Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
The largest of the UK's national parks, the Cairngorms National Park covers more than 4500 square kilometres. It is home to a wide variety of different flora and fauna and has a landscape which includes five of Scotland's highest mountains (part of the Cairngorm Mountains range) as well as beautiful forests and lochs. There are several towns and villages within the boundaries of the park which are home to almost 20,000 people. Each year an estimated 1.4 million people visit the Cairngorms National Park and enjoy a variety of different pursuits. This is a quick guide to some of those activities.
Where Is The Cairngorms National Park?
Cairngorms National Park is in the Scottish Highlands. It is approximately 30 minutes' drive south of Inverness, the Highland Capital. The park stretches from Grantown-on-Spey to south of Dalwhinnie and takes in parts of Badenoch and Strathspey, Highland Perthshire and Royal Deeside.
The Cairngorms National Park
Family Friendly Activities In The Cairngorms National Park
There are lots of great activities for families to enjoy in the Cairngorms National Park, including outdoor sports or a visit to the Highland Wildlife Park. At Loch Morlich, near Aviemore, there is a fantastic sandy beach where you can build sandcastles and enjoy a picnic, or grab a bite to eat at the beach cafe.
During the warmer months, you can take a trip on the Strathspey Steam Railway which runs from Aviemore to Broomhill, via Boat of Garten. You can enjoy a meal during the 45 minute journey or have afternoon tea as you travel through the beautiful landscape. If you feel like splashing out, buy a first class ticket. It's like stepping back in time and the trip on the steam train is well worth trying.
Another great activity for the family is a visit to the Landmark Forest Adventure Park in Carrbridge. There's lots to do here, including water slides, the runaway train family coaster, play area for small children, parachute simulator, climbing wall and a variety of educational experiences. You can watch a Clydesdale horse at work, learn about nature at the Microworld visitor centre. There are also great tree-top trails to enjoy.
You can also enjoy horse riding, cycling or dog-sledding. There is also a fantastic aerial adventure course high in the treetops at Rothiemurchus.
More sedate pursuits in the area include swimming in the indoor pools at a number of hotels, a trip to the cinema, and shopping.
Wildlife In The Cairngorms National Park -Birds and Animals Native To The Highlands Of Scotland
The Cairngorm National Park is home to a quarter of Britain's threatened species. Due to the varied landscape which includes mountains, forests, lochs and glens, there are many different creatures living in the area. In the forests, the elusive Scottish wildcat makes its home along with pine martens, red squirrels and a variety of birds including the different types of grouse. You will also find red deer, badgers and otters in the area along with eagles, buzzards and ospreys.
There are lots of organised wildlife tours which will allow you the chance to spot some of Scotland's native species without running the risk of disturbing their habitat. An organised tour will also give you the chance to learn about the animals in the area. There are a number of off-road safaris and nature walks that can be booked and information on these is available on the official tourism website for the Cairngorms.
You can also enjoy animal encounters at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and the Highland Wildlife Park.
Some of the animals found at Highland Wildlife ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
Highland Wildlife Park
The Highland Wildlife Park, situated at Kincraig (38 miles south of Inverness) is home to a variety of Scottish native species including wildcats, red squirrels and deer. There are also several species which were once native to Scotland but have become extinct, including wolves. The park also has a few surprises such as polar bears, tigers, red pandas and Japanese macaques.
There is a fantastic educational centre for the kids to enjoy and you can take a scheduled tour round the park with some of the guides. This gives you the chance to learn more about the animals you'll encounter.
The wildlife park has areas which you drive around and also some areas which you can walk around. There are regular talks, often held at feeding times. In addition to a gift shop with fun merchandise, there is a restaurant where you can enjoy a coffee and cake, or even a light lunch.
The park claims to have the best view in Scotland and it's worth the effort of climbing a fairly gradual hill to enjoy it.
Water Activities In the Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms National Park has a lot to offer water sports enthusiasts. If you enjoy sailing, windsurfing or kayaking, Loch Morlich offers you the chance to indulge your passion in incredible surroundings. The loch is located in Glenmore Forest Park, at the foot of the Cairngorms and the scenery is truly spectacular. There's a great sandy beach and a restaurant. The beach is accessed from a car park located next to the main road. You can hire equipment at the Loch and can arrange tuition with qualified instructors.
Farther south, close to Kincraig, Loch Insh Watersports offers river expeditions, kayaking and canoeing. Loch Insh also has a dry slope for ski-ing, snowboarding and sledging and you can also try archery. There is accommodation available at Loch Insh and there are also boat hire facilities in case you'd prefer to explore on your own.
