The trail starts at beautiful Loch Morlich: an impressive lake, surrounded by snow caped mountains and pine forests. The track makes a great starter route because it is easy to follow throughout, not too hard on the legs and yet rewardingly beautiful.
From the parking lot, the first stretch is a little boring, over a wide gravel road with only occasional views. Don’t worry though, soon the trail winds into the forest, up and down a narrow, rocky path. We came across one guy who tried to follow it on a bike but really, that was a very bad idea (unless you’re stunt-level professional – which he clearly wasn’t).
After a short while, the forest trail leads to Loch Uaine, a small basin of water with a remarkable colour. The lake is tightly closed in by the trees and hills, so the view disappointed me a little, but yet the area seemed very popular with cyclists and dog-owners. It would make for a great pick-nick spot on a warm, sunny day, but we moved on rather fast, longing for broader views.
And broader views were sure delivered. Not long after lake Uaine, the trees cleared and we entered a valley dominated by low vegetation and waving hills. The path is still flat here though, and it remains broad and sturdy. A lone wee house stands in the midst of the vast landscape, and it’s here that the trail goes left and – at last – up.
At this point you’re already halfway the circuit.
The total ascent is 543 meters, done in about 2km of walking, but it’s not too hard because the trail stays sturdy throughout the climb and has comfortable, low stairs at the steepest parts. There’s no scrambling nor cliffs and we were lucky enough to be fairly sheltered from the wind while slowly winding up the slope.
Yet even though the hill is only 810 meters high, we could feel the air getting colder as we neared the top. The sky got moist with water of low hanging clouds, and this made our little breaks increasingly uncomfortable.
At the summit, my fingers were freezing around my camera and my clothes swung violently around my limps. It almost seemed as if the elements didn’t want us there: as gentle as the weather had been in the valley, so hostile did it seem now. But at least it didn’t rain or snow and – to be fair – the cold created the illusion of much higher elevation. And that illusion, in turn, added to the sense of achievement that comes with ascending a hill, or a mountain.
In Belgium we call every slope that’s moderately hard to ride a bicycle on “a mountain”, so Meall a’ Bhuachaille surely qualifies as one!
The circuit is a popular hike. We’d been crossing casual strollers, cyclists and hikers all day and it was no different on the summit. A dozen people passed by, drank tea (welcome to the UK) and caught their breath. When the weather is nice enough this is therefore a good trip for solo travellers, as I would not have minded doing this one alone (whereas I dread longer, remoter hikes in unknown regions).
We sat against the shelter that adorns the summit: an iglo-like structure that offers great protection from the wind (although it doesn’t help in case of rain). Then we spent ample time taking pictures, doing some Tai Chi / Yoga poses and trying to stay warm.
Although I was most impressed with the views from the valley on the way up (watching that cute house become smaller and smaller as the landscape swallowed it was a magnificent spectacle), the views on the way down were not bad either. With Loch Morlich in front and a barren, unsheltered hillside guiding you to it, Meall a’ Bhuachaille offers once again a different scenery.
I highly recommend the hike up to Meall a’ Bhuachaille on a decent day. The path is good enough to be hiked easily even in rain, but the top seemed prone to mist and without visibility it wouldn’t be much fun (and might require some navigating skill).
I also recommend the Walking Highlands website for all your Scotland hiking as it provides very accurate, detailed information and decent topographic maps. It’s an unmissable tool when planning a trip, regardless your fitness level. There’s everything from very easy strolls to long distance trails and Munro summits!