Breathtaking…if there is one word to sum up the landscape, wildlife, views and experiences of the Cairngorms National Park, then this would be it.
The largest of the UK’s national parks, located in the heart of Scotland, the Cairngorms is made up of over 4,500sq km of un-spoilt countryside, five of the UK’s six highest mountains, 43 munros, 9 nature reserves, an abundance of majestic wildlife, glistening lochs and fast flowing rivers and huge swathes of forests containing ancient Caledonian Pine trees.
The area’s natural beauty is further enhanced by the amount of things there are to experience, explore and discover. From stepping back in time into the diverse history of the region, to hitting the trails and rapids for the best in outdoor adventure – there really is something for everyone. Home to the Highland’s natural larder of venison, Highland beef and the freshest of salmon, as well as the amber nectar produced in many of the distilleries across the park, and locally produced gin and beer, this abundance of produce all combines to sustain your trip! What’s more every year is packed full of events allowing you to truly immerse yourself into the local culture.
To many, the Cairngorms National Park is rightfully thought of as a true escape from the rat race. However, what makes this region even better is its accessibility. Take an overnight sleeper train from London and literally wake up in a different world; drive through some of the most stunning scenery on roads that are regularly included in ‘best routes’ lists, and whilst you’re here why not swap your four wheels for two and discover the off roads tracks and trails to find more of the many hidden gems? With five very different, yet special areas in one place you really are spoilt for choice…
Aviemore, Badenoch and Strathspey
Aviemore, Badenoch and Strathspey is the best place to visit and experience year round adventure activities. Whether you want a low level walk through the Forest of Glenmore, or if you want to tackle a summit, Aviemore and the surrounding villages provide the perfect gateway for all hill walking levels and abilities. Alternatively, the region is home to a huge amount of trails and tracks perfect to explore and really get the heart pumping on your mountain bike, or you can conquer a rock face or two – following in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest known climbers. The lochs and rivers really come alive in the summer months, with windsurfing, kayaking, rafting, canyoning and sailing (and more) all on offer, and in the winter (when many of these are frozen over) then the only way is up…!
CairnGorm Mountain is home to the UK’s highest funicular railway, which takes you just 122m below the CairnGorm summit and with the area having been home to a vibrant ski industry since 1961, it’s the perfect place to hit the slopes. Low level areas can also be explored over the colder months via a host of tracks perfect for cross-country skiing, couple this with some fun family areas great for sledging, you have all the ingredients for a Winter Wonderland.
Family is at the heart of the region, with many activities and attractions geared towards all ages. Over land safaris and quad biking allow you to ‘meet up’ with some of our famous residents including polar bears, Highland coos, wildcats, reindeer and wolves. A ranger led walk will also allow you to spot some of the shyer inhabitants including osprey, red squirrels, deer, stoats and capercaillie.
If you simply want to relax a little then there’s beaches, golf courses, restaurants, cafés and pubs as well as an abundance of history….what are you waiting for?
The Angus Glens offer true beauty, with views stretching over towards the East coast of Scotland. Made up of four glens – Glen Clova, Glen Doll, Glen Isla, Glen Esk and Glen Prosen – the region is perfect walking country. Dramatic landscapes and spectacular scenery dominate and the indigenous wildlife flock to make this region their home. If you are looking for an uninterrupted walk (totally devoid of vehicles) then the 15 mile stretch in Glen Esk is the place for you. Head towards Loch Lee and Glen Mark and you are guaranteed to have the trail all to yourself (along with a few other two and four legged friends along the way).
Steeped in history – Angus is seen as the birthplace of Scotland having played a pivotal role in the formation of the Scottish nation, when the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320. Be sure to visit some of the museums and galleries that tell the rich story of Scotland.
If it’s prehistoric history you love then the Angus Glens is home to one of the most impressive ruins in Great Britain. The Brown and White Caterthuns are a pair of Iron Age Forts at the foot of Glen Lethnot, where you can also discover the ‘whisky trail’ – a local stream used by illicit distillers who secreted their stills in the corries.
