This run up through the Craigellachie Nature Reserve in Aviemore is a well-known classic but a new discovery for me.
The short 5km route gives a lot of bang for its buck – the 600ft of stiff ascent quickly rewards the effort with expansive views down Strathspey and over Aviemore towards the Cairngorms.
The air had an unmistakable feeling of snow and, as we passed under the A9 and into the nature reserve, the leaf-less trees and crisp air made it feel more like a mid-winter run than a spring outing.
Red waymarkers led the way through the woods and the path soon began climbing through grey birch trees, their beards of green lichen looking like ornate protection against the last of this long Scottish winter.
The path soon levelled off to traverse the hillside, the bare trees now allowing a glimpse of the lochan below, and I was able to pick up speed, chasing Eric’s heels along the rocky path.
Reaching a T-junction we took a left turn, onwards and upwards past a water tank and climbing alongside craggy outcrops, heading for a col in the hillside ahead.
The ridges of the hills at the edge of the Monadliath were now in view and the lip of the land behind me now hid the urban sprawl of Aviemore. I suddenly felt a lot further away from civilisation than the brief 15 minutes it had taken us to get here.
The ground steepened again and we overtook several groups of walkers, all out enjoying the bright day. Stone steps led up through the last of the trees, taking us to the top of the rise.
From this viewpoint Aviemore lay below us, but it was the snow-shrouded Cairngorm plateau beyond that commanded the view.
At my feet the ground dropped away sharply to the valley floor and the majesty of the view was in no way diminished by other people also enjoying the scene – with a view this expansive there was plenty of room for everyone.
The large path ahead wove upwards through the heather, its route marked by an irregular string of walkers. My concentration was split between navigating the bouldery path and trying to make subtle sounds so as not to startle people with a sudden runner’s approach from behind.
Our destination, a large cairn, appeared on the horizon and a few minutes later we were standing on the flat rocks beside it.
The afternoon sun reflected on the high Lochan Dubh below me, the blaze of light a sharp contrast to the muted colours of Strathspey stretching away south behind it.
To the east I could see the summits of the Cairngorm mountains becoming obscured in quick succession as a snow shower moved westwards towards us and hinted it was time to head back down towards Aviemore. I turned to tear Eric away from his surveillance of the vista, and we started north to retrace our steps in descent.
Amiable walkers gave us space to quickly pass and in no time we were back down among the trees, taking the same path as our outward journey.
We were in the wood when the snow started falling, large flakes filling the air and obscuring the view beyond the trees. The snow flurry was only brief, but there is a certain exhilaration about being out in the snow that even this long winter cannot quite dampen.
Dropping rapidly down the hillside, we were soon down alongside the lochan again.
A whole network of paths round the lower reserve give any number of ways in which to finish, or start, the route, and I have a feeling that each time I dart up this wee hill I’ll be discovering more surprises in this corner of Aviemore.
Distance 3 miles / 5km
Terrain Straightforward and clear paths throughout
Start/finish Entrance to Craigellachie Nature Reserve, Aviemore Youth Hostel
Maps OS Landranger 36; OS Explorer OL 57
A short blast up to a fabulous viewpoint over the Cairngorms... and from the centre of Aviemore too!