A runners perspective

I hope this blog is of use/interest to walkers, runners and cyclists living in or intending to visit Scotland. Most of my entries below are described as long-distance runs - just because that's currently what I enjoy doing...

Friday, 12 September 2014

Grampian Weekend Day 1: Lochnagar and Glen Muick

Distance: 24.7 miles (40km) Ascent/Descent: 1110m/1250m 
Start/Finish: Braemar to Ballater Terrain: 75% gravel/surfaced road, 25% Good high-elevation trail Transport: Good Stagecoach bus service between Braemar & Ballater 
Route: Route Map/Profile
Day 1 of 2: Next Day

A great non-technical cross-country route from Braemar to Ballater via Lochnagar and Glen Muick. Relative to other blog entries this was a very short day, in fact less than 3 hours 50 for me as I treated it as a workout at times! But if you look at the profile there's not much up and down other than the initial up and final down, and its all so runnable. Having said that, a fair amount of time is spent 1000m up on an exposed plateau, no place to crock an ankle, so carrying emergency clothes/blanket is common sense (as is "just taking the bus instead" for some).


I've never been a fan of the phase "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing". Fair enough for a survivalist. But generally I'm out on the hills by choice, and when you can't see shit and your picnic's soggy a multitude of breathable layers doesn't turn the sky blue. However, this is not a moan about how I spent 8 miles around 1000m+ on the White Mounth wishing it would clear up so I could see fantastic views over the Grampians, Cairngorms and down into Deeside. I'd been up here and seen it before, allbeit 20 years ago. Today I had a blast along an excellent and relatively easy trail with a sharp wind helping me along, and the weather just added to the sense of wildness and probably kept Lochnagar relatively peaceful for a weekend in August. Me & my dad were up in Braemar - he was looking to do a walk around Ballater as he hasn't done much over that way before. So I settled for running there, wherever he'd parked the car, and do a jolly cruise of Lochnagar and Glen Muick.

Looking back towards Braemar from the start of Glen Callater
During a break in the rain, and starting from outside the Fife Arms Hotel, I headed up the single-track road past the golf course, retracing the route I did when going Blairgowrie to Braemar via Jocks Road - finishing in darkness! Today I almost missed the little bridge over the River Cluanie after a couple miles, already in a running trance! Once found, the bridge let me get over to the base of the landy track up to Loch Callater. I reminisced about the last time I'd been here when it was Winter and dusk, and I remembered how much I'd enjoyed that. Today it was nice in a different way - seeing it in daylight, even with the rain starting to build up again, the sun made an effort and cast a low rainbow in the glen behind me. On approaching the loch I should have continued through the gate past the lodge to pick up the path to the White Mounth, instead I continued on to the shore, a nice enough detour, but it did mean a tough heather-avoiding ascent straight up the hillside to get myself on the path again which seemed to have already gained a fair bit of height where I finally joined it.

Looking over Loch Callater towards line of Jock's Road
From here it was easy angled on a well-maintained trail but lots of boulders on it to keep the eyes from looking at the view over the loch. The path curves away from the glen, dipping momentarily before starting to climb onto the Mounth proper. So I layered up a bit, gloves and hat went on, then proceeded to enter the clouds. After a few minutes and on reaching a stone-wall with rusty fence posts, I left the path to reach the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr, a fairly pointless exercise in these conditions other than an easy summit to bag since the path went so close.

Looking back down the contouring trail (L. Callater hidden below)

I got the full brunt of the wind up on the top, thankfully blowing from the side, but it meant running with one eye as I headed down the other side to find my path again. A mountain-bike-pusher appeared from the mist ahead, he was bent into the wind and probably about ready for a nice landrover track by now. I briefly dropped into a hole in the clouds before rising back up onto the plateau proper, gradients remaining easy until a final but brief pull up Lochnagar to Cac Carn Mòr, then its a case of turning more N to reach the marginally higher summit of Cac Carn Beag and its trig-point-topped Tor. Enroute to this I played chicken with a charging black lab, it wanted to join me on my run back off this soggy windswept lump.

More cheek-freezing wind as I retraced a route back to the larger cairn and then beyond to continue SE then E over the plateau, tracing the edge of the cliffs on a good path which after a mile dropped fantastically down the large scree, slab-by-slab, out of the cloud and back to a more friendly-looking world lit with patches of sun. The loch of "Lochnagar" was now visible to the left and an impressively conical lump ahead which I couldn't be arsed climbing. I was soon "layering-down" to a T-shirt again, picking up a landrover track that rises up from the top of Glen Muick.

Dropping quickly from Lochnagar via a dirt road
From here it was an easy and very fast run NE down the glen along an excellent car-free track, just a couple miles of road at the end before arriving at Ballater feeling invigorated. My dad had come off the hill only 30minutes before, having had a soaking up the hills followed by a cup of tea and scone. The weather forecast promised better for tomorrow, so we decided we'd maybe do a walk...

A fine cycling/running track down the length of Glen Muick
Next Day (Sunday)

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