Meall Chuaich is the most northerly and, at 951m/3120ft, the highest (just) of the three Munros on the east side of the A9 between Drumochter and Dalwhinnie.
Unlike the other two, it stands back from the road and the summit can readily be seen looking up the line of the Allt Cuaich. The name, hill of the quaich, refers to the shallow Loch Cuaich nestling below the hill’s western flanks.
With a roadside starting height of 350m and a track beside the Allt Cuaich giving easy access to the base of the hill, not surprisingly Meall Chuaich is invariably climbed from the A9. The vast majority of hillwalkers then approach the summit via the south-westerly ridge, following a steep, muddy, then stony eroded path; a classic example of the damage caused by hillwalkers on honey pot routes. There are better ways to go.
From the summit, gentle slopes extend north-east over Carn Thomais to Glen Tromie and an estate road. That approach, requiring two OS maps (an irritant eased by self-printing a map), offers a peaceful way to Meall Chuaich, at odds with the bustle of the A9.
THE ROUTE Head east from Kingussie on the B970 to Tromie Bridge, which spans the spectacular narrow rocky gorge gouged out by the River Tromie. Note the no parking/turning area beside the bridge. Following the signposted old Right of Way, Atholl via the Gaick and Minigaig Passes, the estate road on the east bank of the river gives an easy six-mile cycle to Bhran Cottage, reached within the hour. The road surface is a mixture of gravel on top of old Tarmac, however, once past the somewhat ugly Lynaberack Lodge, it is superb Tarmac all the way.
The unmarked and disused Bhran Cottage is identified by a track that leads to the river – and a ford. However, all is not lost – a broad wooden bridge (walkers use it at their own risk) is further upstream; reached by following the rough bank, or better still by cycling up the road then cutting over. Mapped as a path, the track heads southwards. At a junction, stay on the right and descend to the grassy ravine of the Allt na Fearna. The track crosses the stream – a lovely spot – and ends at a weir, the Alltnaferna Intake. Danger of drowning!
From the weir, climb west on the steep north bank of the side stream to reach a line of shooting butts, south-east of Carn an Fheoir Bhuidhe. A vague, wet, grassy track then eases the way over rough ground, slanting WSW to reach a height of 600m, map ref 734893. From there an obvious worn track climbs over Carn Thomais, and passes another line of butts on the left. Easy walking over clipped heather then leads to the yellow-tinted mossy summit dome.
Once at the surprisingly big cairn, it may be a shock to see the distant A9, but being a slightly detached hill there are good views. It was cold on top and I lingered only to talk to three hillwalkers who had come up by the popular route, Scotsman readers Bill Stein and Irene and David Comley.
Unlike last week’s outing (two walkers, two bike frames but only three wheels), I was feeling quite smug on return to Tromie Bridge. Then disaster. The saddle snapped off leaving me no option but to push the bike or stand on the pedals on any gentle down slopes. It was a later than expected return to the car.
Maps Ordnance Survey map 42, Glen Garry & Loch Rannoch, and 35, Kingussie
Distance 19 miles (12 cycled)
Terrain Estate then hillside track to mossy hillside
Start point Tromie Bridge, Map ref 790995
Time 6 to 7 hours
Recommended refreshment spot The Duke of Gordon Hotel, Kingussie