Ben Ledi 6th September 2006
Prior to this trip to Ben Ledi, The Fatdog and I had only two previous excursions into the hills – the Meikle Bin and a little lump at the south face of the Ochils called The Nebbit. It’s fair to say that, at this stage, our experience was fairly limited. We’d been hillwalking less than a month.
It wasn’t a great day with low cloud holding to the top of Ben Ledi as we drove up through Callander. These were the days before I was aware of the mountain weather web site. It would be about another month before our excursions were chosen on the basis of clear summits and no rain.
The trail up Ben Ledi from the car park at the Falls of Leny wasted no time in gaining height and put in a steady gradient up through the forestry and onto the cleared area beyond. From the off FD was quite happy to set up what would become her standard hill pace. I, mistakenly, thought I could follow this gentle plod. I quickly discovered that this wasn’t going to happen. By the time we cleared the trees I was struggling to keep up. The Fatdog looked disgusted.
The next section through the cleared forestry to the hill involved the ascent of rough stone steps. At this point I began to die…noisily.
As most hill walkers know it takes a wee while to build up hill fitness and to sort out your natural pace, by which I mean that pace which doesn’t have you gasping for air and trying to evacuate the contents of your stomach after 15 minutes walking. Thinking back I reckon I made it to about 18 minutes before that process began in earnest.
As the contents of my stomach drew lots to see who would be first to leave, I propped myself on a rock, head between my knees trying to reach some sort of inner calm. I managed another 10m before I had to stop again. I was just about done…hillwalking was definitely not for me. Starting this carry on at 52 was obviously not a good decision.
“Bugger this! I’m off home.” I thought.
It was then I heard voices above me.
Looking up the trail I could make out a group of walkers some 50m in front, slowly struggling up the rock steps. Some of them must have been pushing 70 years old!
That single moment became a turning point. Had it not been for that one stroke of luck there would have been no Fatdog “Tails”. My indignation overcame my indisposition. There was no way a bunch of over-sixties was going to beat me up a mountain!
I should point out that a few months later I was to discover that an over-eighty could beat me up a mountain…with lots to spare. But that’s another “Tail”.
We dug in, breaking the ascent into 10-20m stretches and having a rest after each one. We had just about caught them by the time we reached the stile.
The Fatdog stared helplessly at the fence and wooden steps…then looked at me. This was to be the first dog-toss in a long career of dog tosses. Unpleasant it was – as I tried to get a grip on 39kg of wriggling labrador. I came close to snagging her paws on the top wire and as I recall it took about 3 energy sapping attempts to get her over.
Some five minutes later the group in front stopped for lunch…as did The Fatdog. Unfortunately for the group it was the same lunch. This was the day FD discovered that rucksacks held food and that the more rucksacks there were the more food there was to be had. To this day the sight of a group of walkers in front sees Maisie charging off into the distance to see what she can scrounge.
We stopped for a chat. They were puffing and panting, cheerfully complaining about how steep it had been and absentmindedly feeding most of their sandwiches to a grateful Fatdog. Maisie was in her element – a whole group of ecstatic fans fussing over her. By now I had my second wind. My goodness…I felt so superior as I strode off up the trail leaving them spluttering in my dust. The Fatdog was muttering about missing out on an extended lunch. I didn’t care. I was kicking those over-sixty asses…no problem!
At this point we were still on the rising traverse on the east side of Ben Ledi and had still to reach the south spur which would take us over a series of false summits to the top. The visibility dropped to about 30m as cloud descended. Another first for us. I was becoming a bit anxious…out came the map. I needn’t have bothered. Ben Ledi has a path all the way to the summit. As long as there is no snow you would have to try hard to get lost…even in cloud. We pressed on.
On the south spur we came across another feature of Scottish hills – the ubiquitous metal fence posts which litter many a summit approach. With land boundaries following ridge lines, these handy navigation aids can be a reassuring sight on a dirty day spent ambling through the mist. This particular line of posts continues northwards for some distance. A couple of months after this trip we were to follow them all the way north to Benvane in far worse conditions than we encountered today.
We stopped for a chat with a young student on a particularly steep section of the path on the summit approach. I was most definitely needing a rest by now and was slowing up. This was our biggest ascent to date…but we were close! Only a couple of hundred metres to go.
It was busy at the summit; 3 guys were already there and shouldering their packs to move on. We exchanged brief pleasantries before they headed north for the descent via Stank Glen. Then we met our first ticker. Lean and be-spectacled he shot past me without a word, even managing to ignore The Fatdog hanging by the teeth from his rucksack.
He actually said “tick!” as, without slowing, he stuck out his walking pole to make contact with the trig point before scooting downhill in the same direction as the previous three walkers.
“Arse!” was the first thought that popped into my mind…but I never was a creature of great tolerance.
“Arfff!” agreed FD, nodding.
Now, all on our own in the mist, we stood elated on the summit of Ben Ledi. Only an hour or so before it had come so close to being the end of our hill walking career. As we strode off back down the mountain we met Maisie’s fan club, the over 60’s, on their way up.
“Look…it’s Maisie!” the cry went up…as hands shot to check rucksacks.
And so, what was to become the legend of The Fatdog was born.