Hiking Lochnagar in the Cairngorms of Scotland

Hiking Lochnagar has been on my Bucket list for as long as I can remember. The mountain rises above the royal Balmoral estate, in the Grampian Mountain of the Cairngorm National Park of Scotland.

The 12 mile circular starts at the bottom of Loch Muick within the Balmoral Estate, following a substantial hardcore path before steeply ascending rocks to the plateau from which the stunning corrie and the loch itself can be seen.

Our Scottish trip was a birthday gift from Dave so he expected nothing less than for me to pick a long walk up a mountain.

We awoke early on the Sunday morning in our Shephards Hut, ate breakfast then drove to the Loch Muick for 10am. With the shorter days and the considering the recommended 8 hour duration of the hike we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time. I have a tendency to stop frequently to take photos, look for wildlife and admire views, meaning we often take longer than expected to complete walks.

The weather was good with just the odd dark cloud moving over the peaks when we reached the car park at Loch Muick and we set off enthusiastically praying for the fine weather to stick around.

The path lead from the car park, past the visitor centre and toilets then across Glen Muick towards some beautiful buildings at Allt-na-guibhsaich.

The path then goes through a wood before ascending by a stream. The route crosses a minor gorge then makes its way towards the lochan with splendid views of the northern corrie- a curving cliff around the lochan. A middle aged man walked with a younger man behind us and we caught some of their conversation as they got closer to us. The older of the men was telling the younger that this was the 15th time he had walked the circular and only twice had the views been clear from the top. The sky was looking promising and crossed our fingers in hope of clear views for this day.

The ‘ladder’ is a natural construction of boulders that conveniently act as steps leading to the plateau above the corrie. The view behind reached the leafy green woodland that surrounds Balmoral in the distance and the full size of the lochan below comes into view from here.

As we climbed the wind grew stronger and by the time we reached the plateau my face was covered by my hair and I could no longer hear Dave calling to me. I tightened my waterproof hood over my head and pulled my buff up to my eyes to protect my face from the sharp wind. I had just a narrow slit to pear out of from behind my clothing and without realising it I began wandering in the direction of the cliff edge rather than towards the summit. Luckily Dave was there to grab my arm and lead me in the right direction.

The trig point at Cab Carn Beag appeared close but a blind summit skewed our perception of distance. We finally reached the crowed summit and awaited our turn to climb the rocks on which the trig point is fixed. A man offered to take our photo then we moved along to allow the next group to move in.

It’s funny how one has to touch the trig point as a mark of accomplishment. We studied a diagram upon a mount with lines pointing in the direction of other summits. I don’t know what they are called but it’s great looking out across the horizon looking for a another mountain you one stood at the top of some hundred miles away. We looked for the Cheviot but couldn’t see it, of course.

The wind was strong, as you can tell from the photos but we found a spot a few rocks down from the trig point that was sheltered from the wind and had stunning views across the mountains. We ate our sandwiches and drank tea from our flask enthusiastically while complimenting the view. Flask tea doesn’t have a great taste but it sure is comforting on a mountain walk.

The weather was just perfect; enough wind push the few cloud past quickly and the landscape blotted beautifully with rays of sun and shadows.  Being on a mointain looking across to the horizon is probably my favourite feeling. I feel excited, satisfied and I am filled with awe and appreciation. I actually get a fluttery heart from it.

The decent seemed somewhat uninspiring for the majority of the way down but reaching the waterfall caused more ‘Ohhhh’s and ‘aaaah’s from the two of us. Loch Muick came into view and the corries to the easter side stood almost vertical. The path narrowed and we saw the prints from horses hooves in the moist ground. It was amazing to think a horse could climb the steep and rocky, narrow path.

The view across the south end of the loch was surrounded by lush vegetation and the rocky corries that rose above reminded me of the scene in the children’s film, The Land Before Time where the dinosaurs reach the Great Valley. I definitely would be Sarah and Dave would be Littlefoot. I used to watch that film every weekend for years as a child.

We left the excitement of the wind gushing waterfalls and views and descended further to  reach the track that circles the loch which would take us back to where we started. This section of the walk was pleasant but the views across the loch lacked the splendour of the views we had from above it. We picked up our pace for the 3 mile home stretch as the scenery wasn’t as dynamic.

We returned to the car and were somhow folowed by a swarm of midges that got into the car with us. They were everywhere. We spent a good few minutes swatting them from our brows and the windscreen before travelling back to Ballater in search of a pub that served Haggis, neeps and tatties. Much to our delight we found one. It was my prefect day- mountains, views, hiking, laughter, love and haggis.

By Jenni Tulip

I'm a bright-haired, hill walking, magpie whispering, skull collecting, tree hugging, money saving, bird watching, happy campervanning, ferret fanatic, woodland dweller sharing my stories and passion for the outdoors to inspire you to immerse yourself in nature.