We are joined again by Sarah Leighton, an adventurer and outdoor challenge enthusiast, for the final part of her recent solo road trip in Scotland. If you missed part 1 and part 2 of this series, be sure to go back and read them.
As I cut away from the track to start the ascent of Beinn a Chohuill, it quickly became obvious that it would be much easier with my spikes on. I almost slipped about 4 times within the first 2 minutes. This was hilarious at the bottom, but it would be a bit sketchy if it happened further up, and more difficult to stop the slide. The slope was grassy underneath the snow, and the snow was that slightly wet type that doesn’t compact well. With spikes underfoot though, I was flying.
It was a steep climb toward the ridge that joins Beinn a Chochuill and Beinn Eunaich. With pieces of Kendal mint cake being ferried from pocket to mouth, I powered on. As predicted, the weather started to close in, grey clouds took over the once clear sky, and that killer wind was back. As I crawled over some rocks and onto the ridge, the wind threatened to blow any piece of kit or clothing that wasn’t battened down. Without my hood pulled tight, my bobble hat would have been half way across the country, no doubt about it. I steadily made my way along the ridge, with a steep drop to my right, and a less intimidating slope to my left.
The wind was relentless. I turned around just before the summit cairn as the snowfall picked up pace. The wet snow that had been a slippery disadvantage on ascent became an advantage on the way down, as I descended using a controlled sliding method (if that’s even a thing). A cup of tea was calling, and the evening light was looming. By the time I hit the track, my fingers had become popsicles, and my cheeks were still at the top of the mountain somewhere. The cup of tea that defrosted me from the inside out was one of the best brews of my life. I sat once again perusing the mapping app, deciding where my final stop over would be. I had half a day left at most, and I wanted to make the best of it.
Once again I drove to my next location after dark. I wasn’t going to waste an ounce of adventure time. I headed West to Loch Earn, where I found a quiet lay by on the North shore. The rain pattered against the roof of the van from the trees above, and I sat reading my Proper Adventure journal illuminated by fairy lights. I decided that an early morning dip in Loch Earn would be on the cards, as long as I didn’t wake to see a residential estate directly across the loch.
The morning brought the disappearance of the rain, and another great view. In the absence of any potential audience, I went for my wake up dip as soon as dawn broke. Determined this time to dip my head under, I counted to 3, took a deep breath, and ducked under. It wasn’t half as bad as I’d imagined. In fact, I found the entire swim less painful than last time, and I think I managed not far off double the time in the water. However, on leaving the loch I realised that my feet hadn’t quite got the message that we were doing this together. I fell backwards into the loch, and so decided that crawling might be a better exit strategy. It’s mad how you suddenly feel incredibly warm after cold submersion, I guess that’s the blood returning to the limbs. I stood on the shore in my towel, taking in the scenery, before heading back to the camper van for breakfast.
I needed to be back in Edinburgh by the afternoon, so my plan to swim early meant I could squeeze in one last little adventure. On studying the map the night before, I’d searched for a small hill with a nice view. I’d come across Ben A’an, which fitted that criteria perfectly. I headed off straight after breakfast, driving South toward Loch Achray. Ben A’an has a footpath that goes right to the top. I parked up in the designated car park by Loch Achray, at the foot of the hill. It was the first time I’d needed to pay for parking in Scotland, luckily for me the machine was broken, as I didn’t have any change.
I set off on the trail, reaching a wooden bridge over a stream, after which the trail levels off for a short while. It then goes steeply up through trees, with rocky stream crossings, and views above the trees as you get higher. I realised that my time keeping wasn’t quite going to plan, so picked up the pace for the final ascent of the pointed peak. The 360 degree views of the surrounding lochs and hills were incredible, picture postcard worthy even. It was definitely worth the puffing and gasping that speed marching the final ascent had inflicted. When I’m outside, I find it so difficult to keep to time, because I never want to leave. This was the end of my Scottish adventure, for now. It’s difficult to describe the way I descended that hill. Short strides, head down, flailing arms, bouncing from rock to rock and attempting not to fall.
I’m already thinking about my next road trip in Scotland. I want to explore further North, maybe all the way up to Cape Wrath. I just know that there is so much to be found in the wilds of Scotland, and that I’ll never cover it all. But that thought just keeps me going back for more.
If you're feeling inspired for more check out The Journal for more epic adventures and stories.