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All things hiking Gear advice

What to pack: our top packing tips for a walking holiday in Scotland

Julia Bradbury recently published her tips on what to pack for walking holidays in the Express. We thought we’d compare our packing lists. Let’s have a look at Julia’s top picks.

This is not by any means intended to be a comprehensive kit list. Don’t use it to pack for your next walking break, but we just wanted to highlight one or two things which have been essential on our own trips plus have a quick look at items we’d consider non-essential/luxury items as we think it’s essential to have something in your pack which gives you some additional pleasure at the end of the day.

Essentials on the what to pack list:

No 1: Waterproofs

First up on Julia’s walking holiday packing list are waterproofs. “Wherever you’re going, whatever your destination, pack your waterproofs,”

“Even if it’s a hot climate and you think it’s very unlikely it’s going to rain. Even in hot countries – and certainly in tropical countries – you can have tropical rains storms.”

It seems obvious to an experienced walker that you should always pack your waterproofs, particularly if you are an experienced walker in the UK. You expect the weather to change. However, if most of your walking has been done in a continental climate, you might be forgiven for expecting the weather to be consistent. On our recent holiday in the Sierra Nevada (Spain), we did meet some hikers (even on the highest peak, Mulhacen, at over 3000m) who set out without waterproofs.

Lack of suitable clothing could cause you to have to turn back from your objective.

Be a scout when it comes to a hiking vacation and “be prepared”.

winter boots

 

No. 2. Walking boots

Julia also emphasises the importance of good walking boots – and you might want to consider investing in more than one pair.

“Make sure you’ve got the right kind of boots for the terrain you’re going to be walking through,

“If you’re going for a boot that will suit all walks then an ankle boot is vital,” she said.

It might seem obvious to talk about boots for a walking trip, but not everyone thinks to pack walking boots. There are many who think that trainers will do. There are also extensive discussions and debates online in various walking/hiking forums as to the benefits and disadvantages of boots versus walking shoes. Those who have opinions either way are quite vociferous about the benefits on their side of the argument.

The most important thing is that your feet are comfortable.

Uncomfortable feet is the worst experience you could have if you’re committed to a hiking vacation. Feet can be uncomfortable in different ways but in our experience along with boots an essential item to pack is foot cream.

No. 3. Approach shoes

Another option is approach shoes which are becoming more popular. These are good for rough track terrain but not for steep inclines.

Julia Bradbury also reveals she takes sliders or flip flops wherever she is going because “they’re quite comfortable to travel with.”

She added: “It’s good to have them in your backpack if you get your boots wet or you cross a river or your feet get wet for whatever reason.”

A second pair of footwear is in our opinion essential to the comfort of your feet. The last thing you want to do after a day out hiking in your main boots is to put them back on to go out in the evening

You must look after your feet as they are bearing the burden all day and to keep going you need to pamper them.

 

WHERE WE START TO DISAGREE

4. Lip balm

A more surprising item Julia likes to take is a tinted lip balm. “It gives you sun protection and a splash of colour on the lips as well.”

5. Wet wipes or hand sanitiser

are also a must for a walking holiday, said Julia.

And other items

The walking enthusiast also advises taking a single strap rucksack, and weighing scales.

What would we add?

We’d have to agree with Julia’s top 2 picks. It seems really obvious to pack your boots and waterproofs if you’re heading off for a walking holiday (particularly if your destination is Scotland) but believe me sometimes people leave out the water/windproofs if they think they’re heading off to a warm destination, but if you’re going mountain walking anywhere you should always be prepared for the weather to turn.

On our recent trip to Spain there were other walkers who were caught out by the weather turning on Mulhacen. We all walked up in glorious sunshine, but woke up to drizzle. The higher up the mountain we went, the windier and colder it became. Those without waterproofs really suffered in the wind.

cold hands

Dachstein mitts don’t necessarily mean that you won’t be able to use a compass or to navigate, as shown by our director Andy Bateman

For the other 3 items – are they really necessary? Are there other more important things you should make sure you have first?

