West of Balquhidder is a compact, rocky and confusingly mapped area containing seven Munros. Beinn Tulaichean and Cruach Ardrain, midway between the A85 to the north and the minor Balquhidder road to the south, are usually climbed as a pair from either direction.
Make sure to take the appropriate maps. Ordnance Survey map 56, Loch Lomond, covers both hills and map 57, Stirling, covers the drive to the car park at the end of the Balquhidder-Inverlochlarig road; the route described below. (For approaches from the north, maps 50, 51 and 56 are needed).
946m/3,104ft Beinn Tulaichean, hill of the hillocks, is in truth but a southern extension of Cruach Ardrain. From the col between the two hills, an easy grassy approach leads to the narrowing knobbly peak but, with an ascent of only 120m in less than one mile, why Tulaichean should be a Munro and not a subsidiary Top is a bit of a puzzle.
Cruach Ardrain’s small flattish top has two cairned bumps just 50 yards apart, separated by a minor dip. The 1046m/3,432ft eastern cairn is fractionally higher and has a more commanding position overlooking the north-east face, whose ridge leads to Stob Garbh, which should really be a Munro and not subsidiary Top. Its credentials are not so different from those of Tulaichean, yet the hill is the bolder and more difficult of the two summits. A worn zigzag path, to be treated with extreme caution, leads to the dip below the Top, from where there is an ascent of 103m in less than a mile.
Maps: Ordnance Survey maps 56, Loch Lomond, and 57, Stirling
Distance: 7 miles
Terrain: Track, then higher path on grassy crag-studded hillside
Start point: Car park by Inverlochlarig, map ref 446185
Time: 6 hours
Nearest village: Balquhidder
Refreshment spot: Monachyle Mhor Hotel
Drive west from Balquhidder to the large car park at the end of the public road, map ref 446185. Go west along the track to Inverlochlarig Farm and past the bridge over the Inverlochlarig Burn. A hillwalkers’ path by the west bank, avoiding the farm buildings, is clearly marked. However, at the time of writing there is a temporary diversion during the construction of a hydro-electric scheme – so you will have to follow the diversion signs.
Climb north-west, eased by a rising traverse on grassy slopes. Once at a height of some 700m, encounter rocky outcrops, but a developing Munro path leads NNW to the surprisingly large and gently sloping mossy plateau. The ridge narrows, with a knobbly area on the east side, as the summit is reached.
It took Rhona and I 2½ hours on a very hot and sweaty day. However, thereafter it was a lovely high level stroll eased by the slightly cooling breeze. We later met a young lad traversing barefoot like a hillwalking Zola Budd. He claimed that his feet were too hot in boots.
It is a climb of over 220m from the grassy col between the hills to Cruach Ardrain, but on a good and not too steep path. From the point reached by those climbing from the north, the junction of the two popular routes, the summit area becomes badly eroded. Cruach means a stack or heap of stones, ardrain refers to height, so the whole thing really means a high stack. Indeed the upper perimeter is covered in a complex jumble of rock; rough boulder fields not readily apparent from a glance at the map. Rhona was very pleased – only eight hills left to complete a fourth Munro round.
Rather than descend roughish ground to Inverlochlarig Glen, arguably the easiest return, despite the short re-ascent, is to retrace steps back over Tulaichean. Go south-west over the second cairned bump, then gradually head south, then SSE, to quickly reach the col, then the easy grassy ascent to Tulaichean. Once back at Inverlochlarig Farm, do buy some venison (or phone 01877 384232). Note that deer stalking takes place on the estate mainly from the middle of September to 20 October.