open country

I awoke to find the valley swamped by low cloud and heavy rain. The rigs and hilltops are cut off – secretly I want to stay in my bed but I have a certain loyalty to my friends. Our goal is Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin on the south side of Loch Earn just north of Callander.

By the time we reach Newton Grange, we all agree that the weather is just too inclement. The day’s hill walk is cancelled for more pedestrian pursuits in Edinburgh. However from Calton Hill we can see layers of town-scapes and the bases of hills in the far distance. Have we made the wrong decision?

By early afternoon, the rain is torrential again, throwing Edinburgh’s old buildings into the dark gloom of early industrialisation.

I laugh to myself as I remember the last attempt to walk up this mountain. Several years ago, four friends, one false start and then I had to abandon my attempt to walk a young frightened friend off the hill after only a short distance.

When David and I drive up to Loch Earn a month later, the cloud base is high but glowering. Ben Vorlich’s north ridge winds up to the sky and its well-trodden path is visible, rising up above the house and estate buildings of Ardvorlich.

The route to the summit starts up Glen Vorlich but after a short distance, the glen path veers south-east and the mountain path continues due south. For 3km, the route ascends without variation until it steepens on the summit cone.

I could see David on the summit speaking to three men who had overtaken me. There was something flapping in the wind on a pole – on reaching the trig point I realised the black flag was his t-shirt on an old metal fence post: this made me smile.

There is some discussion over the original meaning of the name Ben Vorlich in Peter Drummond’s hill name book. Vorlich may simply have come from the Gaelic Mhor Loch (where mh in Gaelic is pronounced v), meaning the mountain by the big loch. Another topographical description may be Mhur Luig – big corrie.

Both of these are probable but the most accepted translation is Mhuir’lag, literally meaning sack-shaped sea bag or bay. In 1918 the Reverend Mr Burn wrote in his diary that a local shepherd had said the hill was Beinn Mhoir Lic, hill of the big stone.

The most romantic suggestion is that it is Ben Vurlach, Gaelic for kingfisher. In 1794 Pont spells it as Benvurlich. However, the name is unlikely as the habitat is not suitable for kingfishers.

As I turned my gaze to the south-west and the huge steep rocky knoll on Stuc a’ Chroin’s ridge, I felt deflated. I had been unwell early in the morning and my Achilles tendons nipped. David walked off down to Bealach an Dubh Choirein and through the dark rocks that were now in shadow.

Jayjay and I explored the small summit and when we turned David had crossed the bealach and was a small dark figure moving deeper into the crags. We choose the route going north-west – green, smooth and bathed in sunshine. This pleasant shoulder still holds a summit of 733m, Ben Our.

I nursed a painful gut and though I regretted not stepping up to the satanic ridge of Stuc a’ Chroin I knew I was doing the right thing. The cloud base was lowering, the scores of mountains in our view blackening. To the north-east, a thick bar of charcoal cloud sat like a lead pipe and above it strands of heavy peaches and purples.

When I reached the car, it had just started to spit, nature’s ceiling encroaching every minute. A little light fell upon my mood. I had dropped my camera on the way up, when I noticed I asked a man on the way down if he could look out for it. He had and had tied it to the door handle of my car – a great kindness that I cannot thank him for.

Despite scaling the second Munro, David appeared at the car shortly after me. We drove back down to the Borders in torrential rain and night came early.