The Cairngorms… not just for Skiing!

27th June 2020

The Cairngorms; snow covered mountains rising above the stunning Caledonian Pine Forest and an array of tranquil lochs. They have risen to fame as a hub for winter sport activities. Having spent a weekend there taking part in a Winter Skills Mountaineering course, I can tell you first hand that the Cairngorms are a great place for an active winter holiday. Loved by hikers, rock climbers, skiers and snow boarders alike. However, my favourite time of year to visit is in the Spring when the snow begins to melt and white turns to green.

A highlight of any trip to the Cairngorms is Rothiemurchus Highland Estate. Described by Sir David Attenborough as “One of the glories of wild Scotland” - I challenge anyone to find a more prestigious recommendation than that!

The first stop for many visitors to Rothiemurchus is the Loch an Eilein walk. The Loch itself is beautiful, set amongst the forest at the foot of the mountains. However, the most enchanting part of this walk is the 13th century ruined castle built on a tiny island in the middle of the loch. This was one of the last nesting sites in Scotland of the osprey before they sadly became extinct during Victorian times. Fortunately, we have successfully reintroduced ospreys to Scotland and we hope that one day, they will re-claim their old nest in the Cairngorms.

“Loch
Loch an Eilein castle - Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

There are a number of other lochs in the area truly worth a visit. Loch Morlich is a large expanse of water surrounded by a white sandy beach. The perfect place for watching the sunset with some good food, a fire and friends. Wander deeper into the pine forest and you will find Loch Uaine or ‘the Green Lochan’. Why is the water green you ask? Well, the pixies use it to do their laundry of course! You will have to walk for a few miles to reach Loch Uaine but it is a good path all the way.

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Loch Morlich Sunset - Katie Mullen

The Cairngorms National Park is a great place to spot Scottish wildlife. The adorable red squirrel does very well in this area, sometimes they can even be seen clambering around the entrance of the visitor centre. Otters, wild cats, roe deer, red deer and badgers all reside there. Another small furry creature you might come across is the pine marten, but do be careful of leaving out food around them… I once lost half a birthday cake to a particularly hungry pine marten!

For keen bird spotters you might get to see capercaillies, ospreys, crested tit, grouse, lapwing, ptarmigan, Scottish crossbill, dotterel and snow bunting. There are golden eagles in the Cairngorms, although they are a rare sight and usually only seen on a remote hike.

“Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan - Debs Martin

For children, and the young at heart, you can take guided visits to see the Cairngorms larger mammals. Starting from Rothiemurchus Centre, guided tours will take you to meet and feed the red deer or to a nearby farm for ‘Hairy Heilan Coos'. Scotland is extremely proud of its loveable highland cows, with their orange-golden luxurious coats, it is no wonder they feature in so many postcards and paintings.

The Cairngorms are also home to the only free ranging reindeer herd in the UK. They spend their days roaming the mountains and if you are lucky, they can be spotted from the Cairngorm Mountain Ski Centre. You can take a guided Reindeer Hill Tour to increase your changes of seeing them in the wild. Between Easter and New Year, you can visit some of the reindeer herd at the paddocks in Glenmore - this is a better option for small children or those who can’t manage a walk in the hills and the paddocks are wheelchair accessible. If you happen to be visiting on a weekend in December, you might bump into Santa readying his reindeer for Christmas Eve!

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Scottish Highland Cattle

All this walking and wildlife spotting might leave you a little hungry. Time for a visit to the Rothiemurchus Estate farm shop where you can find a whole range of local produce including heather honey, organic jam and preserves (or jelly for our American friends), chutneys, dairy and meat products, spices, chocolate, spirits and wines. Plenty to satisfy a hungry traveller and a great opportunity for anyone looking for an authentic Scottish gift to take back home to friends and family.

The Cairngorms Brewery is another great place to sample the local produce. They have a range of craft ales to suit every taste with truly Scottish names to match. The Wildcat beer is described as ‘deep amber with a complex malt, fruit flavour and delicate bitterness – strong & distinctive!’. Whereas the Stag beer is a ‘mahogany ale – fuggles hops are added to give an initial bitterness that is balanced by a caramel finish.’ However, Nessie’s Monster Mash wins the title of best named ale. You can decide on your favourites during a tasting session while they take you through the history of the brewery.

If you love history, another great place to visit is the Highland Folk museum - an open-air museum which tells you about the life of our ancestors on the crofts and in the rural villages. The exhibits tell a story of their social lives, agriculture, textiles, artwork, sport and hobbies from the 1700s to mid 1900s. The best part of the museum for me is the sport section which includes shinty memorabilia. Shinty (a bit like hockey but not so genteel) is Scotland’s national sport, originally developed to train our warriors for battle! We still play it now, although there are more rules and it's not as violent. Traditionally played in the Scottish Highlands, it moved further south as Highlanders  migrated into the cities looking for work. I am a proud player for Glasgow Mid Argyll Shinty Club; not only is it great fun, but we are keeping our history alive through the game.

“Osprey
Osprey - Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

I hope I have shown that the Cairngorms are much more than a ski resort. They are the perfect place for your vacation all year round. That said, the Cairngorms do not really experience the four seasons in the same way as other parts of the UK. Throughout the year the weather is changeable, but that’s part of what makes it so magical. I have attempted to climb Cairngorm mountain and been defeated in the first few hundred meters by blustering winds, only to later find myself basking in the afternoon sun at the loch-side, with the calmest waters you could imagine. I have arrived at night time in a terrifying storm, only to wake the next day and have my breath taken away by a thick covering of snow and clear skies. Of course, snowball fights and snow angels ensued! The Cairngorms are the kind of place where it’s hard not to let go and act like a big kid again, something I think we could all do with from time to time. 

So let us take you to the Cairngorms. Let you heart run wild through the pine trees, past the deer and along the beach. You’ll lose yourself in the Cairngorms… but you’ll find your inner child.

Best Scottish Tours can’t wait to welcome you back.

“Otters,
Otters - David Groves on Unsplash

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