Three inspiring Scottish loch runs

How to make the most of the lakeside scenery north of the border

Words: Fiona Russell

Loch Ossian (copyright: Richard Webb under  Creative Commons License )

Loch Ossian (copyright: Richard Webb under Creative Commons License)

No matter what the season, weather, or the time of day, Scotland’s many inland lochs provide a stunning location for a trail run. 

The views of water and sky are frequently breathtaking. In sunshine, a loch might shimmer or dazzle; while on cloudier days there’s the added drama of dark and brooding waters. At sunset or sunrise, the water’s surface appears painted as it glows with an array of pinks and oranges.

But for many of us, the best time to run around a loch is when it’s calm. Then, the still surface mirrors the surrounding scenery – whether that’s hills, mountains or trees – in a spectacular double-depth vista.

Here are three of the most memorable Scottish lochside routes to tackle, whether you’re looking for a training run with a picturesque backdrop, or simply want to enjoy your surroundings...

Loch Ossian

Where West Highlands

How to get there West Highland Line trains, www.scotrail.co.uk

Start/finish Corrour Railway Station (or Loch Ossian Youth Hostel) 

Distance 14.5km/9 miles

Terrain Flat and gently undulating off-road track. Well-maintained by the estate

When to go Summer for more frequent trains; winter for sublime sunrises

The delightfully isolated Corrour station is between Rannoch and Tulloch stations on the Glasgow to Fort William ‘West Highland Line’. It’s accessible only by train, foot or bike on a rough track. The nearest public road is 17 miles away.

Many people will know of the station – the highest in the UK – from the 1990s film Trainspotting. In the movie, Renton, Tommy, Sick Boy and Spud arrive in the great outdoors at Corrour, announcing their attention to escape the city and “go for a walk”. 

Corrour is a favourite destination for hikers intent on bagging three of the 282 Munros (Scottish mountains with a summit of more than 3000ft) and surprisingly, given its remote location, it’s home to a station restaurant (open March to October), various self-catering lodges and cottages and Hostelling Scotland’s wonderful Loch Ossian Youth Hostel.

The appeal of the run around the picturesque loch (see p103, Feb/Mar 2019 issue) is the fabulous sense of adventure, as well as the chance to follow a straightforward route through spectacular scenery of wild moorland and majestic mountains. 

Planning is crucial because of a fairly limited train timetable to and from Corrour and the desire for a good weather window. Getting off the train at Corrour feels immediately exciting. There’s no way back to civilisation until the next train arrives, or a very long walk.

Runners can start the route at the station, or enjoy a warm-up walk to the youth hostel a mile away. A signpost points the way along a wide track, and you may choose to leave a change of clothing at the hostel before running clockwise or anti-clockwise around Loch Ossian. 

The northern shore is a little more undulating than the south, but it is never challenging. An obvious track runs close to the shore all the way around, except for a short detour around the Corrour Estate lodge and cottages, and over the outflow of the loch at the far end.

The estate is owned by Tetra Pak heiress Lisbet Rausing and you may glimpse the strange architecture of the granite and glass lodge, which was built in 2003 after fire destroyed the former building. Other than that, the views are mostly open across the loch or towards the mountains, with a few short sections through woodland. 

The full loop is seven miles, and if you take in the mile travelled to and from the station it totals nine miles. There’s a challenge, too: a folder kept in the hostel, started by former warden Tom Rigg in 1977, keeps a record of all runners who have completed the ‘Run Around the Loch’ in under an hour. Will you take it on, or take your time to enjoy the route at photography pace? Either way, it’s a run to remember.

Loch an Eilein

Where Cairngorms National Park

How to get there Signposted by following a minor road from the B970, south east of Aviemore

Start/finish Loch an Eilein car park, Rothiemurchus, near Aviemore

Distance 7km/4.5 miles 

Terrain Mostly flat with a few steeper shorter climbs. Forest trails and paths. 

When to go Year-round for changing seasonal scenery. Go earlier or later in the day to avoid other people in summer.

A gorgeous gem situated in the Rothiemurchus forest, Loch an Eilein is a popular destination for walkers and mountain bikers. The area, one of just 30 or so remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest, is also an atmospheric spot for a short trail run.

Whatever the season, the forest is alive with wildlife and if you jog quietly you may spot red squirrels, roe deer, crossbills, and perhaps even ospreys.

On a calm day, the loch mirrors the surrounding landscape with magnificent pine trees reflected deep into the waters. To add to the drama of the views, a small isle in the middle of Loch an Eilein has a ruined castle. It’s easy to imagine a time past, when cattle raiders passed through the once dense Caledonian forest of Scots pine, birch, and rowan, heading north-east to other regions.

Our suggested route is part of 50km of waymarked paths in Rothiemurchus. Following a clockwise route (although anti-clockwise is good, too) you’ll pass a white cottage early on, crossing two bridges. Keeping the loch on your right, you reach a junction in the track that forks off to follow the shoreside path around Loch Gamhna. It can be muddy, especially after wet weather.

The pines during this part of the run are particularly stunning and many are hundreds of years old. The path rejoins the main track along the south and then western banks of Loch an Eilein, and past another larger cottage. If you fancied a fairly short hill climb for views from on high, Ord Ban with a summit of 428m is perfectly situated close to the car park where you start and finish the run. 

Loch Leven

Where Perth & Kinross 

How to get there Follow signs from the A90 near Kinross

Start/finish Loch Leven National Nature Reserve

Distance 19.5km/12 miles

Terrain Almost entirely flat, trails and paths

When to go This is a great year-round route, because it’s mostly sheltered and offers the chance to spot a variety of wildlife

Easy to get to by road, and close to the Central Belt cities of Stirling and Edinburgh, this loop around Loch Leven is surprisingly pretty and peaceful.

The loop is waymarked as the Loch Leven Heritage Trail and includes less than 20 metres of ascent. It leaves the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve and can be followed clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Loch Leven is famous for its over-wintering wildfowl, especially geese, with more than 20,000 arriving each season. The route takes you through a range of landscapes, including mixed wooded areas, marshlands and alongside gently rolling farmland. The water is rarely out of sight and you can also spot a couple of small islands, including one that boasts the ruins of 14th century Loch Leven Castle and another that was once home to an Augustinian monastic community, St Serf’s Inch Priory.

If you tire of the picturesque loch view (and we really don’t think you will), look to the north-east to the rounded Lomond Hills in neighbouring Fife, which are known locally as the Paps of Fife.

It would be easily possible to score a PB for 12 miles on this flat, easy-to-follow trail, or take your time to make short detours to several bird hides, or else to one of the nearby cafés for a refuel.

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