It’s easy to forget that the highlands begin only 20 miles from Scotland’s largest city. If you’re in the central belt and want a taste of highland mountains and scenery there’s no better place to get it than Ben A’an. A small but steep mountain, it lies only an hour’s drive of Glasgow and can be climbed comfortably in half a day. Although the peak is almost always busy the climb is extremely rewarding, with a 360 degree panorama from the summit including Loch Katrine, Loch Achray and mountains as far as the eye can see.
The walk begins in a Forestry Commission car park on the A821 (there’s a £3 charge – remember to take change) on the northern shore of Loch Achray. Crossing the road you’re confronted with a steep rocky path through the forest which will certainly get your heart pumping!
The forest is dense, which limits the views but keeps you concentrating on the task ahead. On this visit there were quite a few fallen trees and some muddy patches, so what the first part lacks in views it makes up for in entertainment. There are plenty of places to stop off for a rest on the way through the forest if necessary.
As the forest starts to thin out the path flattens out for a spell but don’t get your hopes up, as you’re only half way there. However, as the forest ends you are greeted with a dramatic view of the summit, with it’s southern crags and cliffs giving it an imposing presence.
Just off the path to your left here is a small clearing with nice views across Loch Achray towards Ben Venue. It’s probably wise to have a short break here before you tackle the steepest part of the path up towards the summit. You can often see people climbing on the southern crags of Ben A’an from here as there are good routes for beginners and intermediate climbers.
The next stage is pretty tough. After climbing what is effectively a very long flight of high steps the path levels out a little and passes around the north side of the peak. There are well worn paths onto the eastern and western summit outcrops, both of which provide spectacular views.
To the west there are views over Loch Katrine, taking in Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps.
Ben Venue is to the south and looking east over Loch Achray you can see the Duke’s Pass and the Menteith Hills.
This is the part of Scotland which first inspired the Victorians to travel to the Highlands. Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake is based here, and there are many signs of their influence here today. Although the railways which brought the early tourists are gone, it’s still possible to take a cruise on Loch Katrine. There are two boats, the Sir Walter Scott and Lady of the Lake. The Sir Walter Scott has been sailing on Loch Katrine since 1900 and is as close as you’ll get to an authentic Victorian tourist experience in Scotland. The boats can often be seen (and heard) from the summit of Ben A’an.
There are two main options to return to the car park: retrace your steps or, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, head north from the summit until you meet a fence. Following the fence down the hillside will bring you out on the shores of Loch Katrine, where there are picturesque waterfalls and islands to explore. Following the road you’ll pass the cruise terminal and restaurant, both of which are well worth a visit. A short walk through the Pass of Trossachs will bring you back onto the shores of Loch Achray and you’ll shortly be back at the car park.