Location: Mhonaidh, Inverness-shire

Grade: Easy hill walk

Distance: 6 miles/10km

Time: 3-4 hours

Above Loch Ness

EARLY on a Sunday morning and Drumnadrochit looked like a ghost town. A bank of mist sat across the village and dirty piles of old snow lay alongside the main road. To be fair, paradise itself would look grim under such conditions and I had to ask myself, more than once, what I was doing here? Surely I would have been better staying in bed on such a morning?

The narrow road that runs to Bunloit climbs steeply above Drumnadrochit, each turn slippery with fresh snow and I knew that if there was any more snow in the course of the day then chances were I wouldn’t get back out again. But sometimes you have to make such decisions even before you set foot on your hill; constant drips from the trees suggested it was already turning milder, and further snow wasn’t forecast. It was worth the risk.

I was heading for Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, a 699m/2293ft hill that I hadn’t climbed before. A few years ago I had passed it when walking the Great Glen Way down the length of Loch Ness, and liked the way it appeared to dominate the landscape on the northern side of the loch. Despite its commanding position it’s not a big hill and I knew there was a path all the way from the car park at the end of the Bunloit road to the summit. With a heavy mist covering everything right down to loch level, I thought I might appreciate a path to follow.

The route begins gently, from the road end, and follows a succession of paths through birch woodland. It was gurgling wet underfoot, where there wasn’t old snow, and I was thankful to reach the ridge where hard snow covered everything, including the very wet and eroded footpath. Meall Fuar-mhonaidh (the rounded cold hill) is the high point on a long, narrow ridge that parallels the dramatic slash of Loch Ness. It runs on a north-east to south-west line, so views from the hill are apparently very good, from the Moray Firth to Ben Nevis down the length of Glen Albyn, or the Great Glen.

Not that I saw very much today. Thick mist still shrouded the hill although every so often the light would change, turning from murky grey to milky blue, as though I was about to burst clear of the cloud into sunshine and blue skies. I found myself becoming quite excited at the prospect, more than half expecting to find the summit clear with only the tops of the hills surfacing above the cloud temperature inversion.

But it wasn’t to be. I moved uphill slowly, creeping up the steeper snow-covered slopes, cutting slivers of steps with my ice axes, comfortable in my silent, grey world. A cairn soon loomed into sight – sooner than I expected. This couldn’t be the summit surely? I checked my new Ordnance Survey map application on my iPhone – the GPS signal suggested I was still a couple of hundred metres from the true summit. I soon passed another false cairn, traversed a small dip and eventually stomped up to the real summit.

A windless mist, cold and clammy, still hung heavily all around. I thought how appropriate the name of the hill was and recalled some lines by a writer called Anne Macleod from a poem I’d discovered a few days earlier.

It's February! Wyvis sulks in cloud.

Meall Fuar Mhonaidh, clear-headed in the gale

unfolds South, West and East; ecstatic peaks

surging through cold years towards the waves

where all our history began: a lyric feast

Glorious, small. Unfettered.

I was glad now that I hadn’t stayed in bed…

Cameron McNeish


Map: OS 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 416 (Inverness, Loch Ness & Culloden); Harveys Great Glen Way map.

Distance: 6 miles/10km

Time: 3-4 hours

Start/Finish: Road end at Bunloit (GR: NH490237). Turn off the main A82 Inverness - Fort William road at Lewiston by Borlum Bridge, signposted to Bunloit. Go almost to the very end of the dead-end road, where there is a small car park.

Transport: None to the start.

Information: Fort Augustus TIC, 01320 366779.

Route: Leave the car park and follow the Hill Footpath sign, past the turn off to a pottery, through a gate and alongside a small stream. The path soon leaves the stream, and climbs through birch woodland. Continue uphill, through another gate, cross a track then climb out of the woods and up to a ladder stile across a fence. Beyond the fence the path swerves to the left and follows a ridge in a SW direction. Soon you’ll pass a bit knoll of conglomerate rock, descend into a small dip then climb steeper slopes to the summit plateau. You’ll pass two cairns before crossing a small dip to the true summit. Return the same way.