The problem with bagging Munros and Corbetts exclusively is that many so called ‘lesser’ hills are neglected. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. If you omit these hills of lesser height you are undoubtedly missing out on some superb experiences, hillwise. Then again, the fact that these little gems are largely left alone, means that if you relish solitude away from crowds of baggers, you are sure to get it.
A wee hill I have wanted to visit for many years, yet had never gotten under my belt, was Meall nan Eagan. Tucked away behind its bigger neighbour, The Fara, and dwarfed by the even bigger mountains of Ben Alder Forest, it is viewed by so many walkers as a mere afterthought; for it the time had come to put that little matter right.
Just beyond the distillery at Dalwhinnie, the road to Lagganside describes an open ended loop. As it straightens out to make its journey north a signposted Forestry track dives off left; not many yards farther up the road another gated track, again signposted, this time as a Right of Way to Lagganside, heads into the roadside trees. You’ll know you’re on the correct track courtesy of a little pond over on the left; it’s so bonny as to give the impression of being man made.
After half a mile we were giving the Allt an t-sluic Lodge a wide berth via the provided (privacy) track; where the track ends a marker post directed us up the bank and back onto our original track. From here it’s a pleasant walk above the flow of Allt an t-sluic, across whose waters range hillside hugging birch, just now in gorgeous summer green.
It was snowing! Well, it may as well have been; with every brush of our boots through the grass and heather, clouds of Small Heath butterflies rose to flutter about us, so many there must have been a recent hatch. Added to these were simiar numbers of Heath Moths, plus various other species here and there.
Under an already broiling sun we moved on slowly. A couple of times the track forded the allt, today shallow enough to splash across dry shod. (In spate it’s easy enough to continue on the northern bank.) Before long our mountain, rugged looking in the distance, came into view.
After a final crossing the path gave up the ghost. No matter, we had only to cross gently risng ground, a little boggy here and there, to reach the shallow col between our destination mountain, Meall nan Eagan, and nearby Carn na Ceardaich. Ahead we saw an antlered stag or two, resplendant in their russet summer coats.
A line of old fence posts marches up Meall nan Eagan’s East Ridge. Through predominantly heathery terrain, liberally littered with big granite blocks and the occassional mini crag, we let the old fence lead us. It was too hot to hurry. Gratefully for respite we stopped often and gazed over the growing scene out north. The Monadliath dominated; chief among them we saw Carn Dearg and Geal Charn. Further eastwards and Cairn Toul of The Monadh Ruadh, alias Cairngorms, offered its huge barn shaped profile to our gaze. A shame the ugly line of power line pylons that cut across the low ground in the midde distance! There were Snipeflies in the heather begging to be photographed; on the downside, though a slight and very welcome breeze meant that we saw no midges all that day, there were biting Clegs!
The summit came mercifully quick. And thus a chance to sun bathe. And a gaze into Creag Meagaidh’s ‘Window’, a gawp at nearby Ben Alder and his neighbours. Farther west Ben Nevis appeared still to be carrying a fair amount of snow on his eastern flanks.
But I’d come here primarily to look down at The Dirks. Two savage rocky gashes that bite deeply into The Fara’s northern spur, from here they looked as dramatic as the guide books have described them.
The Dirk Beag, (Small Dagger), as its name suggests, is the lesser of the two ravines, its upper reaches are filled with the waters of Lochan na Doire Uaine. Its southern walls are formed by the cliffs of Creag nan Adhaircean. The southern walls of this rock mass, along with those of Meall Liath, confine the boulder choked Dirk Mor (Big Dagger).
Steep grassy slopes lead down to a place of birch, refreshing burns and thread like waterfalls. It isn’t a difficult re-ascent into the mouth of the gorge, there are even traces of paths hard against the left hand wall. In wet weather the boulders can be slippery and teacherous and are best avoided; on a hot dry day like today there’ll be no problems. Yet no matter the weather, be it dull or a sun drenched day like today, once you’re in the confines of the Dirk Mor, you are in a gloomy world indeed!
But it’s all good fun. Like toothpaste from a tube you are soon squeezed from the upper end to be deposited on the grassy slopes of Meall Liath. From here its a steady pull southeast in the company of the same decrepit line of fence posts that had earlier led us to Meall nan Eagan’s summit.
This old boundary fence passes over the very summit of The Fara, to continue down in a direct line to the shores of Loch Ercht. Except that at the summit the fence becomes a wall. In fact at one time this wall was substantial. At the summit the wall has been robbed of much masonry for use in the gigantic cairn, indeed the wall and the cairn appear to be joined at the hip!
And at this summit cairn you are presented with choices. A wonderful walk, given time and daylight, takes the walker along the entire three mile ridge, high above the ribbon of Loch Ericht, over Meall Cruaidh and thence down to Loch Pattack; from here the Ericht-side track can be followed all the way back to Dalwhinnie.
Alternatively there’s the more direct descent alongside the wall (later a fence again), a little south of east on steep and sometimes boggy ground characterised high up by heather and further down by grass. This route will take you to the Ericht track a little over a mile from Dalwhinnie.
Yet another route, this one no less interesting than the first, takes The Fara’s Northeast Ridge. There’s not too much in the way of a path this way, until that is, you are able to locate a rather ugly bulldozed track that will take you all the way down to our inward track near Allt an t-Sluic Lodge. If you do choose this ridge for off you will find it more rewarding to ignore the track and battle on to reach the ‘Right of Way’ in the vicinity of the birch that stands passed on the outward walk.
Time and energy levels will likely dictate the choice you make. Whichever route you do choose, you are guaranteed a memorable day out; even supposing you only reach the summit of little Meall nan Eagan, you won’t be disappointed, trust me!