The mighty jewel of Lochnagar – [# 119 – 124]

Cac Carn Beag (1155m); Carn a’ Choire Bhaidheach (1110m);
Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (1047m); Cairn Bannoch (1012m);
Broad Cairn (998m)

  • Pronunciation:              Kac Karn Bayk; Karn uh Korrer Vaw-yeech; Karn ern Taggert More; Cairn Bannoch; Broad Cairn
  • Translation:                   Slope of the Small Cairn; Cairn of the Beautiful Corrie; Big Hill of the Priest; Hill of the Point; Broad Cairn
  • Total distance:              29.7km
  • Total time:                     7hrs 29mins
  • Total ascent:                 1340m
  • Weather:                        Glorious – blue skies and sunshine all day. Cool breeze continues to blow over the high tops and summits, but not as much wind-chill as recently.
  • Start / end location:   At the Spittal of Glenmuick car-park. [OS Map Sheet 44 – Grid Ref: NO 311 851]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

The NE cliffs of Lochnagar

Today we travelled through Royal Deeside to the village of Ballater only 10km east of Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s Scottish Highland residence. From Ballater we crossed the River Dee to its south side and almost immediately entered the stunningly beautiful Glen Muick, which twists and turns its way to Loch Muick at its end. Just to the NW of Loch Muick stands the mighty Lochnagar massif.

Elaine ascending the path to the east end of Lochnagar

Lochnagar, comprising five separate Munros, sits within the Balmoral Estate and is said to be the Prince of Wales favourite mountain. He has even written a children’s book, entitled “The Old Man of Lochnagar”, where the mountain landscape provides the central “back-drop” for the story. A further royal connection to the mountain comes in the form of the Royal Lochnagar (whisky) Distillery that is situated on the northern flank of the mountain only a 1.5km from Balmoral. The water used in the distilling of the Royal Lochnagar whisky flows down from the Lochnagar catchment area, and it is said that the water used in the whisky making process goes a long way to influencing the final “nose” and flavour of the end result.

Looking NE into Royal Deeside through a snow-filled gully on the Lochnagar cliffs

Even though we reached the car-park at the Spittal of Glenmuick quite early there were already quite a few cars parked with their occupants nowhere in site, and so presumably already on the hill. Perhaps this wasn’t too surprising as completing a full traverse of the five Munros that make up the Lochnagar circuit takes around 9 hours according to the guidebooks. In addition, given it was still within the May bank holiday and the weather was so spectacular the hills were bound to busy.

Nearing the summit of Cac Carn Beag on Lochnagar

From the summit of Cac Carn Beag looking west to the cliffs of The Stuic with Loch nan Eun below

From the Spittal of Glenmuick parking area we headed NW passed the visitor’s centre and across the low-lying fertile grassy plane at the NNE end of Loch Muick. Here a large herd of deer were feeding close by and appeared to be completely unconcerned as we walked by. I trust that they will be a bit more wary come the 12 August when the estate stalking season gets underway!

We walked along a land-rover track that climbed slowly west up the glen containing the Allt-na-giubhsaich burn and then when we were just a few hundred metres passed Clais Rathadan we left the track and followed a path westward. This path climbed to the col between the Lochnagar massif and the smaller Meikle Pap. At this col we were rewarded with some spectacular views of the entire length of the dramatic cliffs that bound the north and NE side of Cac Carn Mor and Cac Carn Beag, the latter being our first Munro.

Elaine at the summit of Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach

From the col we climbed steeply up to reach the east end of the Lochnagar range where we followed the escarpment line of the cliffs to firstly reach Cac Cairn Mor (1150m) and then shortly after Cac Cairn Beag, the Munro summit at 1155m or 3,789ft. At the summit a toposcope shows direction lines to literally dozens of landmarks that are, or ought to be, visible from this summit. The usual ones were included such as the various Cairngorm summits only a few tens of miles away to the northwest, Balmoral Castle “at the foot of the mountain” and Ben Nevis, over 60 miles away – which I must admit couldn’t be seen in the slightly hazy conditions.

Approaching the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor

We retraced our steps back towards Cac Cach Mor, but veered SSW before we reached it and then soon swung WSW to skirt the rim of the northern corries of The Stuic. Part of the way along we left the path and climbed the gentle grassy slope to reach the summit of our second Munro, Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach at 1110m or 3,642ft. The summit cairn was little more than a pile of boulders on a broad plateau expanse. It did, however, provide a clear view to our next objective about 2km to the west.

On the summit of Cairn Bannoch with the White Mounth on the background

The route to our next peak was taken by descending gently NW until we picked up the course of a path that would lead us around the southern tip of Carn an t-Sagairt Beag. As we crossed the broad flank of this hill, our third Munro, we cut off the path northward to follow the SE ridge to the summit where we found two cairns. The more northerly of the two, and the one containing some old iron fence-posts alongside the more usual boulders was the true summit at 1047m or 3,435ft.

Nearing the summit of Broad Cairn with its boulder strewn top

We dropped back down the SE ridge and crossed the path we used earlier and climbed some gentle slopes that ended about 1.5km further on at the summit of Cairn Bannoch. Here the views from the summit cairn at 1012m or 3,320ft north-eastward to the White Mounth and its Eagles Rock were particularly stunning as a lovely waterfall spilled from a high corrie rim.

Our last Munro of the day was now in our sights and only another 1.6km of relatively easy walking away to the ESE. To reach it we first crossed over a small top (marked 991m on the OS map) before a short descent and then ascent to the summit of Broad Cairn at 998m or 3,274ft completed the ascent of the five Munros.

Looking ENE along Loch Muick from the top of Corrie Chash

However, the completion of the Lochnagar Circuit was not done quite yet as we still had over 8km of walking to take us back to our car. The route back took us to the top of Corrie Chash at the head of Loch Muick before we descended down the corrie to reach the Loch’s edge where we then had a lovely tramp along the south side of the Loch to bring us back to the car-park at the Spittal of Glenmuick. It had been quite a long walk but we’d certainly completed it well inside the guidebook time of 9 hours.

Looking back on our day’s outing it was clear to see why Prince Charles prises the mighty Lochnagar so highly … also, having it on one’s doorstep probably also makes it rather appealing.

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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