Kayaking on Loch An Eilein
Three years ago we invited our friends John & Margaret Luckwell to stay with us at Scandinavian Village in Aviemore. Avid political campaigners and all-around nice people, they deserved a wee winter treat. John being a keen kayaker kindly brought his kayaks with him and asked if we would like "a wee piddle" on Loch Morlich.
It was a great experience paddling out into the middle of the water surrounded by the majesty of the Cairngorm mountains and surrounding forests.
Roll on to 2021 we again invited the Luckwells to Aviemore and again John offered to bring the kayaks (we're not using you for kayaks John, I promise!). On the lead up to our trip, he mentioned again going to Loch Morlich, but instead, I offered up a new location - Loch An Eilein. John had never heard of it before but was keen to explore somewhere new, especially as it has the unique feature of the island based castle!
Kayaking in December?!
Considering we were staying in Aviemore in December, maybe we were a bit mad considering a kayak in the cold winter weather, but we bade our time between the plumps of snow and high winds and were lucky enough to get a calm mild day for our trip... if a little rainy!
Loch An Eilein isn't far from Aviemore, with my brothers James and Matthew, we followed the B970, then turned right just after TreeZone and before the Rothiemurchus centre. It's well signposted enough and the minor road was of good quality when turning up to the loch car park. We saw red squirrels all around us on this road jumping across the road and in the trees.
Loch An Eilein Car Park
The Loch is managed by Rothiemurchus Estate, and unfortunately, there is a charge to park in their car park - £4.50 for the day. We had two cars and the attendant did give us a small discount which was nice of him. You also get a couple of nice pamphlets with information about the loch, including a map with walking routes / route map. There are toilets on-site and the trails are maintained, so I guess a fee is OK, but does leave a tiny bad taste that you have to pay to see one of Scotlands nicest lochs. It also says £1.50 per person, I guess this means walkers also have to pay... I'm not sure how this can be policed given there is a "right to roam" in Scotland.
There was no issue with the kayaks and we didn't seem to need to request any special permission.
We had to lug the kayaks a short distance through a brief woodland trail, but it's easily doable and not too much of a chore. Exiting the trees you begin to see the loch which is a truly magical place surrounded by the ancient Rothiemurchus pine forest.
Loch An Eilein
Located within the Cairngorms National Park, Loch an Eilein is an area of outstanding natural beauty and looking up the length of the loch is a sight to behold. Trees line each of the banks reflected in the cool still water and forested mountains rise up at the far side, the ruined castle on the island completes this perfect picture.
Historically the loch was a dangerous place with one lochside earning the title of "Robbers Way" and was likely the reason for the construction of the island castle as a safe haven.
The loch has a small visitor centre in an old cottage which includes a small toilet block.
A limestone kiln exists on the site built from rocks at the nearby rocky overhang/outcrop.
Over 100 years ago the loch was prone to completely freezing over and it was popular with the Victorians for ice skating. Sadly, there is a memorial stone on the banks of the loch to commemorate Major General Walter Brook Rice who drowned after falling through the ice on the 26th of December 1892.
Loch An Eilein Castle
Simply known as Loch An Eilein Castle or Lochaneilean Castle, it was built in the 13th century as a safe house for the Bishop of Moray and added to over the next few hundred years until its abandonment in the 18th century.
In the 1380s the castle was further fortified by the notorious Wolf of Badenoch, he added a tower house at the north side of the island with walls nearly 2 meters thick.
Patrick Grant of Rothiemurchus added the curtain wall between the house and the tower in 1600 to further fortify the island stronghold.
The only real historical mention of this castle was when it was besieged by Jacobite army in 1690, unsuccessfully. On the flip side, it was used as a Jacobite refuge after the Battle of Culloden.
Although not proven there was said to be a zigzag underwater causeway that gave access to the island, however, in the 1770s logging operations raised the height of the loch to enable the timber to be floated down the Spey river. This hid the causeway and raised the water level up to the castle walls.
Despite the ruinous state of the castle is hasn't changed much in the last 120 years with a photo from 1900 showing almost exactly the same ruin that can be seen today.
