Where ospreys soar
By James Carron
This is a delightful lochside stroll through the ancient Caledonian Pine
Forest, in the shadow of the Cairngorm mountains. Keep your eyes peeled because
you never know what you’ll spot when venture into the forests of Rothiemurchus,
near Aviemore. The trees are home to red and roe deer, red squirrels, the
elusive pine marten and the even rarer wildcat.
Lurking amid the gnarled old trees is Loch an Eilein - Loch of the Island - and
there’s a path all the way round. As you look out over the still waters, you
can’t fail to spot the island from which the loch takes its name. It sits
about 50 metres off the west shore and is home to a 14th century castle said to
have been the home of Alexander Stewart, illegitimate some of Robert II of
Scotland. Known as the Wolf of Badenoch, he was, among other things, responsible
for burning down Elgin Cathedral.
Leave the car park at
its south end and a path leads to public toilets and a little visitor centre a
short way on. Pop in and learn a bit about the history of the forest and the
animals and birds that live in it. There’s a small gift shop and you can buy a
coffee here too. From the centre, follow the path out to reach a pleasant little
beach at the northern tip of Loch an Eilein. Enjoy an uninterrupted view over
the water to Clach Mhic Cailein beyond, then turn right and follow the path
along the west side of the loch. The main way runs slightly back from the loch,
but there’s an unofficial path skirting the water’s edge which is a more
peaceful option and gives a better view of the castle ruin.
Turn right here, leaving the main path, and a slightly narrower route heads south, skirting round Loch Gamhna which is about a third of the size of its neighbour. Much of the walk is through open country which makes a fine contrast to the more heavily wooded path round Loch an Eilean.
The path rejoins the main loch circuit next to a bridge spanning the outflow
from Loch Gamhna. Turn right and the path re-enters pine forest. It briefly
skirts by the loch before twisting off into the forest, finally turning north
for the return leg.
The track reaches a gate. Go through and follow a stone wall down to the water’s edge and a narrow path skirts along the shore. You can see the island again, this time from a different angle which lets you see more of the castle. The path rejoins the track just before it crosses a wooden bridge over the loch’s outflow. Carry on to reach the visitor centre and retrace your steps from here back to the car park.