Top 5 Low Level Walks in the Cairngorms
Alright so Sunday lunch has just finished and you need a wee family walk? Or maybe you’ve had a cheeky lie-in but the dog needs a run about. Here’s my top 5 low level loops in the North of the Cairngorms National Park. On these walks you’ll experience some of the most beautiful views, stunning lochs, peaceful rivers and oldest forests in the UK.
Keep scrolling to check out my top 5 or click one of the links below to jump straight to that walk.
Loch Garten + Loch Mallachie | Uath Lochans | Loch an Eilein | An Lochan Uaine | Insh Marshes
5. Insh Marshes
Nestled between Glen Tromie and the Ruthven barracks (worth a visit) the Insh Marshes are an RSPB nature reserve. If you're keen on the old bird watching then bring along the binoculars and be sure to stop at the 3 bird hides along the way. There’s a fantastic opportunity to see migratory birds, such as Curlew and Redshank in the spring and gaze upon the snow capped mountains in the winter. The loop also takes you close to an old church ruin. This makes for quite a surreal viewpoint looking out over the marshes, fields and mountains.
So birds, church ruins and mountains but what makes this walk top 5 material I hear you ask? Well, I don’t actually hear you ask, it’s just one of those things people say isn’t it? Unless you’re shouting very loudly at your screen. But that would be really strange. Wait…. Are you? Sorry back on task. Why is it top 5? Well, for me it’s all about the river Tromie. Whichever direction I walk this loop when I first hear the flowing water a sense of excitement just bubbles up inside. I can't help it. I love rivers and this section of the Tromie is particularly beautiful. When you reach the furthest point from the start, just opposite the Speyside distillery and down from the bridge, it’s well worth a careful detour to the water’s edge to look down upon the rapids and gorge below.
4. An Lochan Uaine (The Green Lochan)
6km without Ryvoan Bothy | Allow 2hrs
Okay, so I know this is probably one of the most popular walks in the area. Yes, you’re going to see some other people and if you’re anything like me, you quite like a bit of solace. But I just couldn’t omit this walk from the list. It's got a bit of everything. Lovely Scots pine forest, fantastic views of the northern corries, a whole lot of magic and let’s be honest it's actually sometimes really nice to bump into a fellow walker for a quick chat.
There’s some great folklore about how the loch became so green. Maybe this can make for a conversation starter if you’re stuck. From bandits, to the faerie folk, to cattle drovers and hikers alike, many have passed through this old drover’s track. I love to imagine all of the drama that the old granny pine tree’s will have seen as I wander past and marvel at their size and stature. Did they witness ambushes on royal carts or see the faerie king playing his pipe? I guess the only way to find out will be to ask the tree’s themselves. Hmm, actually maybe don’t do that. You might get some very strange looks.
All this chat and I haven’t even mentioned my favourite bit of the walk. Without a shadow of a doubt it has to be the “alpine” style track. Do not miss out on this part of the walk! So many people just walk to the lochan and then walk back the exact same way. Don’t do it. Just opposite the steps down to An Lochan Uaine, across the main path is a sneaky little track (marked with blue waymarkers) which at first takes you onto a boardwalk but then you meander steeply up through an incredible section of the forest, with huge pine trees growing in the most odd ways. Some growing down the slope, some growing straight out perpendicular to the hill side. It’s absolutely fascinating and just points to the adaptive nature of these splendid trees. Its a fair climb and a little steep so you will need to be a bit confident on your feet. You are rewarded amazingly for the efforts though as you reach a cracking viewpoint with a lovely little bench for a quick snack or wee romantic moment.
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3. Loch an Eilein
Top 3 here we go!
The Loch of the Island is another popular one and it absolutely deserves it's popularity. The Island castle attracts a lot of people here but there is so much more to see on the full loop of the Loch. The walk offers dramatic views of the mountains, peaceful ancient caledonian forest and some incredible wildlife. If, like me, you are intrigued by a bit of history then this ones for you. Although there isn’t a whole lot written about the castle on the Island, there is certainly a whole lot of stories to be told if you ask the right people or, to be fair, google does a good job as well. I actually kind of like the fact you can’t find loads on the history, it opens itself up for some brilliantly exaggerated stories and tales which I’m sure have developed over the years as they were told through generation to generation.
