Arguably second only to Ben Nevis as the most popular Scottish hill, walkers are advised to avoid Ben Lomond in summer and at weekends. Up and away early on a beautiful, late autumnal midweek day, I was the first to arrive at the car park.
I last climbed Ben Lomond with Jimbo four years ago, a dog-assisted visit by way of the tourist path. Once on to the open hillside, as requested by the livestock sign, Jimbo’s two springer spaniels were put on the lead; one for Jimbo and one for me. The dogs, keen to get to the summit, almost pulled us up the grand path.
This time on my own, and despite numerous stops to admire the views, take photos and chat to other walkers on the way down, I was pleased with my road-to-road time of four hours.
It takes a surprisingly long time to drive from Drymen to the Rowardennan parking area by the shoreline. Parking is pay and display costing £1 for one hour, £3 all day. Be aware that you will need the requisite change. Welcome to Ben Lomond, a National Trust for Scotland Site of Special Scientific Interest, holding the most southerly Munro.
The tourist path has a steady gradient, firstly through forest, then on to the open hillside, followed by a steeper climb to Sron Aonaich, at 577m the southern nose of a gentler grassy ridge. I passed a herd of black cattle on the lower slopes and later I was overtaken by a young Frenchman, intent on claiming Ben Lomond as his first Munro; an interesting choice considering that it is the second most popular hill on which to complete a round of Munros. He was fully aware not to expect such good weather every time on the Scottish hills.
The slope steepens to the small summit ridge and the path goes NNW between some rocky outcrops. I came across a clutch of ptarmigan, a reminder of the well-named Ptarmigan Ridge which lies further west; a route second only to the tourist path in terms of popularity.
A much copied name around the world, thanks to expatriate Scots, Ben Lomond, an anglicisation of Beinn Laomainn, may well mean beacon hill.
The 974m/3,192ft summit, a small area of exposed rock bed, is a wonderful isolated viewpoint on a good day, and it is easy to understand why it is graced with a trig point. Briefly I had it all to myself, a very rare occurrence indeed. Loch Lomond was like a mill-pond and thanks to overnight rain I had distant views of crystal clarity, down to the widening island-studded Loch Lomond and to the east to beautiful Gleann Dubh, and the more demanding north-east ridge climbed from Comer.
On the way down on the previous visit, when having the dogs on leads was definitely not a help, we came across the usual horde of hillwalkers including a German couple who had taken the train from Glasgow to Balloch, then cycled the long and undulating route to Rowardennan. We were impressed with their green credentials. This time it was almost as busy. I passed more than 100 walkers of varying sizes and fitness.
Especially when nearing the car park at lunchtime, it is difficult to answer when asked – how long will it take to get to the top?
I was impressed by one hill runner making steady uphill progress; considerably less so with a couple of either daft or stupid mountain bikers pushing their bikes in anticipation of the descent. I cannot imagine that would be good for either path or grassy hillside.