CALLANDER, Scotland — Ben A ‘an is not just another hill in Scotland’s West Highlands. The craggy mini mountain, as some call it, is one of the popular ascents in the region. There’s good reason for that.
Ben A’ an is in the heart of the Trossachs National Park, less than 10 miles from the small town of Callander, population 3,300. The views of Loch Katrine and Loch Achray are absolutely stunning. Even on a cloudy day, the magnificent scenes are inspiring and worthy of their popularity.
The water on both lochs (lakes or sea inlets) appeared smooth as glass on Sunday and presented breathtaking reflections of the shore’s hills and trees. The ever present mist cast mystery and enchantment. When my siblings and I spent summers skiing on Indiana lakes as kids we were gleeful on the mornings when the water moved not a single ripple. The memories came rushing back atop Ben A’ an.
Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the United Kingdom at 4,413 feet, would easily tower Ben A’ an, which is “only” 1,491 feet. I say only because while the heights are quite different, the Ben A’ an trail that I hiked is every bit as rugged as Ben Nevis, which I hiked more than 12 years ago. While hiking up Ben Nevis normally takes four hours, it was a 90-minute climb up the rocky and often slippery trail of its smaller brethren.
Ben A’ an is said to be more family friendly for hikers than Ben Nevis and I saw plenty of evidence of that the other day. I saw scores of hikers of various ages, including an infant nestled in a baby carrier on mother’s chest. There were a number of dogs as well and they seemed far less winded than many of us humans.
According to a walker’s guide I purchased, the mountain originally was called Ben-an when one of Scotland’s most honored authors, Sir Walter Scott, wrote of it in his narrative poem The Lady of the Lake, the story of love, war and treachery. The name was changed quite recently to Ben A’ an as part of a tribute to Scotland’s Gaelic roots.
I had hoped to hike Ben Nevis once more, this time with my nephew. Shaun Graham and his family are living in Bradford on Avon, near Bath, England, and we have talked about a joint adventure. Sadly, I’ve realized that I’m no longer physically up to the challenge at age 69. A Scotsman named Peter saw me struggling on the hike Sunday and took me a bit under his wing. Peter has hiked Ben Nevis once a year in August for many years and frequently does Ben A’ an. Peter gave me a bottle of water. I smiled when I saw it was a Kirkland Signature bottle, the brand of Washington-based Costco. A small world indeed. Peter agreed when I told him I’m probably not fit to conquer Ben Nevis again.
My six-week trip is nearing an end this week with a three-night stopover in Reykjavik, Iceland. I’ve read about Iceland’s natural beauty and its volcanic landscape, so I’m eager to take it all in. But Iceland simply cannot match the sort of beauty I’ve seen in my four trips to Scotland, which will always be my favorite destination.