A New Year’s Getaway
Scotland’s Southern Highlands
After a chaotic Christmas, I needed a New Year’s getaway to settle into 2018. I found myself exploring Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park to get a small taste of Scotland.
It was a bleak morning. Through the window of the apartment, a misty mirage hovered over the marina. Although the sky was thick with clouds, I set off to venture into Scotland’s Southern Highlands.
I took a little detour to meet and greet some of the locals. They were slightly intimidating at first, especially with their bedraggled looks and large horns – but these Highland Cattle only wanted one thing, and that was a good scratch.
An Arduous Ascent
I began the ascent at 12 o’clock from the carpark that sat just opposite the foot of Ben A’an. The cold air burnt my nostrils, and, although refreshing, I might have inhaled a few dancing winter gnats too.
The route guided you up an endless flight of stairs – an ideal walk for stretching those hamstrings! Built lopsided into the landscape, the uneven steps often called for leaps and bounds to keep on track.
My brief research had misled me, as what I thought was a fairly easy hill walk turned out to have an arduously steep incline, albeit with only about 1500ft of high-burning elevation.
I was a little downhearted by the desolate walk across a felled forest path; the land there appeared apocalyptic. Only skeletons of non-native conifers remained, though in time this removal will make way for more indigenous species.
Reaching the Summit
After a while, the gradient eased and revealed the daunting peak of Ben A’an… A steep staircase of stupefying steps that stretched beyond visibility.
I took a moment to catch my breath, then persevered to continue my trek upwards.
I had been removing layers to cool down along the journey, but the rise in winds and drop in temperature hinted an open expanse – of what was hoped to be the summit. The last few steps demanded dexterity to scramble, especially in this weather. I clambered up rugged rocks, slipping and sliding on specks of ice and snow; trying not to break an ankle or two.
The freezing air hit like a brick to the face. I would have been frozen solid if it weren’t for my down jacket, but my fingers became so numb that I could no longer coordinate the buttons on my camera to capture the sights that surrounded me.
If I were afraid of heights, I’d be thankful for the overcast weather. The fog concealed almost everything.
I could only catch a glimpse of the views for a brief moment at a time. The distant peaks of Ben Venue and the Arrochar Alps emerged momentarily as the fog rolled by, whilst the thick quilt of clouds cloaked the Lochs that laid beneath.
Having lowered my expectations due to the weather, it was mesmerising to stand above the clouds atop an icy summit. I admit, I was initially gutted to not see the iconic sights from the heart of the Trossachs, but instead, I experienced something far more spectacular – an optical phenomenon.
It was an unnerving sight at first: a ghostly figure towered ahead, encompassed by a multicoloured halo of light. I was lost for words. I later realised that this figure was in fact my own obscured shadow, projected in a glorious Brocken Spectre upon the fog in front. Reality slowly slipped away.
Reality snapped back in the blink of an eye. A misplaced foot then led to a tumble. Ice slid beneath the soles of my shoes. A thicket of shrubs softened my fall and I was up on my feet in no time, with only wet trousers to sigh about.
On the descent, the clouds cleared to give way for blue skies and sunshine. With rhythm and momentum, the return journey hopped by quickly.
Water droplets shimmered on the lichen that hung from the trees, knitting sleeves for the bare branches.
The sun soon dipped behind mountaintops, casting a golden glow across the landscape, shortly smothering the surroundings in a darkened light – but by that time I was almost back to my car.
The scarlet sunset then followed in the wingmirrors, almost hidden amongst the evergreens that disappeared with the distance.
Sound good? Find out more at: http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/