Explore Badenoch and Strathspey

The rich flood-plain of the River Spey and the farmland and forests stretching up the strath historically provided an area of relative prosperity surrounded by mountains. It still provides a welcome stopping-point for travellers arriving from a variety of directions. There is a wealth of surviving archaeological features - from the cairns of Neolithic farmers, built some 5000 years ago, to the deserted villages and industrial archaeology of more recent centuries.

Click on the map or the key to the right to browse some of the accessible, interesting sites to be found in Badenoch and Strathspey.

1. Lochindorb Castle

Lochindorb CastleThe castle was built in the late 13th century by 'John the Black', head of the great Norman Comyn family of Badenoch. Edward I of England crushed this family's power when he besieged and captured the castle in 1303. It passed through many hands in its long history, the most infamous occupant being Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, who was given the castle by his father, Robert II of Scotland, in 1372. From here the Wolf descended on the fold of the Bishop of Moray at Elgin, burning the cathedral to settle old scores. This area was a hotbed of rebellion for the next one hundred years, and in 1456, following one such rising, the castle was knocked down at the command of James II. MoreBack to top

2. Congash Chapel and Pictish Symbol Stones

Pictish symbol stones at Congash ChapelThis oval enclosure, now filled with stones cleared from the surrounding fields, is the site of an old chapel. On the southern edge of the bank are two Pictish carved stones. These are 'Class 1' stones, the earliest type dating to the 7th - 9th centuries AD, with the symbols roughly cut into undressed stones. Symbol stones like these are often found at early Christian sites, suggesting a link between the spread of Christianity and the power politics of the Picts. MoreBack to top

3. Castle Roy

Castle RoyLittle written history exists for Castle Roy, but its massive curtain wall was probably constructed in the early 13th century to protect a number of timber buildings inside the courtyard. It is likely that this castle replaced an earlier, timber-built motte and bailey. MoreBack to top

4. Toum Burial Cairn

Toum burial cairnThis cairn commands good views and is a large example of the prehistoric burial cairns that are found across Highland. Cairns like this were built as shared burial chambers for families or social groups. This cairn has never been excavated but we can see it would have stood out as a visible landmark, serving to glorify the dead and perhaps more importantly, the living relatives. MoreBack to top

5. Carrbridge, Old Packhorse Bridge

Old Packhorse BridgeAt the beginning of the 18th century there was no point at which the River Dulnain could be crossed when it was in spate, and funerals from the south side going to the church at Duthil were often delayed. Alexander Grant of Grant therefore commissioned John Niccelsone to construct this bridge, which he did between May and November 1717. The bridge was damaged by floods later in the 18th century and was finally brought to its present ruinous state by the infamous flood of 1829. MoreBack to top

6. Sluggan Bridge

Sluggan BridgeGeneral Wade's Military Road originally forded the river here until a two-arch bridge was built in the 1760s. This beautiful, single span bridge was constructed in the early 1830s, following the destruction of the first bridge in the great flood of 1829. The rapid replacement of the bridge emphasises the importance of these roads to the civil population, long after the troops had departed. Limekilns, used for its construction, still survive among the birch trees west of the bridge. MoreBack to top

7. Aviemore Ring Cairn

Aviemore Ring CairnNow surrounded by modern housing, this cairn was originally built as a major landmark in the open, farming landscape of prehistoric Strathspey. It is a Clava-type cairn, named after the site of Clava in Strathnairn, and dates to around 4000 years ago. Excavations at similar cairns have unearthed fragments of burnt human bone, showing that these sites were places of communal burial activity. But recent excavations and experiments conducted at Clava suggest that the cairns served a further function, acting as a focal point for rituals based around the setting of the mid-winter sun. MoreBack to top

8. Aviemore Railway Station

Aviemore Railway StationFirst opened in 1863, the main station building at Aviemore was rebuilt in 1898 by the Highland Railway. It was restored in 1998. The combination of functional and decorative, crafted from wood and iron and painted in the original company colours of glossy cream and deep scarlet, illustrates the glory of the late Victorian railway age. MoreBack to top

9. Loch an Eilein Castle trail

Loch an Eilein CastleThe castle sits on a small island surrounded by a landscape of rounded hills and ancient pine woods. It was built as a defensive site, probably by the Wolf of Badenoch. In the late 17th century the castle's defences were put to the test by the defeated Jacobite forces retreating from Cromdale. It is reputed that the Lady of the castle, Grizzel Mhor, widow of James Grant of Rothiemurchus, assisted the defenders by casting lead bullets for their muskets. In the early 19th century the castle was used as a kennel for the valuable deer hounds belonging to the lairds of Rothiemurchus.

