Monday, 19 August 2013

Meall nan Tarmachan

Last week I went up to Glasgow with my two sons to see my daughter and her partner. Our plan was to see the sights in Glasgow when it was raining and go for a mountain walk when it wasn't.It was really great to be together and do things together for a couple of days.

The mountain walk in question was the Meall nan Tarmachan ridge. The Gaelic name means Ptarmigan Hill in English but that name is never used -  and if you were to use it people might think you were referring to Ptarmigan, the subsiduary peak of Ben Lomond.

Meall nan Tarmachan is a Munro and is famous for the interesting ridge-walk that connects it to three other mountain-tops. I've been collecting Munros for years - I say "collecting" them rather than "doing" them as I'm unlikely to ever ascend all of them. Collecting them though gets one around Scotland and helps one resist the temptation to keep going back and walking up the same favourite hills. Meall nan Tarmachan was a new addition to my collection and, for the other four members of the party, their first Munro.

It is a good hill for those unacquainted with Munros. Not only is the ridge-walk interesting but the most popular ascent starts 500m above sea-level, on a minor road the runs from Loch Tay to Glen Lyon. Since the summit of the mountain is 1,043m above sea-level, that means you're more-or-less half way up as soon as you get out of the car. Also, there is a path almost the whole way.

The first peak one reaches on the ridge in the Munro itself. There's room to park off the road where a land rover track sets off left to a disused quarry. On leaving the car there was nothing to do but set off philosophically to get most of the day's climbing done.  A few yards down the track and on the right, a good path sets off across moorland to the obvious ridge that forms the skyline. The view is magnificent, particularly of the Ben Lui group and the Munros around Loch Lomond and Arrochar. The ridge undulates, then steepens, then you find yourself at the top.

Getting there was a great feeling. While we were climbing up I'd noticed cloud gathering around the summit of the Munro next door,  Ben Lawers. It would have been annoying to get to the top of our mountain to find the same thing had happened.  Fortunately, the cloud stayed high for us. It didn't rain either - the weather remained good all day. On the ascent the view has been restricted to the Southern Highlands. All of a sudden, when we reached the summit, we could see much of the rest. There were mountains as far as the eye can see - and beyond. It occurred to me that it had been over a decade since I'd stood on a Munro summit and I was relieved to discover that I could still name some of the hills I could see - the imposing bulk of Buachaille Etive Mor, at the entrance to Glencoe, was particularly distinctive.

We ate our lunch at the summit - hummus and salad sandwiches in the main, although when frantically making sandwiches that morning we'd run out of hummus and used tahini and soya sauce instead, mixed into a paste (great with spring onions, if you've never tried it). Since the weather promised to be good there was no need to rush. To the West, the main section of the ridge zig-zagged North to South and up and down. The next peak, Meall Garbh, looked quite close and its narrow, knobbly summit looked an interesting challenge. From where we sat we couldn't see the "rock step" that separated it from the next peak, Beinn nan Eachan. That hill looked steeper. The last top, Creag na Caillich looked like a straightforward walk.

It only took us a few minutes to reach Meall Garbh. Its summit indeed turned out to be a fine viewpoint and the beginning of the most interesting part of the ridge. For a short distance, the sides dropped steeply away - walking along it was not unlike walking along the ridge of a roof. Soon after we reached the rock step. It's easy but quite sustained. Most of us took the slightly easier path that bypasses it.

Beinn nan Eachan turned out to be a less stiff ascent than we'd feared and we were soon descending towards Creag na Caillich. Up to this point we had been following a very definite path. From here, the path is not quite so well-worn and sometimes splits into various alternative routes. Had visibility been poor, this would perhaps have been the easiest place on the ridge to get lost. I'd not visited these hills before and I got the impression from the lack of wear and tear from here on that people sometimes omitted or turned back from this final hill. We stopped on top to finish off the food which, as everyone knows, is easier to carry on the inside. We didn't stop long as we were beginning to get chilly. We carried on, only to discover that at one point, close to the end, the path runs right along the rotten, broken edge of a breathtakingly massive cliff that falls, almost uninterrupted, down to the moor below. Needless to say, we stayed well away from this section, sticking to the pathless, grassy top of the ridge instead, before zigzagging down to the track across the moor that would take us back to the start.

There was no reason to hurry - it was quite late but sunset was a long way off. I think we probably spent more time sitting or lying in the heather than walking - enjoying the view, the stillness and the general ambience of the place.

Once back in Yorkshire I got out my list of Munros to have a serious "tally-up".  It took a phone-call to an old walking-companion just to makes sure of one or two details I needed to be absolutely sure of my list but Meall nan Tarmachan turned out to be the 65th one I'd climbed. I must admit to feeling the old compulsion to bag a few more. I'm reminded of fictional tales of people being hypnotised then, years later, going off to do things they'd been hypnotised to do when the hear a certain word or phrase. Munro...


Joanne Noragon said...

A satisfying accomplishment. I understand there are several hundred Monro's; that's a lot of hills.

My part of the county is hilly; we are the start of the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Many of our local roads are old farm roads that evolved because people needed to get from place to place. They are built on ridges, and difficult to maintain.

Gwil W said...

Nice one Dominc. I also liked the item 'Bog Factor' at the foot of the link you highlighted. Not sure if it means the condition of the trail or the availability of toilets . . . oops, sorry about that one, just couldn't resist it.

Rachel Fenton said...

I spent a very nice fortnight between Ben Lawers and the west coast over Easter 2007, right before moving to NZ. Ben Lawers has a neat little B&B, too. I'm afraid I did little more than look at most of the hills - with awe, mind. SO, good on you for "collecting" and climbing so many. Impressive.

The Solitary Walker said...

What a wonderful day! And good weather too.

65 Munros. I'm nowhere near that. Must get up to Scotland again soon — you've whetted my appetite.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you for that walk - yes reading about it is as near as I shall ever get to actually doing it. Glad you all had such a super time. Precious days are never wasted.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone.

JN: Interesting point about roads. When we head off into the "wild" we often unconsciously rely on paths, whereas really wild places are by definition pathless. And going pathless is a lot more hard work.

GwilW: I clicked on the said link - it's the condition underfoot. I always carried a toilet roll.

RF: I seem to think the Alps in NZ are particularly impressive.

SW: In my experience, 65 is quite low as Munro tallies go. Muriel Gray wrote a book, of course, called the First Fifty. Perhaps that's the number below which one keeps one's tally to oneself. Thereby hangs a funny story I'll tell you later...

WG: There is a lot to be said for armchair Munro-bagging - in fact, armchair mountaineering generally.

GOAT said...

It's novel and maybe even a little brave these days to write a trip report as detailed and well-written as this without a single photo. Much as I like pictures on blogs, they do make both writers and readers a little lazy.

What exactly makes a Munro a Munro? A future goal of mine is to "collect" 46-ers in the Adirondacks with my girlfriend. The criteria are quite specific, and have been challenged slightly by modern surveying:
. Kate and I managed four of them in one day-hike while I was over there, a fantastic walk.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for that. A Munro is a Scottish hill that's at least 3,000 feet high. Sir Hugh Munro made a list of them known as "Munro's Tables" in the 19th century. The list gets revised slightly now and again - there are currently 282. See

Thanks for pointing me to the "46-ers". On the one hand, they're higher, on the other there's less of them! From the few internet photos I've seen they look pretty similar to the Munros.