This was our first walk for a couple of weeks. Jillian's wedding meant that we spent the best part of last weekend down in Ayrshire and the first part of this week recovering from it! We had hoped to do a bit more walking during the week since I'm on holiday but between being tired and the poor weather it wasn't until today that we finally made it out. We had two destinations in mind; either the Loch Muick Circuit or a walk along the River Gairn towards Loch Bluig. In the end we decided on Loch Muick for two reasons, firstly because Glen Muick offers a few alternatives in case the weather deteriorates and also it's a circular walk. The Gairn on the other hand is a straight out and back walk with no real alternative routes along the way.
The drive out along Deeside was quiet and the weather was cloudy but dry, much as the forecast had suggested. The car park at Glen Muick is a well maintained area complete with marked out bays, fenced off dog fouling area and pay and display machines, (£3 for a days parking). We arrived around half past ten and although not full there were a few cars about and we decided that their owners were probably on their way to bag some or all of the Munros, (there are three that can be climbed from this car park). Our route however was the much more straightforward one of following the well maintained estate tracks around the loch. We decided on a clockwise circuit because, depending on how we felt, we could add in the climb up the "zig-zag" up onto the ridge above the loch.
We set off at 10.45 with the weather still overcast but vey mild and, with no wind, it was a pleasant start to the day. As can be seen from the condition of the car park, the estate is set up for walkers and there's a Visitor Centre as well as toilets, however the highlight of this first part of the walk was a red squirrel we spotted helping itself to the nuts from the bird feeder. He (or she), was obviously used to people taking photographs since he was completely unperturbed by me clicking away!
Red Squirrel posing
We stopped by an information board by the Visitor Centre that told the story of the original village that stood here around 200 years ago when the Capel Mounth was a main highway between Glen Muick and Glen Clova. The village came complete with whiskey still and spittal, (a hospital or refuge), which later became Glen Muick Inn. There were a couple of groups that set off at the same time as us but only two women picked the clockwise direction but they they were walking faster than us so it wasn't long until we had the place to ourselves. Although Glen Muick is a fairly spectacular example of glacial erosion it offers little in the way of wildlife and apart from the almost tame herd of deer and a dozen or so geese there was little to see. The scenery on the other hand was everything we had come to expect from the area.
Our first look of Loch Muick
We passed the junction of the Capel Mounth going off to our left and a path to our right that skirted the top of the loch and was one of our possible routes back at the end of the day. We caught a brief glimpse of Lochnagar through the clouds off to our right but it didn't look particularly inviting on a day like today. As we carried on down the edge of the loch, Broad Cairn came into view for the first time and we got good views of it's pointed top.
We took our first cup of coffee of the day at the bridge that crosses the Black Burn and had a chat about whether we should continue along the waymarked circuit or climb up onto the high ridge of Creag Bhiorach. In the end we chose the high route since we were both feeling pretty good and fancied a wee bit of effort to spice up the day. The zig-zag path up onto the ridge is one of many landrover tracks that criss cross the area and there is no real navigation involved. It's also the route I've used on the occasions when I climbed Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch. As ever the views just get better and better as we steadily gained height.
A wee rest and a look back
Eventually we topped out onto the ridge at around 670 metres and enjoyed an undulating walk high above the loch. Looking across the loch we were able to see the granite lodge, (the shiel of the grey burn), that was built by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert. It was built on the spot of one of their favourite picnic spots and came to be known as her widow's house.
Queen Victoria's Widow's House
We climbed off the path up to a small cairn where we could settle down and have our lunch. It had been a fine walk so far and although it was fairly windy it was still mild. The clouds however were gathering over the higher hills and with the rain beginning it was in full water proofs that we set off again. Just before a small hut, (possibly called Alan's or Sandy Hillock Hut), there is a path that leads steeply down Corrie Chash towards the head of the loch. The walking on the narrow path was a little bit uncomfortable because of the slight dampness but we managed to reach the little beach at the head of the loch with only the occasional slip.
Loch Muick under heavy skies
We passed the path up towards the Dubh Loch that lies high above Loch Muick and it was a photograph of this loch that we had Linda Grace-Gemmell turn into a painting for us that now hangs on our living room wall, (Linda Grace Gemmell).
The Dubh Loch
By now the rain was a steady drizzle but it was still quite mild so we stopped again over by the lodge for the last of our sandwiches and coffee and you've got to hand it to Queen Victoria because she knew her picnic spots!
From the lodge it's an easy walk along a well maintained track towards the car park and with the rain now off we were able to shed our waterproofs. The lochside has been fenced off and an information board explained that they were trying to encourage tree growth by stopping the deer from grazing the new shoots before they get a chance to get established. The board suggested that the fence would need to stay in place for around ten years. At the top end of the loch there is an old boat shed set at the end of a long sandy beach where we came across a couple of families enjoying the last of the day.
We crossed the beach to pick up the original path and made our way back passing the herd of deer, which had now grown considerably. We had left the car around ten forty-five and arrived back just before four o'clock. We were tired and a little stiff so maybe the uphill section reminded us that we need to keep it up!