After negotiating our way through Glasgow traffic we pushed on up to Loch Lomond which is only 20 miles out of Glasgow, we stopped in the village of Drymen, Lauren wanted some bananas for my birthday cake and I wanted some beer, we both wanted something for breakfast the following morning, with our supplies gathered we hopped into the van and made for the loch and our campsite, Cashel.
We arrived, parked up and went to the office to check in, we were greeted with confusion. We were told (continually) that the staff there were new and they were trying to get their heads round their roles, were everything is etc. The site manager had the phone in one hand and a router in the other and his face got continually redder, I assume he was trying to find out what the wifi password from someone was as when I asked do you have wifi the response was yes but we don’t know the password.
I did offer to help as I’m pretty confident I could of broke into that router in about 10 seconds but the look of horror I got from the woman I spoke to gave me the impression she thought I was some kind of international computer hacker who would steal her life savings electronically if she let me anywhere near the internet, no internet for the final few days of our trip then.
Cashel is run by Camping In The Forest and the site at Loch Lomond is a truly beautiful place, however, IMO, the way the site is run could do with improvement. For example, on arrival once the staff had figured we had booked and paid in advance we were advised we could have any of the pitches set back from the loch except the ones with red stickers on as they were seasonal pitches, for an extra £5.00 we could have what they call a select pitch which is right by the water, cheap I thought so I paid the 5 quid.
Off we went and found a lovely spot right by the water.
Now, at this point if I was running this site I would have done one of two things, either I would have said to my guest, once you’ve found a pitch please let us know so we can mark it down as being taken or not given them the choice in the first place and said this pitch is free, please take that one, if my guest didn’t like pitch they could always change it and as manager I would update my records accordingly, the point is I would know they were staying on that pitch and it was taken.
This is not how it works and one of the staff accidentally described it perfectly, it’s basically a free for all.
More about that later.
Once we pitched up we went for a walk on the beach, I say beach, shore would be a more accurate description. Lauren went about collecting driftwood and stones to take home and I moaned that it was cold. We mooched back to the van and set about making my birthday cake, Lauren had already measured out all the ingredients before we left so from what I gather it was a case of mixing it all up, putting it in a tin and then getting it cooking, you can read a more in depth report about the cake baking experience here.
Whilst the cake was doing we had a few drinks in the van and I cracked on and got some pictures with my camera. I was keen to try and get some shots of the stars as there is very little light pollution at the Loch and I was really pleased with my effort!
I also wanted to try and get a shot of the van with the stars above, that didn’t quite work out but I was still really pleased how the final shot came out.
We drank some more, the cake burnt slightly, we chopped off the burnt bits, topped with chocolate, munched some (it was lovely) and went to bed with designs on marching up Ben Lomond in the morning.
The morning came, the sun was out and we followed our usual procedure of tea, breakfast, shower, faff and then head out.
I grabbed a quick pick of the loch as it was totally still and looked stunning!
Before we left I stopped by the office as I was concerned it looked like our pitch was free when we left it, we really liked where we were and wanted to stay there. In the office I was again met with more confusion, after clearly explaining that I had already booked a second night and I’d like to stay in the same spot I had just left, it took a further 5 minutes of explaining before the staff excepted I had actually already booked another night and wasn’t trying to book an additional night. I was assured by 2 members of staff “no problem that pitch is yours, nobody will take it”.
The beginning of the trail to Ben Lomond is about 5 minutes’ drive from Cashel, you come out of the site, chuck a left and keep going till the road runs out and you find yourself in a car park. There are two popular paths up to the summit, you can follow the wide tourist path up and come down the same way or you can do a circular walk which involves ascending via the Ptarmigan ridge and descending via the tourist path. The Ptarmigan ridge is a steep and challenging ascent, particularly in the winter months, the sign saying “have you got your cramp on’s and ice pick” should have roused at least some concern but we chose to ignore it and headed on up.
The first hour or so of the ascent wasn’t too bad, the sun was shining, the view was amazing and the walk enjoyable, it wasn’t too taxing though if I had still been smoking It would have been a lot harder, it’s enough to make you warm even if you are reasonably fit.
We stopped for a drink and a photo as the view really is quite breath-taking and you really get a sense of how big Loch Lomond actually is, that’s about half of it in the background!
Just as we were about to head off another walker passed us coming down from the top, we asked how much further we had to go, couple of hours he said! We carried on up and after about 40 mins or so got our first glance of snow, it wasn’t massively cold but there was the odd bit of snow here and there, we continued following the path up into the unknown.
It didn’t take very long for the snow to become more frequent and this is where a strange phenomenon occurred. It seemed that the snow concentrated itself mostly on the path we were trying to follow, this was fine from a seeing where the path was point of view but it was bloody slippery so we ended up frequently walking beside the path.
Eventually the snow increased to such a degree that the path disappeared and we had to follow other people’s footsteps who’d either been up or down before us and trust they were going in the right direction. It seemed every time we got to where we thought the top might be there was another ridge to get over and more snow, when we did finally work out where the peak was, from where we were standing the few people up there looked like ants and even with binoculars we still had a long way to go.
