we take full advantage of the gorgeous evening, chilling out with fish and chips and a great vista across the loch, before taking the short walk back to the station for the return to Queen Street at 20.08. (On Saturdays between March and September, an additional train calls at Arrochar at 18.02, arriving Queen Street 19.20.)
Travel – www.firstscotrail.co.uk www.cruiselochlomond.co.uk
Maps – OS Landranger 56, OS Explorer 364, Harvey Maps; Glasgow Popular Hills
Refreshments – light refreshments are available on board the water bus, you may have time for a drink at http://www.rowardennanhotel.co.uk/ and there are a number of hotels, restaurants and tea rooms in Tarbet