There’s no doubt in my mind what it is about Scotland that draws me back again and again. It’s the lure of the wilderness. As a city dweller spending my days rushing about the busy streets of London, I often dream of jumping on the overnight train, escaping it all and waking up in Scotland’s wilderness. The place that feels like my spiritual home.
The Cairngorms, described by locals as “God’s Own Country”, offer outstanding natural beauty, rugged landscapes and an unrivalled adventure playground. Not forgetting the Scots who are always ready to welcome you with whiskies and local history tales.
Inspired by one of my favourite quotes “Life loves the liver of it” from Maya Angelou, I set out to see how much action and adventure I could pack into a long weekend in the mountains on our Cairngorms Adventure.
Four nights away from London, gave me two nights on the train, two nights in the Cairngorms and three days in the mountains with only one day off work.
13 hours on a train dreaming of the adventure that lies ahead, is enough to get anyone’s blood pumping. By the time our train rolls into Aviemore at 7:30am, Max and I are ready to roll. An hour later, armed with an OS map, a few snickers bars and mountain bikes, we head towards the hills.
“I want to get up high on a mountain ridge today,” said Max.
Both of us feeling the air of excitement and opportunity to explore unknown territory. “Let’s do it” I replied, not mentioning anything about the ominous black clouds looming ahead.
We cycle until the path is too rocky, too muddy and the gradient too steep. We lock the bikes to a tree and continue on foot. We run because we are runners. Because we love the freedom of running with nothing but a small backpack and going where the wind takes us. We could go on for hours with nothing to stop us apart from the fading light and the rain that has started to fall. Yet we make the decision to turn around and go home, knowing that today is just the warm up for tomorrow.
Fuelled by a hearty meal in the Winking Owl, we get an early night and pack for the next day’s adventure.
At 8am, Andy from Scot Mountain Holidays pulls up outside Aviemore Holiday Home where we are staying for the weekend.
The day involves mountain biking to an incredibly beautiful loch surrounded by munros. We hide the bikes in the grass and climb up a mountain ridge. The wind picks up and the weather worsens as we hit the low hanging clouds. We take another ridge and climb higher. Moods and sense of humour fluctuate just as the weather does. The clouds shift for the briefest of moments as we stand on the summit of our third and final munro of the day. We stop, breathe and take in the view; beautiful, rugged and peaceful.
We descend the mountain and talk about the pub. The lure of the warm and cosy atmosphere after a day in the mountains is too much to resist. We celebrate a long, challenging and unforgettable day in the best way we know how, with delicious food, well-earned ale and good friends at the Old Bridge Inn.
On our third and final day in the Cairngorms we opt for something we’ve never tried before, canyoning. We team up with Active Outdoor Pursuits, pull on our wetsuits and hike to the top of a section of fast flowing river rapids and waterfalls that we spend the next two hours sliding, jumping and screaming our way down.
It may have felt like the coldest water on earth, but it was undoubtedly a highlight of the trip. At times I felt pretty scared jumping off cliffs into deep pools, but the rush of adrenalin was amazing!
As I sit on the train back to London, my mind replays all I’ve seen, felt and experienced in the last few days. It feels like I’ve been away for a week and I think about the memories and stories I’m taking home with me. The laughs we had, the people we met and the stories shared. The trails explored and the freedom of being in nature. The nights spent in the pub reliving it all.
We live for creating stories, for moments that make us feel something different, something real and raw. We found these in Scotland.
Sophie Radcliffe is an adventurer, endurance athlete, blogger and speaker. You can follow her story on her Challenge Sophie blog.
Sophie travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Aviemore.
She stayed at Avonglen, a 5 star Self-Catering Property in Aviemore.
Their guide for their big mountain day was Andy Bateman of Scot Mountain Holidays.
They went canyoning with Active Outdoor Pursuits.