Hidden in the forest of Rothiemurchus, this beautiful place is one of the most loved in the UK.
Loch an Eilein (loch of the island) with its island castle ruin and stunning surroundings of forest and hill, has seen human use for many centuries. It has also long been a much loved favourite of countless thousands of visitors. No surprise, then, that in 2010 it was voted Britain’s Favourite Picnic Spot in a poll organised by Warburtons to commemorate National Bread Week.
You can explore the area at your own pace; a short stroll from the car park will reveal dramatic views of ancient pine trees, mountain and castle. A walk of 3 miles (5 kilometres) along some of the best low level walking paths in Scotland and part of a Rothiemurchus network of trails, will take you all the way round the loch. You may encounter some of our exceptional forest wildlife; Red Squirrel, Scottish Crossbill and Crested Tit make their home here. In summer, Ospreys may occasionally seen scouting the waters for fish.
Very little written material exists about the construction of the island castle, though informed opinion dates its origin back to the late 14th century. It was built as a place of safety against marauding clan war bands, who used the so-called ‘Thieves’ Road’ along the eastern shores of the loch to descend on Strathspey in search of plunder. Modern examination of the stonework indicates the original basic stronghold was added to in later centuries until it gradually fell into disuse in the late 1700s. Repairs to shore up crumbling masonry were carried out in the 1800s.
The castle has had its share of excitement. In 1644, the shores of the loch echoed to the tramp of soldiers on the march. James Graham, Marquis Montrose, a supporter of King Charles I during the English Civil War, led his army this way during one of his epic forced marches across Scotland.
In 1690, a Jacobite army was routed by Government forces at the Battle of Cromdale. Jacobite survivors retreated by way of Aviemore and briefly attacked Loch an Eilein castle, at the time occupied mainly by the women, children and old folk of Rothiemurchus. One account of the attack had the Laird’s wife, Grizel Mor (Big Grace), casting lead musket balls for the defenders and shouting choice abuse at the enemy.
Legend has it that a zigzag underwater causeway linked castle island and shore, but no evidence has ever been found. The loch water level was increased in the 1700s by building a dam and sluice at the north end so that felled timber logs could be floated down a flooded stream to the River Spey. Elizabeth Grant describes this activity in her book, ‘Memoirs of a Highland Lady’. In the same book, set in the early 1800s, she also writes that Ospreys (‘fish eagles’) nested on the castle battlements. There are accounts of Victorian egg thieves on occasion swimming out to rob nests, though Grant lairds at the time tried to prevent this. In recent times the castle featured as the island graveyard in series 1 of BBC TV’s ‘Monarch of the Glen’.
Please exercise your dog responsibly and keep dogs under control. Dogs can alarm other visitors and wildlife especially ground nesting birds. Please clear your dog’s mess from paths and public area, but don’t litter the area with plastic bags! We’re pleased to offer you a dog exercise area where your furry friend can run free without alarming other visitors and wildlife.
This is perhaps the greatest threat to the forest and its wildlife. Just the heat from a disposable barbecue or camping gas stove can cause a fire as can a cigarette end, please be careful.
At Loch an Eilein, the attended car park is open daily and the attendant can help answer any questions you may have. They can also help you catch a glimpse of beautiful Crested Tits as Loch an Eilein is home to many rare and protected species. By parking here you are helping to care for the forest and the wildlife that depends on it.
“Rothiemurchus forest is not just trees but a wonderfully rich network of habitats and wildlife, interdependent and evolving. The conservation of this diverse living landscape does not happen by accident. Long-term planning and sensitive use maintain and enhance the forest for future generations. Thank you for helping”
Includes a great map and other benefits
JUST WANT TO PARK?
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LOCH AN EILEIN GALLERY
Our gallery is now in its sixth season of offering a wide range of fine art and locally made crafts. We usually have a fantastic selection of fine art work and photography, primarily landscapes and wildlife as befits our rural situation. The craft work is nearly all sourced locally and comprises jewellery, Harris tweed, felt work, engraved and fused glass, sculpture, wood turning, driftaway art, soaps and much more.
Loch an Eilein gallery is a fantastic showcase of the artistic talent in this area. During the season we will be presenting a constantly changing exhibition of a range of art styles and media, from some exciting new artists as well as old favourites.
Please feel free to contact us if you would like to know more about our artwork or if you would be interested in showcasing your work in the gallery.
Directions: The gallery is located on the shore of Loch an Eilein, grid reference 897084. Turn right off the ski road to Cairngorm onto the B970 then left down a minor road past the Loch an Eilein Pottery until you reach the Loch an Eilein car park (car park fee applies). The nearest postcode is PH22 1QT.
3rd April to 1st November – Daily 11am to 4.30pm
Gallery: T: 01479 811085
Rothiemurchus Centre (9.30am to 5.30 pm) – T: 01479 812345