Sunshine? On a bank holiday? Well, it would’ve been rude not to head up to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs for a spot of Munro-bagging. Our targets: Ben Vorlich and Stùc a’ Chroin. (Confusingly, there are two Ben Vorlichs in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Here, I’m talking about the one located due south of Loch Earn.)
We set off reasonably early, and pulled into a parking space a little past 09.00. Thick fog hung over the loch, completely obscuring the surrounding mountains. From the parking area, it was a short walk across a small stone bridge and up the rhododendron-fringed driveway which leads to Ardvorlich House and the start of the trail.
We layered up and headed into the fog, hoping it would lift before too long. Although I’ve done plenty of hikes in sub-par weather, I still find it somewhat disorienting not to be able to see more than fifteen or so metres beyond me in any direction. On the plus side, the visibility wasn’t too shoddy (my Duke of Edinburgh practice expedition in the Peak District eight years ago, when we had heavy snow at Easter, is still by some margin the poorest visibility I’ve experienced), and the path up to the summit of Ben Vorlich is very well-defined. You’d have to try pretty darn hard to lose the path, since it’s pretty much a straight line to the summit.
Onwards and upwards: past a sheepdog rounding up sheep; past trees covered in lacy cobwebs, laden with dew; across small streams. And then, all of a sudden, we were above the fog. Peaks emerged on the horizon, piercing the fog, and blue skies lay ahead.
We gained height steadily, winding our way over the grassy flanks of the mountain. We were probably only three or so kilometres from the road, but it felt gloriously remote: hills as far as the eye could see, and not a trace of civilisation in sight.
Towards the summit, the path becomes steeper and rockier; sturdy boots make this section a lot more comfortable. We stopped at the trig point (985m) to take in the views: a sliver of Loch Earn to the north; peaks poking through the cloud to the east; the craggy lump that is Stùc a’ Chroin to the south; and hills upon hills upon hills to the west.
A little further along the summit ridge, there’s a small cairn. We found a reasonably sheltered spot, and stopped to refuel. Hello sandwiches (two each, because it’s better to be safe than sorry when packing food supplies), fruit and caramel wafers (for a much needed sugar-boost).
Stùc a’ Chroin beckoned. We headed back along the ridge, and descended via a path to the south-west. From a distance, Stùc a’ Chroin is a hulking mass of rock.
Up close, it’s a hulking mass of splintered rock, with boulders strewn around it.
We picked our way through the boulders, occasionally losing the narrow track as we sought a more stable route round. From the eastern side of Stùc a’ Chroin, there’s a stellar view over the valley: spidery tributaries extended across the valley floor, each feeding into a stream which ran down the middle of the valley and disappeared into the horizon.
Past the boulders, the track – little more than twenty or so centimetres across – zigzagged up the side of the mountain. If you don’t have a head for heights and/or prefer somewhat wider paths, I’d recommend ascending and descending Stùc a’ Chroin via the path on its eastern side (which is marked on the OS OL46 map).
We both breathed a sigh of relief when we hit sturdier ground. We stopped to chat with another couple who’d ascended via the same route, and then continued along the ridge to the cairns which mark the summit (995m).
From the summit of Stùc a’ Chroin, we had views over Lochan a’ Chroin to the south and back towards Ben Vorlich. We lingered awhile at the summit before retracing our footsteps along the ridge and descending via the main path. It was pretty steep, and I ended up crouching to clamber down it (graceful, I am not).
We decided to return to Ardvorlich via a well-trodden grassy track around the western flank of Ben Vorlich. Unfortunately for us, what started off as a well-trodden grassy track soon morphed into a grassy track with bits of bog, and then into bursts of full-blown bog. We all know how We’re Going on a Bear Hunt goes, and that’s pretty much what happened here.
We couldn’t go over it. We couldn’t go under it. We had to go through it. Oh, the joys of trying to hop across boggy patches without sliding on your derrière. I wish I could say we succeeded, but we didn’t. Or rather, Laurence didn’t: one particularly squelchy bit of bog had him on the floor, and he ended up caked in bog. Lovely. (I almost lost my footing later on, but managed to right myself before I too ended up looking like a muddy bog creature.)
We were there on a dry day, so I dread to think what those bogs would be like after lashings of rain. If I were to hike this route again, I’d go back over the top of Ben Vorlich and down the nice path. Once we rejoined that, it was only a couple of kilometres down to Loch Earn.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Parking | There’s a small amount of free parking in Ardvorlich, to the west of a small stone bridge; as a guide, when we arrived at 09.00 on a bank holiday there were just a few (rather muddy and better suited to a 4WD) spots left. Don’t be that twerp that parks in a passing place: this road is ridiculously narrow, and there are passing places for a reason.
- Facilities | None. Nada. Zilch. Come prepared for a walk with no toilets, cafés or other facilities. Lochearnhead and Strathyre, both around five miles away in opposite directions, are the closest villages with any amenities to speak of.
- Maps and guides | OS Explorer OL46 covers both Ben Vorlich and Stùc a’ Chroin. Walk Highlands’ guide to Ben Vorlich and Stùc a’ Chroin is also a handy point of reference, as it includes a step-by-step guide to the route with photos.
- Distance | 16.12km/10.1 miles; 1,214m of elevation gain.
- Misc. | The route up Ben Vorlich and Stùc a’ Chroin is very exposed, and there’s nowhere to shelter if the weather turns for the worse or the mercury rises. Bring layers, waterproofs and sunblock (or on a sunny and windy day, you’ll end up resembling a tomato like yours truly).