Ben Lomond is Scotland’s most popular Munro. The reason for this lies in it’s convenience. Now, being “a convenient mountain” doesn’t sounds like a great accolade, in fact it sounds a bit disrespectful to this nearly 1000 metre mound but here’s why it’s so popular and how to join in:-
To put Ben Lomond in perspective, it’s 974m / 3196ft and Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Britain, is 1344m / 4406ft.
The name is Scots Gaelic and means Beacon Mountain. It is situated on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, the most southerly Munro just 36 miles / 58km from Glasgow (Scotland’s biggest city). Beacons send a signal to watchers and Ben Lomond’s signal definitely proclaim “Here come the Highlands!” to the weekend city-escapees.
Sidenote: Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond are often spelled as Lomand or Lommond. Both are incorrect – it’s spelled “Lomond” and pronounced “low-mohnd”.
A little tradition that I’ve noticed is for Glaswegians to climb Ben Lomond on Boxing Day. In the frost or snow, the view down to Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest loch, is beautiful and a brilliantly refreshing walk to burn off around 3,000 Christmas calories.
Ben Lomond’s a good height – it takes around 6 hours at a leisurely pace with stops included to go up and down – it’s a full day’s activity but not so much that it is exhausting. It’s an easy route to change your mind and turn back, unlike some of the more rugged Munros where you need to really commit to completing a section (think Aonach Eagach pinnacles). A lot of people take the route from the car park, up through the trees onto the first plateau just to enjoy the view, take photographs and come back down again without getting on to the steeper sections.
The route leaves Rowardennan car park (£3 for 24 hour parking which money goes to the National Park trust), and then heads up through the trees. The car park is right on the edge of Loch Lomond’s east shore and on the West Highland Way walking route. The car park has a stone building with free toilets and a small changing / waiting area with benches as well as leaflets and local information.
The eastern shore of Loch Lomond is protected by (controversial) byelaws – these are localised camping restrictions in place from 1st March to 31st October inclusive each year. During this period it is an offence to camp in the restricted zone, day or night, except in the 3 designates campsites along the shore – Milarrochy Bay, Cashel and Sallochy. The byelaws also stop you from parking in or staying overnight in the passing places on the single track road along the shore. You can be fined up to £500 per breach …and it’s likely that you will be caught and fined – the area’s well patrolled by Police and Park Rangers.
The path is very good and is well maintained by volunteers and by Loch Lomond and the Trossach’s National Park service mostly to stop soil erosion – to give you an idea of how bad it got – at one point the “path” was apparently 25 metres wide, a bare strip in the otherwise green (summer) or burnt orange and purple (autumn) landscape. It’s now down to about 1 metre wide which keeps the damage caused by walkers to a minimum. The path is made of sand, gravel and large stones embedded into the ground. You’ll need good boots to protect you from twisted ankles. When it rains, and it rains a lot in Scotland, the path is watery from start to finish so be aware of slippery rocks, smoothed from decades of footsteps and rainwater, especially on the way back down.
From the car park, you can’t actually see the mountain so it feels at first like a simple forest walk. If it’s raining, the rain usually feels worse here, big drops slipping off the leaves onto your head and running down your neck but the benefit down here is that you are still sheltered from the wind. There are some forestry operations going on here, and you cross a forestry road at one point.
After the forest section, you come to a tall gate. At the gate, there was a sign in a Scottish dialect:-
Be ye man, bairn or wummin’
Be ye gawin’ or be ye cummin’
Be it theirs or be it yer ain’
pick it up and tak’ it hame!
It wasn’t translated but I’ll do that for you to make it easier to unnerston’ :-
If you’re a man, child or woman
If you’re going or if you’re coming
If it’s theirs or if it’s your own
Pick it up and take it home!
The forest section gives way to an open hill. On your left is Loch Lomond, some big black hairy Galloway coos and occasionally a big handsome bad-boy bull with curly hair and a ring in his nose – a sweetie at heart. They’re placid and won’t bother you. Don’t get between a mother and her calf, just stick to the path (new rhymes for new signs??)
This is the section that people sometimes climb to just to enjoy the views then head back down.
You’re heading straight for the steeper section now and you’ll be able to see (mist permitting) the distinctive jagged path ahead of you. When I hiked up Ben Lomond in October (2016), the weather was predominantly misty. The mist moved quickly and the wind blew into my left ear from Loch Lomond the whole way up, and into my right ear the whole way back down – at least my rosy cheeks were even at the end. I couldn’t see the summit and there were quite a few “false summits” that got hopes up before levelling off into another uphill hike followed by steep section, false summit, repeat.
After a while, you pass through another gate. This gate was referred to as the “Kissing Gate” when I was younger but I couldn’t see any mention of that name on the leaflets or maps so I’m not sure where this came from or if the name is correct / still in use?
When you get near the top, you remember that you’re on a Munro and not just a hill.
The path climbs steeply and there’s also another… yip, a false summit on your right! Don’t be tempted to head straight up to it unless you fancy the view – the real summit is straight ahead of you. At this point, the mountain has fallen off at the eastern side. There’s a big eastern corrie which you couldn’t see from the path until now and you realise that you’re on the side of a slope, which slopes down steeply sideways towards the loch instead of sloping down behind you to the safety of the car park – suddenly you need a head for heights and to be careful of the wind.
The main path is still quite obvious but people have obviously wandered around a bit up here, there are little “fox paths” heading over to peer into the corrie and stand on the smaller moutain tip. I couldn’t (see above, misty October), but YOU can see Loch Chon and Loch Ard (maybe even Loch Arklet and Loch Katrine?) from the summit. National Park and lochs and hills all around.
Unfortunately this was my view, October 2016. Sunny at the bottom but rain, wind, icy hailstones and endless mist at the top:-
There is a territorial raven (crow?) that stalks the summit. He is partial to a rich tea biscuit, and honks like a pig – maybe that’s why he lives alone up there. …Maybe that’s what I’ll be like when I’m old.
The easiest route back down is to retrace the same route. It’s not too exciting to follow the same route back down, but that’s what I did (misty October weather). There is a more adventurous alternative called the Ptarmigan Route. It’s steeper and shorter so quite appealing after the slowly steeper uphill hike of the “tourist path” and definitely something I’ll go back at do, once it’s a bit less misty.
One thing that did surprise me is that we didn’t get midge bitten. Most of the walk is quite exposed. I think the wind kept them away.
There is a memorial sculpture on the slopes of Ben Lomond by Scottish artist Doug Cocker. The mountain, its summit and the surrounding area are also called the Ben Lomond National Memorial Park and is a designated war memorial, dedicated to those who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. They did it for their country and Ben Lomond is a beautiful place to ask that they may now rest in peace.
Have a look a this checklist to find out what to pack and wear whilst walking in Scotland.
By the way, has anyone done the Ptarmigan route? Was it as scenic a saunter as the longer path, or more of a “cheap shortcut” ? Worth going back for?