If you like something a little more exhilarating, white water rafting, canyoning and river tubing are available. For those who prefer to enjoy the rivers and lochs in a more sedate fashion, boat trips to spot wildlife are available. There is also excellent fishing available at several locations including Rothiemurchus, the Atholl Estates and Alvie Estate. To fish the rivers and lochs in the area, you need to be sure to obtain the correct permits.
Car Park at Cairngorm Mountain
Mountain Activities In The Cairngorms
One of the highlights of a trip to the national park is a visit to Cairngorm Mountain. There are biking trails around the foot of the mountains and for those who are more adventurous, there is a mountain bike trail from the Top Station at the mountain, down to Rothiemurchus, This involves a 3000 ft descent.
From the car park at the base of the Cairngorms you can take the funicular railway up to the visitor centre which houses a gift shop and restaurant. In summer you can enjoy several different mountain walks offering a range of challenges. There are also climbing and mountaineering opportunities and local guides are available. It's worth enlisting the help of an expert before going on any mountain expedition in Scotland as the weather is changeable and it's easy to become disoriented in an unfamiliar landscape.
In the winter, there's fantastic ski-ing, sledging and snowboarding with professional tuition available for beginners. Equipment hire is available at a number of outlets around the foot of the mountains.
Food And Drink In The Cairngorms National Park
There are numerous places to enjoy great food and drink in the national park. The Ptarmigan Restaurant on Cairngorm Mountain is the highest in the UK, at 1097 metres above sea level. It is accessible via the funicular railway and serves a variety of food.
Whatever your tastes, you should find something to suit, ranging from cheap and cheerful fish and chips eaten straight from the paper they're wrapped in, to gourmet food at some of the hotels and restaurants in the area. There are lots of little cafes where you can get a snack. One of my favourite places to go is MacDonald Aviemore Highland Resort, where there are several restaurants featuring everything from a simple pizza to fine dining. The resort also has a great gift shop with a food court featuring local produce.
You will also find great producers of Scotland's national drink - whisky. There are distilleries at Dalwhinnie and Glenlivet. Beer is also produced in the area at Cairngorm Brewery.
Travel In the Cairngorms National Park
Although it is possible to enjoy the national park without a car, you will be fairly restricted in where you can go and what you can do. There are buses and trains to the area from the major cities in Scotland, but they are infrequent and will not necessarily take you where you want to go. If you're fit and active, then you could see parts of the park on a walking holiday. It is also possible to have a great experience cycling around the national park. You can hire a bicycle locally or bring your own on the train.
Driving is the best way to experience everything you want to and to cover the large distances between towns. Many of the roads are narrow country roads and you need to take care, especially if you're not used to driving on the left. Several of the main towns - Dalwhinnie, KIngussie, Aviemore, Carrbridge - are located close to the A9, the main road linking the north of Scotland with the south. There are notorious blackspots on this road and it has one of the highest accident rates in the UK, so drivers unfamiliar with the region should take care. That said, driving will allow you to enjoy some spectacular scenery.
Where To Stay In The Cairngorms National Park
There are numerous options for accommodation in the Cairngorm National Park. If you want to cater for yourself, it's worth booking a chalet or lodge. There are available at several locations including Loch Insh where you can enjoy great watersports.
Camping is, of course, an option, or you could stay at a Bed and Breakfast. There are some fantastic hotels, particularly in Aviemore which is the largest town in the national park. Accommodation is available at the MacDonald Aviemore Highland Resort.
Historic Sites In The Cairngorms National Park
Several castles in the area are open to tourists including the ruins of Drumin Castle, the 14th century stronghold of Alexander Stewart, the 'Wolf of Badenoch'. You can also visit Balmoral Castle on Royal Deeside, and Kildrummy Castle in Strathdon, which is a 13th century castle
One of the most interesting museums to visit in the area is the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore, where you can learn about the lives of the people of the Highlands throughout the long and turbulent history of the area. Also in Newtonmore is the Clan MacPherson Museum which contains a number of fascinating objects.
Other sites of interest
Ruthven Barracks, located not far off the A9, south of Inverness, are worth a visit. Built in 1719, the barracks were intended to keep the Highlanders in check following the failed 1715 Jacobite uprising. An attempt was made by the Jacobite army to capture the barracks in 1745, but they were repelled by a force of just 12 government soldiers. Following the Battle of Culloden in 1746, a Jacobite force mustered at Ruthven but set fire to the barracks and dispersed upon receiving word from Bonnie Prince Charlie suggesting that every man should try to save themselves from the wrath of the government army. The exterior walls of the structure remain much as they were in 1746, but the interior has been destroyed.