I’d say it took us a good hour from where we spotted the peak to reach it and it was hard going, we didn’t have cramp ons or ice picks and had to scramble up the mountain where we thought the foot and hand holds were safe, looking back on it if one of us had fallen or injured ourselves it would have been a nightmare to go back the way we came and even more of a nightmare to continue up. This occurred to Lauren a good deal sooner than it did to me and she bravely kept it to herself despite feeling that at any moment she might fall and die, we were no more than 15 feet from the summit when it all became to much and Lauren had a massive sense of humour failure, she’d done so well but fear had now got the better of her, her womanly instincts kicked in and she cried and said she didn’t want to do it anymore.
Thankfully Lauren trusts me and I managed to persuade her to take my hand and I would help her to the top and it would be over, what I didn’t realise was her fear was that she had to go through all this on the other side on the way down and still might die. We reached the top and there was another walker up there, he came up the way would be going down and from hearing Lolly’s cries knew she was a bit worried, he then went on to assure her the path she was about to take was easy, so much so that he hadn’t even bothered putting on walking shows and went up there in his trainers. That information, a sandwich and some chocolate was enough to put Laurens mind at ease and she was then up for a photo at the top!
The walk down wasn’t nearly as difficult as the walk up, it still took a couple of hours and our calves burned the following day from it, for a while we were still in the snow and on occasion came across snowmen, guardians of the mountain!
When we arrived back at the van we looked up at Ben Lomond, it was a pretty awesome thing we did and when you are at the bottom looking up it’s an awesome feeling knowing you’ve walked to the top and back, I’d kicked off strava which said we’d done the walk in 4.5 hours, it clearly didn’t take into account us stopping and starting as in reality we’d been gone for a lot longer!
We’d agreed that as this was our last night we’d eat out, we’d worked up a pretty serious appetite so we jumped in the van and headed for Drymen to a place Lolly had spotted when we arrived the day before. We ate at the Drymen Inn, there is a bar menu and then a traditional Scottish menu. I’m not sure how traditional Haggis Pakora is but that’s what I started with and Lauren had Cullen Skink, for our mains I went for the steak and Lauren had braised shin of beef, our food was amazing, unfortunately I was so full up I didn’t get to try the taste of Scotland dessert, deep fried mini mars bars, irn bru float and tablet ice cream, sounds the nuts!
I’d had a feeling pretty much all day that when we got back our nice spot by the loch would be gone and sure enough when we got back it had, a family in a motorhome were parked where we were and after I explained that we had been promised this pitch it was pretty clear they weren’t going to move and suggested I go see the manager.
What followed next was a customer service disaster of epic proportions. All three of the staff came out and I explained to the very person who said that we would have that spot what had happened. “We didn’t know you were going out” she said despite me stopping at the office and telling you we were going out and would you make sure we got to keep our pitch which you assured us you would. “Did you leave anything to show the pitch was taken” the second member of staff said, like what exactly? “Well, how about your hookup cable?” I’m from London, if you leave something out of value it will be gone before you know it I explained. “Well you don’t get that sort of thing round here, leaving things out to show you have claimed a pitch is an unwritten rule” number 2 said. Ahh right, an unwritten rule, of course. Number 3 pipes up who it turns out is the site manager “It’s not my fault you don’t understand the protocol”, I assumed he was referring to the unwritten leave something out of value rule.
By this point I was starting to get wound up and I didn’t swear but it was obvious to all I wasn’t pleased, especially when the next thing that came out of the manager’s mouth was “Well how am I supposed to know where everyone is camping?” You’re the bloody manager, surely from a health and safety point of view you should know how many people are on your site and where they are camping, what if there was a forest fire and you had to evacuate, how can you account for all your guests? The next thing he suggested was to find us another select pitch to which I agreed but I wasn’t really thinking straight, in my anger I’d left Lauren in the van with my headlights beaming into the Irish families motorhome probably scaring their kids, when I did come back i hardly explained what was happening and before we knew it we were parked under a tree by the water at the other end of the site as far away from any of the facilities as we could be, I got a minor roasting from Lauren and we went to bed.
3 hours or so later the rain was chucking it down and water drops from the branches of the tree were hitting the van like small cannonballs and keeping us both awake, eventually I got up, unhooked the van and reversed it into another pitch with no trees.
Our final morning in Cashel, I drove the van up closer to the showers and we got ourselves sorted to head back to London. I spied the manager pootling about the site on his electric bike and he headed in my direction. I was going home and not really up for another confrontation but it was clear the manager wanted to have a chat. In short he told me they felt bad about the previous evenings situation and would like to offer us a free nights stay. I apologised for being so animated and advised explained that was a very nice gesture but we were heading back to London. He said he would put a note against our booking and to let them know who we were and we could have a free night.
Lauren went over to speak to the people in our original pitch to basically apologise for my behaviour and it we had a brief chat, it transpired that the member of staff I spoke to about reserving the pitch was the same member of staff who told them the pitch was free.
In fairness, it was a lovely site and I would go back, i’d just make sure we had some rubbish chairs or something to leave on our pitch!
We popped in to Drymen to drop some cake to the local butcher in return for giving Lolly some free bananas the day before, we bought some nice ham and haggis pies, a loaf of bread from the bakers and began the trip back down south.
It chucked it down for the entire trip home, 9 solid hours of rain…