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Loch Muick camp , Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch

Loch Muick camp , Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch

Postby Anne C » Wed Aug 10, 2016 12:06 pm

Route description: Creag an Dubh Loch and Broad Cairn, Glenmuick

Munros included on this walk: Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch

Date walked: 24/07/2016

Time taken: 7.5 hours

Distance: 20 km

Ascent: 813m

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Loch Muick camp and a Hike across the High Tops

ImageLooking towards our walking route next day by scotlandmac, on Flickr


I feel almost embarrassed writing up this report having read so many of the User Walk reports pre - our trip and being amazed at the achievements – 5 or 6 Munros at a time. We are definitely in the ‘lazy git’ category in comparison (though there was as ever a bit of time pressure.)
Another apology - we did the out and back route - not the Creag an Dubh route as suggested above - haven't worked out how to delete the wrong walk description yet!


We’d loved this area after a first climb up Lochnagar 2 years ago. Looking across to Broad Cairn , all I saw was mile upon mile of an arctic tundra-like plateau and hogsback hills - wonderful country. We’d vowed to come back and explore it all a bit more though I never thought it would take us so long. Scary how time passes even more quickly as you get older.

With a family get together in Pitlochry looming, it seemed sensible to make some use of part of the day to actually DO something, before we were expected late afternoon. Our plan took shape : a wild camp the night before at Loch Muick , then a hike up to Broad Cairn and onto Cairn Bannoch . IF the weather held – thunderstorms had been the order of the day recently so all could be scuppered if they persisted.

Headed off after Chris finished work around 3.30pm on the Wednesday in bright sunshine with not a rumble in sight. Big relief! And it just got better as we headed north. Glenshee looked really stunning in the sunlight and shadows, the tops crystal clear.

Quick stop in Braemar at 6pm to get some fish and chips as we’d decided, for a change, not to cook our own food when we got to Loch Muick. Big mistake. The Hungry Highlander in the village is well-named; my fish was pretty small and Chris’s chicken fillet supper comprised of 3 of the tiniest chicken bites I’ve ever seen!

It couldn’t dampen our mood however, as the evening sunshine was just glorious as we set off for Ballater and the road to Glen Muick. Noticed the Lion Rampant was flying from Balmoral – the Queen was in residence. Funny to think we would also be staying on the Royal estate, albeit in slightly simpler accommodation!

Ah, those jokes we made about staying c/o Her Majesty clearly didn’t go down well as it was the deep growl of a thunderstorm which greeted our arrival at the Spittal of Glen Muick car park. In fact, the weather had changed dramatically with the tops invisible and covered in angry, boiling clouds - Byron's ‘tempests of dark Lochnagar’ indeed.

ImageThunderclouds over Lochnagar by scotlandmac, on Flickr

There wasn’t another soul around this normally busy spot and just one other car.

Had the usual tense 15 mins or so sorting ourselves and the gear out, making sure we had everything, getting the boots on. So much stuff! But I was distracted already by the rumbling thunder - it was right above us now.

‘You’re not really supposed to walk in thunderstorms, are you? ‘

I tried to sound light about it. already wishing we’d chosen the Glenshee hills. Things looked a bit horrible here and the waterproof trousers were going on now, as a real downpour looked likely.
My husband batted this question back in his usual philosophical way.

‘It’ll be fine. Anyway, if your time’s up.…..’ He was too intent on making sure the matches and fuel were packed. We can’t survive a camp without endless cups of tea in the morning (and a few on arrival.)

’Rubber soles protect you, don’t they?”
I was lacing up my boots, still fretting about how near the thunder was.

‘’Not from 250,000 volts they won’t..... ‘ came the deadpan reply. Sometimes, a wee lie is the right response.

In fact, by the time we set off at 7.15pm, it did look like the storm clouds were moving away and we were unlikely to be burnt to a crisp on the loch-side track as we headed off to find a good camping spot.

I always forget how extra heavy the rucksack feels when you’re lugging in camping gear but it still felt good to be underway. Our rucksacks are always a weird mixture of attempts at cutting down weight to really heavy items (litre of milk, bottle of wine , tin of grapefruit ) but as we weren’t going very far it didn’t really matter and it was an easy flat walk on a great track along the Loch’s pristine shore.

ImageUntitled by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It’s such a beautiful area.Bell heather, harebells,mountain thyme, foxgloves - so many wildflowers, even wild pansies - were lining the edge of the path with purple and pink and blue. On the hillside to our left, a large herd of stags in velvet antlers grazed high up, a handsome bunch, almost amber in colour against the emerald greens and browns of the moorland.I often think Scotland must be one of the most colourful countries in the world with its great light and weather moods and the changing shades and sights that come with every season.

Even the sun made an appearance as we strode along and I was already so glad we’d made the effort to camp. There is something really special about spending a whole night in a beautiful area. You get to see sunsets and sunrises that are just out of this world as well as brilliantly clear night skies .I enjoy it as much as the hillwalk itself, it’s just as memorable to me.

