A Gaelic name enobles the dreariest English descriptions

Many of our Scottish hills have much to thank the Gaelic for; I’ve enlivened many a dreary winter’s evening by pouring over maps and memories, picking out dozens of quaintly named hills, only to find that their English translations are mundane to the point of being boring!

Sunday, 2nd August 2015, 7:00 am
Mheall Ghlas on a clear day

Take this week’s little round for instance. Beinn Cheataich, our first summit; does this not sound so much better than ‘misty hill’? The pronounciation is ‘Heeteek’, by the way.

Next in the round comes Meall Ghlas, or ‘greenish grey hill’. And then Sgiath Chuil, whose English translation is ‘back wing’. Doesn’t sound so good does it!? Yet Sgiath Chuill is a fine mountain, best seen from the A85, in Glen Dochart; from here the mountain throws up a rugged two tiered prow of rock that seems to dominate all else in the vicinity. Years ago I climbed its neighbour, Meall Ghlas, from this side. Sgiath Chuil, who’s western flank I subsequently climbed, had made for a very steep ascent.

Since, on this our latest visit to the area, we were camping in Glen Lochay, we decided to give these hills a whorl from the north.

Three miles down Glen Lochay, a bridge used to cross the river for the farm of Lubchurran. Now there’s a ford; it’s best to take your boots off for this, we did.

Due south of the farm a deep green glen opens up between Sgiath chuil’s North Top and, Meall a’ Churrain, and Meall Ghlas’ corresponding North Top, Beinn Cheataich.

A horribe track heads into the glen. It isn’t marked on older versions of the O.S. Sheet for this area (which I was using), and I imagined that it would pierce the glen for some considerable distance.

I was wrong. After some plesant walking in the company of the Lubcharran burn, the track veered off to our right, (west), and began climbing onto the grassy flank of Beinn Cheataich. The best that can be said for the track is that it’s a quick way upwards.

And relatively gentle too. Before very long we were standing at the termination of the track, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and with damp, boggy ground all around us. Rough peaty ground soon gave way to frendlier grass, the kind of swards that are peppered with mountain pansies and tormentils, not to mention pink and white orchids and sheep dung loving toadstools coloured variously grey cream and brown.

The eastern flanks of Meall Ghlas are somewhat craggier and, as we approached the summit of Beinn Cheataich, so the gentler grassy fields took on a stonier mein as the schisty skeeton of the hill broke though.

Duly we arrived at the trig point. The views all about us were very similar to those of yesterday; Ben Lawers and his acolites, forworded by The Tarmachan Ridge; also the Hills of Mamlorn. Across the divide to our right, we saw Ben Challum, and further south, the huge cone of Ben More, all green hills backed by the bluer hills of more distant vistas. Such vistas never pale.

Our next objective, Munro Meall Ghlas, sits a mere twenty metres higher than Beinn Cheatach’s own 937 metres; the drop between the two is all but negligible. After twenty minutes of relaxed and beautiful walking we were standing by the summit cairn.

Although the terrain up here is mostly grassy, there is an abundance of schist to break the monotony; no doubt this feature gave rise to the mountain’s name.

As we’d wandered south we’d done so with half an eye on the steep slopes of Sgiath Chuil, remembering that these would have to be ascended in due course. And so we retraced our steps to the col between Meall Ghlas and Beinn Cheataich; from here we started down the eastern slope.

This slope is steep and in some places craggy. Taking our time we threaded as uncomplicated a route down a short gully and around minor crags as possible. At last the gradient eased and we romped down to the flat and boggy strath below. An obvious stranded boulder stood in the valley like some abandoned standing stone; we reached it in blazing sunshine and stopped for a long lingering lunch. Cowardice really, the slopes above us looked formidable!

Alas the time arrived for that final assault. The slope began at a regular enough angle, but soon it changed its mind! Nothing for it but to shorten our trekking poles and ascend it in staircase fashion. It was hard sweaty work; we didn’t rush. And thus at last we stood on the mountain’s stony back, an utter contrast to Meall Ghlas, now looming across the glen.

We left our sacks and wandered the short distance to Sgiath Chuil’s rocky summit prow, grateful to let the sun warm our hitherto burdened backs. More fabulous views. Particularly fine was Ben More, huge, green and kingly, just a hop across Glen Dochart.

But for one small top, the day’s climbing was done. The cairn we stood at stands at 935 metres; at the northern end of the ridge, the day’s last Top, Meall a’ Churrain, touches 918. Before going that way however, there was Sgiath Chrom.

As already mentioned the mountain’s best aspect is enjoyed from Glen Dochart, into which Sgiath Chuil throws down a double tired nose of rock. Some fancy that the mountain resembles an advancing boat, an Ice Breaker, perhaps. We picked an easy route down and around the topmost crag’s western flank to pass directly below the impressive rock prow and onto a level section of ground which led us to the lip of the lower tier of crags.

And wonderful views down into the farmier lands of Glen Dochart. We gazed down into a gentler land of fields and lochans, of sparkling river and burns. We saw woodlands, both ancient and more recently planted. All were backed by the beautiful complex of the Ben More range to the south.

We clambered our way back to the ridge top and quietly made our way to the final summit. At the top of this article I talked about the Gaelic names of hills and Highland features. I didn’t tell you the meaning of Meall Churrain, did I. I’m sure you’d not have believed me! It actually translates as ‘hill of the carrot’. Do you believe me now? The mind boggles!

From the cairn the floor of Glen Lochay, let alone our tent, looked far away. With yesterday’s hills climbing from the valley floor the glen had a remoter feel, a wilder, rougher ambience than did the Glen Dochart of barely half an hour ago.

The River Lochay glinted in the afternoon sun, beckoning us down. There’s a sketchy path north from the summit but even this disappeared frequently. No matter; the way down was obvious and easy, and for much of the way quite gentle on the knees.

Around the 450 metre contour we crossed a short level section before dropping down more steeply towards the now visible sheds of Lubchurran; was this the farm where they grew the carrots!? Beyond the farm the wide ford lured us like a Siren to our doom. Our doom was bliss! And what bliss, after a full day’s hill tramp, to soothe one’s hot and aching feet in the cooling waters of the river.