24 Sept 2006 : A Dark Day – A Failed Attempt at Ben Venue!!!
24 September 2006
This report has no images. It has no maps.
I will learn how to do these things!
This is the first tale (tail?). This is life on the lower slopes. This is a story of one dog’s unrelenting quest for lunch. This is… Where the Fat Dog Walks.
Where the Fat Dog Walks – Life at the Bottom (a different perspective on hillwalking)
24/09/06 Ben Venue (well almost – only made sub 2000)
Looked out and thought we’d not bother. Then the sky above the Ochils, as viewed from the bathroom window, looked just a bit whiter and brighter . The cloud was clearing slowly in the NW. Some sort of walk was maybe going to be worthwhile. The pack, camera and Fatdog were flung in the car and off we set for the Trossachs.
Base camp was set up at the car park at the west end of Loch Achray on the A821 (250600, 706850) Weather was not bad, only a few spots of rain. The base of the cloud seemed to be sitting about 400m and the air was pretty clear below that level……….looked like we were going to be OK. We had a plan, well 2 to be honest.
Plan A – reach the summit of Ben Venue.
Plan B (if the weather turned) – walk as far as the path was clearly visible and as far as the terrain would permit. Fatdog has a very conservative approach to hillwalking.
At the south end of the car park an information board provided a useful overview of various walking routes.
The 35kg of labrador was anxious to get off, so the pack was slung onto the back and we headed up through the well marked forest trails. The scenery at the start reminded me of the stereotypical “highland” scenery from old films like “Kidnapped”. Bracken, heather, birch, rowan, the burn cascading over and through the craggy rocks………all the mandatory ingredients of Bonnie Scotland Inc. It was stunning and you began to realise why people will travel thousands of miles to see it.
The route from the car park meandered over the bracken covered bumps until it crossed a small area of board-walked wetland shortly before popping back out onto the A821 towards Loch Katrine. The marked trail then headed left up the Scottish Water tarmaced road at the edge of native woodland, until veering off over a new timber footbridge (not on OS Explorer) crossing the Achray Water. At this point the path met a forestry road and the colour coded trail followed alternate lengths of cinder path and forestry track. Images of books past, from The Famous Five to Lord of the Rings popped into my head as I ambled along the dark winding trail through the tall evergreen forest with its blanket of vivid green moss.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned other walkers. We hadn’t come across any yet. The last people we saw were the Sunday fishermen at the lochside.
The trail popped out onto an expanse of recently felled and replanted forest, crossed over and continued its gentle pull up the hill. The route was just heading back into the trees when the first signs of life were spotted. An English couple on holiday, with only today available for a walk, were easing their way up the hill. We chatted but they seemed wary of Fatdog (who was busy ignoring them) so we pressed on past.
The path was narrowing and darkening as the trees loomed closer in places, stretching over the walking surface. It was here our luck began to change. The persistent low level rain had decided to up the stakes. The last km before heading out of the trees was marked by a deluge. I couldn’t believe you could get so wet under such relatively dense forest!
To make matters worse as we popped out of the higher reaches of the trees (247400, 705200) we plunged straight into the evil lurking , all catching bog. I believe there is a path there but I couldn’t see it. By this time the rain was sheeting down and what I took to be the path was now a burn bed. I hooked up Fatdog to her lead. She was up to her belly in peat bog and my ankles were similarly disappearing into the squelchy mire. The cloud swirled around us as we trudged onwards following the torrent that was, at one time, a path. The sharp, rock gravel trail was proving tricky for the Fatdog who much preferred the heather and peat.
Would we go back? In front, through the ever moving cloud, I could just make out the sight of a tall waterfall. I decided to at least see that before we headed back home. The rain decided to ease a bit and made the trudge to the falls a bit more pleasant. Visibility was about 30m. The valley end loomed out of the mist and I groaned when I saw the path. Straight up. With the poor visibility I couldn’t see alternatives and wasn’t prepared to improvise this early in our hillwalking exploits.
Some steep, water drenched, bare rock with pockets of shattered stone provided the upwards path. I thought the Fatdog would baulk. She’s a careful animal who doesn’t take chances. I seriously thought that this was the end of the trail until she hopped up, looked back, as if to say “What are you waiting for?” then headed on up.
At the top of the slope we followed the “path” as it curved to the right around the top of the hill into a small “valley” where another trail appeared from the south. A large cairn marked the junction (246900, 706100). I looked at where we had to head next. The steep upward “path” was rough, rocky and pouring like a burn. The visibility seemed to drop to between 10m and 20m. We made a couple of attempts to clamber up this slope but the lack of visibility made the route of the path indistinct and Fatdog was having trouble with the rocks.
It was time to have a break and pull the chocolate out from the pack. Fatdog made representation that, under these conditions, this was a 2 Bonio hill. The absence of other walkers was making foraging difficult and the general absence of such enthusiastic providers of packed lunches was causing her some concern.
Snack finished, the temptation to pull the map out of the pack and work out a route up was there, but, taking all the factors into account……..lack of experience being the main one, I decided to call it a day and take the Fatdog home . Having reached about the 600m contour, less than 150m (height) from the summit it was time to head back the way we came…….back to the car park.
The walk to the cairn and back took us just under 4 hours.
Am I disappointed? Yes and no. It’s always disappointing not to finish what you start but the object of our walks was never to climb every hill in Scotland. It was to get out in the fresh air, get some exercise and see the scenery. We learned a lot though!
PS I should point out that Fatdog and I have done 4 hillwalks and have not, as yet, seen any scenery worth speaking of! How can anyone pick the week’s worst weather 4 times out of 4!!
Guess why there are no photos!!!!!