The Cairngorm National Park has long attracted both the adventurous of heart, the peaceful explorer, the historically curious and the wildlife enthusiast.
Following the 70’s skiing boom, Aviemore is heading into a regeneration and is fast becoming one of the adventure capitals of the UK, offering up a bounty of independent activity specialists. And on its doorstep, “one of the glories of wild Scotland”, according to Attenborough. Still unspoilt, and largely undeveloped, the Cairngorm’s wild and peaceful places are easy to discover even without venturing far off the beaten track.
The Lazy Duck sits almost equidistant between the Cairngorm (01479 861261) and the Lecht (01975 651440) ski areas, each offering slightly different experiences.
Glenshee (01339 741320), Glencoe (01855 851226) and the Nevis Range (01397 705825) are also within easy reach for a day out. For those keen to stay on the flat; summer forest paths are often transformed into a network of wonderful cross-country skiing routes, many accessible from the door.
There is also ice climbing in the Northern Corries and the unique Cairngorm Sled Dog Adventure Centre for husky safaris. 35 mins drive (07767 270526)
From white water rafting, canyoning and river tubing to a serene sea kayak in search of the Moray Firth dolphins we recommend, of the many adventure specialists, Full on Adventure based out of Aviemore. 20 mins drive. (01479 420123)
Loch Morlich (30 mins) and Loch Insh (40 mins), both offer sailing, windsurfing and kayaking equipment and instruction – ideal for family groups. (01479 861221 and 01540 651272)
Fishing permits are available for a wonderful private stretch of the Spey (10 mins drive) from Mortimers of Grantown-on-Spey (01479 872684) and equipment hire, practice and instruction can be found at Craggan Outdoors (15 mins) (01479 873283)
Dramatic mountain scenery provides the backdrop and endless woodland paths, the base for some of the best mountain biking in the country. From the Lazy Duck, Abernethy Forest leads up onto the Ryvoan Pass and down to Loch Morlich, one of the many brilliant tracks in the area. Wolftrax at Laggan, near Newtonmore, is a mountain biking park with different downhill tracks to suit all abilities and adrenaline levels, from sheer rock face drop-offs to meandering wooden paths through the Strathmashie Forest. (01528 544366)
Ride Cairngorm in Boat of Garten has bike & ebike hire and sales, a repair workshop, and a small café. They can also help with local trails and ideas for rides. 10 mins drive. (01479 831729)
Rothiemurchus Estate is a focus for independent well-run activities. In particular, Highland Venture run quad bike treks and 4X4 off road driving. There is also pony trekking with beautiful Highland Ponies, archery, and clay pigeon shooting. 20 mins drive (01479 812345)
We are very lucky to have a wide network (45km) of marked woodland paths centred on Explore Abernethy, and an excellent ranger service offers guided walks from the Nethy Bridge village hall – information on a large notice board next to the river. Walk Highlands – http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/cairngorms/ – is a brilliant website with downloadable routes and loads of information.
Through Ryvoan Pass by mountain track is a stunning 4 hour walk from Glenmore home to the Lazy Duck. If you don’t have a car there’s a bus (via Aviemore) from the crossroads to Glenmore and then on foot up the road towards the Green Loch. Through ancient pine forest, by aqua green lochans and then the wilds of the pass, dropping down into Abernethy Forest, if you’re feeling particularly energetic, start the walk by climbing Meall a’ Bhuachaille for some wonderful views of the Cairngorms and the Northern Corries. 35 mins drive to start.
Aside from what you can spot from your window, there is a huge array of wildlife to experience close at hand. Keep your eyes peeled for roe deer, capercaillie, and cross-bills, as well as the red squirrels which are so easily seen in the woodlands here. The Ranger Service based at Boat of Garten and operating also from the Nethy Bridge village hall offers lots of excellent information. Depending on the day, active options are sometimes on offer, including guided walks in the ancient forest focussing both on wildlife and early timber operations, star-watching nights, butterfly catching walks, bat listening forays, pond dipping for children, and more. Watch the notice board by the river.
Speyside Wildlife at Rothiemurchus have hides set up and organised dusk watches for badgers, pine martens, and owls. 30 mins drive. (01479 812498)
Highland Wildlife Park
More exotic (if slightly more orchestrated), don’t miss a trip to the Highland Wildlife Park near Kincraig, which is home to everything from snow monkeys, polar bears, siberian tigers, and wolves – a really fantastic outing for all ages.
35 mins drive. (01540 651270)
Loch Garten Ospreys
The ospreys at Loch Garten make wonderful viewing in spring and early summer. A resident pair arrives home each spring to raise their young. The RSPB viewing facility and interpretation at the loch is really well done and they also organise capercaillie viewing during the lek from April to mid-May if you are prepared to rise early. And Loch Garten is worth a visit just for its own sake, any time. 10 mins drive. (01479 821409)