Back in the day, the loch's levels would have gone up and down as the locals dammed and released the rivers systematically to transport logs down to the spey, eventually aiming for the coast. Allegedly the castle wasn't originally on an island but actually had a pathway out to it. After a particular dam release the water level rose and the track was flooded. If you look carefully can you see a few of the old stepping stones beneath?
One of my favourite spots on this walk is as you reach the bridge by Loch Gamhna. I’m not sure why I like it so much, but maybe its because I have fond memories of watching a friend falling into the stream whilst they were attempting to show off. Great times. It’s either that or the epic views. A little bit further around theres also a great spot for a group selfie/ picnic on a huge fallen tree.
2. Uath Lochans
Ohhhhh, we’re getting close to the top now. Unbelievable scenes as the Uath Lochans take second. So close to the victory but they're going to have to settle for runners up.
This walk arguably offers you one of the best views in the whole of the Cairngorms, dare I say the UK, and all without even going up a mountain. #blessed. I'm not going to put the photo here. That would ruin it for you. You've just got to go and see it with you own eyes.
As with most of the hikes in the list, or maybe even all of them now I come to think of it, this journey gives you a lot of time to appreciate the beauty, sounds and wildlife that are associated with walking through ancient caledonian forest. We really are super blessed in the Cairngorms to have so much forest! I love it. I keep hearing people talking about this “forest bathing” concept. Soaking in your surroundings and all that. Although I find the terminology a bit whack, I completely get the concept. Spending time in the forest atmosphere is just so peaceful. There’s a few little surprise openings as you walk along the crag tops looking back over the 3 lochans and across the forest to the rising hills behind Glen Feshie. I highly recommend taking a bit of time at one of these viewpoints to just be quiet and listen. Take in the sounds. Whatever that is on the day. Wind, rain, birds or flowing water. Just be quiet. This may seem a little counter intuitive because you’re at a viewpoint, but close your eyes. Just let natures amazing assemble fill up your earholes and take you on it's own little journey. It's better then any music out there and that's from someone who loves music!
1. Loch Garten - Loch Mallachie
If you’re reading this, good effort. You’ve made it. All the way to number 1. Although let's be honest you probably just scrolled the whole way down. Right? I know I would have done.
So Loch Garten and Loch Mallachie. Another RSPB nature reserve. Even more stunning ancient caledonian forest. Even more incredible views of beautiful mountains. Annnnd even more lovely pathways along the water's edge. So why is it my favourite? What makes the Loch Garten loop stand out? Well to be honest, I will have to admit a bit of a bias here. After living in the nearby Boat of Garten for 3 years, some of which was covid lockdown times, this walk soon became our daily bit of exercise allowance. That seems crazy now that that was even a thing. One bit of outside exercise a day. It makes you want to cry. Anyways, my wife and I would walk from the village and head through the Abernethy Nature Reserve to reach Loch Mallachie. We were always greeted with this unexplainable amount of peace. When the world felt so crazy and panicked, this was our place of solace. This walk provided us with so much time to chat, get to know each other better and appreciate even more the beautiful area in which we are blessed to live in. We sure had a lot to talk about! With child number 1 on her way, we would discuss what we wanted our family values to look like, we would open up to each other about our weaknesses and share our struggles. It's incredible how walking with people can help to deepen relationships and in many cases save them! I find walking with others gives me a chance to talk about meaningful things and I love how moments of quiet in the conversations are filled so wonderfully with the sounds of nature.
Okay, well this walk has made number 1 for personal reasons. I can’t get away from that fact. But trust me, you will not be disappointed with the Loch Garten - Loch Mallachie loop. No matter the time of year. Enjoy mountain reflections on a summer’s evening, or get mesmerised by the melodies of broken ice dancing on the waves in the winter’s breeze. Visit in the spring and wait with excitement as the returning ospreys soar through the skies above. There is so much on offer. This has to be my all time favourite walk. Come and explore. I’m confident it might become yours too.
Well thats a wrap folks. Thank you so much for reading my first ever proper "blog" and I really hope you can enjoy these walks as much as I do. I often find I come back from a walk feeling a lot more positive and joyful then when I left. As you explore these areas of incredible natural beauty and take a big deep breath of that super fresh air I pray that you will find a peace that helps you forget the stresses of everyday life and you are left with a great sense of joy.
Click to download an OS map route card below.