Maybe you’ve signed up to a sporting challenge and need to train while you’re on holiday in the Cairngorms, or maybe you’re just a running enthusiast and looking for an insider’s guide on where to run. Either way, the National Park is arguably the trail running capital of the UK, with routes to suit every type and level of runner. (And, incidentally, if you are looking for inspiration on races to enter in the area, then check out our blog here, listing our pick of the best sporting competitions).
As Martin Bell, manager at Ellis Brigham and writer of The Determined Runner blog, says: “The Cairngorms has such variation for running, from short easy-going loch-side runs, to mammoth Munro-bagging runs. You can head out on a trail and be gone for hours on end and hardly see anyone, but there’s always the guarantee that you will see the best of nature and wildlife. It’s an incredibly inexpensive sport to get into, so get outside and keep moving!”
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Martin Bell’s top runs in the west of the Cairngorms National Park:
All of the below routes have parking available at the start point and some have public transport. As Martin says, “fantastic views are guaranteed”. He also adds that some of these routes include ascents, so remember to check the weather forecast and dress appropriately for the weather conditions, ensuring you are carrying essentials like a map and compass, too. “Also, make sure you tell someone where you are going,” he says. “But most importantly, enjoy yourself and soak up the nature!”
For maps of these runs, see Martin’s blog post here.
1. Loch an Eilein Loop (Aviemore): 3.4 miles & 50 metres of ascent. This run has a very good, clear path and is fairly flat. It’s also been voted one of the best places to picnic in the UK, so a good place to meet family/friends post-run.
2. Rothiemurchus Loop (Aviemore): 11.1 miles & 204 metres of ascent. This route starts at Rothiemurchus, where there is ample free car parking, and heads to Coylumbridge before skirting Loch Morlich and then onto the edge of Loch an Eilein, too. It has good paths with a slight incline for the first half, then a slight decline for the second half.
3. Creag Bheag (Kingussie): 3.3 miles & 266 metres of ascent. A lovely hill run which rewards you with stunning views at the top. Good paths, a steep first section through trees and then down towards the golf course.
4.Loch Einich (Aviemore): 13.7 miles & 388 meters of ascent. This run starts just up from Coylumbridge, near the campsite, but very quickly you will feel like you’re in wilderness as the path gradually ascends into the mountains, finishing at the loch. The start of the run has a very good, clear path but this gets rockier further on. There are also several parts where you may get your feet wet, so worth wearing waterproof shoes/socks or bringing spares (particularly in colder weather, as the path is very exposed to the elements and, if it’s windy in particular, you can get cold quickly, especially if you stop).
5. Coylum Campsite Loop (Aviemore): 4.4 miles & 72 meters of ascent. This starts from the same point as 4), but is much shorter and manageable for those runners who might not fancy the longer route to Loch Einich! Good paths all round, too.
6. The Fara (Dalwhinnie):13.4 miles & 946 metres of ascent to this Corbett. A lovely loop starting from and ending at Dalwinnie. The first section takes you on a steep path to a route overlooking the loch then the second half of the loop winds down loch side.
7. Meall a Bhuachaille (Aviemore): 5.6 miles & 570 metres of ascent. A beautiful, iconic Cairngorm route often captured by artists. Head towards Ryvoan Bothy, past the magical ‘Faerie Lochan’ (An Lochan Uaine), then take the path to the left, steep going up but a good path all round.
8. Meall a Bhuachaille Longer (Aviemore): 10.3 miles & 736 metres of ascent. Building on #7 this longer route includes summits Creagan Gorm & Craigowrie. The path gets boggier once you take in the extra section and, once you have descended off Craigowrie, the return is along the fire road.
