Walk of the week: Meall Nan Tarmachan

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Meall nan Tarmachan, commonly referred to as simply Tarmachan, lies west of the main Lawers range of which it arguably forms part, despite the minor road to Bridge of Balgie acting as a divide.

The eastern slopes of Tarmachan, being National Trust for Scotland territory and part of Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, have no stalking restrictions. Although the post-war damming of Lochan na Lairige added little length (the water destined for the power station at Finlarig at the west end of Loch Tay), the distinctly unattractive dam seems at odds with the area.

The hill is best seen to advantage from the top of Glen Ogle, this south-east aspect revealing a sharp and craggy two-mile main east/west ridge that suggests, correctly, a worthy traverse. Earlier, having chronicled a most enjoyable ramble over the Lawers range made with HT Munro (yes, that’s our man!), JG Stott in the SMC Journal of 1891 recounted a 10¼ hour outing to the multi-peaked Tarmachan ridge (and Meall Ghaordaidh) on 21 December 1890.

“….I enlisted Munro, and together we journeyed to Killin, amply provided with warm clothing, compasses, aneroids, quite a library of maps, and our ice axes, and determined to make a most resolute assault …. Cold! Indeed it was. Munro’s pocket thermometer registered its utmost, 18° of frost, and then the mercury disappeared into the bulb; so we were hardly surprised to find the Lochay River fast bound in ice….”.

Munro’s Tables of Heights Over 3,000 Feet were published in 1891.

The route

Drive past the site of the former Ben Lawers visitor centre and a car park, now on the west side of the road. Continue to the start of a rough track, map ref 604384, where there is adequate off-road parking.

This gives a 460m starting height by which time 1,044m/3,425ft Tarmachan no longer seems quite so big and there is a path all the way to the summit over the slight SSE ridge.

Follow the track for some 400 yards then head west, map ref 602379, on the obvious well-made path. This point is also reached by path from the new car park. Pass gently and easily through a regeneration area, turning north to reach the base of the ridge. The path then eases the climb to a 923m knoll, the south-east subsidiary Top, promoted in 1997. Although traversed on this the popular route, many hillwalkers are unaware of its status. It is interesting that of the first 24 Munroists, as listed in the period 1901-1955, 11 included all the Tops in their round; arguably Munro’s original intention but a practice nowadays largely ignored.

From there, descend but 34m to a stile over an electrified fence. Thereafter the going is steeper north-west, but the path, stepped in places, shows the way.

Meall nan Tarmachan means hill of the ptarmigan, not that I have seen any there, but I did meet another Robin – Robin Versteeg, returning from the summit with a baby carrier. The occupant, two-year-old Elijah, was remarkably silent about this his “first” Munro. Hopefully he will return unaided another day. Once on the ridge, turn left for the summit cairn by the edge of crags.

On a good day an experienced party would continue with a traverse of the main ridge which includes three more subsidiary Tops, surprising given Tarmachan’s relatively small strip of land above 3,000ft. One of them, Meall Garbh, is an attractive peak more deserving of pre-eminence than the 18m higher lumpish summit.

However, with mist forecast and three dogs to contend with, Jimbo and I had decided the day before just to go to the summit. Dogs on lead pulling up are of some help; but being pulled along a knobbly ridge in the mist is not a good idea. With no views and a cold breeze, we did not linger long, retracing our steps for the descent. A short but satisfying day.

Map Ordnance Survey map 51, Loch Tay & Glen Dochart

Distance 4 miles

Height 650m

Terrain Good track and path to summit

Start point Map ref 604384 just south of Lochan na Lairige dam

Time 3 to 4 hours

Nearest village Killin

Refreshment spot Bridge of Balgie Tearoom