Staying with a group at Craggan, Loch Tay, my first visit to Meall Ghaordaidh was on New Year's Day in 1981. The new day and year dawned dark, windy and cold, but I was in the "first round" euphoria of hillwalking and had never been on top of a Munro on 1 January before. Rising at 7:30am, I had to contain my frustration and irritation as everyone else lay resolutely abed – I could not comprehend their lack of enthusiasm. It took a full two hours before some members were ready to set off. We climbed Meall Ghaordaidh by the short popular route, getting to the very windy top by early afternoon, by which time it was too late to climb anything else.
Sandwiched between Glen Lyon to the north and Glen Lochay in the south, Meall Ghaordaidh is in the middle of a large stretch of ground 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 within a short distance – Beinn nan Oighreag to the north-east and Meall nan Subh to the west – yet, for all that, Meall Ghaordaidh feels like an isolated hill, set amid some rough and undulating terrain.
Its relative isolation makes its almost conical top at 1,039m/3,409ft easily recognisable from afar. It is thus seldom climbed with other hills, apart from the odd occasion when Beinn nan Oighreag is included, itself at 909m not far short of 3,000ft.
The name has taken a few turns over the years. Centuries ago it was mapped as Bin-Gyroy. One-inch maps in the early 1900s referred to it as Meall Ghaordaidh, then for some reason it changed to Meall Ghaordie in the 1920s. The current Landranger reverts to Meall Ghaordaidh though the Munro Tables have consistently opted for Meall Ghaordie.
Ghaordaidh could mean a part of the body such as the upper arm or shoulder, possibly from the Gaelic gairdean, so may mean rounded hill of the shoulder, a description that could apply to many a hill. It is interesting to consider hill names and wonder what direction they were named from. It may have been the early inhabitants of Glen Lochay who named this one for, apart from its small area of summit crags, the southern slopes are broad and grassy. The old shielings on these lower slopes would support this idea. From the Glen Lyon side, however, meall is a misnomer. Three craggy spurs jut towards the glen – Creag an Tulabhain, Creag Laoghain and Creagan an t-Stuichd.
Although an approach from the north makes for a more interesting day, and arguably Glen Lyon is much prettier than Glen Lochay, nevertheless most hillwalkers use the grassy southern slopes as the popular and easy approach.
You will need Ordnance Survey map 51, Loch Tay & Glen Dochart.
From Killin, go up Glen Lochay for three miles, past Duncroisk and crossing the Allt Dhuin Croisg. Park considerately a few yards further on by a gentle bend in the road that gives quite a lot of parking space. Walk back towards the Allt Dhuin Croisg to a sign saying Meall Ghaordaidh at the start of a farm track not shown on the map. The track heads NNE on the west side of the river, initially through fields and then on to open country. On approaching some shielings, remnants of a bygone age, a worn path goes north-west on what is, at first, the vague south-east ridge of Meall Ghaordaidh. Continue north-west on a good angle of ascent as the grassy ridge becomes more defined.
Only later does the ground steepen and the path turns NNW through an under-mapped 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 and provides good shelter, as well as being a good viewpoint.
On return, retrace your steps, staying well clear of more substantial crags east of the summit.
Map Ordnance Survey map 51, Loch Tay & Glen Dochart
Distance 5 miles
Terrain Farm track, then grassy hillside
Start point West of Duncroisk and the Allt Dhuin Croisg in Glen Lochay at map ref 526364
Time 4 to 5 hours
Nearest village Killin
Nearest refreshment spot A good choice in Killin