Ben Lui is one of the shapeliest Scottish hills. I like it very much. I walked from a convenient camp site where I stayed a few days. The route begins through a forest followed by a valley walk in. I questioned this notion of walk in because the valley was beautiful. I decided you would call it a walk in if you only focus on the drama and climax. There’s a parallel here to photography. Some years ago, walking in the Swiss alps, I realised I had to change my outlook. The scale is vast which means the kind of shots you take in Britain were redundant. That is, you want to capture the majesty of the Alps and are less interested in a tree or lake on a hillside. I remember the lake where I made this observation.

This was a fine Scottish fine walk. I was nervous about an hour from here when I realised I wasn’t prepared for four seasons. A snow shower filled the skies as I began to climb. It was coming from my right, from a vast area where I tried to gauge the conditions. I considered turning back. I decided I could make the summit, and then turn back if necessary. It might be unpleasant, but I calculated I would survive it.

The snow passed and the day became reasonably mild. It’s hard to describe this, but it was a different experience as you might find in Wales or the Lake District. I could sense the danger, although it didn’t materialise. The snow was unexpected and alarming, although that may occur in less challenging British hills. The important difference was about the scale, exposure, and impact of Scottish weather. I had no knowledge about the area to my right which made me uneasy. You learn about weather if you walk regularly. Climb Illgill Head in the Lake District for example, and you know the rain is coming from the sea even when that’s not visible. You know about the furious winds which funnel down from the head of the valley where you find Great Gable and Pillar. You don’t go near the edge, with the Wasdale Screes below, because you might be blown off your feet.

There were a few other people at the summit. Two women, one of whom was a Munro enthusiast, a far stronger walker then her companion and I. She romped ahead and waited for us to catch up. I chatted with her friend who lived in Edinburgh. After a few hours of this, she said, they’re just hills and you want it to stop. She walked regularly with her friend and began to question it.

Towards the end of the day you reach an area of beautiful Caledonian forest. I was too tired to enjoy it. I considered a short cut path back to the camp site but the ground was rough, and I didn’t know precisely where the path led. It was more sensible if I made my way to the road, about a mile away, where I would try to hitch. I hitch a great deal in the Pyrenees. It’s a good place for it. I’ve not hitched much in Scotland.

I had a painfully tired walk along tarmac for thirty minutes. A huge lorry slowed and stopped and I climbed up into the seat. Where are you going, he said. The camp site. It’s not far. But even this is a huge help to me. How long have you been walking, he said. It was around eight in the evening which meant ten hours. That’s too long, he said. Five minutes later I climbed down and hobbled back to my cold tent.


Scotland Mountain Beauty: Ben Lui

Monday April 30, 2012