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Ben Ledi was the first ‘proper’ Scottish mountain I ever saw. In 1970, I set off with a mate on what was then a mammoth drive from Lancashire to the Scottish Highlands – back then, the M6 motorway finished just north of Lancaster, and beyond the motorway we followed the old A6 road north through Kendal, over Shap summit then through Carlisle.
Over the border into Scotland, the route improved for a while, with the then dual-carriageway A74 pointing us north, avoiding Glasgow by the towns of Coatbridge and Airdrie. It took blinking ages! Eventually we passed through Stirling, and leaving the town headed northwest on the A84. Then I saw it, our first real mountain after the moors of the Southern Uplands. That was Ben Ledi, and I spent the next 50 years of visiting Scotland driving past it!
Regular readers will know that I avoid the Highlands over the summer, choosing May or earlier or September or later, in an attempt to avoid the midge (and tourist) season. With several ‘things to do’ already in the diary in 2021, we decided on two trips to Scotland, with the first in August. As the Trossachs area doesn’t get as ‘midged’ as the West Coast, it seemed a good place to get our boots on the ground. It was also a good opportunity to finally get to grips with Ben Ledi.
At 879 metres altitude, Ben Ledi is far from a high-mountain challenge, though it almost achieves Munro status (a Scottish mountain over 3000 ft/ 915 metres). A look at the map suggested that there would be great views across the Southern Highlands, and I’m pretty sure that they are there – unfortunately, we started our Ben Ledi day with a traditional background of good old Scots mist.
Ben Ledi is a popular mountain with folk who don’t walk or hike in the mountains all that often, and rightly so with easy access and a non-technical ascent. It’s thought that in days long gone, the locals celebrated the Celtic pagan festival of Beltane on the summit and in the 18th Century the name of the mountain was incorrectly translated as ‘Hill of God’. This might have suited the Christian clergy of the day, but it’s now accepted that Ben Ledi is a corruption of Beinn Leitir, which translates as ‘the Hill of the Slope’, which is the long Southeast Ridge leading to the summit.
After a rising traverse of the craggy east side of the hill, the popular route to the top takes a sharp right turn to head more easily up the broad Southeast Ridge. With a change of direction comes a change of scenery (hill mist permitting) with the view down to Loch Lubnaig being replaced by the view to Loch Venachar. Just before the summit, a metal cross comes into view – nothing to do with the ‘Hill of God’, this is a memorial to Sgt Harry Lawrie BEM.
Harry Lawrie was a sergeant in what was then the Central Scottish Police, based at Callander, and also a member of the Killin Mountain Rescue Team. On 1st February 1987, Sgt Lawrie and the Killin MRT were involved in a search for an injured climber on Ben More. A Wessex helicopter assisting with the search picked up Sgt Lawrie and another police officer to ferry them up the mountain, but whilst landing, a rotor blade struck the ground, causing the helicopter to crash into the hillside – Sgt Lawrie was fatally injured.
After standing a while at the memorial, we walked the short distance to the summit for a lunch break. Whilst being mugged for our sandwiches by Border Collie ‘Mist’, we noticed that the other mist on the hills was starting to clear a bit, giving a view of the alternative descent to the north of Ben Ledi which would make the route circular rather than ‘there and back’. It didn’t take long to decide on the circular option.
The broad ridge heading north was a pleasant start to the descent, before we turned right at a bealach (pass) to head west down Stank Glen. After a boggy start, a narrow path materialised, taking us down to the edge of the forest we had started out from. The forest trails marked on the map turned out to be stumbly, stony footpaths, but for ‘Mist’ it was the way home. After all, it was getting very close to Collie dinner time.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock unless indicated otherwise.
The image tagged Gordon Hatton is taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence