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.

Centuries ago the Scottish Highlands were carpeted in woodland like this but over the years man took the trees down for timber to build homes and power industry and only pockets of the original ancient Caledonian Pine Forest remain. One of the finest examples is here at Rothiemurchus in Speyside.

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.

Up until the end of last century, the castle ruins were used by nesting ospreys. The last pair brought up their young within the safety of its thick stone in 1899 and, although none have nested there since, ospreys from Loch Garten fly over to feed on Loch an Eilein.

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.

The path skirts round the western-most tip of the loch and reaches a junction. Ignore the grassy path on your right and continue along the main route. It briefly touches the lochside again before leaving the water to rise gently through the trees. It passes through a lightly wooded area before dipping to another junction.

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.

At the next junction where a track joins from the right, carry straight on across a small footbridge and the way widens. It sits some way back from the loch, but you can still see the water through the trees.

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.


Distance 5 miles/8km.
Map OS Landranger 1:50,000 sheet 36 or Harveys Cairn Gorm.
Start/parking Rothiemurchus Loch an Eilein car park (grid ref NH 897085). There's a £2.50 charge.
Grading Low level woodland path throughout. It can be wet and muddy in places. Suitable for all.