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My just desserts for cold clamber

By Jenny Gillies

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Considering its nickname of Pudding Hill, the Loch Ness-side Graham of Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, seemed an appropriately festive ascent considering my mild overindulgence during the holiday season.

It’s a hill I have passed by many times on the road to Fort William but have only recently found out about the route up.

Turning off the A82 at the south end of Drumnadrochit, I followed the signs for Loch Ness Pottery that instructed “go to the end of the road” and was soon driving up an alpine-like road that hair-pinned its way up the hillside.

Halfway up was a judiciously placed council gritting depot – there must be some brave residents in Bunloit who negotiate this adventurous road in icy conditions. Levelling out, the road then rolled through the high croft land, finishing at a car park.

After parking here I followed a track straight ahead on foot to where a gate on the right was clearly signed for the hill path. Other signs pointing left tempted me to teas, cake and pottery pieces and I decided they would definitely be followed on the return journey.

The path wove between birch trees alongside a burn, the banks of which were edged in delicate melting ice, and then began to climb steeply upwards. As I ascended the hillside, the forest thinned and the landscape opened out into heather slopes. The path became a deep, eroded channel, showing the popularity of this hill, and I hopped in and out of the main path, choosing the easiest line upwards.

At a deer fence I stopped atop a high stile to look at the views opening up to the north. The fog that had enveloped the Great Glen earlier was quickly disappearing, with just a few wisps left at the northern end of Loch Ness.

Jumping down and turning south to continue up, the hill formed into a ridge; a high, shallow glen to my right contrasted with the steep drop to the loch on my left. It was noticeable that the temperature rose as I climbed, the effect of a change in the weather due to an approaching warm front, and the ground became wetter and boggier as I ran steadily onwards.

Looking up towards the rounded summit dome from the base of the final ascent I could see why the moniker of Pudding Hill had been attached to it. Now well into the climb, I began to feel the weight of several extra portions of clootie dumpling.

The ground steepened and began to refreeze, although not enough to stop my feet falling through the semi-frozen turf and into the sodden peat below.

As I bent forward to push upwards on the rocky path, icy rivulets made it necessary to carefully watch my foot placement. However big the lugs were on my hill shoes, they weren’t going to help me much on slick ice.

The cairn I had been able to see on the skyline on my ascent turned out to be a false summit but the true one was only a short distance further on.

From this final summit cairn I was treated to a view worthy of a mountain much bigger than Meall Fuar-mhonaidh’s mere 699m. Most striking was the view south down the Great Glen – beyond Loch Ness lay the silver curves of the River Oich, drawing the eye south towards Lochaber.

To the west, the snow capped Munros of Glen Affric dominated the skyline and eastwards, over Loch Ness itself, the knolls and high lochs on the foothills of the Monadliath created a grey and green patchwork landscape.

After lingering to absorb the view as long as the increasing wind would allow, I turned to start my descent. Now on the way back I was less careful to avoid the boggiest sections and soon the delineation between trainers, socks and leggings was becoming indistinct under an increasing layer of dark, fibrous peat. It still felt tough going on the way down but I was soon at the deer fence and onto the lower path.

At the base of the hill, the trail was like a running test track. The rocky furrowed path entered the forest where slippy, damp roots had to be negotiated. On from this a ford with rocks to hop across led to a boardwalk with its own obstacle of a fallen tree at neck height. Having successfully completed this agility test, I was back on the final section of path leading back to the car park.

The stove in the Loch Ness Pottery was on, giving welcome warmth on the midwinter day and, as a further reward to the fabulous view, I sat and enjoyed a pot of steaming hot tea and homemade cake.

Route details

Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, Loch Ness-side

Distance 6 miles / 9.5km

Terrain Clear hill path, eroded and boggy in places. Trickier in snowy conditions.

Start/finish Bunloit, car park at grid ref NH491237

Maps OS Explorer 416; OS Landranger 26

Rough going up a small hill with a high mountain feel

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