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Benvane from Brig O’Turk

With the snow already hitting the North East of Scotland with a vengeance, this had turned out to be the last real walking day (until the snow subsides at least) of the year so far.  Benvane was the choice –  a little brother of the better known Ben Ledi, though far less accessible.  Our starting point of choice was Brig O’Turk, the intention to walk up alongside the Glen Finglas Reservoir and then strike up the long ridge to the summit.  The weather at the bottom was clear and cold, but with very little wind.  In fact, things were remarkably still, allowing just a base layer shirt and bodywarmer to keep the heat in, with the rest of the cold weather gear being stowed in the packs.

From the car park at the bottom of Glen Finglas it was a walk in of around 4km to where we would strike off up the hill, an easy walk along first a mettled road which turned into track at a farm seemingly owned by the woodland trust.

Glen Finglas Reservior with Meall Cala in the background

We crossed the river Allt Ghleann Casaig then struck up towards Benvane along the ridge to the South of the summit.  With no clear track this was stamina sapping ground, large grass tussocks making things uncomfortably difficult.  The initial climb is quite steep, and once clear of the fenced ground there were a number of crags (complete with rapidly retreating Red Deer) to be negotiated. This resulted in a rather grassy scramble up between two rocky outcrops leaving me sitting in a breathless heap at the top.  The compensation was some fine views of Glen Finglas and Gleann nam Meann which were steadily improving as we gained height.

Some contouring was the order of the day up the final steep section and it was with some relief that we gained the first of three plateaus.  The grass up here had been frozen and the effect was almost like walking on newly laid snow; it was just as hard work!  Fortunately there were animal tracks here and there, always heading in the right general direction, which made our passage slightly easier.  This was until they petered out, returning the walk to a slog over the frozen tussocks.

Eventually, and with some relief, we stumbled across what looked like a walkers path – obviously rarely used, but with just enough traffic to maintain a good walking surface.  It is amazing the difference this can make to a walkers speed and we seemed to be flying along.  This continued up the hill and it was nice to be able to concentrate on the views opening up on both sides.  To the North West, Ben More and Stobinian were completely covered in snow, only around 400m higher than Benvane, standing out spectacularly from the surrounding hills.  Overhead, while it was clear above, rather menacing looking clouds were hanging over Ben Vorlich to the North East and beyond – possibly the vanguard of the current weather conditions!

Eventually an old fence line is met coming from the ridge that connects with Ben Ledi.  With the increase in height there are a few patches of snow, lingering from the previous fall that have turned to solid ice.  In many places it was easier to walk on the frozen snow than over the stamina sapping grass tussocks.  With the height gain, the temperature had been dropping rapidly although we had long since donned the cold weather gear, a biting wind having appeared from the North East.  A sheltered spot was found for  lunch, a short distance below the summit, the sweat turning cold uncomfortably quickly.

Looking back down the ridge to Glen Finglas Reservior

The last 50m up to the summit was a rapid affair, the wind up here incredibly cold and vicious.  This is the coldest I have ever been on the hills and a conservative estimate would put it below -10°C.  Even with the gloves on all my fingers had gone numb and my face felt as if it had just been given a local anaesthetic by the dentist.  Unsurprisingly we didn’t linger and beat a hasty retreat back the way we had come.

Ben Ledi, looking glorious in the light.

The initial plan had been to come off the hill to the West of the summit, a steep drop into the glen below and a long walk back along the farm track to the car.  I dislike steep descents, mainly due to a couple of dodgy knees, so the decision was made to follow the ridge round towards Ben Ledi and follow a hill track that dropped right down the length of Gleann Casaig to the Woodland Trust farm at the Reservoir.

The fence line was followed round onto this ridge, and with the drop in height came a welcome increase in temperature, along with a thawing of the fingers.  Fine views were now to be had looking East, especially up towards Ben Vorlich, which only had a spattering of snow compared to Ben More.  With the wind on our backs this was now fairly pleasant walking as the path wound its way through the abandoned metal fence posts.  As we closed in on Stuc Dhubh where the top of the track started, there were a couple of deep scars that had to be crossed where water has eroded the peat away.  This left a couple of awkward drops and climbs to negotiate before reaching the track.

There is nothing particularly notable about the track, other than that it is a fairly convenient way to get fast access to or from the glen and Reservoir.  As the sun was dropping we were left with some beautiful sun dappled hill sides right around Glen Finglas.  As an added bonus as we reached the farm at the bottom of the hill we had a few minutes entertainment as a quad bike chased a cow over the banks of the Reservoir, along with a chorus of Moos from the spectating cows in the field next to us.  All that remained was the 4km walk back to the car in the waning light.

A change of clothes and coffee later we were back in the car and heading to the Lade Inn at Kilmahog, a short distance up the road towards Callander.  This is a superb pub.  They brew their own beer, and have a shop at the side that sells real ale from many of Scotlands smaller breweries.  If that isn’t enough, they have a regular set of folk bands playing in the pub and live music most weekends.  I have added a link on the links page.

Day Rating – 7/10

Cold and a real slog.  Probably not the best route choice, but the first ridge was airy and gave some fantastic all round views.  That’s not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable day, and it’s always nice to sit by an open fire and sample the quite stunning pint of ‘Lade Out’ in the Pub.  In the summer, with a bit more time and light, a round including Benvane and Ben Ledi would make a fantastic days walk in either direction.

The last of the light on Meall Cala

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