GLEN LOCHAY'S Meall Ghaordie will never win any prizes for popularity but as a fully-paid up member of the Munro list - it stands 3,409ft high - it will never be short of visitors.

Even on a cold, grey and blustery Sunday the hill lured its fair share of baggers. A couple by the summit cairn tempered their feelings for the hill by suggesting it was really a "winter mountain". After enjoying some mild icy scrambling on its summit flanks I had to agree. In summer it's no more than a grassy plod, a good evening stroll.

I'm always loathe to describe a hill as dull ever since my good friend, the nature writer Jim Crumley, told me there are no such things as dull mountains, only dull people, and I think he's right. Even a hill like Meall Ghaordie has its good attributes and if I chose to climb it by its dullest route, then that probably made me a very dull individual indeed.

Like everyone else, I was following the guidebook route up the hill, even though I knew there were better alternatives.

Meall Ghaordie (or Meall Ghaordaidh, as the Scottish Mountaineering Club guide to the Munros has it) is essentially a blunt nose that lifts itself above the rough moorland of the long, undulating ridge that stretches between the Lairig Breisleich and the Lairig nan Lunn. Both passes connect Glen Lochay in the south with Glen Lyon in the north.

The guidebook route (including my own Munro guidebooks) follows the long grassy slopes from Glen Lochay. The route from the north, from Glen Lyon, is marginally more attractive, thanks to a couple of notable rocky spurs, Creag an Tulabhain and Creag Laoghain.

Once you cross the River Lyon near the Stronuich Reservoir a straightforward route follows the Allt Laoghain high into its corrie from where grassy slopes lead to the summit cairn. An even better route from Glen Lyon crosses the river near Cashlie and follows the line of the Allt Chiorlaich to a high bealach just west of Meall Na Cnoc-laraich.

From the summit of Meall Na Cnoc-laraich a short descent then a climb up a broad ridge takes you on to the Munro.

The Glen Lochay ascent is even more straightforward.

A long trudge of some 2,700ft from Tullich or Duncroisk follows grassy slopes, the monotony of which is only broken by some rocky outcrops near the summit ridge.

Probably the most rewarding way to climb Meall Ghaordie isby utilising two cars and making the ascent of the hill part of a high-level traverse between Glen Lochay and Glen Lyon. From the summit of Meall Ghaordie, a northeast ridge drops to a high bealach from where steep slopes climb to the summit of the shapely Beinn nan Oighreag. From here another ridge stretches north above the Lairig Breisleich before dwindling out above the Lochan na Lairig road (the high-level road that runs past the Ben Lawers Visitor Centre) as it descends to Bridge of Balgie in Glen Lyon.

So with such a choice of routes why did I opt for the dull tourist route? Covenience, I guess, coupled with the fact the weather was poor and I wanted to tick the hill as an addition to my third round of the Munros.

And therein lies the sin of the Munro-bagger, allowing the tick in the book to take precedence over the quality of the ascent. But at least I had the justification of climbing the hill in winter conditions and Meall Ghaordie is, as the gentleman on the summit suggested, best considered as a winter mountain.


Map: OS Sheet 51: GR 514397

Translation: Possibly rounded hill of the shoulder, arm or hand

Pronunciation: myowl jirdee

Start/finish: Duncroisk in Glen Lochay

Distance: About 5 miles

Approx time: 4 hours

Route: From Duncroisk, go through the gate by the road and follow the muddy footpath that runs through fields on the west side of the Allt Dhuin Croisg. Follow this footpath as it climbs higher past some old shepherds huts. Cross a fence by a stile on to open hillside and continue on the track until you reach an old sheep enclosure on the skyline. From here leave the track and take a north-west line up the broad and undulating ridge to more rocky slopes just below the summit. Weave a route around the rocks and climb more steeply to the summit trig point that sits inside a large circular cairn. Descend by the same route.