Stac Gorm: a wee gem of a hill only half an hour from Inverness

Stac Gorm is one of my absolute favourite smaller hills. It’s only 430m tall, but has fantastic views in all directions from its rocky summit. It’s also a really fun hill to climb, with lots of rocky scrambling once you get up to the craggy part. The lower section of the path can be a bit boggy. Loch Ruthven on the north side of Stac Gorm is home to the Slavonian Grebe, a rare and brightly coloured bird.

Distance: 2 miles / 3km

Parking: Park at the RSPB Loch Ruthven car park. Travelling south down the A9 from Inverness, take the B851 turning signed to Fort Augustus. Look out for a small right hand turn in the village of Croachy, signed for the RSPB reserve. There is parking for about ten cars.

Amenities: No toilets or other amenities.

Buggy/bike-friendly? Definitely not – lots of scrambling!

NB: This is a craggy hill-walk and has elements of risk. I’ve included photographs of the terrain below to help you to assess whether it is suitable for you and your family. If climbing with children, please make sure that they have suitably grippy footwear and appropriate warm and waterproof clothing. Weather can change rapidly in the Highlands.

Stac Gorm: the route

  1. Standing at the car park entrance, the main path into the bird reserve is in the back right corner. The path up Stac Gorm starts roughly behind the back left corner, in the adjoining field.

2. The first landmark you will come to is a huge gneiss boulder, the Clach na Boineid or Ruthven Boulder. I understand that it’s popular with local climbers.

3. From the boulder, look out for a sheep track like path running uphill to the left. You want to be heading fairly far to the leftmost part of the craggy outcrops ahead, to the small gully with birch trees near the top.

4. From here on in the walk gets more exciting! Above the birch trees, follow the narrow path to the right as it climbs up onto the crags. This is part walking and part scrambling, particularly for small people.

4. A little further up, the views over Loch Ruthven really open up, and we realised it was about three times as long as we had initially thought. A real ‘wow!’ moment.

5. The path alternates sections of easier walking, and rougher scrambling. After a few false summits, the trig point comes into view. The final stretch is again a bit rocky.

6. For a modest-sized hill, the views are absolutely fantastic from the summit. We felt exhilarated after the climb! A new favourite for us. You can continue further along the ridge, but we chose to return home at this point. I had read that there were some cracks further along the summit, which I didn’t fancy with our wee ones.

7. There are some lovely views down Strathnairn on the return walk.

Stac Gorm: the terrain

The lower section of the walk had some boggy stretches. I got a wet boot within about a hundred yards of setting out! It wasn’t too bad though, I just should have taken more care. There were a couple of fences to cross, firstly right at the carpark (stepping over a broken wooden fence for the grown ups, under a line of barbed wire for the kids), and secondly a wire stranded fence above the boulder. Neither was troublesome, even with back carriers.

The lower path was pretty straightforward, if a little narrow and rocky in places. Once up on the crags, it did become more challenging. There was quite a bit of scrambling.

It’s hard to describe risk for other people. As an adult I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. With small children on foot, I wanted to be nearby to assist on the more precipitous parts, but it was definitely within my risk tolerance. They obviously loved it. One of my favourite maxims is that the more challenging the walk, the less my children whine. They didn’t whine even once on this walk!

We also had children in carriers, and I would say that Stac Gorm felt a bit beyond my preferred risk zone with a back carrier, specifically because I was also helping children to balance and climb, and felt that I was over-extending my balance at points.

Kit suggestions: I was really glad of walking poles, both for the bogs, and for the descent. It was a dry day, but I was glad that most of the kids were in waterproof trousers to give them some protection from the bogs and the rocks (one pair got a hole). The child who chose not to wear waterproofs predictably ended up going headlong into a muddy puddle.

Stac Gorm: the verdict

This was hands-down one of my top family walks in the Highlands so far. I think it will become a firm favourite for us. It had all the elements I would want in a hill walk but in miniature, and so our whole family was able to enjoy it. For the children it had such a sense of adventure, and it was obvious that they were loving the scrambling and route finding. Our youngest child who completed this walk on foot was 3.5 years old. This is a short walk, but the terrain is difficult, and it did take us quite a bit longer than I expected, so make sure to take snacks or lunch.

I will caveat and say that I probably wouldn’t do Stac Gorm again with both a back carrier and supporting a small child on foot at the same time.

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