Looking at Helensburgh from the river Clyde, Ben Bowie rises up from the right shoulder of the town and, for much of my childhood it formed the backdrop. I’ve climbed it many a time over the years that I’ve lived here, with the last time being somewhere around 1996, so when I moved back to the town in 2008 I made a mental note that’d try to get back up there soonish.
At just over 300 metres, Ben Bowie is classed as a Marilyn. It’s not the toughest of climbs and, depending on which route you take, you can be standing on the summit within a couple of hours. Which is why, when the idea popped into my head yesterday morning, I decided that I’d set out for the top of the hill with my brother. He’s not particularly fit, but I figured if we took it steadily he’d make it up there and enjoy the view and the achievement when we got to the top.
We left at 12pm – me with my 2 litre CamelBak that I’d picked up recently for cycling, and Andrew with a “big bottle of water” in his back pack. It was a hot and humid day, and even as we started through the shade of Garrawy Glen I could tell that it would be tough going unless the breeze picked up a bit.
Once on the hill proper (or at least the fields that lie after the woodland) I was pleasantly surprised to find the ground so firm under foot. I’ve been caught out before by really boggy areas, but we didn’t get our feet wet the whole afternoon – a testament to the good weather we’ve enjoyed this early in the summer.
It was just as well the conditions were good, as Andrew struggled to keep up the pace and needed to rest every 50 metres when the terrain was tricky. It would transpire that Andrew’s “big bottle of water” was actually a 1.5 litre bottle that he managed to gulp down before we were even half way up. He’d made the decision to leave two bottles of water back at the house because he didn’t think he’d need them, so I shared the contents of my CamelBak with him to stop him from getting too dehydrated.
The route we took was essentially a straight line up the middle of the hill, which we deviated from only to move into a fallow field to make it easier to walk when the rushes were making it hard going. We jinked a little before the final steep climb to avoid some sheep, too, although they didn’t seem particularly panicked by our presence.
I thought I might have been too ambitious with the route when we got to the steep rise that would take us to the top, as it was proper mountain goat territory with the kind of incline you don’t even dare think about falling down. Andrew had to stop a lot going up that final rise, although once I told him “less talkie, more walkie” he made it up without too much drama.
With that done we made our way to the highest part of the middle of the hill and stopped there to eat the lunch that our mum had kindly put together for us. It had only taken us an hour and forty minutes to get there, which I thought was pretty good going considering the amount of times we stopped, but I knew it wasn’t the highest point on Ben Bowie.
Andrew didn’t want to go on any further from where we’d had lunch, but I could see there was only 200 metres or so to go to get to the actual summit, so I left him with our kit and bolted off across the hill top so I could conquer the hill properly.
It was good fun racing over the uneven ground – images of the training montage from Rocky IV flashed through my mind, but without the snow – and when I got to the top I found that someone had placed a make-shift summit marker there. I took some pictures of the view before heading back to where Andrew was resting.
What I had wanted to do was check out the small valley that lies between Ben Bowie and The Kiliter hill behind it. I’ve camped there a couple of times and it’s a great little sheltered spot that gives a fantastic feeling of isolation. It’s been some time since I was last there, though, and with the way the ferns and vegetation grows wild I don’t know if it’ll still be as ideal. However, with Andrew being out of water I didn’t want to press on too far, so I’ll need to scope that out some other day.
The weather had stayed great all afternoon, with the wind picking up a little to keep us cool. We headed down with that in our faces, taking a slightly different route in the notion that it might not be as steep. It turned out to be even steeper than the route up, and we had to be very careful not to slip, but once that section was out of the way we simply retraced our steps back home.
We got back much quicker than I thought we would, too, taking about an hour and fifteen minutes, and having covered a total of 8.8km in just over 3 hours and 20 minutes. I was supposed to be the fit one (or maybe just the fitter one), and my legs were feeling it on the way back down, so Andrew did really well considering he ran out of water so early.
Ben Bowie isn’t the biggest hill in the world, but it’s right there on my doorstep and generations of my family have climbed it through the years. I’m looking forward to taking my daughter up there when she’s big enough to manage it, so long may that continue.
Here’s a link to the gallery of photos I took during our climb of Ben Bowie.