Start Point: Glenmore Lodge car park or Glenmore Visitor Centre car park.
Distance: 8.5km Ascent: 545m/1,800 ft Time: 2hrs 45 (at a fast rate. Book time 3.5 – 4.5hrs)
On route to spending a few days mid week with my son and daughter – in – law near Inverness, I had my sights set on fitting in a walk to Ryvoan and the Green Lochan, one of my favourite short, easy walks in Cairngorm National Park. The orange/pink -barked Scots Pines, the turquoise lochan then the rolling heather moorland at Ryvoan – it’s a gorgeous area. Setting off at the back of 7am from Glasgow and knowing I had until 4pm before the family returned from work, it seemed a good choice in the time available. The forecast wasn’t great but they notoriously get it wrong so I was hopeful!
Just before Perth off the A9, I don’t normally pass by Gloagburn Farm Shop/Café easily but I was keen to see what the weather was doing further north so kept going, feeling a pang of regret at missing one of their excellent warm fruit scones. Even House of Bruar, another favourite stop, only saw me whizzing in and out of the posh loos as the weather was already looking better than expected. The wind was a bit of an issue but no problem on a low level walk.
At Aviemore, a hefty snow shower was raging around the big tops, so heavy that they had disappeared completely – just a ghostly white mass vaguely visible through the gloom. Surprisingly, the slopes of 810m /2,660ft high Meall a Bhuachaille (pron Myal a Voo ach alya) were snow-free and looked very inviting.
To ward off starvation, having deprived myself earlier, I had a quick scone stop at The Barn in Rothiemurchus then headed for Glenmore Lodge, luckily getting the last space beside the path to An Lochan Uaine. The place was busier than I expected with the Feb midterm holidays.
Got my rucksack packed and changed into my boots, grabbed an apple and some water (yes, very meagre supplies) and set off along the beautiful path, already delighted just to be here.
It was 11.15am and above me, the tops of the pine trees were being shaken by the wind, a wild sound though warning of a fair old blow higher up.
What an absolute joy that walk to Ryvoan is. Scots Pines are my favourite trees, so beautiful and many are really gnarled with age. Apparently, they can live for 700 years. I read once that they are the most common pines in the world but they always seem to me, as their name suggests, to offer an iconic image of Scotland. Rothiemurchus forest is covered in a soft carpet of bilberry and heather, adding more loveliness to the landscape. Rocky Creag Loisgte (the Scorched Rocky Hill) on the left side of the path was dotted with Scots Pine – classic Cairngorm. It was so good to be here!
After 20 mins or so, the startling turquoise of Lochan Uaine came into view, framed by the steep slopes of Creag nan Gall (Hill of the Rocks.) It was quite busy with families and couples wandering around its little beaches. I wandered down to the shore where a young lad was watching a bird on the loch through binoculars. I overheard his parents saying that it was a duck of some kind and thought I would mention that I thought it was a female Merganser (never got a photo of it.)
‘Oh, a Merganser! ‘ Everyone sounded quite excited. I was too as I’ve never seen one here, ever. It’s a beautiful bird, known as a ‘redhead’ with soft grey plumage and a copper coloured crown. (That said, I later began to wonder if I’d given them duff information as it could also have been a female Goosander. But I think these are less common in the Highlands.)
Onwards to Ryvoan Bothy and behind me, the views really opened up now to the big stuff – Lurcher’s Crag and Creag a Chalamain, thick with snow. Framed by the U-shape of the Pass, it made for a gorgeous view.
Past the fork to Bynack Mor and up the more rubbly path, leaving the forest behind and finally Ryvoan Bothy came into view where quite a few groups were having lunch. A bothy (this one has one room) can be used by anyone, for free and usually has a small fireplace, some cooking implements and a couple of simple chairs. Hard standing to put your sleeping bag on. It’s primarily for those out and about in the mountains or doing long distance walks and needing somewhere to pitch up for the night.
I popped inside for a look then signed the visitor’s book.
It was a cracking day now, way better than the forecast. It was now nearly 12noon. No way did I want to miss a minute with the family plus I had to factor in a 75 min drive or so drive to the house once I got back to the car. However, I was fairly sure it would work time-wise IF I got a move on. I must say too, I was a bit desperate to get up a hill, the first chance since Chris and I had been hit with the dreaded lurgy i.e. Covid. Luckily, we’d had barely the mildest of colds, presumably because we were vaccinated up to the eyeballs. But the 10 days of self-isolation had felt SO long.(It had taken both of us about 2 weeks before we tested negative on LF tests.)
So up the excellent path I went – a stone staircase – every step opening up even better views over Abernethy and the mountains.
Softer country behind me around Abernethy…the Bothy just visible on right
I was loving it already! It struck me that I’d only been up here once and that had been nearly 25 years ago on a Glenmore Lodge course. Where had all that time gone?
The views soon became excellent…Lochan Uaine now visible below. It’s a stiff pull up nevertheless – this IS a hill walk albeit one that is fairly short.