ImagePlenty heather in bloom by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Our original plan had been to camp near the bottom of the zigzag landrover track above the Black Burn that climbs up onto the plateau near the end of the loch. But we could see how the track climbed quite quickly into country that looked quite rough and steep. The last thing we wanted was to be hunting for a decent pitch. (with hindsight, there WAS another track which would have taken us down to a lovely beach area.) Already , by the loch shore, there were all sorts of lovely flat grassy bits so we made the decision to camp here.

The tent was up in no time, fresh water collected from the burn and the trangia kettle on for tea. I knew Chris had brought some whisky as he loves a drink of an evening and now wished I’d picked up something for myself. It was just the evening to sit and relax with a plastic cup of something nice. As if reading my thoughts as I sat on the grassy bank, so happy to be here in this beautiful place, Chris pulled a bottle of champagne from his rucksack ! It was a bottle of Aldi’s best (£9.95 and excellent stuff). Champagne out of a plastic cup beside a wild loch and a gentle breeze - ye canny whack it , as they say!

ImageHome sweet home...... by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It was a fine evening by now and the peak of Broad Cairn itself looked absolutely lovely at the head of the loch. It looked much closer than it actually was (about 8km from here).The light was glorious and we settled down on the bank to watch the evening shadows fill the corries and the light playing on the loch, sipping our champagne. Some things in life just can’t be bought (ok, not including the pop).

ImageEvening light, Loch Muick by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Ah we spoke too soon - as the evening breeze died a sudden death, we realised we were soon being eaten alive! Yes, the best things in life are free - as are the worst! They were in dense little battalions around us, I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought they were flies at first, were just so many of them clustered together. Time to build a fire and keep moving! I was sent off pronto to gather sticks while Chris did the clever bit of getting the flame going. They don’t like the smoke or the heat and it gave us an extra hour or so to just sit and enjoy the evening. The air was muggy so it seemed unlikely that the temperature would cool down enough to get rid of them, even at this height of nearly 400m.

ImageEvening camp at the loch.Camp smoke visible! by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Turned in around 10.15, still light.

ImageLoch Muick, sunset by scotlandmac, on Flickr

I never sleep that well before a walk and was up at the loo twice during the night. Bitten in places midges don’t normally access – enough said! It actually felt painful afterwards, there were just so many of them. Also gulls and geese were making a heck of racket from about 3am. Life and death struggles in the natural world.

Woke to smirry rain at 6.30am (Met Office wrong again it seemed, where was the sunny morning the bandits promised?) It was pattering on the tent and the tops were well covered in cloud.Ah well, tea always helps – I got brownie points for volunteering to get the milk carton from its cool little nook in the loch and braving the clouds of midges just waiting for us to emerge.


Endless cups of tea and a Cup- o-Porridge later and we got the tent tidied a bit , repacked the rucksacks and then left it set up for dismantling later.

It was 8am by the time we set off, thankfully leaving the midges behind as we moved and - just as thankfully – noticing the sky clearing almost miraculously overhead. Uncursed the Met Office.

ImageZig zags track on the left. Broad Cairn in the middle. by scotlandmac, on Flickr

What a great track it is all the way to Broad Cairn. Good to see the Royals are spending our money wisely ; it must make for a smooth journey up in the landrovers when the huntin’ and shootin’ season starts! Plenty water in the big peaty rivers too - very spectacular.

ImageThe Black Burn by scotlandmac, on Flickr

The zig zags were steep but short and in no time we were high above the loch, looking down onto indigo waters and a really superb panorama of corries and rounded granite peaks.

ImageAt the top of the zig-zag track - great views! by scotlandmac, on Flickr

The Glas Allt Shiel Lodge looked magnificent below us now – a ‘cottage’ built by Queen Victoria and to which she retreated on the death of Albert and known as The Widow’s House . Quite a spot.

ImageOne of many Royal lodges on the Balmoral estate by scotlandmac, on Flickr

There were tracks visible all over the hills, an incredible network of ascent and descent paths and cross-country access. Irvine Butterfield described this plateau as a ‘dead and desolate landscape’. But there is something tremendous about its scale and on a sunny bright day, it looks incredibly colourful. The scattered screes and granite outcrops on the hillsides were pink, amidst the yellow and jade -green and purple of the moorland. A feast for the eyes.The scent of the air too was a joy - I'm always surprised and delighted by it all over again, when we haven't been in wild country for a while.

We headed on, passing tiny dark blue glittering lochans and with the hills of Glen Doll making an appearance to the east.

ImageLooking towards Lochnagar by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImagePink granite and paths by scotlandmac, on Flickr

A female peregrine made a dash and harry across the moorland a few hundred yards ahead of us . She rested on a stone then took off again , a superb sight.

It was 10.30am before we finally reached the stony summit, after an awkward clamber over a few light bands of boulder-fields. I’m never elegant on the hill and always seem to be encumbered with stuff hanging off my neck. I hadn’t properly adjusted the straps on the camera and lens I was carrying (I lost the lens hood after about an hour’s walking as I kept bumping it).When dodging the spaces between the boulders I was sure the camera was heading for destruction early doors as it was falling so low in front of me as I clambered about.Two walking poles flailing about too. In contrast, Chris looks made for the hills with his shepherd’s crook walking pole and neat rucksack - and no flailing.