For hundreds of years this region of Scotland has beguiled Kings, Queens and other members of the Royal family and it’s easy to see why. As the Eastern gateway to the Park, the region is home to The Royal’s summer residence, Balmoral. Queen Victoria’s love of Scotland led her to build the castle (her retreat) with her husband, Prince Albert, in the mid 19th Century and our current Royal Family still visit and worship at the nearby Crathie Kirk. If you want to feed your Royal connections further, then visit the town of Ballater, where many of the shops proudly display their Royal warrants indicating that they are suppliers to the Royal Family.
With 24 munros and over 65 miles of high level walks and cycle routes, the region is a great place to get out and push your physical limits. With the abundance or rivers and lochs you can head out on a boat or escape to the tranquil shore to fish – there’s nothing better than catching and taking home that perfect wild salmon. Also known for its variety of local produce, the distinct landscape of Royal Deeside plays the biggest part in producing the most delicious of home grown ingredients.
Over the years, the same landscape has also inspired many artists, musicians, poets, writers and sculptors and many still make the region their home. This lends the area to being full of artistic talent and creative communities which gives way to a packed events schedule throughout the year reflecting this.
Tomintoul and Glenlivet
Tomintoul is the highest village in the Highlands and the ideal base to explore the stunning Glenlivet Estate and the Speyside Whisky Trail. With over 100 miles of uninterrupted walking on the Glenlivet Estate and a chance to meet up with the Cairngorm reindeer herd, the area is perfect for those who like nothing better than some fresh air, beautiful views and a satisfaction of being in the great outdoors.
Bike Glenlivet is the place for those preferring wheels over legs. The purpose built mountain bike trails offer routes for the entire family – with dense pine forests, and routes ranging in difficulty – blue, red and black – the region has quickly established itself as a firm favourite with mountain bikers.
Just as the trails have been celebrated for being smooth and welcoming – you could say the same about the area’s celebrated whisky. With the rich history of smuggler’s trails and illicit stills, as well as the landscape playing a big part in the production of the nation’s drink, Tomintoul and Glenlivet is a great place to sample a tipple or two!
The winter months see many people head to the slopes of The Lecht ski centre. Family and beginner friendly, The Lecht has developed since 1977 to become an incredibly popular snow resort in the winter and a haven for mountain bikers in the summer.
Home to a host of wildlife due to the vast areas of heather covered hills, clear rushing burns and rivers, sheltered straths, glens and woodlands – it’s definitely a place to bring your binoculars and camera. The best way to spot red squirrels, red deer, golden eagles and black grouse is by heading out on the landscape with a ranger – you’ll be given a full history of the area and regaled with stories that may include the infamous Lass o’ the Lecht.
Atholl and Glenshee
The southern gateway to the Park, Blair Atholl sits at the bottom of the Cairngorm mountains and the Spittal of Glenshee is, in folklore, known as a magical place – “the Glen of the Fairies”.
Glenshee is Scotland’s southernmost ski resort and the most extensive ski area in the UK. With 25 lifts and 38 runs across four mountains there is plenty to explore. Blair Atholl, on the other hand, is made up of a flatter landscape and hundreds of ‘big trees’ making the region very different from the rest of the Park. Vibrant greens and dappled sunshine in the spring and summer time give way to rich, deep russet colours in the autumn and snow-laden tree tops in the winter – it’s a photographer’s haven.
History and wildlife rule the area and a perfect way to explore is on horseback. Not only will you get to see the area at its best, but you’ll really feel the connection with the native species and the travellers that followed the routes hundreds of years before you.
Dominating the landscape is the formidable and spectacular Blair Castle – home to the Stewarts and Murrays of Atholl for 19 generations. Not only is the castle itself bursting with Scotland’s history, but the gardens are a real treat to explore for the entire family.
The Pass of Killiecrankie is a magnificent tree lined gorge – the sort of scenery you only see in films. A popular beauty spot with a range of accessible trails you will be able to escape off the beaten track with relative ease. And if you want to see what a gorge looks like from upside down then you can always take a leap of faith and bungee…