Climbing Ben Venue, Scotland

The land slurped up my boots with each step. Squish. Squish. Squelch. A bizarre thought whipped through my mind—the soggy ground was french-kissing my feet. And it was doing a terrible job.

I shuddered, shooing the idea away. It was my first adventure into a bog and I wasn’t about to let my imagination construct a weird relationship between us. The rain coated me in a shimmering shield, not that the sun was out to give it a shine. Why was I climbing this mountain again?

Oh yeah. For the warm company, the stories and the small surprises.

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Ben Venue , or Mount Venue, is 725 meters high and situated in the Trossachs National Park of Scotland. It was also my first challenge with a Dundee hiking group I found on Meetup and my entry into the world of Scottish walking (a national past-time).

I was very excited. I was going to carpool there, meet new people and enjoy the predicted sunshine to come (hopefully the predicted light showers would miss us).

The walk started out beautifully and warm. We trumped through a forest of towering pines. The sun squeezed through the breaks, beckoning us up and out.

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There are always two kinds of people on a hiking trip. The speedsters and the laggers. Some people zip ahead in a straightforward, steady march and others stop and gawk, walk slow, or smell the flowers. I tend to be a lagger as a result of my limited athleticism and the endless photographic distractions (waterfalls why must you look so coooollllll?).

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I was happy to find a fellow lagger in the group during this walk and we chatted endlessly as we slowly but confidently trudged up the hill. We’d lose sight of the group and bask in the lovely quiet until eventually they’d stop to wait for us. It was always fun reconnecting. I tried to come up with a lively line every time.

For example, as we caught up to the group the first time it was, “the caboose has arrived”!

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The next time I said “well hello there! Fancy meeting you here”! And it was followed by many more cheesy lines.

Eventually we hit a zone of deforestation and the trees lay crumpled before us. Small patches of colour blazed from the shattered, bony bark-limbs. The lush greenery of the forest huddled behind the carnage.

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As was customary I’d dressed in layers of clothes to meet the changing conditions. From toes to head: boots, socks, leggings, an undershirt, shirt, sweater, wind-breaker jacket, scarf and hat. Perfect for a cool summer day hike. As we climbed I donned my sweater and then my jacket.

There was so much to see. My shutter clicked over gurgling streams, a wide sky, rolling hills, the clashing colours of rock and flower petals.

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The path began to degrade and extra attention was needed to keep my balance. We were soon long beyond the tree line and marshy grasses greeted our sights. A man walking down the path stopped to describe the state of the bog ahead. It didn’t look good as I caught up to the group.

“…it comes up to here,” said the man gesturing at his shins. The leader of the walk nodded and looked up to where the path lead out of sight.

“We’ll go take a look.”

And we headed on.

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We rounded a bend and there it was, the boundary to the bog. It was outlined in a fence stretching across the valley. At its centre a boardwalk waited to lead us in. The scratching noise of subtly kicked pebbles switched to the clumping of boots on wood. As abruptly as the marching rumble came, it faded into a squelching whisper as we dropped down onto the spongy bog ground.

Halfway to the waterfall feeding the unseen pools beneath our feet—or rather over our feet—a fellow lagger and I trudged up to the patiently waiting speedsters.

“You alright?” someone asked (this just means ‘how are you doing?’ in UK English).

“I’m feeling a bit bogged down to be honest,” I calmly replied. Everyone laughed loudly at that. I allowed a little grin. Little did they know that I’d been waiting to use it since we first stepped into the bog.

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I’m still working on controlling my rolling-eye-reflex at the sight and sound of puns, but the Scottish and British absolutely love puns. Heck if they had a goblin or something guarding a bridge it would probably demand puns instead of answers to riddles.

On the next phase of the climb I had a chance to put my blossoming pun-smithing to the test. The terrain was angling more and more. We were lugging ourselves up a series of massive stone steps and I was still chatting with my newfound friend. We managed to throw a few stony puns back and forth and it was superb but unfortunately I forgot those nuggets. Hopefully I will invoke them in the future.

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The clouds began to rumble in. Oops, here were those “light showers” we were expecting. We threw on more gear. My camera lens was fogging up from going in and out of my bag. The more I work in rain—or near water like during Songkran—the more convinced I am that it’s the bag which causes the most fogging up/damage. Maybe I should just leave my camera around my shoulder?

I contemplated it over the stones.

We kept climbing.

“We’re almost there,” the leader of the walk insisted. The rain fell harder. The clouds began to gather.

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So much for a view. The collective feeling was excitement and slight misery. The air swelled with the smell of moist leaves and hard air.

A discussion broke out about the history of tourism in Scotland. The story of how the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott’s works, particularly his poem The Lady Of The Lake, enticed rich England tourists to the Highlands.

We broke over the top.

Waayyy down below we could see a series of lochs, or lakes. A tiny steam-ferry—probably the Sir Walter Scott ferry—silently paddled across one distant loch.

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The wind blew in whips and whirls. We huddled against a rocky crop, shivering as we gulped down soup and tea and sandwich. The view was blank. It reminded me of the stampede of clouds in the Genting Highlands of Malaysia.

At the time I wondered how Sir Scott found beauty in the Highlands and a documentary I was watching, which had a modern man following an old guide book, wondered the same thing. Were people disappointed to not find the livelier light, sheets of living gold and enchanted lands of Sir Scott’s sight.

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I went looking for the poem mentioned on the walk as soon as I got home. I’ll admit, I was skimming, but there was a verse which caught my eye. It’s lines resounded with me. Then my eyes rested on the word Benvenue. It was the area I’d hiked.

And now, to issue from the glen,
No pathway meets the wanderer’s ken,
Unless he climb with footing nice
A far-projecting precipice.
The broom’s tough roots his ladder made,
The hazel saplings lent their aid;
And thus an airy point he won,
Where, gleaming with the setting sun,
One burnished sheet of living gold,
Loch Katrine lay beneath him rolled,
In all her length far winding lay,
With promontory, creek, and bay,
And islands that, empurpled bright,
Floated amid the livelier light,
And mountains that like giants stand
To sentinel enchanted land.
High on the south, huge Benvenue
Down to the lake in masses threw
Crags, knolls, and mounds, confusedly hurled,
The fragments of an earlier world;
A wildering forest feathered o’er
His ruined sides and summit hoar,
While on the north, through middle air,
Ben-an heaved high his forehead bare.

We were having no setting sun and certainly couldn’t see sheets of living gold.

In fact sheets of a ghostly sheen would be more appropriate for our view.

However, if someone had read me those lines from atop Ben Venue I would have nodded with each line, dreaming of the sunshine and lively light I’d been unlucky enough to miss.

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