Saturday, 2 July 2011

Loch Callater Circuit

Friday 1st July,

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post due to a combination of factors - very poor weather, a trip down to Ayrshire to visit Mum and Dad and Mo struggling with a few health problems. However, as ever, we move on. The forecast for the day was cloudy but dry with the promise of some sunny spells and no rain. We decided when we set off that we would stick to a flat walk and were thinking either the Loch Muick circuit or, preferably, Loch Callater since it was relatively new to us. I say relatively because young John and I walked in as far as the lodge back in September 2007 when we were bagging the two Munros that lie between Loch Callater and Loch Muick. However the circuit of the loch was new to Mo and I and, since we had managed an early start, it was Loch Callater that we decided to go for.

The walk starts at a new car park opposite Auchallater farm about a mile south of Braemar on the A93 road towards Glen Shee. The weather on the drive down was pleasant as promised and we parked in the very quiet, but never empty, car park.

 Quiet Car Park

The track into Glen Callater follows the Callater Burn all the way to the loch so there are no navigational problems. The track is in fact the north western end of Jock's Road which passes the lodge and carries on along the east side of the loch then through and over the head of the Glen, eventually exiting into Glen Clova. The "Jock" in Jock's Road comes from John Winter who fought for the right to walk this old drove route in the late nineteenth century when the then new owner of the Glen Doll estate, one Duncan MacPherson, tried to ban all access. The legal action went as far as the House of Lords and led ultimately to the Scottish Rights of Way Act, the most important piece of legislation for walkers until the more recent Land Reform Act in 2005. By the end of the action both MacPherson and the Scottish Rights of Way Society were bankrupt! In recent years we've walked both ends of the road but never the centre section. Maybe we need to rectify that some day!

 Heading up the Glen

The estate track, (Invercauld Estates), makes it very easy walking and the river is particularly nice. The weather was cloudy as predicted but the sunny spells were very warm, which after the last couple of weeks was a welcome change. This nice walk in the sun had one rather strange incident when I was convinced that I could see a pair of eye staring out from a small cave created by a rocky cairn just off the road. It turned out of course to be a trick of the sunlight, but it was very convincing at the time! (The photo maybe doesn't do it justice but you can view a larger version here)

 The Hills have Eyes

It was a much longer walk in than I remembered but no less pleasant for that. Eventually we crossed the burn by an estate bridge and, looking back, had a nice view of Ben Avon with its distinctive granite tors dotted along the ridgeline.

 Ben Avon in the distance

The lodge and bothy at the loch are in a fenced area at the end of the track. The Munro route heads off uphill to the left at this point before turning right to run parallel with the loch for a while, then climbing steadily until it eventually heads into the hills and out of sight. We climbed the low fence to have a look at the lodge, (which was locked up), and the bothy which was maintained by the MBA. We're still not sure we'd ever actually stay in a bothy and this one didn't make us want to change our minds! Don't get me wrong it looked cosy enough and the view is to die for, but I'm just not sure it's our scene.

 The Bothy

 View from the Bothy

We decided that we'd take the anti-clockwise route around the loch. There was no real reason for this other than the fact that there appeared to be no bridge at the far end of the loch and I wanted to be sure that if we had to paddle then the best place was likely to be where the track forded the river. I was pretty sure that even if we had taken the much narrower path and walked clockwise we'd still have found the crossing place but the map was vague on whether the two paths actually met up and there seemed no reason to take the risk. Climbing back out of the fenced area we crossed the Callater Burn again by an Estate bridge passing a little sandy cove that I'm sure would have been a nice picnic spot if this was as far as we had decided to go.

 Picnic spot for another day?

 Loch Callater Lodge & Bothy

The Loch itself is not on the scale of Loch Muick or Loch Lee but it does have some great views as Tolmount and (probably) Cairn Bannoch come into view. The track sticks pretty close to the lochside and we had the company a family of Mallards and what looked like a similar family group of Snipe, although I'm open to correction,

 Snipe - I think!!

The track cuts its way across the marshy head of the loch to a wide shallow ford, no problem for a 4 x 4 but a wee bit more of a problem for us. Fortunately when researching this walk I'd come across a warning from another walker to the effect that the river was easy enough to cross but that it was likely to be deeper than our walking boots. We had come prepared for this by taking our walking sandals with us so we'd have something on our feet when we made the crossing. It turned out that the river was in fact too deep to cross with boots on but the riverbed was soft gravel so we'd probably have been OK with bare feet. Needless to say the water was freezing cold but refreshing never the less!

 River Crossing

We had planned to have lunch at this point but another couple, walking in the clockwise direction, had bagged the best spot so we passed them and stopped at a pleasant grassy mound just off the path. The sun was hot now, (when it showed between the clouds), but the wind had also picked up a little so it was quite refreshing. I'm sure there are worse places to have lunch on a Friday!

 Tolmount is on the left

The path along this side of the loch, (Jock's Road), is much more of a path than the other side but was well maintained with all of the streams feeding into the loch crossed with huge stepping stones so walking was again pretty easy. We stopped for a while on another, larger sandy beach and wondered why it is that some lochs have rugged, rocky banks but some have this fine, sharp sand. I guess there's some geological reason but I'm afraid I don't know what it is.

 Sandy Beach

From here we made our way back to Loch Callater lodge, this time skirting the perimeter and picking up the estate track we'd followed earlier. The walk back was uneventful but we stopped off for a while to sit by the river and take some more photos. There's something very relaxing about sitting by a river on a beautiful day with fantastic views. If nothing else it beats the hell out of working.

 River running

We had left the car park just after ten o'clock and arrived back at three thirty. Again this is a long time and the walk could be done much quicker, but what's the point of that!

More photos
For more information on the history of Jock's Road


  1. i was there with my boys brigaid is was amazing

  2. Thanks for your article and it was amongst several that inspired me to trace your steps last weekend 11-13th July 2014. I walked from Braemar to the lodge/bothy in roasting hot weather, pitched tent beside the lodge but moved into bothy next day due to rain. The caretaker of the lodge turned up on the 12th and I was invited in later for a couple of cans and a Jura malt. Bothy was clean and waterproof. Thanks again for your very accurate description. [Archie Melrose]

    1. Hi Archie, thanks for looking in and I'm glad the post was helpful. A wee bit jealous though that there was nobody about to with a dram for us!..............J