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"The less attached you are the more peaceful you are." I've enjoyed experimenting with the way I train and the sports I enjoy over the years. Back in the day I loved marathon running, then I had spells of power lifting and 5kms. In 2017 I joined the dots with my love of the outdoors and fitness – and as a result did a mix of hill running, strength training and road biking. I wasn't very talented at any of these things but that wasn't important – what was important was that I loved the ways these activities felt, the places they took me and the people I met. In late 2017 I developed a achilles problem that kept me away from running for most of 2018. At the moment I'm reading a brilliant book by Jonny Muir, "The Mountain's are Calling" and there's nothing I want to do more than get running up hills again. I'm so tempted to re-join the Highland Hill Runners. But I know my achilles still isn't right and it would be a recipe for further injury. If I want to walk the Pacific Crest Trail this year I need to play the long game. So I'm accepting the reality and I know I'm lucky to still be able to walk up hills, ride my bike, train in the gym and do the odd 5km. Being high on intention and low on attachment is a really important theme in my life at the moment. Does this resonate in your life at all? Why do you train the way you do? (Photo credit Phil Hindell, Highland Hill Runners, Meall a'Bhuachaille race 2016). #lowattachment #letgo #freedomisachoice #hillrunning #everydaystruggles #training #achillesheel #achilles #meallabhuachaille #mindset #acceptance #commitment #lifecoach #selfacceptance #trainforlove #youareenough #themountainsarecalling @jonnymuir_mountains
9. Grantown to Aviemore: 16.5 miles & 184 metres of ascent. This run has good paths along the Speyside Way.
10. Cairngorm mountain summit: 7 miles & 812 metres of ascent. The ultimate run when you visit the Cairngorms! A mixed path, good tread required on shoes.
11. Loch Morlich (Aviemore): 3.4 miles & 15 metres of ascent. Another iconic route in the Cairngorms rewarding you with stunning views of Loch Morlich as you run. A good path & fairly flat.
Remember, if you want more info or maps of these runs, see Martin’s blog post here.
East vs West of the National Park
Endurance runner Alastair Hubbard, who runs Cranford Guest House in Braemar, says that the main difference that runners will encounter between the east and west of the Cairngorms National Park is that ‘his’ side of the National Park tends to have “grassy hills rather than heather-clad ones, which makes them easier to run, as it’s hard to run through heather”. Because of this, runners can go off the beaten path more easily to explore and access wilderness and wildlife. However, he cautions runners to keep safe, saying “with mountain running, you can find yourself quite remote quite quickly and, also, rivers flash flood here easily, so you have to take care”.
Alastair Hubbard’s top runs in the east of the Cairngorms National Park:
12. Trails around Linn of Dee: there are lots of scenic runs starting from the car park (which has a charge) at Linn of Dee. For example, there is an ‘out and back’, clearly marked route from here along the Glen Lui track up to Derry Lodge, a former shooting lodge set in a pinewood glen with great views of the Cairngorms. The run is around 7 miles long. For more info see here. Linn of Dee is also a favourite for mountain bikers, see here for suggested trails.
13. Walk up to Loch Callater: this clearly marked ‘out and back’ 7 mile track takes you from just south of Braemar to this beautiful loch, enveloped by mountains and stunning vistas. If you want a longer run, you can always run around the loch but this is only possible in dry weather and, even then, it will probably involve getting wet feet as you have to cross the inflow river above the loch. For a more comprehensive route description see here.
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14. Loch Muick Loop: This nearly 8 mile track is steeped in history as it passes the Glas-allt Shiel house, built by Queen Victoria, as well as some beautiful views over the Balmoral Estate. The house was apparently built by the Queen after the death of her beloved Albert, as a quiet place to retreat. There is a car park at Glen Muick and the route is well signposted, for further information see here. If you want to incorporate the impressive Glas Allt Falls into your run, then follow the path behind Glas-allt Shiel through the woods.
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Queen Victoria built ‘Glass-allt-Shiel’, her widow’s house, on the shores of Loch Muick to escape the outside world following the death of her husband. Albert would’ve been mighty pissed off if he’d have known what he was missing out on. Sunrise over Loch Muick from Broad Cairn. #lochmuick #balmoral #cairngorms #scottishhighlands #lochs #munros #hiking #scotland #wildcamping #bestview #sunrise #landscapephotography #thescottishcollective
15. Run Up the Morrone Corbett: This is the hill that competitors run up in the Braemar Hill Race, which takes place during the Braemar Gathering, which is on 7 September this year, (see our blog here for more race inspiration). From the summit, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Cairngorms and Braemar. Park at Braemar village and follow the clear track. This route is best run in summer and not when capped with snow, unless you are handy with an ice axe and crampons.
Hope you enjoyed our top run picks. Do get in touch if you have your own suggestions! And, of course, many of these routes make perfect mountain biking trails too.
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