The big stuff ( over 4,000 feet/1200m) was having different weather – more snow showers and some serious looking drifting snow getting whipped up by the wind and creating a white mist over the hills themselves. But it was spectacular.
I passed two guys, one of whom was struggling a bit and we chatted. They’d decided on the spur of the moment to climb the hill and were finding it tough. I said from memory (which after 25 years, was wobbly at best) that it did ease off a bit nearer the top which definitely cheered them up.I felt a bit guilty in case I’d got that dreadfully wrong (more potentially duff info) then convinced myself that the psychology of thinking the slog DID ease off soon, might help a bit anyway!
Feeling on a bit of a mission, I said cheerio and headed ever upwards. But it was impossible not to keep stopping for photos. Bynack Mor in particular looked very grand, standing tall with a great plateau of moorland below it. Behind lay the long outline of Ben Avon. Cairngorm’s summit was still wrapped in a snow haze. Thankfully the wind direction meant I was walking in absolute calm.
The final slopes appeared ahead and the angle eased nicely (relief, given my half guessed at pronouncement earlier. 😉 )There was more snow and ice around but it was all very benign. However, the wind suddenly hit me at gale force! Wow!
It was now just before 1pm and a few groups were leaving the top, being buffeted as they headed back to Ryvoan.I had the summit to myself which is always nice. What a fantastic view lay all around.
Cairngorm, Carn an Lochan, Braeriach, the deep cleft of the Lairig Ghru, Lurcher’s Crag… stunning in snowy raiment. It also looked to be quite tough conditions up there. In places, mini tornadoes of snow were whirling off the summits.
The huge cairn gave welcome shelter against the buffeting…
Ben Avon’s outliers looked wonderful…
Away to the south, the Monadliath was a wall of distant white mountains. Behind me, the tawny brown and golds of Creagan Gorm were a lovely contrast to the snowy heights. That said, I had no idea if the multiple photos I took were going to be any good as I could hardly keep the camera still and everything was into a low-ish winter sun. For that reason, the photos ARE quite dark. I always take photos on the mobile too, to send off Whats App ‘hellos’ to Chris and the family but the phone was nearly whipped out of my hand.
Time for a seat and now I really wished I’d brought more than the fairly unappetising rations of an apple and ice cold water. Nevertheless, what a cracking lunch spot.
After about 15 mins, as the cold was starting to bite, two figures appeared on the final approach to the summit – it was the two guys who had, a bit like myself, decided to go for it on the spur of the moment.
One literally collapsed into the interior of the cairn.
‘Oh my God, never again. That was so tough. I’m 63, I’m too old for this,’ he groaned.
‘No you’re not,’ I said. ‘I’m the same age. Look at the view…it’s worth it!’ I said, genuinely thinking…good on them, just ‘ out for a walk’ and getting up here and clearly not used to hills. A hill is never ‘easy’, it’s always hard work and even more so if you don’t do it much.
‘What height is this?’ the other chap asked and I said 810m. He seemed amazed by that.
I took their photo together and pointed out what some of the mountains were though oddly, they both kept staring at Creagan Gorm rather than the finer view to the Cairngorm Massif. Ah well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; I just couldn’t take my eyes off the big summits. They looked fabulous.
‘How do we get down?’ the 63 year old asked and I pointed to the continuation of the path we’d just come up. For some reason, someone they’d talked to on the way up had told them they had to continue over Creagan Gorm so now I knew why they kept staring at IT and not the snowy grandeur to the east! They were a lot happier when they knew it was all downhill to their car at Glenmore Visitor Centre.
I put my spikes on for the first bit of the descent path as it was quite icy and snowy and I like the extra grip and balance they give me.
I’d enjoyed the Ryvoan direction so much that I was tempted to go back down that way but I’m glad I didn’t as Loch Morlich now came into view and the angle changed, giving a different perspective.
The Stack of the Eagle below Cairngorm…
In fact, I couldn’t get enough of the view over Loch Morlich. I know Loch an Eilein tends to get the plaudits but I prefer the views over Morlich.
There were still big showers about and some wild weather…Braeriach, at 1246m or 4,200 feet was copping it…
After barely 15 mins the spikes were just a nuisance, threatening to catapult me over the heather more than anything else so off they came – a good excuse for a seat in the sun and now out of the wind. It was all looking so beautiful; a difficult spot to leave.
The forest began again with a burbling burn then the path widened into a big track all the way back to the Visitor Centre.
It’s always a bit jarring to enter the hustle and bustle again after the relative quiet of the mountains. A short walk brought me back to the car for a quick change and a great feeling of achievement at having squeezed in this really beautiful hill circuit. Great views, a stunning lochan, our loveliest forest and that wonderful sub arctic tundra that makes walking in this area a delight. How on earth did I leave it a quarter of a century (yikes!) to return to Cairngorm’s own Hill of the Shepherd? By hook or by (shepherd’s) crook, I’ll be making for it again a lot sooner than that.