Our top tips to you personally would be:

bring a map and if you have one a GPS &/or compass

Even on a guided trip it is useful to have your own map. These days you can quite easily get digital mapping on your phone. Personally we don’t like to rely on this as we don’t have the most up-to-date phones and the screen size can be really irritating. It is useful to be able to enlarge portions of the map though, especially as your eyes start to find the small print a bit more of a strain. However, if you’re going to rely on digital images, make sure you have an extra power pack for your phone. Personally this would rank higher up on our own list than flipflops or lip balm.

Because we can’t go on holiday in the main summer season (a dream for the future maybe), and therefore we are almost always away in October, we always pack gloves and hat. If you’re travelling in the main part of the summer season we’d recommend always packing a sunhat and sunscreen (even in Scotland) but not necessarily a midge net. Check our blog on how to have a midge free vacation

Be sure to have at least one item for yourself which you would consider a luxury (a bit like Desert Island Discs).

Our luxury items include:

a book/kindle

a knitting project

a teddy (perhaps only a consideration for the youngest member of your group)

chocolate

your favourite hiking snack which you buy at home

tea (for the British audience) or your favourite coffee

But don’t forget to leave a wee bit of space (if you can) for souvenirs!

What would your luxury item be?

 

 

Foraging in Scotland: some of the fungi

2019 has been a spectacular season for foraging in the Cairngorms. Scotland’s wild larder should be renowned across the world. Whether you’re by the sea or up in the mountains, foraging in Scotland is bountiful. Our European guests are so jealous. In many parts of Europe mushroom sites are closely guarded secrets and foragers have to be out early to be in with a chance of finding anything.

It’s been unavoidable to see/pick mushrooms and we’ve also been quite lucky with berries etc. The crows are feasting on rowan berries at the moment, which I don’t mind if they leave the strawberries, bilberries and raspberries for us. One of the few benefits of a damp, showery autumn and a coolish summer with bursts of warmth, has been the proliferation of ceps, chanterelles and all kinds of fungi throughout the woods for weeks.

Foraging is a fantastic activity to introduce to your kids – but always make sure you know what you’re doing. An introductory course from a knowledgeable guide is a great way to do this.

Boletus edulis and others

This year (2019) has been such a spectacular mushroom season that our larder is over-loaded with dried ceps and boletus. At one point it was impossible to take a walk in the woods, without coming back with several mushrooms. Do be careful though in season to make sure you have knife with you. It is frowned upon not to use a knife to remove the boletus mushrooms when you find them.

Check the mushroom code and make sure you know what you’re doing before you head out on a fungal foray.

mushroom

Scottish Wildlife Trust – details on how to identify and where to find the Cep

Further details and intro to “Fascinated by Fungi”

Chanterelles

These are the most reliable crop of mushrooms in the Cairngorms. We manage to pick some every season and they’re usually up earlier than anything else. A great crop for summer usually up in July and August.

They freeze well and make great soup with some cream and onion. We tend not to dry chanterelle mushrooms. Freezing does make them a wee bit more watery but they are still good in soup and risotto. They maintain their texture well in the freezer.

NB There is a false chanterelle which you also find here in the Cairngorms but there are distinct differences between the 2. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to be sure that you’re picking the right one. We have had guests bring back a whole crop of false chanterelles though, so maybe it’s not obvious to everyone.

Cauliflower fungus

This is one of our absolute favourites. There’s always too much to eat in one go and it dries a treat. The taste is relatively mild but it has an amazing firm texture completely unlike any commercial mushroom. It is great in mushroom soup, risotto, mushroom pie, venison or beef casserole in fact it is a substantial mushroom which can be cooked in virtually any mushroom recipe, including risotto.

These fungi only appear one at a time. You’ll never find a cluster as you can do with virtually all other fungi we’ve learnt to identify. They are so large it must take all the plant’s energy to produce one.

We don’t come across a cauliflower fungus every year, despite checking the site where it was previously found. It’s such a huge investment by the plant to produce such a large “fruit” that it needs perfect conditions to put one up.

