BEN A’AN, TROSSACHS

ScotRail use a pic of the top of Ben A’an as a way of enticing folk to travel to the mountainous areas of Scotland, despite the fact that the nearest train station is more than 20 miles away. But you can see why; this is a proper pointed little mountain in miniature with views from the rocky summit down Loch Katrine to the Arrochar Alps in the east. Ben Venue is across the head of the loch and the huge bulk of Ben Ledi is to the east. South are the Campsies and to the north are the mountains above Crianlarich.

Take your time to enjoy this view, it is one of the best in Scotland.

Good path work means the way up is easy enough, even one very steep section is really a staircase of rock and enveloped in a gorge which means there is no feeling of exposure to height. I took my daughter up here when she was in P1 – one of the best Friday afternoons I have ever had.

Do remember to make sure you keep up with the latest coronavirus restrictions; if you are not allowed to travel, don’t – even a walk in beautiful countryside is not worth the risk.

DISTANCE: 3 miles / 5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,250ft / 380m.

TIME: 2 to 2½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 57.

PARK: A couple of miles west of Brig o’Turk on the A821 there is a Forestry Commission car park for Ben A’an, on the left.

If travelling over the Duke’s Pass from Aberfoyle, the car park is on the right a few hundred yards after the turning for Loch Katrine.

THE ROUTE: Cross the road from the car park and go up a wide track on the other side. When the track bends left go straight on, up steeply on a newly built path.
The path veers left as it nears the tumbling waters of Allt Inneir then continues steeply until a gratefully-reached flat section, before you cross the burn via a wooden footbridge. 
The path then continues uphill a short way before levelling out as Ben A’an appears ahead. Don’t be daunted by its pointy appearance, the way up is a lot easier than it looks.
The path carries on across clear-felled ground then enters a band of birch woodland below the crags around the summit.
After a small clearing the path climbs steeply again, by a small burn which you cross, before levelling off and doubling back to reach the summit.
After spending time exploring the summit rocks most return the way they came and this is the easiest option. An alternative is to head to the north and west to reach the shore of Loch Katrine. This, however, is pretty rough terrain and can be very wet underfoot.

MEALL A’ BHUACHAILLE, CAIRNGORMS

Meall a’Bhuachaille is proof that a “proper” mountain in Scotland does not have to be a Munro. The top is a fantastic viewpoint of the rugged northern ranges of the Cairngorm mountains which form a wall of corries and ridges above Loch Morlich.

The way up is steep-ish but there is nothing technical to worry about. In Winter, it can be icy enough for ice axe and crampons to be needed but if you choose your day correctly most fit walkers will get up with no problem!

Remember the Covid restrictions currently in place; the walks will still be there when all this is over so for now, if you have to stay put, do so in the knowledge you are keeping yourself and those around you safe.

DISTANCE: 5½ miles / 9km.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,600ft / 490m.
TIME: 4 to 5 hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 36.
PARK: Take the B970 from Aviemore, then go through the Rothiemurchus forest to Loch Morlich and park at its eastern end in the Glenmore visitor centre car park.

THE ROUTE: Behind the visitor centre, take a steep path – signed for Meall a’ Bhuachaille – up through the trees. The burn should be on your left. After about 250 yards the gradient eases and another path is reached. Go left, and continue up, to emerge above the forestry plantation with Creagan Gorm to the left and Meall a’ Bhuachaille to the right. The obvious path continues up to a ridge. Turn right here and follow the twisting path up to the summit at 2,657ft (810m).
The path leaves the eastern side of the summit, quickly going to the right.  The route drops down to the Ryvoan bothy and a walk through the valley back to Glenmore. Turn right at the bothy and follow the track down for half a mile, to An Lochan Uaine – it is worth dropping down (where safe to do so) to see the turquoise waters close up.
Continue down the main track, ignoring a path to the right. After another mile, ignore a track on the left. Then, at a green metal gate, take the track to the right, past the Glenmore Lodge outdoor and mountain rescue centre.
Follow the track above a minor road and at its end go right to return to the visitor centre.

