I was 23 the first time I visited Loch Muick at the base of Lochnagar. Despite a lifetime of growing up outside and adventuring on the west coast, I had never really explored the countryside closer to home. My boyfriend (now husband) took me there to celebrate our 6 month anniversary (and its things like this that explain why he is now my husband of many years). It was August, the sun was beating down and the purple heather carpeted the hills. We walked round in a clockwise direction, eventually venturing onto a narrow path cut into the hillside before reaching a shingle beach at the end where we stopped to enjoy a home made picnic of thick cut ham sandwiches and crunchy apples.
Returning on the other side of the loch we took a detour up to Glas-Allt falls enjoying the views down the loch and over to Broad Cairn. (Following this path further will eventually take you to the top of Lochnagar). The circuit (without the waterfall detour) stretches for 7.75 miles and takes about 3-3.5 hours. It’s one that I have enjoyed many times since and now share with my children (7 and 4). The path is mostly good other than a section at the far end on the left side of the loch which is narrow and cut into the hills and not suitable for wheels. Our children love to take their bikes and we stick to the path on the right side of the loch when they have them. Some of my closest wildlife encounters have taken place here. From the mighty stag and herds of deer to red squirrels and birds of prey. This year we even encountered an adder basking in the hot sun on the main path.
The water is clear and breathtakingly cold (we like to have a little paddle). There is a boating shed at the near end of the loch and we often come across people out kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding on the loch.
Near the end of the loch is Glass-allt shiel, which is owned by Balmoral estate and built by Queen Victoria as a retreat following the death of Prince Albert. The woodland around here is another great place to stop for a picnic. (Behind the lodge is a basic bothy and the start of the path up the waterfalls to Lochnagar).
We spent the first day of 2018 here. The winter sun, although low gave us some heat on an otherwise cold winters day and we ate a picnic on the banks of the loch whilst watching some paddle-boarders enjoying the calm conditions.
A bus service runs through summer from the nearest town, Ballater. Car parking is available at a cost of £4 per day (last time i checked). During summer and holidays, it fills up very quickly. There is a great information lodge near the start of the walk, open all year round and public toilets available nearby.
A walk here will most likely whet your appetite for a longer walk into the Cairngorms. If you want to stretch your legs further, the walk up Lochnagar is well worth doing (allow 7+ hours) or for the very fit, you may wish to do the full white mounth circuit taking in 5 munros, something I’m yet to do.