The only down side is that the cleaning can be a bit of a  faff – but at least you can wash it as it doesn’t absorb much water, but it helps to shake it upside down before you take it home to minimise the bugs.

 

 

Further details

Hedgehog fungus

We don’t find this one as often as we’d like. It’s a great firm edible mushroom.

Further details and help with identification

 

If you’d like to gain more confidence in your mushroom identification, enquire with us for a foraging day. There are many other foraging options which go alongside the mushrooms including a plethora of wild berries.

5 Short walks in the Cairngorms

One of the questions we get asked most frequently from guests at Fraoch Lodge is a walk recommendation. Our accommodation guests are looking for short walks in the Cairngorms which they can complete without a guide.

People will be looking for all kinds of walks – some without much ascent; some without much time commitment. However, most people are looking for a good viewpoint.

We’ve picked out some of our favourites here, but do bear in mind that walks which are most accessible are also most popular. You might not be on your own, but you still won’t be part of a crowd.

Meall a’Bhuachaille – approx. 4 hours

This is virtually the most popular walk in the are, but for a reason. Not only is it very accessible, with clear waymarked paths, but it’s also in Glenmore just a few minutes drive from the centre of Aviemore and accessible by public bus.

walking highlands

Beautiful views and a clear path on the ascent of Meall a’Bhuacaille

We usually park by Glenmore Lodge and start the walk here. The path starts from the end of the road and heads up past the Green Lochan and on to Ryvoan Bothy. At the bothy you can take a break and check the bothy out before starting the climb up the hill. It is a steep path which zigzags backwards and forwards along the hillside before levelling out towards the top of the hill. Bear mind before you set out that no matter how warm it is before you set out, it could be pretty breezy on the summit and you should always have an extra layer with you in case you stop for a wee bit on the top to take in the view.

mtb Cairngorms

From the summit, you head down to a coll where the path splits. You can continue along the ridge to further summits like Craiggowrie, or you can head down on the basic circuit into Glenmore. The path ends up at the Glenmore Forest Visitor Centre and Cafe, near the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, where you can pick up the walking track back to Glenmore Lodge.

 

More detailed walk description

 

Ord Ban – 2.5 – 3.5 hours

Right next to one of the most popular walks on the Rothiemurchus estate, the wee diversion to the top of Ord Ban is surprisingly quiet. The majority of visitors stick religiously to the wide path circumnavigating Loch an Eilean. This is a beautiful route through some spectacular Caledonian pine forests, which though stunning, doesn’t offer many views above loch level. (NB – if you’re there at the right time of year you’ll be able to snack on wild blueberries as you go around the loch.) If you do go to the top of Ord Ban, you will be rewarded by surprisingly panoramic views.

 

Further description

Farletter Crag and Uath Lochains – up to 3 hours

The joy of this particular walk is that it is not accesible by public transport. It is possible to reach it along the Badenoch Way and you can drive to the start, but you are far more likely to see locals out to stretch their legs or walk the dog, than you are to bump into our visitors to the area. It is particularly beautiful to catch the setting sun here, as you can see in the photos below.

short walks in the Cairngorms

 

Viewpoints walk, Grantown on Spey – 1 to 2 hours

This is a great wee walk with magnificent views of the mountains beyond. There is a marker at the top of the hill which points out what you’re seeing from the top. It’s a circular walk from the centre of town. It takes you up along next to a stream and a wee waterfall to the top of a crag looking out over the whole of Strathspey.

This walk is accessible by public transport though as it starts from Grantown and not Aviemore it is less populara and more likely to offer you unique photo opportunities.

Full details of the walk

Craigellachie Nature Reserve view point walk – 1 to 2 hours

Despite being walking distance from the centre of Aviemore, this walk is surprisingly quiet. It is more than likely that you’ll bump into someone else on the route, but you could walk in your own space most of the way.