The Merrick, Galloway

Robert the Bruce liked the isolation of the Galloway hills – above Loch Trool he was victorious over the English in 1307 using guerrilla tactics seven years before Bannockburn. It is still a wonderfully out of the way place, a feeling enhanced by the names given to the landscape such as the Awful Hand Range (which The Merrick sits on), Curleywee and the Rig of the Gloon.

The Merrick is the highest point in the Southern Uplands at 2,766 feet, and the route up is a good hill walk – perfect for those who want to go a little higher but without the concern of scrambling on rocks or along narrow ridges. It was once something of a bog festival but good path work makes it far easier, nevertheless it is often wet underfoot higher up, even in dry weather so a good pair of boots is needed.

Do remember to make sure you keep up with the latest coronavirus restrictions; if you are not allowed to travel, don’t – even a walk in beautiful countryside is not worth the risk.

DISTANCE: 8 miles / 13km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 2,500ft / 760m.

TIME: 4½ to 5½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 77.

PARK: Turn off the A714 about 9 miles north of Newton Stewart and follow a minor road for two miles to Glentrool village. Just after it, turn right to reach the Glentrool Visitor Centre. Bruce’s Stone car park, the start of the walk, is just over three miles past the visitor centre at the end of a single-track road.

THE ROUTE: At the end of the car park, follow a stone path going off to the left, next to an information board about the Merrick. The path climbs up through ferns and then runs parallel to the waterfalls of the Buchan Burn.
After passing through a wooden kissing gate, the gradient levels off for a short while, before a sign directs you left to the “high” path up the Merrick, and the route becomes steep again.
After bearing right, the path levels off and follows the edge of a felled forestry plantation before going left through the discarded trunks and branches of the trees, as well as some new growth.
The path then drops down and reaches Culsharg bothy. Go past this to the left and follow the path up to a forestry track, where you turn right and cross over the Whiteland Burn.
Turn left almost immediately afterwards, off the track and on to another path signposted to the “Merrick Climb”. It is very steep going as you climb up through the trees, but after a few hundred yards, you reach the edge of the forest and open moorland. An obvious path goes up and veers to the right, reaching a wooden kissing gate – this is just over halfway.
Carry on up the stone path which bears right before a wall and then becomes grassy and muddy. It is then not far to the cairn at the top of Benyellary – just after the path and wall bear left.
Ahead, the path drops along the broad grass ridge called Neive of the Spit, above the Scars of Benyellary, before rising up. About 150 yards further on, the path goes right, away from the wall, to cross the Broads of Merrick and reach the summit itself, with its stone shelter and trig point.
It is worth walking around the broad summit to look down the surrounding glens, as well as enjoying the distant views.
You can descend via Loch Enoch, but it is far easier to retrace your steps to the car park.

POLKEMMET COUNTRY PARK, WEST LOTHIAN

This is a time of lockdowns and restrictions and it is important to keep within them if we are to stay as safe as possible. For those of us in West Lothian it means any walking has to be done within the county boundary, so this is a walk for us! It is great for all the family from tots to grandparents with the route on flat ground, if a little rough underfoot in places. The work of 19th century plant hunter David Douglas is there to be seen in the grand fir trees which line the burbling River Almond at Polkemmet Country Park. But as well as the woodland, river and birdsong, man-made enjoyment can be had, especially for children – there is a great playpark as well as the Polkemmet Horn, used by many parents driving along the adjacent M8 to indicate to their offspring where Teletubbies live. It is actually an art installation which was erected in 1997. So, enjoy!

DISTANCE: 4 miles / 6.5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: Negligible.

TIME: 1 to 1½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 65.

PARK: Leave the M8 by junction 4A west of Whitburn and follow the B7066 towards Harthill. Polkemmet Country Park is on the right, after the series of roundabouts next to the junction.

THE ROUTE: Go to the left side of the country park’s reception (just beyond the car park) and follow a track going to the right – not straight on to a golf driving range. The track drops down by the side of a golf course then swings right. At a junction go left then go right at the next junction to enter woodland.

