Among Scottish hills, Ben A'an is one of the leading contenders for the least-effort big-views prize (only closely beaten by Stac Pollaidh in Assynt, I reckon). It also offers a fun, if somewhat short, run on a (mostly) rocky path. If only there was some way to incorporate this fine wee hill into a bigger run ...
Well, there is! A closer look at the map betrays a natural ridge line linking Ben A'an to Ben Ledi. Apart from the two terminal points, this provides an outing over ground less trodden -- mostly off track, with a sense of remoteness that makes one forget that Stirling is just half an hour down the road.
The combination of nearly marathon distance, mainly off track running, and ascent in excess of 2,500m pushes the complete Ben Ledi - Ben A'an horseshoe somewhat beyond the 'run less epic' moniker. The route described here is a shortened variation, that, nevertheless, still offers the experience of Trossachs 'backcountry' in all its glory.
Unlike most of my routes, you will either need someone to drop you off and collect you, or have the use of two cars, or be prepared to close off the loop with additional six or so kilometres on the road (NB: due to current forestry operations, the Ben A'an descent path will take you to the Ben Venue car park).
Benvane -- Ben A'an Horseshoe
Start from the walkers car park on N side of A821 about 1/2 km or so after Lendrick Lodge. Take the marked path which heads to Cnoc nan Sltheage and eventually descends on the Glen Finglas access track about 1/2 km N of the dam (excellent running). Continue on the access track till NN 531 090, then take the fork up Gleann Casaig all the way to the 600m contour line (a number of small streams come down onto this track, you might want to replenish your water supplies before leaving it, as it will be a while to the next suitable water source).
Head over to an old fence line that runs the crest of the ridge following the boundary line on OS map, and follow this NW up Benvane, then descent along the NNW ridge down toward the road bridge in Glen Buckie (NN 530 175) as described for the longer route option here; excellent running. (NB: while a final descent NW over Bealach a' Chonnaidh is possible, it is not recommended, the grass is very tussocky and the steep lower section is covered in bracken, while the recommended route provides good running all the way.)
Pick up the path marked on OS map that head in westerly direction, and where it starts contouring S, head NW, crossing the river, then follow N bank Allt Fathan Glinne to gain Bealach Driseach. This section is damp and hard going, but the beauty of the stream provides some
distraction. The small stream that comes out of Bealach Driseach (not on the map) is the last good water source for the rest of this route.
(Obviously, the pure line here would be to head up over Creag Mhor, adding 300m or so of climbing -- considering the difficult ground along Allt Fathan Glinne, this might, in fact, be not be as much extra effort as would seem on paper, but I have not explored this variation.)
The somewhat intimidating rocky outcrop, guarding the ridge against intruders from Bealach Driseach, can be turned on the right relatively easily, preferably not thinking too much about the numerous sheep skeletons scattered around its base. Once on the ridge, follow it to
the unnamed 771m summit. Good running, though keep an eye out for segments of old fence wire left lying around.
From the 771m summit head directly S; note that there are many fences in this section of the hill, so do not rely on them for navigation. About 1/2 km before the Beinn Bhreac summit, a fence line heads down the hillside initially in SE direction, then turning E to cross the large bealach (this corresponds to a boundary marked on the OS map). Follow it across the bealach (peat hags) onto the next ridge and the unnamed 697m summit (this is one of the places where your mind plays tricks on you, making the ascent the other side of the bealach look much bigger than the map suggests).
Follow the ridge over Cnoc Odhar, through Bealach na h-lmriche, continuing SE into the large bealach at NN 493 105. The running on this section is initially good, but deteriorates and the bealach is just a swamp.
Continue out of the bealach in SE direction (following the fence) passing just S of Lochan nan Ni. By this point, it is heather bashing in earnest. Once at the lochan, the best option is probably to continue directly along the fence over the high ground and pick up a dear fence on the other side, taking it S toward Ben A'an.
Ascend Ben A'an, and quickly forget all about the hard work of the last couple of miles as you descend Ben A'an with a wide grin. Be ready for some West of Scotland banter along the way!
37km / 1900m ascent; allow 7-8 hours