Craigellachie National Nature Reserve
Craigellachie National Nature Reserve

Craigellachie National Nature Reserve is a beautiful area of birch woodland and small lochs on the outskirts of Aviemore, in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. The reserve covers 610 acres (about 247 hectares) and forms part of the Craigellachie Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The Craigellachie reserve is centred on a hill of the same name (Chreag Eileachaidh in Gaelic). A trail leads to the summit, where you can get superb views over Aviemore and the Spey Valley.

Craigellachie is strongly linked to Clan Grant. The hilltop was used to watch the clan's territory and to light signal beacons to summon the clan. The hill features on the Clan Grant crest and in the clan slogan.

Looking over Aviemore from the summit of Craigellachie
Looking over Aviemore from the summit of Craigellachie

Almost all the birches of Craigellachie are silver birch, with only a few downy birch. A handful of other trees are to be found in the reserve, including Scots pine, willow, cherry, rowan, hazel, and aspen. The woodland and loch landscape offers a habitat for rare types of fungi, lichen, grasses, and water lilies. Here you will also find unusual moth species such as Rannoch sprawler, which feed to young birch saplings.

Roe deer roam the forest, and at night pipistrelle bats are seen. The star bird species is a pair of peregrine falcons who have a nest on the hilltop. You can watch the nest via a webcam in the Aviemore youth hostel. You can also frequently see buzzards soaring above the treetops.

Autumn colours reflected in Loch Puladdern
Autumn colours reflected in Loch Puladdern

Woodland Trails

There are four colour-coded trails through Craigellachie forest. Three of these are circular, and one is labelled 'all abilities', making it suitable for wheelchairs and prams. The shortest circular trail is just 0.7km and the longest 1.8km. The fourth trail leads to the top of Craigellachie itself, to a magnificent viewpoint. This route is 4.4km, and though more strenuous, is easy enough for anyone of reasonable fitness.

All four trails have 'Mobitour' stations, where visitors can use their mobile phones to access information about that area of the forest.

Beautiful colours beside the reservoir
Beautiful colours beside the reservoir


Access to the reserve is on foot, via a pedestrian subway under the A9 from the Aviemore youth hostel at 25 Grampian Road (postcode PH22 1PR). Simply follow signs from the youth hostel, which lead you under the busy A9 to emerge in the reserve. The youth hostel is easily accessible on foot from the village centre.

Visitors are welcome to park in the hostel's parking lot but please don't stay overnight. You are also welcome to use the youth hostel toilets.

Note that there are no facilities in the reserve itself.

An autumn pallet of orange and yellow leaves
An autumn pallet of orange and yellow leaves

It is a bit of a peculiar experience getting to the nature reserve. The roar of traffic on the busy A9 is a constant background noise near the reserve's eastern border, but further away from the road the noise diminishes and the splendour of the natural surroundings takes over. We visited in autumn, when the birch trees fringing Loch Puladdern and the Old Reservoir were a brilliant yellow and gold. The effect is simply stunning.

Do take the time to climb to the summit of Craigellachie; your reward for your exertion will be a wonderful view over Aviemore and the River Spey towards Loch Morlich and Cairn Gorm itself.

A woodland trail through the reserve
A woodland trail through the reserve

A Matter of Pronunciation

When the railway lines linking eastern and western Canada met in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, their junction was at a place named Craigellachie, presumably named by a native of the Aviemore area. I grew up in British Columbia, where the location was always pronounced like 'Craig-a-latch-ee'.

On my first visit to Aviemore, I asked at the visitor centre how to get to Craigellachie, pronouncing it the way I had always heard it. The very helpful man behind the desk looked puzzled, then his face cleared, and he said, 'Oh, you mean Craigellachie', pronouncing it something like 'Craig-ahl-a-key'. It was a bit of a shock to realise I'd been pronouncing it incorrectly my whole life.

About Craigellachie NNR
Address: Aviemore, Cairngorms, Highlands and Islands, Scotland, PH22 1PR
Attraction Type: Countryside
Location: Access on foot via a pedestrian tunnel beneath the A9, starting at the Aviemore youth hostel on Grampian Road.
Website: Craigellachie NNR
Location map
OS: NH887125
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Doune of Rothiemurchus - 1.3 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating

Cairngorms National Park - 5.2 miles (Countryside) Heritage Rating

Carrbridge Packhorse Bridge - 6.6 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Loch Garten Osprey Centre - 6.7 miles (Countryside) Heritage Rating

Abernethy Forest - 6.7 miles (Countryside) Heritage Rating

Ruthven Barracks - 11 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Highland Folk Museum - 12.9 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Cairngorms National Park - Photos and Historic Sites - 13.2 miles (Countryside) Heritage Rating

Nearest Holiday Cottages to Craigellachie NNR:

Nearby accommodation is calculated 'as the crow flies' from Craigellachie National Nature Reserve. 'Nearest' may involve a long drive up and down glens or, if you are near the coast, may include a ferry ride! Please check the property map to make sure the location is right for you.

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