Birdlife at Loch An Eilein
Many varieties of birds can be found here including:
- Crested tit
- Common redstart
- Spotted flycatcher
- Tree pipit
- Red-throated diver
- Common sandpiper
Ospreys were once known to nest on the castle island as one of the only safe places from the Victorians who almost hunted them to extinction, unfortunately, they have not been seen nesting here again for many years. Ospreys however have returned to Scotland are again becoming a more common sight and can even be seen in Aviemore and Loch Garten to the north.
Back to the Kayaking!
We placed the kayaks on the nearest shore to the entrance path to the site, it was easily the best place to get in and out of the kayaks.
After a short primer from John, my brother Matthew and I pushed off into the large expanse of water. It was really calm and peaceful in stark contrast to what it must have been like days earlier during Storm Arwen. We stayed in the middle of the loch for a few minutes, looking up at the pine-covered mountains with the mist floating by, I must say I had a bit of a moment here gazing at the wonderful highland scenery.
Some laps around the ruined castle
Next up we decided to check out the castle, this was really amazing as I had always wanted to see the castle up close as the view from the shore doesn't give up many of its secrets!
Originally I had really wanted to find a spot to exit the kayak and explore the island, but there was no obvious place to safely jump out... a shame, but I still got some good views of the interior that many may have not seen.
Looking to the middle of the castle there was a doorway with inky black darkness leading into what was once maybe the cellar, still intact and beckoning me to explore... maybe another time! I wonder what unknown amazing history this place had in its few hundred years of occupancy... who knows what secret artefacts lurk in the waters around the castle, swords, tools... lost Jacobite treasure?!
Upon our first loop of the castle, we encountered a large pink lobsterman at the side of the wall! This brave soul was a man up on holiday from Wales who decided he would swim to the island in December, IN SCOTLAND... maybe not the wisest of choices and he looked like he was seriously regretting the swim but he got back safely to his wife and went on his merry way.
We did one more loop of the castle before making our way to the wooden pier just near the castle on the lochside. This pier was obviously made for bigger boats or maybe the canoe trips offered by the estate, there was no easy way to get from the kayaks onto the pier, so we opted to find some more shallow water to swap occupants. This time John and James had a go at lapping the castle.
We walked back via the lochside trail to the shore where we started near the entrance to the site and waited for them to meet us there, it's definitely the best place we found to enter and exit the kayaks.
How much is parking at Loch An Eilein?
£4.50 per car.
Do you need a licence to kayak in Scotland?
No license is required for Scotland or Loch An Eilein.
Can you take your own kayak to Loch An Eilein?
Yes, this is what we did and there were no problems.
Are there official watersports on Loch An Eilein?
Yes if you fancy a canoe trip, there are instructor-led experiences available on the Rothiemurchus website. The canoes can fit up to two adults or an adult and two small children, they offer fun games and historical stories as part of the package too.
Can you stay at Loch An Eilein?
There are a few very nice cottages near the loch and they look like truly idyllic places to spend a few days. I can't imagine having such natural beauty on the doorstep and being able to just step out and see it, wow. Have a look at some of the marvellous properties here at Hidden Highland Retreats. Eilein Cottage in particular looks sublime.
Camping is available July, August and September, with single night pitches being booked online through the Rothiemurchus website.
My favourite places to stay in the Aviemore area are Scandinavian Village and the Cairngorm Hotel.
What a brilliant morning we had Kayaking at Loch An Eilein, with family, good friends, local wildlife and scenery to die for, what's not to love? Even if not kayaking the walk around the loch through the Rothiemurchus Forest is something special too and would be a brilliant picnic spot. Don't skip Loch Gamhna a short distance to the south - a really lovely walk.
Loch An Eilein must surely be a world-class kayaking destination and comes highly recommended by this newbie two-time kayaker... I feel I may have to invest some money in this exciting sport!
Please have a read of my article on Loch Morlich if you fancy trying some of the outdoor activities there.
Please see a short drone video below of our visit to the loch.
Finally a big thank you to John Luckwell for letting us use the kayaks, and for providing the drone video and pictures.