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Just north of the Scottish town of Killin, on the northern shores of Loch Tay, is a group of "hills" known as the Tarmachan Ridge. On this ridge there is only one Munro, Meall nan Tarmachan, however there are a number of peaks just around 3000 feet in elevation. After a long drive from Manchester the night before, along with an early rise and another hour plus in the hour out of Glasgow, this group of hills was the focus of my first day of hiking in Highlands of Scotland.

Elevation Profile of Trail

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Trailhead:  N 56° 30.96'
W 4° 16.13'
Total Elevation:  3218'
Trail Length:  5.8 miles
Hike Time:  4 hours
Hike Type:  Loop
Difficulty Rating:  122
Near:  Killin, Scotland, UK
Note regarding hike time and elevation traversed.  

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Trip Report and Photos

Just north of the Scottish town of Killin, on the northern shores of Loch Tay, is a group of "hills" known as the Tarmachan Ridge. On this ridge there is only one Munro, Meall nan Tarmachan, however there are a number of peaks just around 3000 feet in elevation. After a long drive from Manchester the night before, along with an early rise and another hour plus in the hour out of Glasgow, this group of hills was the focus of my first day of hiking in Highlands of Scotland.

This hike is located in the Ben Lawers National Nature Preserve, on the north shores of Loch Tay. It is a short drive from Killin, heading east on route A827. Just past Milton Morenish there is a narrow paved road to your left. Turn off here and travel approximately a mile and half until you see a parking area on your left. This is the start of this adventure attempting a climb up Meall nan Tarmachan.

When we arrived at the trailhead there were already a number of cars parked there, and a number more of cars with people just getting ready to do the hike. In Scotland, walking the Munros is an obsession for some, and for others, a past time, but regardless, when the weather breaks you are bound to see the Scots walking the hills of Scotland.

After donning our gear, which seemed a bit excessive to me at this elevation, we started our hike. The hike started out on a dirt road, and shortly after entering the Ben Lawers National Nature Preserve we passed through a gate. The gate is there more so to keep sheep in then people out. Shortly after passing the gate we beared right, leaving the road behind and started to climb the hills of Scotland.

At 0.3 miles we turned right off the dirt road and began our ascent on the well worn path amongst the heather. Compared to hiking in Pennsylvania, there aren't any trees along the trails we were hiking, thus no blazes to follow. Not that blazes were needed: the trails were easily followed by the many feet that wore the trail into the hillside. At this time of the year the heather was dormant and easy to walk through, though I've been told that it can be as bad as hiking through a mountain laurel when it is in full season.

Our hike takes place in the Ben Lawers National Nature Preserve.

Our climb wasn't too bad; consistent would be a good word to describe it. It wasn't too steep, but enough to make you want to stop and catch your breath. The climb was consistent and, at time, never ending. At about 1.2 miles the trail, after climbing the side of the mountain, made a sharp right to begin climbing the spine of the ridgeline.

In the "valley" the weather wasn't too bad. The winds were mild and the temperatures not bad. Now that we started to climb the ridgeline, the weather changed, dramatically. It seemed as if the winds picked up, and the temperature most definitely dropped. For the next 0.4 miles we climbed the spine of the ridge, with the strong winds blowing against our face. There were many times I wish I had a full face balaclava to help with chapping of the wind. Finally, at 1.7 miles and 2950 feet above sea level, we reached the first of the peaks of the Tarmachan Ridge.

We paused, for a short bit, to take pictures before we scampered across the ridge peak to get down out of the wind. It is amazing how the weather can change so quickly in such a small geographical area. The hike that we would do the following day would drive this point home. However, once we got down off the icy ridge top the winds and the weather was not so bad.

We paused here to have our lunch. Not sure of the time, but we guessed it was close to noon. After a lunch of Cheese and Pickle (variation of a Ploughman's lunch: ask your English friend about this one) we made our plans for the rest of our hike. Our initial plans were to climb to the top of Meall nan Tarmachan. However, not that we were closer, we could see the ice and snow that we were not equipped for. If we had an ice-axe or even a set of trekking poles we could possibly tackled the peak, but without the proper gear we thought it better to keep to the lower altitudes. With the decision made, we followed the lower ridge, paralleling the Tarmachan Ridge, and heading southwest as we made our slow descent.

One thing I should mention is that once we reached the first peak of the Tarmachan Ridge, the trail disappeared. Not that this was a problem, as if you look at the pictures, there really aren't many obstacles to keep you from hiking along the hillsides. That is evident as we hiked the lower ridge. Even though there wasn't a "trail" for us to follow, it wasn't all that hard hiking across the heather and sedge.

"Bushwhacking" in the highlands of Scotland, we encounter our first "obstacle" at 2.3 miles. The direction that we were heading was leading us to a very, very steep side of the hill. We decided to make a 90 degree turn to our right at this point, taking the less steep descent along the ridge line.

At 2.5 miles into our hike we came across a rather full mountain stream. In the summer time I am sure this stream would have not been a hindrance, but at this time of the year it was running swiftly. Probably about 2 feet plus deep at this point, and a good 3 feet wide, we decided to hop across at the narrowest point that we could find. I'm happy to report that no one ended up in the stream and we all continued our hike on the western banks of this minor inconvenience.

Once we crossed the mountain stream we had to make our way across a couple of snow fields. These areas had snow well above out knees and we made every effort to avoid them. At 2.8 miles we reached a point on the middle ridge where we had a nice view to both our southwest and southeast. We continued on through the heather and began the steeper part of our descent off of the ridge.

At 3.2 miles, just east of the old quarry, I encountered my first free roaming sheep. In the National Nature Preserves the sheep are allowed to graze freely. This was evident as I stumbled upon a half dozen sheep grazing upon the hillside. Till I got my camera up to take a picture they had moved on, running quickly from our presence. Tim said you have to be quick to catch a sheep, even quicker to catch a cute one. I inquired as to how he knew which one were the cute ones. He said that if I found myself in the position that I was trying to catch sheep that I'd know which ones were cute and which weren't.

After a decent through "ugly" sheep, we found ourselves on an old road at 3.2 miles. This road makes its way up to the old quarry. We turned left here and headed back to the trailhead.

We put 2.5 miles under our belt hiking the road from the quarry back to our car. However, hiking this old road was much different than hiking old forest roads in Pennsylvania. For the entire hike I had magnificent views of the loch below us. None of the views were blocked by trees or vegetation. It was on this last 2.5 miles of hiking that I realized I was no longer in Kansas. Hiking in the highlands of Scotland was much different than hiking the woods of Pennsylvania.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first hike in Scotland. Kudos go out to Tim and Fiona for offering to put up with me for the weekend and exposing me to walking the hills of Scotland. Tim and Fiona were the most gracious hosts, and I hope I can repay them with an introduction to the trails of Pennsylvania. Luckily for me, this wasn't' the end of my exposure to hiking in Scotland. The next day I got to experience even more of the hills of Scotland, but I'll let that for another trip report.