After a successful couple of Munros bagged the previous weekend near Crianlarich, I headed north again, this time to meet up with a friend and tackle the highest point of the Ochills, Ben Cleuch. Having studied at the University of Stirling, and also having climbed Dumyat (a neighbouring peak) many times during my time there, Ben Cleuch was always one that eluded me.
It can be seen driving north on the M9 from Edinburgh, mocking me, telling me that I should’ve climbed it years ago. In truth, I probably should have, but today was to be the day where it would bow down to me and consider itself conquered.
Ben Cleuch is the first truly high place you reach driving north from Edinburgh, heading up the M9 and following the course of the Forth river, you get glimpses of the Ochills from as far south as Bo’ness and Falkirk, which in my mind meant that, should I be successful climbing it, the views would be absolutely spectacular, and we were not to be disappointed.
We met early in Bridge of Allan and drove through the Hillfoot towns to Tillicoultry, where we parked up and got ourselves prepared for the hill. Our plan was to loosely follow the walkhighlands route, with a deviation to the north to capture the subsidiary top of Ben Buck – the views into the heart of the Ochills are supposed to be great from here. Off we went, my friend and I, accompanied by Max the dog.
The initial stages of the walk are through a gorge, Mill Glen, following the path of the Daiglen Burn, which is genuinely beautiful. The path crosses the burn several times, allowing you to see the path the water has cut through the rock in all its glory. There are several waterfalls and pool tucked into the rock to enjoy, with each twist and turn opening up on something new and unique. I would recommend this section for anyone able to climb – it is quite steep in places – even taking the kids up part way would be a good walk out.
Eventually though you branch out on the right hand side and climb away from the burn, leaving the damp, cool air behind and up what can only be described as an absolute quad-buster of a slope. It is short (thankfully) but sharp and a little exposed in places with a drop down into the gorge. Luckily, I don’t have any issues with this, but I think my wife might not enjoy it! The spur you climb eventually broadens out and the worst of the days climbing is behind you. But beware, if you are taking this route up The Law, be prepared for it to be quite steep.
Once the main climb has been accomplished, you continue climbing more sedately, all the way to the summit of The Law at 638m. There is not much to see here, a small cairn and an old fence line. However, it is the first place that you can appreciate the height that you have gained and the views that have opened up to the east, south and west of you. On a clear day (as we were blessed with) you can see the Forth Road Bridge on one side, and the high rises of Glasgow on the other. Literally coast to coast. It was at this point I realised that my phone was not working properly, and the pictures I thought I had captured to complement my walk report didn’t exist. This issue didn’t sort itself until later in the walk, so apologies for the lack of photos to this point. We stopped for a short breather here whilst Max kept urging us on and having to be called back from going to far ahead. The benefit of having 4 legs to my 2 I suppose.
Looking roughly northwards, there is an obvious route to the main prize of the day, Ben Cleuch stands a little taller and a little bolder for your vantage point, but the gently undulating, curving route to the summit looks fantastic. We set off along the short traverse to the shoulder of Ben Cleuch, turning north-westwards on attaining the broad slope of our target.
From there, its about 700m of walking, with only 70m of ascent, so not too taxing after earlier exertions, and we had reached our primary goal of the day. The summit being 721m above sea level, it is nothing to be sniffed at and I had thoroughly enjoyed the walk so far. The views to the southerly Munros of Ben Vorlich, Ben Lomond and Stuc a Chroin as well as Ben Ledi were fantastic. The cairn and rock shelter on the summit gave us only a short pause as we headed off railing the fence line, making a bee-line for our next target, Ben Buck.
Its less than an kilometre as the crow flies, across descending and then undulating terrain, which was thoroughly enjoyable. Max was in his element running here and there and my friend and I were able to relax and let the worlds worries pass us by. Maybe my favourite part of the walk, it was quiet, only the wind for company, and we made good time across the distance to the summit. We took a few minutes to look into the interior of the Ochills from here, not a view you can see without accessing the hills on foot. The wind turbines, whilst a bit of an eye sore, were fine and the views north towards Gleneagles and east towards Fife were brilliant.
Retracing our steps, we contoured around to the right of the main bulk of Ben Cleuch, heading for Ben Ever, aiming for the saddle between the two at 584m and the junction of 3 fence lines. Upon reaching said fences, we realised that there was no easy way for Max for Max to get across, and ended up carrying him across the stile/gate in the fence.
After crossing the fence, it was a short few hundred meters of gently rising ground to the top of Ben Ever, which to be honest, is merely a small rise in the ridge line heading to the south from Ben Cleuch. Its only about 40m vertical above the saddle, and then only another 80m or so down the next dip in the ridge. There were quite a few sheep here, so kept Max on the lead as he seemed very interested in them – I am sure he would have had a blast chasing them around if he was allowed.
Moving swiftly along now, the nicely contoured ridge leading back towards Tillicoultry framing our view of the river plains the width of Scotland. With it being so warm, we were not surprised to see a plume of smoke away to our right, signalling some sort of fire. We weren’t sure if it was controlled or nowt. but it sure left a smoky smudge in the air.
As we started the descent back into Mill Glen, I was sorry to leave the higher ground, it had been a thoroughly pleasant walk along the highland boundary, and explored part of an area that I hadn’t been to before. The route turned to the east and cut down into the glen, heading towards the abandoned quarry, where we met one of the few people we had seen on the route today. It got busier as we descended, meeting several groups coming the other way, but all in all, it was a lovely peaceful morning out on the hills and one that I would definitely do again and Max had a great run, really showing his hill legs for the first time. I think he might be ready for a multi Munro day soon. 🙂