Loch Muick occupies a dark, steep-sided glen on the Royal family's Balmoral estate. This route offers a gentle lochside circuit, plus an optional detour to a stunning waterfall where breathtaking views over Loch Muick are to be found. It also provides a bad weather alternative should you arrive at Spittal of Glenmuick hoping for a day on Lochnagar, only to find the elements conspiring against you.
Set off from the public car park at the Spittal, located at the end of the public road in from Ballater. The track extends from the end of the tarmac down over a bridge and passes by a picnic area and public toilets to reach a small ranger centre, housing an exhibition of local flora and fauna. The displays give a pointer to some of the wildlife you can hope to see along the way. Red deer are among the more common attractions, while other less common creatures to look out for include red squirrels, ptarmigan and various soaring birds of prey.
At the barrier gate just beyond the ranger centre, keep going straight ahead, following a wooden sign for the Loch Muick (pronounced 'mick') circuit. Continue along this route and avoid taking a track on the left signed for the Capel Mounth.
A little way beyond this junction, a wide path branches off to the right and descends to a wooden footbridge over the River Muick. Cross and walk round the north end of the loch to a stone boathouse on the far side. A path connects up with a good track which you should follow south down the lochside. The route runs along slightly up from the water and there are excellent views down the glen.
In due course you will reach forestry surrounds the lodge at Glas-allt-Shiel. Just inside the woodland, a path leaves the track on the right and rises gently through tall Scots Pine trees to a bridge over the burn. Immediately behind the lodge, which is a popular summer picnic spot for the Royal family, a path climbs steeply up the hillside. Take this if you want to make the short detour to a spectacular waterfall. The climb is hard going but it's more than made up for by the impressive fall of water and the stunning views over the loch.
Otherwise, continue round the back of the lodge to rejoin the lochside track. Follow it round the head of the loch, crossing the two fingers of the Allt an Dubh Loch by way of a pair of low footbridges. On the far side, the track curves left and begins the return journey. The steep path that climbs up the hillside on the right at this point is known as the Streak of Lightning and when you see it the reason for the name becomes obvious. Thankfully you don't have to take this!
Set off on the lochside track and a third of the way along the path curves right into a little glen where it meets up with a more substantial track leading back to Spittal of Glenmuick.
Distance 7 miles/11km. ;
Map OS Landranger 1:50,000 sheet 44. ;
Start/parking Spittal of Glenmuick (grid ref NO 310853). A parking charge is now levied. ;
Grading An easy, low level track and path walk suitable for all ages and abilities. The estate requests that dogs are kept on the lead.