With the focus firmly on Glasgow’s XX Commonwealth Games, here in the Cairngorms National Park our thoughts return to remarkable Olympian success on our own doorstep.
Did you know that this area, with a population of just over 13,000, boasts a higher percentage of home-grown Olympians per head of population than anywhere else in the UK? No less than fifteen Olympic athletes, who have been born or brought up here, have gone on to represent their country in Summer and Winter Olympic Games. An achievement by any standard!
We are incredibly proud of these athletes and to honour this extraordinary accomplishment a bronze monument was unveiled in 2007 by former athlete and London 2012 Olympic organising committee chairman, Lord Coe. The tribute takes centre stage on the village green in Aviemore and is a ‘must see’ when you visit the village. You can’t miss the impressive memorial which sits on top of a granite block weighing nearly ten tonnes. Three bronze statues depict the Olympic ideals of ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ and the Olympic flame takes pride of place on top of the memorial, with the five Olympic rings marked out by stones in front. The memorial was designed and produced by Aviemore-based artist Dudley Evans and the granite was sourced locally from nearby Alvie Quarry.
While many of the names inscribed on the statue are recognised for their participation in winter sports i.e. skiing, Nordic skiing and snowboarding; others are celebrated for curling and cycling. The Olympians honoured are Ian Finlayson (skiing); Peter Fuchs (skiing); Roddy Langmuir (skiing); Sean Langmuir (skiing); Ewan MacKenzie (Nordic skiing); Louise MacKenzie (Nordic skiing); Ingrid Grant (skiing); Alain Baxter (skiing); Andrew Freshwater (skiing); Douglas Dryburgh (curling); James Dryburgh (curling); Craig MacLean (cycling); Noel Baxter (skiing) and Lesley McKenna (snowboarding). The names of these local Olympians are inscribed on a bronze plaque with the dedication: “A tribute to local athletes who have used their talents and the resources of the Cairngorms National Park area to aspire to excellence in sport and the ultimate accolade of representing the country at the Olympic Games.”
Since erecting the statue, the area has notched up even more Olympic success. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, David Smith of Aviemore won gold in the mixed coxed fours and Craig MacLean of Grantown-on-Spey won gold as a guide in cycling.
In tribute to all those in the 2012 Olympics who won a gold medal, the Royal Mail painted post boxes gold in their home towns and cities. So, the main post boxes in Aviemore and Grantown-on-Spey now glow golden in recognition of the achievements of both athletes.
The post boxes can be seen at Myrtlefield Shopping Centre, outside the Aviemore Post Office – just a 5 minute walk from the Olympians’ statue on the village green – and in front of the Post Office on Grantown’s High Street.
Another accolade for David Smith, and record-breaking former biathlete local Mike Dixon, is their selection to carry the Queen’s Baton on its journey to Glasgow. And Craig MacLean is celebrating his selection as part of the 30 strong Scotland cycling squad for the Commonwealth Games. MacLean MBE, the Scotland team flag bearer in the 2002 Games, will pilot in the men’s track tandem events. We wish him well.
Inspired? Why not get out there and explore the Olympic spirit inside you this summer? The Cairngorms National Park has so much to offer from the gentlest of pursuits to the most daring and challenging of activities; and all in the most stunning locations. Here is just a taste of what awaits…
‘Cycling in the Park’ takes on a new meaning when it is the Cairngorms National Park. You can take it as easy as you want or test yourself on challenging tracks. Mostly it’s quiet and peaceful, the roads aren’t busy, the National Cycle Network crosses almost the entire area and includes 64km of off-road routes. Opportunities to hire cycles are plentiful so there is no excuse not to ‘get on your bike’. However it’s not all easy pedaling as we have some of the best mountain bike trails in Scotland. Many activity providers give expert tuition for beginners and confident riders alike. Before you know it you could be hurtling down some of the best man-made downhill trails in the UK. Check out the Mountain Bike Trail Centre at Glenlivet or Bike Hire and Guiding by Cyclehighlands. On the other side of the Park, Laggan Wolftrax has some 35km of purpose-built trails winding through Laggan Forest. The ‘Old Logging Way’ is a gentle 3.5mile traffic free route between Aviemore and Glenmore while Glenmore Lodge, Cairngorm Mountain, Loch Insh and Rothiemurchus Estate all offer mountain-biking experiences amid spectacular scenery.
Clay shooting is a surprisingly easy activity for almost anybody from teens upwards. Under expert guidance you are sure to be surprised at how quickly you manage to shoot a clay. In the magnificent setting of the ancient Caledonian Pine forest, Rothiemurchus’ clay shooting range provides a fantastic morning or afternoon out in one of the most breathtaking parts of the Park. Established for over 25 years, Rothiemurchus offers exceptional facilities; the shoot team are all experts in their field and are happy to share their knowledge and experience with you whether you are a complete beginner or a crack shot. Other good places to give clay shooting a go include Craggan Outdoors. Based just outside Grantown-on-Spey, tuition is provided by knowledgeable and reassuring instructors. What’s more you don’t need any special kit – the activity providers have that covered. This exciting country pursuit can also be experienced at Ardverikie Estate at Kinlochlaggan and Alvie Estate between Aviemore and Kincraig. Guns suit most ages and a variety of targets are provided to challenge all abilities.
Ok, so you won’t see shinty being played at the Commonwealth Games; all the more reason to experience it here if possible. The Highland game of shinty is an exciting spectacle not to be missed. One of Scotland’s oldest team sports dating back some 2,000 years, shinty led on to the development of golf and ice hockey. The stick and ball sport is fast, exciting and requires great stamina, skill, courage and tactical thinking. Today it is still a thriving sport with some 35 teams competing regularly. The modern game was born in the area and its two greatest exponents – and rivals – are the villages of Kingussie and Newtonmore. See the event listings for fixture dates.
So, whether as spectator or participant, there’s a host of sports and activities to watch and try throughout the Cairngorms National Park. With all of the sporting expertise and knowledge here, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of it.
Find out more at www.visitcairngorms.com