A trip to RSPB Inch Marshes and historic Ruthven Barracks

Today we left Glenmore site for a night or two wild camping. The issue for us remains that all of the water system on the ‘van has frozen up and I’ve had to drain our boiler, which was full of hot water, because now that we’re off-site and not plugged into the mains electricity there is a danger of the boiler water freezing and damaging the boiler unless we continually keep the gas heater running. And there is no point in wasting gas if we can’t draw any hot water through the system.

Panoramic viewing platform above the "Lookout" hide at Insh Marshes RSPB National Nature Reserve

Hot water aside, we decided to visit the RSPB Insh Marshes National Nature Reserve (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) on the B970 near Kingussie [Grid Reference NN 775 998]. Insh Marshes is one of Britain’s finest wetland reserves. The word “Insh” comes from inch or innis, which means “island”. Here the name refers to a glacial mound – a moraine mound left by ice-age glaciers – found by Loch Insh on which a church has stood since the seventh century.

Carved wooden bench on panoramic viewing platform above the Lookout hide at Insh Marshes RSPB National Nature Reserve

Insh Marshes is a wetlands reserve, which is “topped-up” when the nearby River Spey, that shares the glacial plane, floods. The wetlands therefore act as a useful buffer to help prevent flooding downstream of villages such as Aviemore.

We began our walk around the (unmanned) reserve at the circular hide – “The Lookout”. This new hide, opened in August 2010, is build as a wooden column structure, with an “upstairs” open roofed viewing gallery, giving vistas across a large section of the eastern part of the reserve, whilst “downstairs” forms an enclosed room with similar windowed views and additional information material. As bird hides go it was very civilized.

Inside the Lookout hide at Insh Marshes RSPB National Nature Reserve

We then followed a couple of the way-marked trails – the Invertromie trail and the Tromie Meadow trail – that took us around part of the reserve. During our walk we spotted whopper swans, heron, flock of bullfinches and several little gatherings of roe deer.

About 1km west of the reserve entrance is Ruthven Barracks. Ruthven Barracks also sits on a steep-sided glacial mound. The barracks were built between 1719 and 1721 on the site of the older ruins of Ruthven Castle. The Hanoverian Government, following the first Jacobite Uprising of 1715, built Ruthven Barracks along with three other identical barracks elsewhere in the Highlands. They were all designed to “preserve the peace and quite of the country”!

Ruthven Barracks from a distance on top of a glacial mound

From its location, the Ruthven garrison could control the river crossing (Spey) and the three military roads built by Major-General Wade to Inverness, Perth and Fort Augustus.

During the ’45 uprising (second Jacobite Uprising of 1745) the garrison initially repelled an attack from Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forces – only 14 soldiers stood up to 200 Jacobites. Later, however, in February 1746 a slightly bigger Jacobite force of around 300 men plus artillery secured the garrison’s surrender. In the April of 1746, immediately after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden (near Inverness) around 3000 Jacobite survivors rallied at Ruthven hoping that Bonnie Prince Charlie would join them. Instead, the Bonnie Prince let it be known “every man [should] seek his own safety in the best way he can”. The uprising was over!

Entrance to Ruthven Barracks in Speyside

The final act was for the Jacobites to set fire to the garrison – leaving it much as we see it today.

Insh Marches and Ruthven Barracks is really worth a visit – although give yourself plenty of time to fully appreciate the surrounding area.

Looking to the rear of Ruthven Barracks from the Stable Blocks

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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