Beside the visitor centre is a limekiln whose size and location suggest that, as well as producing lime for use as fertiliser on fields, it also supplied lime for building some of the larger country houses in the area. It probably dates from the mid-18th century and would have functioned into the 19th century. Another relic of the 18th century is the corn mill, located upstream from the vehicle bridge approaching the car-park. A low rectangular foundation is all that remains of the building, but the course of the mill lade is clearly visible alongside the stream. Back to top

10. Alvie Church

Bell turret of Alvie ChurchThe present church was built in 1798, but is believed to contain elements of the earlier parish kirk of St Drostan. 150 skeletons were discovered beneath the church when it was refurbished during the 19th century (look for their memorial stone in the graveyard). At the time they were believed to be the remains of highlanders buried there after some unknown clan battle. In fact, it is more likely that these remains date to the medieval period, before James VI banned the practice of burying within the church in the early 17th century. MoreBack to top

11. Raitts Souterrain

Souterrain interiorThis impressive structure, known locally as An Uaimh Mhor (the Great Cave), dates to the later Iron Age (around AD 100 to 400). Its massively built walls create an underground chamber, believed by archaeologists to have been used as a secure and cool storage chamber for food supplies. When it was first excavated in 1835, the excavator heard local legends that the tunnel had been built by members of the clan MacNiven who were trying to hide from their MacPherson pursuers. Certainly many cave sites in the Highlands were used as hideouts in times of trouble, and this is a good example of how ancient sites continue to be used throughout history. MoreBack to top

12. Raitts Township

Raitts TownshipThe township is thought to have been occupied from the early 17th century and was cleared in the 19th century by its landlord, James MacPherson. The footings of several houses and other buildings, as well as a track, can be seen. The walls would have been built up using foundation courses of stone, and then slabs of turf to the height of the eaves. The roofs were supported by wooden A-frames, known as crucks. The results of excavations on the site have been used to inform a reconstructed township at the Highland Folk Park at Newtonmore. MoreBack to top

13. Ruthven Barracks

Close up of window slot at Ruthven BarracksA castle was built here before the 14th century by the Comyn lords of Badenoch on top of a modified natural hill. It was repaired and replaced several times before it was finally demolished in 1718 to build these barracks. Today only part of the curtain wall of the castle survives.

The barracks themselves were built by the British Government in 1718-1721 as part of a network of roads and forts designed to control the Highlands after the 1715 Jacobite rising. During the second uprising, Jacobites captured the barracks in 1746. After their devastating defeat at Culloden, the Jacobite survivors gathered here to regroup and continue the fight. However they were devastated by a message from Prince Charles Edward Stuart, who had already fled: "Let everyone seek his own safety in the best way he can". The fugitives then set fire to the barracks before dispersing and the buildings have remained in ruins ever since. MoreBack to top

14. Glen Banchor townships

Township building and rowan tree in GlenbanchorThe townships of Dail a' Chaorainn (Dalhearn) and Glenbanchor are located on the floodplain of the River Calder. They are thought to date from the early 17th century and now survive as little more than the grass-covered outlines of houses, byres and enclosures. The inhabitants were evicted in 1875 and 1876, following a period of economic decline. The ruins stand as reminders that this now empty landscape was once occupied, with the homes of dozens of families (known as "smokes") extending up the glen. Look out for other structures, including the squat, stone chimneys of kilns which were essential for drying corn before it could be stored for the winter. Back to top

15. Dun da Lamh hillfort

Summit of Dun da Lamh hillfortThis is one of the most stunningly located sites in the Highlands. Overlooking the wide straths of the Spey and Mashie, this was once a centre of power for the people who controlled the passes connecting Badenoch with the north, the south and the west during the later Iron Age (around 1500 years ago). The steep ridge affords a natural defence and is enhanced by a massive stone rampart, which is 8 metres thick in places and stands 3 to 4 metres high. The rampart is typical of the defences that surround high-status sites of this period. Accounts written by the Romans suggest the formation of powerful tribes in the central highlands of Scotland. This may once have been the frontier fortress of a great Pictish nation. MoreBack to top

16. Corrieyairack Pass

Clapper bridge on Corrieyairack PassBeyond the 18th-century Garvamore Barracks and Garva Bridge lies the Corrieyairack Pass, one of the highest roads in Scotland rising to 2500 feet (769m). The pass linked Ruthven Barracks in Badenoch to Fort Augustus in the Great Glen, and was built in 1731-2. The road is a remarkable feat of 18th-century engineering and is known to have carried wheeled traffic as well as pedestrian soldiers and civilians. Many original construction details can still be seen.

Construction of the extensive network of military roads, bridges and buildings in Highland was begun in 1724 by General George Wade, Commander in Chief of the King's forces, and it was continued by his successor Major William Caulfeild. Some roads existed prior to this but the improvements and additions of Wade and Caulfeild revolutionised transport and communications across Highland. It is somewhat ironic that the Jacobite army, led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart, made swift use of Wade's roads and bridges in the early days of the '45 Rising. More Back to top

The sites listed here are the most accessible as defined in the Badenoch & Strathspey Access to Archaeology Audit of 1999.