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Corbett bagging: Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill

Written by Fiona

May 27 2024

Many people refer to the Corbett, Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill, as the one with the very long name. I was curious to understand the name and I discovered it translates from Gaelic as “the little grey hill of McDougall’s corrie”.

I pondered this as I drove the long singe-track tarmac A838, north of the small and remote village of Lairg in Sutherland. I imagined the mountain would be covered in grey rocks, but I also wondered who McDougall was. 

I parked close to the track start leading to the farm.

For various reasons, I had decided to do a solo walk of Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill. With no one to meet, I had a fairly relaxed departure time of 8.15am from home. I stopped at Dingwall for food and petrol and made it to the start of the hill at Aultanrynie, near Kinloch, just off the A838, for 10.40am. It was a longer drive than Google maps suggested but mainly because of the final single-track section. 

However, I wasn’t worried about the later start because I thought the walk would take me no more than six hours. The long days of summer in Scotland allow for a more relaxed approach to walking and I was planning a van night, so I didn’t need to rush.

The weather forecast was rather hit-and-miss and despite checking a few websites, including the Met Office, MWIS and YR.no, I wasn’t sure if I would have sunshine, cloud, or a mix, although I was fairly confident there would be no rain.

Ben Stack in the distance.

Track and hill on Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill

As I set off along a wide and dusty Landrover track that heads towards the south-eastern shore of Loch More, I could see the distinctive triangle outline of another mountain, Ben Stack, ahead. The summit at 721m was shrouded in cloud and since Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill rises to 801m, I fretted I would be walking in mist for much of the day.

This area of Sutherland has such a stunning landscape that the idea I would miss it all due to cloud cover was disappointing. 

This meant I was grateful for warm sunshine and a tailwind on lower ground. The track skirts the loch for around 1km, passing an ancient walled cemetery and a wooded plantation before heading uphill. 

Still on a wide track, the route zig-zags for another kilometre and, at times, the gradient was very steep. I quickly became too hot in a long-sleeved baselayer and removed it so I was wearing only a t-shirt and my skort.

I had chosen to wear trail running footwear and I appreciated the grip they afforded on the loose dirt.

The cloud lifted from Ben Stack.

At around 300m elevation, a well-laid track – it looks very new or recently relaid – petered out and turned into a rougher ATV-style track. It was still obvious for another kilometre and I was surprised by how far up the lower slopes the track took me. Corbetts are often pathless mountains so I welcomed the easy navigation at the start of Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill.

Still further ahead, I could see the well-defined path curving around the first lump of land. On the map, this hump reaches 500m elevation, although there is no need to climb it. 

Walking up and behind the hillock, the path changed direction to travel in a more north-easterly direction.

The shoulder up on to the ridge ahead.

First glimpse of the ridge

The visibility was good, which meant I could easily see the route I would take along a wide shoulder to gain the ridge. It was at this point that the high grey rocky summit of Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill was revealed to the north.

As I tramped across an undulating grassy moorland, I picked out bits and pieces of trod in between a few bogs and peat hags. 

Ahead, I spotted two walkers making steady progress on a steep section of the shoulder. The Corbetts can be very solitary places, which I like, but I am always keen to chat to other people, too.

It turned out that Shelagh and Mike are from Drymen, near where I used to live. Shelagh revealed she has only about 30 or so Corbetts to bag to finish a round, although she confessed she wasn’t sure she would complete the list of 222. 

She started a round of Corbetts in 2015, having finished a round of Munros. Mike said he wasn’t interested in ticking lists but he was happy to join Shelagh on her chosen mountains.

Both Shelagh, aged 77, and 78-year-old Mike looked very fit and strong, although they told me they felt rather decrepit. Keeping fit is important to them and Mike told me that they felt fortunate to have avoided “structural faults”, which meant they are still able to enjoy plenty of outdoor activities.

I spotted Mike was wearing a Skyline Scotland hat. I asked about this and he was proud to report they had both run the 18k Three Mealls Race most recently in 2023 “and we were certainly not last”. 

I expect I was a little too gushing about how wonderful it is to see people in their later years walking in the mountains but having recently turned 56, age has been on my mind. I only hope I can continue to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of scaling Scotland’s highest mountains for at least two more decades.

Superb views.

The ridge to the summit

I quickly gained the ridge after a final steeper ascent on the shoulder, then turned left (west). The ridge is not a gnarly affair but rather a wide embankment of grass, moss and rocks with one side sloping quite gently to the south and steep cliffs to the north. In misty conditions, or when there is snow on the ground, walkers would need to be cautious of the edge, but on a fine and sunny day it was easy to see the way.

By now, the cloud had lifted and I was treated to increasingly superlative vistas all around. 

Walking westerly I encountered another rocky rise before the final climb – also on a jumble of interlocking and overlapping rocks –  to gain the top where a trig pillar sits inside a wind shelter. 

I passed another walker, a man, who was making his descent. We chatted for a couple of minutes about the weather, the views and our Corbett bagging. 

A decided to avoid this boggy and peat hagged terrain.

As I sat at the summit to eat my lunch, I took in a vast and impressive vista. The panorama north and south along the west coast featured many iconic mountains such as Suilven, the trio of peaks of the Quinag, Ben Stack, Arkle and Foinaven

Shelagh and Mike joined me at the summit and we chatted companionably before I felt the cold of a stiffening breeze and bid them farewell.

The descent – by the same route

It is possible to complete a loop on  Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill by heading south from the summit but I had read other people’s route descriptions warning of boggy terrain and many deep peat hags. Looking down over the landscape, the peat hags and wet ground were obvious so I chose to return the way I had come.

The out-and-back route probably adds about 2km to the full walk but I am sure it takes very little extra time. 

I stuck to a similar route as for the first half of the walk, except I cut off the ridge earlier having noticed a grassy stretch below rocks. It surprised me how many ups and downs there were on the route back because, obviously, I had already walked these.

I guess that the ups felt a little tougher due to my tiring leg muscles. The wind seemed stronger, too, and it was a little cloudier. 

Eventually, I spotted the well-trodden path that clearly shows the way off the mountain and I switched off my navigation brain and simply enjoyed the momentum of hiking downhill.

A sign for the Pilgrim’s Trail. But what is this?

Passing the burial ground, I decided to take a closer look. I am glad I did because I spotted wooden signage for a Pilgrim’s Trail. I read later that the burial ground is called Cladh An Loin Leith, although I cannot find further details of a Pilgrim’s Trail in this area. Can anyone help?

As I came to the end of the walk, now back on the wide, flat Landrover track I thought about what had been on my mind during the adventure. I realised I had been thinking about very little other than what I was doing.

When walking solo, I focus on my route, navigation, the terrain, the views and the flora and fauna. I had tuned into the sounds of many different birds, spotted some birds in flight and counted numerous wildflowers. This is in contrast to a walk with a friend because, then, I spend a lot of the time chatting.

I returned to my van feeling physically tired but not exhausted and mentally buoyant. There is a wonderful mindfulness that is experienced when walking in the mountains and especially so when on your own. 

My route: Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill

Distance: 18.3km

Total ascent: 1100m

My route: Strava and OS Map.

Corbetts bagged: 149 

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