Our recent hike up Lochnagar turned into one of the best hikes we have tackled in Scotland. The fabulous weather with which we were blessed certainly went some way towards cementing this view, but the landscape around Lochnagar would be spectacular in any conditions.
The route we took was about 12 miles and was quite strenuous. I did question the wisdom of attempting this hike at the time as Peter had only recently recovered from Covid, but he was determined and the conditions were perfect. In the event he was fine, but we were both shattered by the end. Jasper, our border collie, on the other hand, was still full of beans and ready to go again!
Where is Lochnagar?
Lochnagar is in the Grampian Mountains of Aberdeenshire and is part of the Cairngorms National Park. More precisely it is in the Balmoral estate in Royal Deeside. (See map below.)
We stayed in Ballater, the nearest town to Balmoral, the Queen’s holiday home in Scotland. I believe the Queen was in residence when we hiked Lochnagar, but we didn’t see her! As we were in our motorhome, we stayed in the caravan park (details below). The town of Ballater is very picturesque and we enjoyed wandering around, although places to eat were quite limited.
What is Lochnagar?
Lochnagar, also called Beinn Chiochan, is a Scottish mountain. The highest point is Cac Carn Beag. At 1,155m it is a Munro. In fact, it is one of 5 Munros on the mountain which form a horseshoe around Loch Muick. A Munro? A Scottish mountain which is at least 3000 ft (914.4m). Some people tackle the whole horseshoe and all 5 Munros in the one day. We just took in the one! The mountain takes its name from Lochan na Gaire, the deep pool of dark water lurking below the sheer cliffs in the north east corrie.
Our hike on Lochnagar
Up to the trail head at Glen Muick
We took our scooter from Ballater up to the Spittle of Glen Muick and parked in the large carpark there. Jasper still goes in his box on the back of the scooter for short journeys, which means we don’t have to take the motorhome. It is about 13 km from Ballater and the road is quite twisty and narrow.
We decided to take the anti-clockwise loop up Lochnagar. The first part of the hike across the bridge from the carpark is relatively flat and the trail heads towards a couple of houses where there is a marked path through some woodland. There is a stream with stepping stones and then begins the long steady climb up.
We met no one on this stretch at all. The trail is very obvious. It would have been impossible to get lost on this route in these conditions, even for me! The terrain varies from rocky to sandy most of the way, but as it becomes steeper, there is a constructed stone path.
Eventually we reached “The Ladder”, a steep bouldery slope which looks daunting, but actually is not that difficult. Our pup thought it was great fun to make like a mountain goat and race on ahead! You can just see him waiting patiently in the picture below.
The Ladder leads to a plateau at the south-east corner of Lochnagar’s great corrie. It was here that we first encountered other hikers. By this time we were hungry so stopped for lunch before completing the trail up to the summit of Lochanagar, Cac Carn Beag. Parts of the trail on this final stage to the summit are quite steep and have been stepped.
The Summit of Lochnagar
It is very definitely worth the climb up Lochnagar. The views from the top are magnificent in every direction and this is why I think Lochnagar is a contender for the best hike in Scotland. There were a few other people around when we reached the summit, but actually, given the wonderful weather, we were surprised how quiet it was. Jasper did his usual King of the Castle pose on the top, of course!
The trail down to complete the loop on Lochnagar is just as spectacular. It is very steep to begin with (I missed my footing and took a tumble at one point) but the steepest parts have steps, which certainly help. The trail becomes gradually flatter and easier as one descends. A significant stretch of the trail follows alongside the river, which is very picturesque and proved great for doggy swims!
The waterfall along the way is beautiful. Walking up to the waterfall by taking the clockwise route around this loop would be another great hike in itself, especially if time is limited.
Along the shore of Loch Muick
Loch Muick comes into view at the bottom of the trail, but to compete the loop, it is necessary to walk most of the length of the loch, round the far end and then beyond to reach the carpark.
This part of the walk is very flat and the track is easy – thankfully! We were both really tired by this time and I must admit I found this last part of the hike quite a hard slog. We were grateful to get back to the carpark and the trusty scoot.
The whole hike up Lochnagar took about 7 hours, including time for admiring the view, taking photos, letting Jasper swim in the river and a picnic.
An OS map of the route we took can be found on Walk the Highlands.
The best hike in Scotland?
Impossible to say! We have hiked a fair bit in Scotland over the years but not as much as some people who have been out bagging Munros every weekend since Billy Connolly was in short trousers. The conditions on the day also count for a lot in the hiking experience. I reserve the right to find a better hike, therefore, at any point in the future, but for now, this is right up there with my other favourite: The Storr on Skye.
Where we stayed: the Ballater Caravan Park
We stayed at the Ballater Caravan Park, which caters for caravans, motorhomes and tents. It is very well located: in close proximity to the river and the golf course and within walking distance of the town. The toilet block was scrupulously clean when we were there and very well appointed. The dump stations and water points are really accessible. The campsite as a whole was very tidy and well maintained. I would definitely recommend it as a place to stay. If I was being in the slightest bit picky, I would say that although it is situated in spectacular countryside, the site itself is a bit featureless, everything in rows with lots of fences. It is, however, a great site.
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