Tod and Shannon were over from Georgia in the U.S.A., where they apparently see snow approximately once every 3 years. Consequently they were looking forward to a February trip to the UK, in which amongst other things, they wanted a good day out on a wintry mountain. Initially we had planned Ben More, but with a worsening forecast leading to blizzards and gale force winds on high by dusk, we opted for a more conservative though equally worthy itinerary, summiting Ben Ledi from the S.E. then continuing over the traverse, descending into the Stank Glen (stank - Gaelic for pool, pond or ditch) and completing the circular route on paths through the delightful woodland.
It was the Davis' first time in crampons, and though I could feel their reservations, they soon strapped them on and were side-footing like pros, appreciating the additional grip and security they provide on the icy, stepped-out path. It has been much improved since I last did Ben Ledi, and indeed there were two hardy fellas just revving up their digger to get cracking on a further stretch, bypassing some ugly erosion. A well built and sympathetically designed path is far more desirable than a rough, eroded trough that so often develops on such popular hills.
Popular Ben Ledi may be, but due to the very poor visibility, forecast and icy conditions, we unsurprisingly saw no-one else until the descent, and those folks wisely cut up a smaller hill in order to stay below the cloud line. That gave it a proper high mountain feel, and I needed my map and compass to ensure we were on track once the visibility dropped to a matter of metres, and especially when the wind picked up and battered us with spin-drift and ice pellets. Tod and Shannon took it in their stride, and calmly followed me down the dog-leg ridge, at 90 degrees to the strengthening wind. We soon picked up a line of old fence posts which served as a hand rail, and made my navigation much more simple down to the bealach, and then down via set of footprints into the glen.
The crampons came off as the snow deepened and the ground got boggy, as it wasn't frozen at 650m, and this made progress a little easier, as long as you were careful! The Davis' had also not used poles before, and whilst many folks find them a nuisance to begin with, they again seemed to take to them with aplomb, and I am sure they saved a few bum/bog interfaces! ;)
Eventually we got to the old forestry track, and then onto the lovely paths that snake down towards Loch Lubnaig and our car, but not before a snack break at a wee waterfall. We got to the car just as the heavens opened and we were conscious of the wind, despite our relatively sheltered position - 'What must it be like up top' we asked ourselves with a shudder? It's nice when the forecast gets it right and you get a walk in just as it turns for the worst.
A really good day was capped off with a visit to the Lade Inn for some home-brewed ale and a roaring fire. Splendid.
Tuesday was to be a more gentle day, and we opted for a stroll along the Allan Water from Bridge of Allan to Dunblane, along the old Darn Road, reputed to date back to Roman times. Tod had a wee surprise for me to start us off, by the way of a flask of mimosa to warm the cockles, and it certainly did! If you don't know what it is, google ;) We had one wee moment as we crossed the Cock's Burn, which was in spate. It certainly wasn't a raging torrent, but wet feet and more were a distinct possibility if we got it wrong. Apart from that, it was just a wonder of heavily mossed dykes, intriguing stone ruins and stark, leafless trees of all shapes and sizes to distract us from the mud.
At Dunblane we helped the local economy a little (;), before wandering back at dusk along the old Glen Road.
I often wax lyrical about the pleasures of my job, of the interesting people I meet and the places I go, so I won't bore you all again with it, other than to say the Davis' made my work feel like a joy over the last two days. I am privileged to have met them, and I wish them all the best on the next leg of their journey!