Loch an Eilein
A chilly swim in a picturesque little Scottish loch with a castle was exactly where I needed to be on such a wonderful autumn day in the Cairngorms. Despite the October chill and water temperature cooler (it’s never too cold for short wild swim) say those who are accustomed. The word cold within this area is quite taboo – on the other hand chilly is permissible!
It was chilly enough to merit a 15 minute swim. Timing is of essence here, as is a reliable swimming companion. We blether (chat), compare the chill factor, and make sure we are both safe within our comfort zones. In the water it is true that your senses are fully opened to colder elements, but also you are alive to the experience being immersed in the natural arena.
Loch an Eilein (loch of the island) with its island castle ruin provides the most harmonious, natural environment for any keen wild or open water swimmer to encounter. With some of the most vibrant shades of the glorious autumnal palette surrounding Loch an Eilein, it’s the perfect season to embrace the natural woodlands and the changing tones and hues of the area. From lime greens to shades of burnt orange and crimson riots, there’s a vivid and wild outburst of colour to excite or overwhelm the senses.
Sauntering along to Loch an Eilein from the Rothiemurchus Centre provides the most perfect pre swim warm up. The path is relaxed and gentle enough to accommodate abilities of nature lovers from all ages and abilities. It’s a real treat to walk within the special Caledonian pine forest in the heart of the Cairngorms at Rothiemurchus. On our walk to Loch an Eilein we are close to see an impressive stag fixing his eyes upon us from his position of authority amongst the ancient woodland. He is unfaltering in his position, long enough for us to admire his antler structure and his deep, soulful gaze.
Swimming in Loch an Eilein
On our route to the Loch side, we encounter other walkers, people on bikes and children making their play at the water’s edge in their wellies. A paddle boarder cruises by on a board making way to the ancient castle on the island. The only way to access the castle would be above the water on a small boat or board.
Legend has it that a zigzag underwater causeway linked castle island and shore, but no evidence has ever been found. Ospreys (also known as “fish eagles” in the early 1800’s) nested on the castle battlements. There are accounts of Victorian egg thieves on occasion swimming out to steal from the nests. In recent times the castle featured as the island graveyard in series 1 of BBC TV’s ‘Monarch of the Glen’.
It seems more certain that the castle on Loch an Eilein played a significant role as a place of safety in the late 14th century, offering protection from clan war bands as some used the “Thieves Road” on the east shored of the loch.
Women, children and old folks of Rothiemurchus were the main occupants of the Castle at the time of a Jacobite army being routed by Government forces at the Battle of Cromdale in 1690. Jacobite survivors retreated by way of Aviemore and briefly attacked Loch an Eilein Castle. Grizel Mor (Big Grace) was said to have cast the lead musket balls for the defenders whilst hurling choice abuse at the enemy.
After our carefully monitored time in the water, the exit strategy has been carefully considered. Gowns, woolly, hats, socks and multiple layers have strategically hung from a tree on the shore. Dry off is speedy and hot tea and snacks are devoured.