Enter the graceful world of the osprey and venture into the secretive bird of prey's territory on this easy, low level forest walk near Aviemore.
Loch Garten, the focal point of this route, is famous for its ospreys. Each spring, fresh from their African winter break, pairs nest in the extensive pine woodlands and bring up their young. Efforts to increase numbers of this all to rare creature have been extremely successful here and the RSPB has established a fascinating visitor centre above the tree-lined loch. It gives bird lovers outstanding views of the ospreys as they go about their business and, in addition to informative displays, a television link provides live pictures from a nearby nest so you can watch all the activity without disturbing the birds.
Around Loch Garten, there are plenty of other creatures to spot, including crested tits, Scottish crossbills and red squirrels.
Set off south from the car park, following an obvious track towards the loch. The way skirts beside the water. It offers tempting glimpses through the native Scots Pine trees, over the rippling blue surface to the low hills beyond. If you're really lucky, you may see an osprey swooping down to pluck a fish from the loch. Ignore a track on the right 500 yards from the start and continue south, soon heading away from Loch Garten into the trees.
The way curves gently right to reach Loch Mallachie. Follow the track along the north shore of the loch as it swings right to reach a junction. Turn left and a path skirts along the top of Loch Mallachie, a tiny square of water bounded on three sides by trees. Around 200 yards from the junction, the path bears right away from the water and heads north through the tall pines.
At the next junction carry straight on and stay with the path until a crossroads is reached. Turn right and follow the track north, rising gently over a low mound before descending to another junction. Turn left here and the track curves down, passing under a line of electricity pylons, to reach a small car park adjacent to the B970 at its junction with the Boat of Garten road.
Head for an information board at the top of the car park and pick up a path, running north-east, parallel to the road. The way swings right in due course and leaves the company of the B970. It continues to skirt along the edge of the forest, this time close by the minor road leading down to Loch Garten, to reach a junction where a forest track crosses your path. Cross the track and continue south along the path as it undulates gently to reach the car park a mile on.
Distance 5 miles/8km.
Map OS Landranger sheet 36.
Start/parking Woodland car park one mile south of B970 on Loch Garten road - follow signs for RSPB Ospreys (grid ref NH 973185).
Grading An easy, low level route following well graded forest tracks and paths.
Ospreys If you want to see the ospreys, go between April and August. The visitor centre (tel 01479 831476) is open daily (10am to 6pm) from early April to the end of August and there's an admission charge of £2.50 for adults, 50p for children and £1.50 for concessions. A programme of guided walks is organised throughout the season.