Loch an Eilein: A beautiful family walk in the Cairngorms

Loch an Eilein is a beautiful freshwater loch in the heart of Rothiemurchus Forest in the Cairngorms National Park. Loch an Eilein means ‘loch of the island’, and there is a small island near the western shore with a ruined castle on it. There are well maintained hard-packed paths all the way around the loch, so that you can enjoy the whole loop with a buggy or with children on bikes.

Distance: 3.3 miles / 5.3km

Parking: The walk is on the Rothiemurchus Estate, and they operate a spacious car park at the start of the walk. To reach it, take the B970 from Aviemore, and turn right after about half a mile to continue on the B970 signed Inshriach and Feshiebridge. Continue down the road for about a mile, and you will see a sign on the left to Loch an Eilein.

The car park is attended and there is a small charge.

Amenities: Toilets are available at the start of the walk. There is also a wee souvenir shop and gallery at the lochside which sells ice-creams and snacks.

Buggy/bike friendly? We took an all-terrain double buggy (a Mountain Buggy Duet) and balance bikes with us on this walk, and we saw a number of other folk around the loop on mountain bikes.

Loch an Eilein walk: the route

You can walk around the loch in either direction. We chose to go clockwise so that we would come to the island castle near the end of our walk. We hoped it would be a good motivator!

There is a short path from the car park to the edge of the loch where the toilets and the gallery are situated. There is a lovely wee beach area here. It’s a great spot for a picnic and for children to play.

Turn left at the loch and continued along the lochside and over a footbridge to reach a broad forestry track. Turn right along this track. Shortly afterwards you will see a cottage ahead. This is actually the only spot where we were unsure of the route. You should continue on the main track past the cottage, rather than taking the smaller route down to the shore on the right.

Follow the forestry track as it climbs somewhat, and make your way down to the southern end of the loch. Here, turn right over a footbridge that crosses the burn from Loch Gamhna. We had some fun playing in the burn here! Follow the track all the way around the rest of the loch to reach the island castle.

What is the terrain like?

The whole route is on broad, well maintained, hard packed paths. There are a couple of moderately steep sections, but we found these very manageable with a buggy. There were some places where larger stones or tree roots made the route a bit bumpy. However, these were only short sections and we were able to pass around most of the obstacles.

There are a few pedestrian gates around the loop. They were all wide enough for us to pass through easily with a double buggy.

Loch an Eilein pedestrian access gate

There are a number of bridges around the loch, which were all well maintained and easy to cross with a buggy or with bikes.

Loch an Eilein bridge

Loch an Eilein castle: The history

It is not known exactly when the island castle was built. The area has been inhabited since ancient times, and it is possible that the island is a manmade crannog. Alexander II gave the land at Rothiemurchus to the Bishops of Moray in 1226. It was probably the bishops who built the first stone castle, or it could have been the infamous Wolf of Badenoch, third son of King Robert II.

Later on, it is said that the castle was attacked by Jacobite forces fleeing from the Battle of Cromdale in 1690. However, the local people successfully defended the castle and the attackers dispersed.

Loch an Eilein island castle

There used to be a causeway across the loch to the island. However, the water level was raised in the 18th century, covering the causeway. If you want to visit the castle now, you will need a boat.

Wildlife at Loch an Eilein

I was really struck by the variety and age of the trees on our walk around the loch, including Scots pine, aspen and birch. This is ancient woodland, part of the Caledonian Forest.

Look out for Crested Tits, Red Squirrels, and Ospreys.

Loch an Eilein is surrounded by spectacular mountains, and in good weather the views are brilliant. Here is an extract from the Cairngorm Club journal describing the scene in 1900:

Let us take our stand at Boat Bay, near the outlet of the loch, and note the salient points of the landscape. Looking across the water we see no fewer than four parallel ridges, off-shoots of the Cairngorms, formed respectively by Sgoran Dubh, Braeriach, Ben Muich Dhui, and Cairngorm, the summit of the latter also being in full view.

Cairngorm Club Journal 1900, Alex Inkson McConnochie

The loop around Loch an Eilein is one of my favourite walks in the Cairngorms, it is a beautiful spot and and is really well set up for young families. I highly recommend it.

If you are looking for buggy-friendly walks in the Cairngorms, you may also enjoy these other routes.

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