Worth the effort!
Previous ascent - unexpected encounters
The 2004 climb - and a Highland cow!
At the top - the snowy summit
The route back - past a small waterfall
Panoramic view of the summit
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Worth the effort!
This is a prominent mountain in central Scotland, overlooking the popular tourist village of Callander lying to the south-east. Callander was once famous as the setting for the first series of Dr Finlay’s Casebook television adaptations. Although munro-baggers may sniff at its height, just below the magic figure of 3000 feet, its fine shape and 2500 feet of ascent, and the expansive view from the summit, make it a worthy objective.
In scale and accessibility it’s more like a Lake District peak than its higher Scottish counterparts, and the trail is clear for most of the route. With no long walk-in, it’s suitable for a shorter winter hike or for someone looking for a first “serious” Scottish mountain climb. In all these respects, Callander’s Ben Ledi is rather similar to Pitlochry’s Ben Vrackie, another shapely mountain of similar height.
The first time I climbed it, back in January 1999, a group of us from work were as usual looking for a relatively short climb at New Year, and this fitted the bill. It's a good time to go hiking, to clear the head, but the days are short. I couldn’t recall if we got much of a view from the top, but found a diary note which indicated that we had to cope with snow showers along the way - not unlike the second climb, described below.
Two particular aspects of the day stand out.
The first was that when we arrived at the car park at the start of the walk, I met someone whom I had first met just a few days earlier at a Boxing Day gathering over in Fife, and I’ve never seen him since! It was one of those strange coincidental encounters we sometimes get when hillwalking in the small country that is Scotland. (My diary note reminds me that when we called in to the Laid Inn at Kilmahog for a pint on the way back, I bumped into a colleague from work whom I’d not seen for a long time, as well.)
I also remember this walk as the first time I’ve seen someone using a GPS navigation instrument. Walter had got one for Christmas I think; anyway, he was keen to try it out! I’m sure the information from it suggested we were positioned somewhere above the summit of the mountain! Despite their apparent popularity, I’ve only seen a GPS instrument in use once since then, when a running colleague used one to calculate the distance we had gone on a long run along the Sidlaw Hills into Perth in 2002.
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The 2004 climb
It’s easier to remember what happened on the more recent walk, a couple of years ago in March 2004. Catriona had been in Japan the previous year, and a friend of hers called Hirome was travelling around Scotland and had come to visit. She wanted a genuine Scottish mountain experience, but we weren’t sure of her level of fitness and there was a risk of wintry weather, so we decided on Ben Ledi. It’s less than an hour and a half’s drive from Dundee, a similar journey to Glenshee, but probably offered more enjoyable walking for a novice.
It was a bright sunny morning, but chilly, with snow picking out the mountain tops. On the way out of Callander on the A84 there was an unexpected bonus when we spotted Highland cattle in a field next to a woollen mill shop on the right. It gave Hirome the chance to get her photo taken with one of the beasts.
From there it wasn’t much further to drive up towards the southern end of Loch Lubnaig through the narrow wooded Pass of Leny. Before reaching the loch itself, about 3 miles from Callander, there’s a turning to the left over a narrow bridge, and left on the other side into a small car park. This is also the car park for the short walk downstream to the Falls of Leny.
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The footpath up Ben Ledi starts goes up to the left, with the end of the bridge on your right. It’s quite steep at first, up through the forest, then continues through an area where the trees have been cleared. Even on a chilly day it was warm work climbing up, and both girls were storming ahead with youthful vigour!
There was a section made up almost like a staircase, and we soon gained height. After climbing up above the cleared area the track reached the foot of the steeper rocky mountainside, and turned to the left. We stopped there for a rest and a drink, and saw a figure walking towards us, edging around the steeper rocky slopes. He had his dog with him, and was trying to round up some sheep.
We continued up the steady climb, on a good path, and reached the south eastern ridge of the mountain where we had to turn right, heading north-west up towards the summit. Suddenly the wind hit us – as it so often does on a ridge – and we sought some shelter to put on our waterproofs. It wasn’t a moment too soon, as the snow started coming down blowing into our faces. Heads down, we walked onwards and upwards against the wind.
There was a little snow underfoot, but not enough to make walking difficult. We had to peek out from under our hoods to find the route over and around the rocky outcrops leading up to the top; despite the low elevation, there were several false summits along the way. Fortunately the snow shower soon eased off, so that we could see across towards the peaks in the west, and the massive bulk of Ben Lomond was prominent in the distance. The snowline was very clearly marked out on the distant mountains by the fresh snowfall. The March sunlight came through, and was bright enough to give some dramatic views as we arrived at the summit, with the squally showers blowing past us.
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At the top
We found a bit of shelter to have some lunch near the summit, but we soon got chilled and didn’t stop for long. As soon as we were ready to set off again, another squally shower blew in, and we had to hang onto each other to keep on our feet.
Ben Ledi has an attractive curving east face, and we edged along the summit ridge around the top of this, to where we could look back up at the summit. We had a good view of the small cornice – it’s a mountain feature that’s always a bit of a treat to see up close in Scotland, but which can spell danger if you’re not aware you’re walking on one! The latest snow shower had blown past by now, and we paused for photos. (see the panoramic view of the summit, below)
Then we went further along the rounded northern shoulder, descending gently, and had to look out for a route back down into the glen to our right. We were less exposed to the wind now, but light snow flakes blew around us as we turned to the right (east) down a fairly steep grassy slope, less than a mile from the summit.
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The route back
It took us a while to pick our way down on the slippery grass, although we were below the level of lying snow. We reached a fence, with a gate through onto a roadway running all the way round the head of the glen and back down the other side. This was the Stank Glen – not the most appealing name – where there had been a lot more forestry clearance. We followed the roadway to the right, then took another wide roadway that led off, again to the right.
As it bent round the slope of the hillside to the right, a track led off on the left, more steeply down through the forest. It passed a viewpoint overlooking a small waterfall. Usually with waterfalls like this, they arelovely to look at but very difficult to capture a decent photo through the branches. On this occasion, some of the trees seemed to have been knocked to one side, opening up the view.
Then we continued down across another forest road, and through more trees until we reached a collection of cottages at Stank close to the southern end of Loch Lubnaig. It had been an easy descent, although some care was needed on the steeper grassy sections coming off the ridge.
We turned right when we reached the roadway at Stank, and I crossed over the rough ground to the riverbank to try to get an atmospheric photo of the branches hanging over the water (again without much success). Then I had to catch up with the other two, and we completed the mile or so back along the road to the car park. It was still early afternoon – just about 4 hours after we had set out.
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