EXCITED by a well-nigh perfect weather forecast, Jimbo and I headed for Meall Ghaordaidh. The forecast predicted a 90 per cent chance of cloud-free Munros, wind of less than 10mph, bright sunshine and clear air giving superb visibility.
The weather turned out to be all that – and there was a further bonus in that the snow conditions were just right: a lovely white pavement, not so firm that crampons were required, but not so soft that we sank in.
Sandwiched between Glen Lyon to the north and Glen Lochay in the south, Meall Ghaordaidh is in the middle of a large stretch of rough and undulating terrain that has the Lawers group and Meall nan Tarmachan to the east and Beinn Heasgarnich and the hills of Mamlorn to the west. There are also a couple of Corbetts closer to hand, Beinn nan Oighreag and Meall nan Subh, yet for all that Meall Ghaordaidh feels like a relatively isolated hill with its almost conical top easily recognisable from afar. Apart from the odd occasion when Beinn nan Oighreag is included, itself at 909m not far short of 3,000ft, Meall Ghaordaidh is thus seldom climbed with other hills.
The name has taken a few turns over the years. Centuries ago it was mapped as BinGyroy, in the early 1900s as Meall Ghaordaidh, the 1920s as Meall Ghaordie, and then reverting to Meall Ghaordaidh. The name may mean rounded hill of the shoulder, from the Gaelic gairdean, a description that could apply to many a hill. Apart from its small area of summit crags, the southern slopes above Glen Lochay are broad and grassy, whereas the Glen Lyon side is distinctively craggy. Although the northern side makes for a more interesting day, most hillwalkers use the southern slopes as the easiest approach.
Park considerately by a gentle bend in the road (space for three cars), a short distance west of the Allt Dhuin Croisg. Head east to the start of an unmapped farm track and a sign – access for Meall Ghaordaidh 1040m. There is also a West Rannoch Deer Management Group wooden box, with a request to take a leaflet, but it was empty when we were there.
The track heads NNE on the west side of the river, initially through fields, then into open country. The immediate start is often muddy but on our day the ground was nicely firm. Eventually leave the track, possibly continuing as far as some old shielings, and curve north-west on what is, at first, the vague, grassy, south-east ridge. I left surplus gear in a bivvy bag by a large boulder on the lower slopes, but carefully noted the precise location and altitude for the return.
The ridge becomes more defined on gaining height, with an easing of the gradient circa 700m. From 800m the ground steepens. The way is now NNW through an undermapped craggy area, requiring care on a misty day, to reach the summit cone. The stony top has a large circular cairn surrounding a trig point, all of which provides good shelter on a windy day. With the close-to-zero summit temperature negated by the warmth of the sun, and with little breeze, we were able to sunbathe and pick out the distant hills.
Retrace steps on return, well clear of more substantial eastern crags. We enjoyed a good snow slide, followed by a romp down the snow. What a magical day.
Map Ordnance Survey map 51, Loch Tay & Glen Dochart
Distance 5 miles
Terrain Farm track, then grassy hillside to craggy summit cone
Start point West of Duncroisk in Glen Lochay, map ref 526364
Time 4 to 5 hours
Nearest village Killin
Recommended refreshment spot The Falls of Dochart Inn, Killin