The walk A great round for shorter win­ter days

The Herald Magazine - - etc OUTDOORS -

© CROWN COPY­RIGHT 2018 ORD­NANCE SUR­VEY. ME­DIA 059/18

Grade: Mod­er­ate hill walk Dis­tance: 6miles/10km Time: 5-6 hours

YOU won’t find much in­for­ma­tion about the hills of Strath Conon in Scotland’s moun­taineer­ing lit­er­a­ture. The Cor­betts guide­books men­tion them al­most re­luc­tantly and other guides seem obliv­i­ous to this long and beau­ti­ful glen that lies about 30 miles west of In­ver­ness.

You’ll find Strath Conon by turn­ing off the main A835 Ul­lapool road at Moy Bridge, fol­lowed by a right turn at Mary­bank. The sin­gle-track road runs for some 17 miles through land­scape that grows steadily wilder and more moun­tain­ous as you head west. The face of the glen was changed dur­ing the splurge of hy­dro schemes that were cre­ated in the 1950s and 60s and the con­struc­tion of dams on the River Meig and the River Conon re­sulted in what is now the Meig Reservoir and Loch Achonachie.

De­spite the hy­dro works, this sin­gle-track road from Mary­bank, near Con­tin, is a de­light, and I’ve of­ten en­joyed it as a pre­cur­sor to a day on the Strath Conon tops. For much of the road’s lower route it’s well wooded, with the Conon cours­ing through a se­ries of pools and lochans, but be­yond Mil­ton the hills be­gin to rise steeply on ei­ther side of the nar­row­ing glen and it isn’t long be­fore the pyra­mid shape of Meal­lan nan Uan (2749ft/838m) rises above its nar­row ridge. Close by stands Sgurr a’Mhuilinn (2884ft/879m) com­pet­ing for dom­i­nance, and while it ap­pears as a big­ger and bluffer re­flec­tion of its near neigh­bour it lacks the sub­tlety and grace of Meal­lan nan Uan. It could be a male and fe­male thing, not un­like the dif­fer­ences be­tween Cri­an­larich’s twin Mun­ros, Ben More and Stob Bin­nein. One is big and brutish, the other more sub­tle and sen­su­ous.

An ex­cel­lent cir­cu­lar route links the two Cor­betts, start­ing at Strathan­more in Strath Conon, but Hamish Brown, in his book Climb­ing the Cor­betts, de­mands that you ini­tially visit the lo­cal church, sit­u­ated just south of Strathan­more. So what’s so spe­cial about this church to war­rant such in­sis­tence from Brown? Well, it’s by Thomas Telford, he who is bet­ter known for cre­at­ing the Cale­do­nian Canal. In 1819 the Gen­eral Assem­bly of the Church of Scotland asked the gov­ern­ment for fi­nan­cial aid to build churches in re­mote parts of the High­lands. The Kirk was ap­par­ently con­cerned about the preva­lence of Catholic churches in these ar­eas. The Gov­ern­ment ac­qui­esced and five years later 32 churches were built, un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the en­gi­neer Telford. The wee church at Strathan­more is one of them.

A sketchy path runs up the grassy hill­side from the church (or from Strathan­more) be­fore steep slopes lead to the sum­mit of Creag Ruadh, the south-east ter­mi­nus of a fine un­du­lat­ing ridge that climbs over a sub­sidiary top be­fore ris­ing steeply to the sum­mit of Meal­lan nan Uan. The hill’s south­ern slopes drop dra­mat­i­cally into forested Glen Meinich, while the north­ern slopes plunge into the rather gloomy Coire a’ Mhuillin, whose dark lochan fills the high-level hol­low.

My son and I had en­joyed a quick

Route: Fol­low the S bank of the Allt an t-Strathain Mhoir, avoid­ing the fenced forestry plan­ta­tion. Be­yond the 400m con­tour head SW and climb the steeper slopes of Creag Ruadh. From here fol­low the ridge NW, over an in­ter­me­di­ate knoll to the steep sum­mit slopes of Meal­lan nan Uan. De­scend now, in a NW di­rec­tion, to the col be­fore Sgurr a’Mhuilin. Cross an­other knoll then climb the grassy slopes of Sgurr a’Mhuilin to gain the ridge. The sum­mit trig point is at the E end of this ridge, from where a steep nose drops down to peaty flats on the N side of the Allt an t-Strathain Mhoir. Cross the stream to its S bank and fol­low grassy slopes down­hill back to the start.

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