ImageThe boulder field Band 1; Broad Cairn by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Oh the joy and sense of achievement at a summit! 2.5 hours to reach the first Munro. We could see Dreish and Mayar now, Mount Keen.Even - incredibly - the Lomond Hills in Fife. It had been hot when the sun came out fully (almost too hot) but cloud had come over now and the visibility was excellent.
Had a good half hour break, just enjoying the sun and the rest and the silence. We’d met two people so far – a husband and wife walking separately and far ahead of us, a family of 4 with a dog going at a great rate of knots.

ImageMount Keen in the distance by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageTowards Glen Doll and Mount Keen by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Realised at this point I had left my John West Tuna Light Lunch and bananas somewhere other than my rucksack,so made do with a few crisps and a handful of cashews and raisins and a few glugs of fizzy water. Great boost to the energy levels! I don’t eat properly on the hill and never feel hungry as such but its really bad practice and I occasionally get a sugar crisis where I feel I’ve hit a brick wall. All in aid of trying to work off the multiple Swiss Rolls round my middle – being on a 12 mile hike isn’t really the time to do that.

12noon and it was up and onwards to Cairn Bannoch which was a very easy extra Munro – just 35 mins or so of mostly flattish walking, a slight descent and mild ascent and we were there.

ImageGranite boulders, Broad Cairn in shadow now by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Only 2 guys there, who had come up from Glen Doll and were in great spirits too.

Decision time . It had taken us 3 hours to get this far and we ideally wanted to be back at camp to pack up at 2.30pm. That wasn’t going to happen now. We’d planned to go back via the Dubh Lochan (and I wish now we had) but I was worried about how high the burns and rivers were and being delayed with boggy ground too. Better the devil we knew………

I have to admit it felt a LONG way back. The tremendous plateau now seemed endless and we didn't have the extra interest of a new return route which I love. Should have eaten more too as a minor sugar crisis hit, which a big handful of mixed nuts and raisins helped a lot with. We finally stopped once more at the most dramatic viewpoint of the day – on the moorland high above Loch Muick opposite The Widow’s House.I would walk up here again just for that view - what a picnic spot.

ImageBroad Cairn on the left, nearest by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageThe loveliest part of the walk by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Thank God I had the poles for the zig zag track descent. Ouch! It’s a tough angle though pretty short and it certainly does the business of dropping you quickly down to the lochside again but we both really felt it on the old knees.Fantastic track though - and a joy to wander along as we headed back to the tent.

ImageReturn track to the tent by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Arrived at our Loch Muick abode at 3.30pm and just had time for a quick brew of tea - nectar! Almost as good as the pop. Demolished a squashed banana and a now- half melted Picnic bar I found in a bag, as we sorted out the tent. Back at the car by 4.30 after an easy walk out albeit on legs that were already feeling they'd done a bit of work.

ImageHome sweet home...... by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Dark Lochnagar was now very benign – looking and bathed in sunlight. What a truly glorious area.

It had been a fine reintroduction to the hills for us after too long a break and as always happens when the aches and weariness disappear, just whetted our appetite for more. Like Arnie, (I hope) we will be back.So much to do and (increasingly) little time!
Last edited by Anne C on Thu Aug 11, 2016 10:07 am, edited 2 times in total.
User avatar
Anne C
Posts: 168
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Re: Loch Muick camp , Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch

Postby Cairngorm creeper » Wed Aug 10, 2016 6:29 pm

What a great trip, and amazing photos. I like your photo of the heather and wild flowers, I am always so amazed at the number of flowers and plants on the hills.
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Cairngorm creeper
Posts: 690
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Re: Loch Muick camp , Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch

Postby Anne C » Thu Aug 11, 2016 10:05 am

Hi Cairngorm Creeper - glad you liked the photos! It's such a gorgeous area. I often think I love autumn the best on the hills but then you forget about the wildflowers in summer which are just a delight.
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Anne C
Posts: 168
Munros:137   Corbetts:28
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Joined: May 14, 2010

Re: Loch Muick camp , Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch

Postby dogplodder » Thu Aug 11, 2016 7:40 pm

Wonderful photos reminding me of camping by Loch Muick with my sons (aged 12 & 10) before climbing Lochnagar straight up from the Widow's House. It was the May weekend and freezing but at least we had no midge problem! :wink:
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Re: Loch Muick camp , Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch

Postby Anne C » Sat Aug 13, 2016 12:44 pm

Thanks dogplodder.
I think the light was so good that everything was looking its best - great clarity.

You always hear of how midges are worse in the west but those were the worst I've ever experienced. Yes, at least you can dress and prepare for cold weather when camping - not having the wee blighters is a joy then.
I'd read they were having a 'poor season' until July because of early summer weather (I thought it had been a pretty perfect summer for them ) but they seem to be making up for it now!
User avatar
Anne C
Posts: 168
Munros:137   Corbetts:28
Grahams:31   Donalds:29
Sub 2000:46   Hewitts:1
Wainwrights:1   Islands:57
Joined: May 14, 2010

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