Originally applied to the narrow pass between Loch Katrine and Loch Achray, the name “Trossachs” derives from the Gaelic for bristly, an apt description of this craggy territory. The tourist industry was launched following the publication in 1810 of Sir Walter Scott`s classic work The Lady of the Lake, the water being Loch Katrine ….nowadays a poem that many are aware of but few have read. Until now I included myself in that latter category.
Queen Victoria`s visits to the Trossachs in 1859 and 1869 (the first occasion being the opening of the Loch Katrine waterworks, still the main water supply for Glasgow) further boosted tourism, a popularity that maintains to this day.
Hemmed in between Loch Katrine and Glen Finglas is a rocky area whose high point is 564m Meall Gainmheich. To the south of that, mapped at 461m/1512ft, lies Ben A`an. However, a short distance to the WSW overlooking Loch Katrine is a rocky outcrop at 454m/1490ft, usually accepted by visitors, and the path, as the summit of Ben A`an.
Often described as a mountain in miniature, there is no danger of it being confused with its Cairngorm “namesake” Ben Avon (pronounced A`an), a big mountain both in area and height that demands a long, full day. It`s name may simply derive from the Gaelic word for a river, abhainn, with the early OS surveyors writing it as Avon, a common word for many a river further south.
However, the Trossachs Ben A`an has probably nothing to do with the River Achray and is more likely a mistake by Sir Walter Scott. The original name Binnean, meaning a small peak, has a similar pronunciation.
Being a short hill day and the weather forecast to improve, Jimbo and I (Joe wisely taking a lower level walk) had a leisurely start from the signposted car park on the south side of the A821 by the north-west bounds of Loch Achray, map ref 509070. Carefully cross the oft-busy road for the start of the uphill path. A 100m starting height, plus a few undulations on the way, gives almost 400m to climb over less than one mile, but the good path….in almost staircase form higher up….eases the way and the effort is well rewarded.
The path goes through lovely mixed woodland to reach a ravine and stream, at first on the left bank of the burn. Later on the path crosses to the far side by a wooden bridge, with a gap in the trees giving a tantalising sight of the conical summit. Then return by stepping stones to the left bank, being aware of the many wet tree roots and polished boulders.
The path suddenly clears the forest and at this stage our forecast was spot on. The heat of the day was gradually burning off the low cloud to reveal the awesome summit cone, or as Scott wrote… “Ben-an heaved high his forehead bare”. The obvious question at first, how on earth to get up there, is simply resolved. The superb improved path, now that stone staircase, eases the steep gradient by another burn and ravine, efficiently gaining height on the right hand (east) side of the summit cone. The path leads to a col with sudden dramatic views down Loch Katrine and possibly of the steamship Sir Walter Scott.
The path then curves left to the small rocky summit, with steep slopes all around. The clarity of our day was disappointing, not ideal for distant photographs, which was a pity because, with also Ben Ledi to the north-east, this is a superb Trossachs viewpoint, arguably better than Ben Venue.
The only excitement on the way down was on meeting a couple vainly shouting for their lurcher; a dog they admitted had gone astray before. But this was holiday time and the couple were due to return home the following day…..
Map: Ordnance Survey map 57, Stirling & The Trossachs
Distance: 2 miles
Terrain: Path all the way
Start point: Signposted car park, south side of A821, north-west bounds of Loch Achray, map ref 509070
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Nearest towns: Aberfoyle and Callander
Refreshment spot: The Harbour Café, north shore Loch Venachar