PARTLY DUE TO ITS proximity to the central belt, Ben Lomond is one of the most popular Scottish hills and, based on the number of walkers who climb it each year, is arguably second only to Ben Nevis. And yes, Ben Lomond is the second most popular hill on which to complete a round of Munros. Nevertheless the numbers on either hill are considerably less then those climbing various "Furth" Munros such as Helvellyn and Snowdon.
Ben Lomond is not so instantly recognisable as, say, Schiehallion and lacks the popular picture calendar appeal of Buachaille Etive Mor, yet it is a most scenic mountain and a wonderful, isolated viewpoint. The best views are looking down on Loch Lomond and the attractive islands where the loch widens before reaching Balloch. On a good day it is difficult to imagine a better view.
Its Gaelic name of Beinn Laomainn may well mean beacon hill, for its top at 974m/3,192ft, although lying surprisingly back from the loch, at least in terms of walking, can be seen for miles around.
It follows that if you prefer peace and quiet on a hill, the tourist route up Ben Lomond may not be for you. Certainly, in the past I have opted for alternative ways up. Further west of the main path is the Ptarmigan ridge, second only to the tourist path in terms of popularity, with more than 100 walkers tackling it on a good summer's day. For a quieter approach, at least until you are nearly at the trig point, a climb from Comer in beautiful Gleann Dubh, up the albeit more demanding north-east ridge, will appeal.
Nevertheless, for this visit I wanted to have another look at the tourist route. Popularity brings with it problems: crowds of people and resultant erosion. The tourist "path" of old from Rowardennan used to be boggy and uninviting in places. I am glad to say it has been improved immensely.
You will need Ordnance Survey map 56, Loch Lomond & Inveraray area. It is a slow drive on the B837 from Drymen to the road end parking area at Rowardennan at map ref 360984. Although quite a climb from near sea level to the 974m summit, the tourist path has a steady gradient over the three and a half miles, firstly through forest, then on to the open hillside. The forest start, once not immediately obvious, is now well signposted.
Jimbo had taken his two springer spaniels and they bounded gleefully through the trees and then amid large areas of clear fell that enhance the distant views. Once on to the open hillside, as requested by the livestock sign, the dogs were put on lead. One dog for Jimbo and one for me, we were almost pulled up the grand path, the dogs keener than we were in the sultry weather to chase on to the summit.
Even on a late August midweek day the hill was quite busy, but the 100 or so walkers were spaced well apart. Many were family groups and it was pleasing to see them picking a pace to cope with young children. The West Highland Way passes by the start of the walk, yet it appeared that such walkers had too much on their mind to contemplate such a hill detour.
The slope steepens at the summit cone and the path goes between some rocky outcrops. Sometimes on a busy weekend at that point it is almost a case of needing to have traffic lights installed, but not this day.
With the heat, Jimbo and I were glad to have a rest on top and were blessed with atmospheric views down to the attractive islands on Loch Lomond. During a period of wet weather, we were lucky in our choice of both day and hill. The forecast of dry weather with cloud level of around 800m proved to be spot-on.
What about sending a message from the Beacon Hill? The last time I was on Ben Lomond there was a young lady using a mobile phone; this time it was a man. Ugh! My pet hate.
On the way down, having the dogs on lead was definitely not a help; their idea of speed was different from ours and they were happier when we returned to the forest. That is where we came across a German couple just setting out for the hill. They had taken the train from Glasgow to Balloch, then cycled the long and undulating route to Rowardennan. We were impressed with their green credentials.
Map Ordnance Survey map 56, Loch Lomond & Inveraray area
Distance 7 miles
Terrain Excellent path all the way
Start point Rowardennan, Loch Lomond, map ref 360984
Time 4 to 5 hours
Nearest village Drymen
Nearest refreshment spot A good choice by the loch side, but try the Pottery Place, Drymen