"THOUGH cataracts roar ’stead of smooth flowing fountains, I sigh for the valley of dark Lochnagar.”
The folk song captures some of the majesty of this fine mountain high above Royal Deeside.
There’s a vision in my memory of seeing its cliffs, beloved of climbers, for the first time. Covered in snow beneath a blue sky they looked stunning.
The bealach under the Meikle Pap on the “tourist” route to the summit is the perfect viewing platform and I marvelled at the snow-girt buttresses and gullies lit by the sun.
This time, with the best of the weather in the east, John and I made the journey from Inverness over the Lecht and through Ballater to reach the car park at Spittal of Glenmuick.
The charge of £3 for cars was clearly no deterrent and the car park, close to Loch Muick, was already busy early in the day.
We set off past the visitor centre and ranger station, following the excellent path that climbs gradually up beside the Allt na Giubhsaich. After 3.5km it reaches a cairn where another path branches left round the shoulder of Meikle Pap to the bealach on its south side.
With strong winds gusting up to 50mph we descended on a faint climbers’ path into the corrie holding the loch.
Our aim was to climb up through the Black Spout, a gully which fills with snow in winter, providing an easy Grade 1 route. In summer it’s barely a scramble, with a well-trodden path leading to the top.
The summit of Lochnagar is then just a short step away and we’d stay out of wind until we reached the plateau.
As we made our way round below the cliffs, past the mountain rescue storage box to the Black Spout, we could hear the shouts of two climbers starting up Eagle Ridge, one of Lochnagar’s classic routes. I didn’t envy them on such a windy day.
The granite walls of the gully are impressive and our ascent was marked by the calls of a raven, which didn’t seem pleased that its territory had been invaded.
John spotted a mountain hare bounding up the gully in front of us.
Exiting at the lip we rejoined the throng of walkers who had gone round by the standard route and made our way to the summit for an expansive view across Deeside. A direction indicator helps identify distant hills.
Rather than return round the edge of the corrie to Meikle Pap, we had decided to stay out of the wind and descend to Loch Muick by the path beside the Glas Allt burn.
This really well maintained path is typical of those in this area and makes progress easy, dropping to the loch in about 3.5km.
Lower down, the burn tumbles through a ravine, creating the Falls of Glassalt, a picturesque spot.
We reached the lochside and had a final break in the shelter of woods on the water’s edge before the level walk back to Spittal of Glenmuick.
It was holiday season for the royals and we’d been joking about the chances of seeing one of them when a Land Rover approached on our drive back to Ballater.
John pulled the car over to let it pass and the driver proved to be Prince Charles, his eyes focused on the single-track road ahead. His vehicle was closely followed by another Land Rover with what looked like security men inside.
So the finger of fate had given us a glimpse of a royal after all – and one whose children’s story about The Old Man of Lochnagar has a link to the mountain.