I first came to Loch an Eilein in the 70s, a babe in arms, strapped to my mum as she took her tentative initial steps into parenthood, finding solace and serenity in the woodland paths she had trodden so many times before. It wasn’t long before I returned, an adventure-seeking toddler tottering on the track, my parents holding my hands as I pleaded for another round of ‘1-2-3-swing’.
A few years later, I was captivated by the stories my dad would tell, as we walked, about the castle and its prisoners from a bygone era. Mary Queen of Scots, he assured me, was one. True or not, these enchanting tales sparked my imagination and we would spend the rest of the walk re-enacting the scene. When we stopped to munch our sandwiches, my siblings and I would always demand a spot with a view of the castle, our imaginations still running riot.
Teenagehood brought a desire for a faster pace and a more adrenaline-fuelled route, so I swapped the walking for biking, often leaving my parents far behind. Or I’d brave the ice when the loch froze-over and still vividly recall the utter delight at touching the snow-capped castle for the first time, being able to actually explore the spelling-binding subject of so many childhood fantasies.
Though I’ve puffed and pedalled around the loch many times now, it always feels new, yet at the same time reassuringly familiar too; the smell of pine, the gentle undulations of the tree-lined path, the startling views revealed at every twist at turn that literally stop you in your tracks. While some days I puff more than others, I never tire of the perspectives I get here, which shift with the season, with the weather, with my mood, with my company.
That’s why when planning our wedding, Loch an Eilein had to play a part, so we stopped loch-side on our way from Insh Church to the reception on Cairngorm Mountain. These quiet, special moments with my new husband are among my favourite of the entire day, not to mention the fact that they have provided a stunning backdrop to our photos.
My memories of Loch an Eilein are inextricably linked with love and holding hands – with my parents, my friends, my fiancé, then husband and, now, my own children. To remind us of these moments, we called our home Ord Bàn, the name of the hill which overlooks Loch an Eilein.
Written by Suzy Bashford Haworth, journalist and author, now happily living in Kincraig, near Aviemore. To find out more about Suzy, go to www.wonderingwoman.co.uk