The beautifully sculptured and majestic Ben Lui is one of the mountains that tower above the little village of Tyndrum. Apparently it's the smallest habitation in Britain to have two working railway stations, ("lower" and "upper"). At this point I should ask any Scots readers to help me with the correct pronunciation of the place which some people insist is Tin-drum, while others just as vociferously insist on Tyne -drum! There are many hills higher than Ben Lui, but many of these (like Ben Lawers for example) lack the graceful lines, the symmetry or the rugged beauty of this hill which some have called the Queen of the Southern Munros.
My own memories of this hill are decidedly mixed. My first attempt to get up it, in 1995 began and ended in ignominy. A party of us, led by Big Darren, The Rake and Crazy Jim, parked in the wrong place and instead of finding pleasant stepping stones, were unable to cross a gorge containing a torrent. By the time we managed to get onto the hill, I was exhausted and the foot-deep snow made progress on the steep slopes desperately slow. The attempt was abandoned at about 2000ft, when Big Darren produced a Trangia stove, and began melting snow to brew tea.
Returning on my own in the Spring of 1997, I managed to find the place to cross the river and pulled myself up the long climb to Lui's summit. It's a long, steep, lung-bustingly tiring climb for which the walker is duly rewarded with views stunning enough to recapture 'awesome' as a meaningful word. With patches of snow and ice clinging to the Northside of the mountain, I made the summit ridge and was buffetted by cold, powerful winds fanning Scotland from the West. As I ascended the final section of the summit ridge I noticed that the weather was changing. The damp air, blasting at the mountain was cooling as it climbed up over Lui's shoulders, began condensing exactly at the point of the ridge where I stood. I put my feet apart and looked down and could see the cloud appearing between my knees! Although the whole of the West coast was completely clear and visibility was good over a vast area, within a few minutes everything to the East of me was lost in cloud. Watching a huge bank of cloud forming so distinctly and standing so precisely on its edge was odd, bizarre, a little eerie and really rather wonderful.
I stopped for lunch on my way down to the high bealach between Lui and its lower neighbour Beinn a Cleibh. Foolishly I sat down next to my map, which a sudden gust of wind promptly dispatched off into distant clouds, never to be seen again. Thankfully the walk didn't have to be abandoned as a fellow walker, doing the same route as me came over and chatted over lunch and let me share his map for the rest of the walk. He was an entertaining fellow, who escaped the boredom of office life by travelling all over the world with the Scouts. A ghastly descent of the wrong bit of Beinn a Cleibh (who was reading that map?) led to the car, a meal in some local pub and a farewell to my friend-for-the-day.
I stopped on Saturday just south of Tyndrum to grab a snap of Ben Lui's grand eastern face, to remember great days out, and to wonder whatever became of Big Darren, The Rake and Crazy Jim.