A version of this walk description appeared in Scotland on Sunday on March 3, 2009

LOCH AN EILEIN, ROTHIEMURCHUS

This is one of the most popular low level walks in Scotland, and rightly so. Nestled among the Caledonian pines of the Rothiemurchus Forest, Loch an Eilein makes an enchanting setting, completed with the ruins of an ancient castle.

This area is home to some fantastic wildlife. Red squirrels would be a highlight, as well as Scottish crossbills and Osprey in the summer. These magnificent fishers once nested on the castle but were driven away by egg hunters about 100 years ago.

The castle has a history dating back as far as the 13th century and was once said to have been home to the notorious Wolf of Badenoch. In the 1770s a causeway to the ramparts disappeared when the water level was raised by a sluice gate built to allow timber to be floated down to the River Spey.

At the top of the loch a narrow path takes you to Loch Gamhna. Right on the edge of the forest, it sits like a Highland oasis, dwarfed by great, bulky mountains.

The return takes you back along Loch an Eilein then through forest before returning to the shore and a last view of the castle ruins at the end of one of the best short walks in Scotland.

DISTANCE:  4½ miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: Undulating but about 500ft in total.

TIME: 1½ to 2½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 36.

PARK: Take the B970, Cairngorm road, from Aviemore. Turn right after about three-quarters of a mile, following a sign to Insh. Just over a mile down the road go left, following a brown sign to Loch an Eilein, and you will find a car park another mile further on.

IN SUMMARY: Go to the far end of the car park and take a path to a notice board where you go straight on to reach a small visitor centre and some toilets.

Walk the few yards to the edge of the loch and go right, following a good path.

The main path follows the loch shore, although slightly above it, and passes the castle – after this look out for a path on the left which drops down to a bench offering good views of the ruins.

At the top of the loch ignore a track going right and follow the footpath round to the left.

After a few hundred yards (after the path has veered away from the loch and gone up a slight incline) take a smaller path on the right which leads to Loch Gamhna. Follow the path round the loch to reach the main path again, where you go right.

Ignore smaller paths going off to either side and follow the main path as it veers away from Loch an Eilein, before swinging round to the left and returning to the shore and visitor centre. Go right here to retrace your steps from earlier back to the car park.

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