Recently we took advantage of good autumn weather for an ascent of Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas, which tower above Loch Tay. With the shorter days we packed the night before and set off early to give ourselves the time we needed. The drive along the Tay valley was dismal, with thick fog for most of the journey. We were beginning to feel a little disheartened as we approached the turn off to the carpark at the start, but the rapid climb left the cloud far below in the valley bottom and we were treated to blue skies all day.
Whilst Ben Lawers is the 10th highest Munro, it has a high start so the whole route has around 800 m of ascent and is about 11km in length. This is great for us, as it is about our son’s limit for a single day at present.
The walk starts with a meander through a nature reserve, where there is an effort to re-plant many of the trees that would have, long ago, covered this area. At the top of the nature reserve the ascent starts in earnest. The route leads sharply uphill, on good path to the top of Beinn Ghlas. This gives a great viewpoint of the second munro of the day along the ridge leading to Ben Lawers. We made the first summit in about 2 hours, which is a good time for us on any day, let alone with our son. The increase in his capabilities this year is amazing to see!
We continued slightly downwards along the ridge towards the climb to Ben Lawers. At the saddle there was a strong temptation to turn down the descent path, but we decided to stick to our original plan as we were all doing well, and pushed up the steep climb. Again the path is good, if a little constructed compared to many of the hills here. The one downside of these made paths is the size and number of rock steps that have been put in. Have you seen Kung Fu Panda? With Po and his “old nemesis, stairs”? That’s pretty much how Stacey felt which had our son in hysterics laughing at her as he nimbly pootled on up.
We reached the summit of Ben Lawers before the main rush, and were tucked in some shelter from the cooling breeze as the top busied up. After a lunch stop we began our descent. The initial part went quickly, passing quite a few people, saying hello to everyone as we went. When we reached the saddle again we took the descent path, which contours around the bottom of Beinn Ghlas. This route is relatively easy going, but as we got to the end of this path and began to see the car in the distance tiredness began to hit.
Luckily we were distracted by farmers rounding up their sheep during most of this part of the descent, fascinated at the speed both the dogs and farmers moved over the hills whilst shouting ‘round them up’ to guide the dogs along.
As we approached the top of the nature reserve again our son hit the tired wall, and the inevitable foot ache became too much for him. Fortunately, we had brought his trainers in case this happened, and so were happy to switch his shoes over for the dry and simple final section. As we walked down near the end of the day, we passed a couple walking uphill wildlife spotting in the nature reserve. Our son piped up that he hoped they would be safe as it was getting a bit late in the day to get to the top and back before dark. Such wisdom at his age! The couple reassured our son that they were out on a shorter walk, and so we carried on.
We reached the end, with big grins, tired feet and legs and the happiness that we get from doing larger hill days as a family.
Location: North side of Loch Tay
Length: About 11km, 800m of ascent though the car park starts at about 400m.
Level of difficulty: Quite steep and man-made path means bigger steps. The path is good though, with no overly difficult bits.
Exposure: Very exposed. Small shelter at top of Ben Lawers.
What to wear: Sturdy boots or walking shoes. Remember to pack as for any day out in UK mountains; waterproofs, hats, gloves, extra layers and headtorches.
Kid friendly: We saw another family at the top of Ben Lawers, so it’s a favourite with some. It is a long way though, but you’ll have some idea of your kids abilities. We took the back carrier, only because of the days getting shorter and knew we would manage should we have taken a little longer to get to the top and needed to make a quick descent with him in the back.
Best time to visit: Longer days during the summer months means you can ogle the views for a bit longer which we can certainly recommend. The car park does get busy though so getting there early would also be an idea. There are some information boards by the car park which provide info about early settlements and the type of rocks you can find here which was really interesting.
Any tips: The road up to the car park isn’t gritted during colder months, and we have had it before where we have gone up to go sledging there, only to have to turn around as it was like sheet ice! Take care!