We highly recommend this walk if you’ve got a few hours to spare waiting for your train or for pick up in Aviemore. It’s very easy to get to the walk. It starts from the youth hostel in Aviemore. Drop your bags off safely in Aviemore – you should be able to store them at the station, or if you’re lucky the youth hostel might be able to look after them for you. Then take the underpass beneath the A9 and follow the signs for the viewpoint. It’s quite a short walk, and if you have less than an hour to spare you could just walk around the lochans at the bottom of the crag.

There’s a clear path up to the top of the crag for a splendid view across Aviemore and the high Cairngorms beyond. Do be aware though that there is quite some footfall on the path and in winter it can get icy.

short walks in the Cairngorms

The view from the top – 3 generations made it up the hill!

 

Full details of all these walks plus maps can be found on the Walkhighlands website but you can also pick our brains if you’re staying here. Some of the routes can form part of our self-guided itineraries.

These are just a few of the examples of wee walks you can do when you come for a visit to the Cairngorms National Park. They can be attempted by almost anyone and included in a day when you also visit a distillery or go on another adventure like the Zipwire in Alvie

Scotland is such a mecca for off-road cycling now that if you’ve any interest at all in cycling you really ought to add Scotland to your bucket list. There’s plenty of information out on the web about various different areas and there are options for everyone and all abilities, especially with the increase in the popularity of electric bikes.

The advantage of cycling here in the Cairngorms is that there is such a variety of routes that you can literally take anyone out and about for any length of time.

As with all sports the routes and reports you hear about the most are made by true afficionados. You might never hear about the wee pootles you can do with the kids, or the gentle paths winding through the forests; or the sights you can include on your ride. The sheer choice of off-road track here means that you can cycle for miles without seeing a car or if you want, there are miles of quiet lanes to explore on the road bike.

Cycling in the Cairngorms

  1. Family cycling – natural trails: options include – Rothiemurchus Estate, Glenmore Forest, Speyside Way (perhaps linked with the Strathspey Steam Railway). If you’re on Strava or MTBtrails, you can probably find routes other people have ridden with some advice and details.
  2. Family cycling – the trail centres: options include: Glenlivet, Laggan Wolftrax, Learnie Red Rocks, Moray Monster Trails. The closest centre to us at the moment is Glenlivet. They have a long blue run and an even longer red run. The main disadvantage at the moment to riding at Glenlivet is that the cafe/shop is not currently operating. It was fine for us on our last visit as we didn’t have any major incidents but it was a whole lot quieter than it used to be.

Family cycling in Glenmore Forest

Half-day rides and adventures

There are so many options here from the front door and slightly further away, that our main recommendation would be to make sure you allow plenty of time to try out different choices. Maybe start with one of the trail centres to get your eye in, test your skill level, book a guide perhaps to increase your confidence.

From Boat you can try a big ride like the Burma Road, or cycle through to Nethybridge and get the steam train back (or the other way round). You can continue on to Grantown.

Don’t be afraid to explore and make sure you have a map! We have trail maps at Fraoch Lodge and there’s an excellent hire stop in the village: Ride

If you only get to Nethy, stop in at Nethy House to refuel.

If you get to Grantown, try the High Street Merchant (they’re licensed if you fancy a beer and right next door to Two Thirsty Men micro brewery).

Tying in the riding with more adventure

For the more adventurous – bikepacking adventures in the Cairngorms

This is what I see the most publicity and vibe about here in the Cairngorms at the moment, but that could just be my media bubble filtering through only articles it thinks will interest me. Bikepacking is not new. People have been doing it for years – touring with their bikes. It now has a sexy new name and new gear making better use of the bike frame for carrying equipment to make it easier for you and more streamlined.

The sheer size of the Cairngorms lend themselves to multi-day adventures – on foot or by bike, or even on horseback. Check out some of these adventures recorded on YouTube.

 

 

Recommended resources for mountain biking in the Cairngorms

Trail maps – excellent detailed maps for different routes around the Cairngorms including identified hazards and recommended directions for riding the route

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland – they have developed a guide to all the trail centres in Scotland where you can virtually ride the tracks. There’s also a lot of advice about different trails.

The best mountain bike trails in Scotland (as recommended in Singletrack)

 

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