Press Picks – Five Favourite Hills in the Highlands

We’ve all got those hills that we return to time and time again. They don’t have to be the biggest or boldest adventures; they’re simply reliable old friends that have been part of our outdoor journeys and where lasting memories have been made. Here, General Manager Rob has compiled a selection of his favorite hills and journeys from some of our recent SMC guides to highlight some lesser-celebrated (but no less special) mountain experiences.

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1. The Cairngorms: Càrn a’ Mhàim, Ben Macdui, Derry Cairngorm

Rob: The Cairngorms hold a special place in my heart, as I’ve spent countless hours climbing and walking in these hills. It was here that I trained to become a Mountain Leader, and it was the first place my wife and I went walking together when we first met.

Càrn a’ Mhàim; 1037m; NN 994 951; cairn of the breast
Ben Macdui (Beinn Macduibh); 1309m; NN 989 989; MacDuff’s hill
Derry Cairngorm; 1155m; NO 017 980; blue peak of the (oak) thicket

Lying between the great through passes of the Làirig Ghru and the Làirig an Laoigh, the central group of the Cairngorms has as its highest point the great dome of Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in Scotland. Three ridges extend southwards from below its high summit table. All three mountains can be climbed from the south, near Braemar, to give a long but superb day. You can find these hills in our guidebooks to The Munros and The Cairngorms & North-East Scotland.

2. Beinn Alligin

“An absolute stunner of a mountain, with breathtaking views over the Torridon hills, some airy scrambling, and fascinating geological features, like the deep cleft near the top with rock-avalanche debris on the slopes below. I first climbed this mountain with my brother and a couple of very close friends. It reminds me of the magic I felt when first visiting the North-West Highlands.”

Beinn Alligin; hill of the little jewel, the darling one
Tom na Gruagaich; 922m; NG 859 601; hill of the maiden
Sgùrr Mòr; 986m; NG 865 613; big peak 

Lying on the north side of Loch Torridon to the west of Liathach and Beinn Eighe, Beinn Alligin is the easiest and least complex of the big three Torridonian mountains. It is a fine triple-topped massif, curving around the south-east facing corrie of Toll a’ Mhaidaidh Mòr. Tom Na Grua- gach forms the left side of the corrie whilst the higher Sgùrr Mòr sits at the back with the distinctive great cleft of the Eag Dubh falling from its summit. Find Beinn Alligin in The Munros.

3. Arkle

“This was the first hill I climbed after the pandemic, on my way to meet Guy Robertson and Hamish Frost before heading out to Clò Mòr to work on The Great Sea Cliffs of Scotland. Having been stuck in Newcastle for months, spending the day on this lesser-travelled hill on my own, seeing only one other person, felt like the perfect antidote. My favorite parts of this walk were passing through the split boulder on the approach and walking along the quartzite pavement on the ridge to the summit.”

Arkle; 787m; NC302461; peak of the chest

Arkle is another gem of a hill,whose dramatic quartzite ridge curves around a wild corrie and gives brief easy scrambling.The huge sunny south face offers long though quite broken scrambles, of which the following is the best. An apparent bull-dozed track up the slope, well seen from a distance, changes on closer inspection to a quartzite steam bed scoured of vegetation, in dry weather an easy and interesting route. Open stony slopes lead on to the start of the summit ridge at Pt.758m. The true summit is 1km further on at the end of a magnificent curving ridge, which is narrow and rough going for one short stretch along a natural pavement of quartzite. Find Arkle in The Corbetts and Highland Scrambles North.

4. The Grey Corries Ridge Traverse

Rob: “Traversing the Grey Corries in winter still stands out in my memory, despite being many years ago. A night in the bothy at the eastern end, followed by a traverse in stunning conditions, made up for a previous summer attempt when a friend went hypoglycemic, forcing us to cut our traverse short after a brief stint in a bothy bag with a bag of sweets.”

The Grey Corries Ridge Traverse in winter

Stob Choire Claurigh; 1177m; NN 262 738; claurigh is probably from Gaelic clambras, brawling or clamouring
Stob Coire an Laoigh; 1116m; NN 239 725; peak of the corrie of the calf

Despite lacking the more majestic appearance of The Mamores to the south-west, these hills provide a superb high-level ridge walk in impressive surroundings. Along this ridge, the rock runs in horizontal bands which has helped create the pale grey quartzite screes that cover the higher slopes and has earned these mountains the name the Grey Corries. They present a prominent sight when viewed from the Commando Memorial to the north-west of Spean Bridge. Find The Grey Corries Ridge Traverse in The Munros.

5. Meall a’ Bhuachaille

“I’ve made many ascents of this hill in all conditions. It can save the day if winter conditions are too stormy to climb (though it shouldn’t be underestimated—I’ve had to crawl across the top before) and can be ascended as a short day or evening outing. More recently, I climbed this hill with our daughter Wren, her first proper hill, all under her own steam (Felix used my shoulders as a point of aid).”

Children on top of Meall a' Bhuachaille

Meall a’ Bhuachaille; 810m; NH 990 115; herdsman’s hill

Meall a’ Bhuachaille is an easily accessible hill with fine views over Glenmore to Cairn Gorm and its northern corries. As such, it is very popular. It is the easternmost and highest of the Kincardine Hills, a small range which extends 3km north-west to Craiggowrie, with native forest and commercial plantations on their lower slopes and lichen rich heath on the summits. The hill also lies at the start of the Làirig an Laoigh drove road, which leads through the mountains to Deeside; as such, it would have been a significant landmark for the herdsmen. Find Meall a’ Bhuachaille in The Cairngorms & North-East Scotland and The Corbetts.


Image credits

Bex Lovell looking out over the Cairngorms © Rob Lovell
Ben Macdui from Càrn a’ Mhàim, Sròn Riach is on the far right, from The Munros © Grahame Nicoll
Beinn Alligin fron Liathach © Rob Lovell
Quartzite pavement on Arkle © Rob Lovell
Tom Adams on the Grey Corries Ridge Traverse in winter © Rob Lovell
The children taking a well-earned break on top of Meall a’ Bhuacaille © Rob Lovell