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Wildlife watching wander

By Peter Evans

With the BBC’s Winterwatch set in the Cairngorms earlier this year, it was hard not to get enthused about snowy mountains and their attendant wildlife. Both were captivating.

Although the programmes focused mainly on Abernethy, Rothiemurchus forest hosts the same species and it’s well worth wandering the paths to see how many you can spot.

The more elusive – wildcats, golden eagles, capercaillie and the like – are much harder to see without a strong element of luck and being in the right place at the right time.

But you’ll be unlucky not to spot a red squirrel and lots of small birds – including, perhaps, the delightful crested tit, a specialist of this area, along with the crossbill. Binoculars are an essential companion of course, and patience is definitely a virtue.

This walk, a good leg-stretcher for early spring, visits a variety of habitats, from forest to lochside, enabling you to get the best chance of seeing the wildlife. With birds thinking about mating, a bonus is that the trees should be full of song.

Our circuit starts next to the Coylumbridge caravan site where there is some limited roadside parking.

A path signed for Braemar via the Lairig Ghru leads south through the forest to a junction – left for the Lairig and right for Loch Einich.

Stay on the Lairig path with the Am Beanaidh gurgling away on the left, heard but unseen at first. In two kilometres a path branches off to the right, but keep straight on to visit the Cairngorm Club footbridge spanning the river. A red squirrel scampered up a tree on its far side as we arrived.

The sturdy metal bridge was erected in 1912 by the Aberdeen-based Cairngorm Club, making the continuation of the route through the Lairig Ghru that much easier.

Backtrack to the junction and take the left-hand path heading towards Lochan Deo, with the distinctive V-shape of the Lairig Ghru to the left. Lochan Deo is an attractive body of water, completely frozen over during our walk.

At the far end of the lochan there’s a path junction which allows you to shorten the walk if desired, turning right for Coylumbridge.

Rosemary and I carried straight on, turning right at another junction further on. In around a kilometre from Lochan Deo, the circular path round Loch an Eilein is reached with a sign pointing right for Aviemore.

The walk can be extended by turning left, taking the long way round the loch. We turned right, making for the loch’s northern end and the car park.

A sled-dog group had gathered here and the huskies were howling their heads off. We’d heard the sound earlier and wondered where it was coming from.

A short way along the approach road to the car park, a track branches right, signed for the Rothiemurchus Centre along the Old Logging Way. There are lovely open views along this track, with ponies and farmed deer in the fields.

At the cottages of Blackpark the track joins a minor road. Turn left here and look out for a gate on the right giving access to a path through woodland.

A kilometre of pleasant walking brings you to the cycle path alongside the B970, linking Aviemore with the Coire Cas car park under Cairn Gorm.

Turn right along the cycle path and you’ll soon arrive back at the Coylumbridge start point.

Route details

Rothiemurchus circuit

Distance 5 miles / 8.5km

Terrain Easy paths, well surfaced for the most part

Start/finish Coylumbridge, near Aviemore

Map OS Explorer OL57, Cairn Gorm and Aviemore

A low level circuit taking in a couple of scenic Cairngorms lochs with lots of wildlife interest

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