Ignore a path going right and keep straight ahead to reach a pond. Keep going right, around the pond, to reach a surfaced track, where you go left.

Walk past a bridge over the infant River Almond and continue on the track to see the Polkemmet Horn close up. Return to the bridge and cross it, following an obvious path on the other side to a junction, where you go right. At the next junction go left to walk up the side of the river and past a mausoleum for the Baillie family who once owned the estate.

After going up steps you can turn right to shorten the walk and return to the car park. To keep striding out go left to follow a track which skirts the golf course. The track swings right (keep right at a junction) and continues as you cross a burn. After swinging right again the track makes a loop to re-cross the burn before reaching the country park’s main drive. Go right to return to the car park.

EAST LOMOND, FIFE

East Lomond is only 1,424 feet high, not even as big as its near neighbour  – West Lomond, but the walk up will give your lungs a wee workout and the views from the top are excellent, west to the Ochil Hills, south to the Southern Uplands and north to the Highlands.

DISTANCE: 2½ miles / 4km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,250ft / 380m.

TIME: 1½ to 2½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 58 and 59.

PARK: There is plenty of parking in the centre of Falkland.

THE ROUTE: Leave the centre of Falkland by going up Cross Wynd, which starts at the Bruce Fountain. At the top of the road follow a track into woodland, keeping right when a track goes left to a cottage. Shortly after this go left, up steps which lead you to a path past a Scottish Water plant.

Keep going uphill and at the next junction go straight ahead, following a sign for “Footpath to Lomond Hills.” After a few hundred yards a series of steps lead up to the top of the woodland and a gate. Go through this to reach open hillside and follow a path to the right which heads straight for the obvious dome of East Lomond ahead.

The path leads to a gate and on the other side a steep clamber awaits. You can go straight up the hillside in front of you or head left before turning right for an easier gradient. Either way leads to the view indicator at the summit. And the views really are excellent – from Arthur’s Seat, across the Firth Forth, to the south, to Highland Perthshire and Angus, across the Firth of Tay, to the north.

There are many paths around here but if the aim of the day is a short, winter walk up to a great point then the best option is to return the way you came.

BEN CHONZIE, PERTHSHIRE

This is a great starter Munro, easy to follow tracks and paths take you up to brilliant views encompassing the Beinn a’Ghlo range to the north east, north to Ben Lawers and east to Ben More, while the Trossachs lay to the south west with the Campsies and Ochils further round to the south.

As ever at this time of year, be sure to be prepared for winter conditions and be ready to turn back – it will always be there for another day.

Also, make sure you keep up with the latest coronavirus restrictions, even a walk up a wonderful mountain is not worth the risk.

DISTANCE: 7½ miles /12 km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 2,350ft / 716m.

TIME: 4 to 5 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 51.

PARK: At the western end of Comrie turn off the A85 at the Deil’s Cauldron restaurant (following a sign for “Glenlednock”). There is a parking area 4½ miles down the minor road, on the right.

THE ROUTE: To start the walk, follow a track on the right leading from the parking area away from the road. On reaching some cottages at Coishavachan go right, in front of them, and then through a large metal gate.

On the other side of the gate go left and follow a track up the Invergeldie glen. After a few hundred yards the track crosses the Invergeldie Burn before going through a metal gate and then turning sharp right to climb more steeply.

After passing through another metal gate the track drops down to re-cross the burn, below a small dam, and then climbs up again on the other side.

At a fork in the track go left and climb up onto heather-clad moorland. After fording a small burn via stepping stones ignore a track going off to the left and keep straight on, climbing up to the broad southern slopes of Ben Chonzie.

About a mile further on (before the top of the ridge has been reached) look out for a small cairn on the left of the track – on a right hand bend.

Go left here, onto a boggy path which fords a small burn and then heads steeply uphill.

Ignore sheep tracks crossing the path and keep going up, bearing right after a while.

Eventually you reach some stone grouse butts and beyond them a line of old metal fence posts. These lead up, turning sharp right after a few hundred yards, to the summit and its large stone shelter.

Take plenty of time to enjoy the view before retracing your steps to the start.