The popular walk around Loch an Eilein in Rothiemurchus forest was our plan for a wet afternoon. It’s a straightforward plod, with a waymarked trail that is good for buggies, bikes and motorised wheelchairs – but take along four young children and it can turn into a real adventure!
This place has it all, from mountain views to ancient Scots pines, wildlife watching and even a 13th century ruined castle sitting on the island after which the loch is named.
For youngsters, it’s also a place to get off the beaten track and explore – whether that’s in the water, up the trees or finding secret paths through the undergrowth.
The children all brought their bikes and, after a quick play in the water, they were off, speeding along then stopping every wee while to play hide and seek or climb trees.
We followed the route clockwise, going left around the loch to cross a little footbridge then turning right onto a forestry track. There had been recent tree felling here but, being a Sunday, there wasn’t any work going on today.
The track undulates past a cottage and continues to a junction just after a wider bridge. The route to the left here heads to the Cairngorm Club Footbridge – gateway to the mighty Lairig Ghru and the mountains above – but our low-level route goes straight ahead through the gate.
After staying high through the trees you drop down to the loch-side, and we enjoyed a snack and some fun and games with the kids, using a fallen tree as a makeshift bench with plenty of room for everyone.
Eventually we decided we had better get moving again, so we followed the route to a footbridge over a tumbling burn at the outflow of Loch Gamhna. It’s possible to extend the route by continuing around this smaller loch but we decided that wasn’t the wisest move today, with four soggy, tired children to keep entertained and enthused.
They loved riding their bikes over the bridge but not so much the steep climb to rejoin the track on the far side, where a little bit of parental pushing was required.
They were soon back on their way, though, and despite a bumpy steep downhill section that gave poor Clara a bit of a fright, the three eldest little ones were powering on round the loch.
There’s a clear right turn in the track with a well-used shortcut path that leads round to the western edge of Loch an Eilein and the home straight.
The track now leads through the forest to another gate, after which you pass a cottage and then the island castle comes into sight. Little is known about its origins but it is believed its construction began in the 13th century by the Bishop of Moray, with the visible ruins today being those added in the year 1600 to increase the security of the site.
In between, the Wolf of Badenoch is thought to have added a tower house in the 1380s. The castle was beseiged by the defeated Jacobites after the Battle of Cromdale in 1690, and it was also used to shelter fugitives after the Battle of Culloden.
Today, the overgrown ruins stand peacefully in the water, surrounded by magnificent forest and towering mountains, a short distance from the end of this lovely little walk.