Eat & Drink

Our Food & Drinks Community: Characters of the Cairngorms

Ed Smith, an internationally published photographer based in Kingussie has been out capturing images of some of the inspiring “Characters of the Cairngorms” you might see out and about or engage with on your adventures here.
We tasked Ed with the challenge of capturing these folk’s spiritual connection to the Cairngorms and the amazing landscape we live in, how it gets into their hearts and makes them proud to call the Cairngorms National Park home.

We want to inspire you to explore on a granular level, look at nature through the eyes of the communities, develop a deeper connection with the land and its people, to respect and protect it and enjoy your time here.

The Cairngorms are unique in that different communities, cultures, characters and wildlife live within its boundaries in harmony, connected by the land. The landscape has influenced culture; the history, heritage, food & the importance of language and dialect.

These Cairngorms Characters bring our culture to life and here we take a look at some of the people who feature in our foodie community.

Kirsten (KJ) Gilmour, Bothy Bakery, Grantown on Spey

It’s no overstatement to say that KJ’s baking is legendary not just throughout Strathspey but well beyond. The motto ‘Kick ass coffee and baking in the heart of the Cairngorms’ sums up KJ’s straight talking Kiwi approach, as both a chef and a pillar in the local community. Her Bothy Bakery was born out of the Covid pandemic; after being forced to close her much loved mountain cafe KJ’s approach was ‘keep calm, keep cooking’. Alongside her husband Al, KJ also became legendary for Cream Tea cargo bike deliveries, with the help of friends throughout the pandemic. This approach of fulfilling deliveries by bike still continues now, as part of the bakery’s connection to both it’s local community and it’s local wilderness. Offering environmentally friendly access to KJ’s baking and introducing a new level of well-being for her team, who have all proudly become the ‘bakers that bike’.

Ghillie Basan

Parent, journalist, broadcaster, food anthropologist, author, ambassador. Ghillie’s journey around the globe leading her to one of the most remote corners of the Cairngorms is nothing short of exceptional, with her travels and experiences the inspiration for the journey she takes guests on via her Spirit & Spice cookery workshops.

Offering the flavour and delicacies of local foraging, local produce and combining this with the complimentary taste of local whisky, Ghillie guides her guests through an experience and journey of taste with a poetic narrative that only she can tell.   

Toni Vastano, Old Post Office Cafe, Kincraig

Characters of the Cairngorms

Toni is an artist of the kitchen, with some of his earliest memories being conversations about food between his Italian parents, who started the family restaurant and hospitality business in Aviemore.

Paired with Ann’s work as an artist, Toni’s has brought is talent as a high end chef to the Old Post Office Gallery in Kincraig, which they renovated to share the joy of great food and art with a passion for an authentic local experience. Toni’s food, coffee and friendly welcome brings people from far and wide to experience the flavour of the area that go hand in hand with the environment in what is now a thriving hub of a small local community.      

Bike mad, Toni is the man to ask for local cycle route suggestions, and just outside the cafe Cycle Friendly Kingussie have installed a bike workstation perfect for pumping up the tyres for the journey home.

Cath & Dave, Braemar Chocolate Shop

This gutsy, carpe diem couple decided to leave their beloved home in Orkney and Shetland in 2020 – yes, in the middle of a pandemic – in order to move to the mainland to be closer to their families.

They were driving through Braemar when they spotted a charming shop plot for sale and so – boom! – their new location was chosen.

The dynamic duo soon set about putting their respective skills to the test – Dave’s chefing prowess acquired in the army and Cathy’s marketing magic gleaned from a communications career – to launch a specialist, luxury chocolate shop.

As if moving and setting up a business wasn’t enough for the couple, they also organised a wedding (via Zoom!) in the madness of winter lockdown 2020.

We’re happy to report, however, the couple are now contently settled in the beautiful village of Braemar where they have quickly acquired a following. Fans can’t get enough of their handmade chocolates, inspired by the wonderful ingredients they now find on their (new) doorstep.

Dave and Cathy are now firmly on a mission to change perceptions of chocolate (yes! you can mix with whisky, bread and cheese!) and add their unique Braemar twist to classic flavours.

Ah yes, and they’re also adding ‘save the world’ to their list of missions one plastic-package free chocolate at a time.

Katy & Julian Fenema, Braemar Highland Experience

Katy has been described by Forbes magazine as the “woman slaying it in the whisky world”. This is on the back of her role as a whisky ambassador at Bertie’s whisky bar in luxury hotel the Fife Arms in Braemar

But this is actually only one of this wonder woman’s roles; she’s a consultant and podcast host for the Edinburgh Whisky Academy and co-owns and runs tour guiding company Braemar Highland Experience with her husband Julian, too. Julian is similarly energetic. He can also be found rescuing hikers as part of Braemar Mountain Rescue Team as well as delivering 4×4 instructor training on behalf of the Scottish Mountain Rescue! 

Whilst formerly both in successful careers in the city, which they still dabble in – Julian as an academic and Katy as a professional musician – they were hankering after the outdoors life. Katy’s family have a history spanning back over 300 years in Braemar and, knowing the area well, it seemed like the perfect choice and so moved here in 2014. 

Together they make a dynamic duo whose enthusiasm for sharing the landscape they love, with their clients (often over a whisky, in Katy’s case!) is boundless. 

Scott Fleming, Pine Marten Bar & Scran, Glenmore

Characters of the Cairngorms
Scott Fleming

Having left school at 15 to work towards becoming a snowboard instructor in Canada, Scott came back home to “sort my life out”. From being a ‘lifty’ at Cairngorm Mountain to working in local bars, he’s now a co-owner of the legendary Pine Marten Bar in Glenmore. It’s the people of the Cairngorms that have kept him here and his alternative, sociable and banter filled “PR” exploits attract many others in turn. With such a vast area to explore he admits he is still to see most of the Cairngorms, “even though I have lived here for almost 10 years!”

Scotty is a true character in every sense of the word and he is very happy putting himself out there on film to entertain us through his brilliant use of social media. Not always fully clothed and very straight to the point, his sense of humour keeps us entertained and  makes light of the tough world of hospitality. Give him a follow on Instagram.

Ed is an internationally published photographer based in Kingussie where he is also the owner of Eleven41 Gallery. @edsmithphoto

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