Rowan Lingard is a volunteer here at Fraoch Lodge in the Cairngorms National Park. She joined us through the Workaway scheme and is helping out through July 2018 – harvesting raspberries and mangetout peas, weeding the garden, tidying up in the house, clearing up behind the dinner chaos and generally making our life a little bit less fraught. Here’s a wee potted history of how Rowan came to be working with us:
Rowan is an ex-director in an events planning business taking time away from the London rat race. She now has her own digital services business however, she is trying to develop a business teaching English as a foreign language.
These are Rowan’s impressions of the Cairngorms National Park, which seems to be much undervalued by a huge number of visitors to Scotland and definitely doesn’t rank as highly as Skye on most people’s radar.
Everywhere you turn is a photo opportunity in the Cairngorms National Park
My first experience of ‘the Cairngorms’ was an Edinburgh to Inverness train journey on a clear blue skied May day on my way to Loch Ness. My previous trips to Scotland had only taken me as far north as Falkirk, Queensferry and the beautiful Forth Bridge – yes, a bridge can be beautiful. These stunning majestic mountains of the Cairngorm Region come into view after leaving Pitlochry with Ben Vrachie to the right, leading on to the Pass of Drumochter (Scottish Gaelic: Bealach Druim Uachdair) which is noted to be the highest point on the UK mainline rail network at 452 metres. The hillside incline takes a sharper approach. The mass of land becomes obvious. Me and my train suddenly feel very small.
I feel like there is a magic and a mystery of how these ‘hills’ were formed. Calling the Cairngorm Region a number of hills is one of hell of an understatement. The landscape just keeps going. The size has the same awe inspiring quality to when I first saw the Grand Canyon and the one same question – how?
How old are the Cairngorms? A completely different question from how old is the Cairngorms National Park.
Of course, I revert to Google. Research has proven that these mountains were/are some of the oldest in the world. Dating as far back as 400 million years ago, it is believed they were part of an enormous range higher (and much older) than the Alps stretching from North American to Norway. Today, the best viewing point of the ancient landscape is the high Cairn Gorm plateau.
Over the last 2 million years, it is reported that Scotland has experienced up to 18 distinct Ice Ages. In the National Park the signs of ice age action are steep glens and corries. Now a translation for the non-local: Glens are deep and narrow valleys, and corries relate to the Scottish Gaelic word for pot or cauldron so a bowl-shape within the rock formation. Found throughout the range, at the peak of a mountain or in a valley; frequently resulting in a cute little lake from melted snow or ice. Ah hands up, don’t shoot me, sorry I’m in English-woman in Scotland. I meant cute lochan not lake.
On this first occasion I didn’t get off the train till Inverness, sailed straight through just gazing out the train window absorbing the ever changing scenery. I finally returned to the area in July. I am volunteering at the friendly and homely 5* hostel Fraoch Lodge with my hosts Rebecca, Andy and Gregor in .
Fraoch Lodge basking in the sunshine of the cairngorms national park
Exploring the Cairngorms
On my first full day off, I knew I had to go up! The quickest way is by the highest of all railways in Britain; the funicular mountain railway. The funicular operates at 1097 metres above sea level on Britain’s 6th highest mountain – Cairn Gorm. If you didn’t already know, this Scottish Gaelic name of An Càrn Gorm translates to ‘Blue or Green Hill’. As expected the flora had changed considerably since May. A myriad of greens, greys, browns and purples. Land covered in multiple grasses, moss, heather, bracken and trees. We’ve had a surprisingly hot summer but in the Cairngorms the old adage of ‘4 seasons in one day’ can apply. My day was a little moist. No real rain but misty tops of hills certainly added atmosphere to this tranquil wilderness. This combination of factors make for one hell of a dramatic landscape.
Posing amid the grandeur of the Cairngorms scenery
I’ve read the land owners and estate managers make great efforts to balance tourism and conservation of this natural heritage. It astounds me that people settled here several millennia ago; I can only imagine the hard work it must have been just to survive. No ‘popping to the shops’ over this terrain back then. Walking through this rugged region is the best way to immerse yourself. To surround yourself. To connect to the past. No camera can truly capture the breadth and depth of the panorama. The eye can absorb the wonder of each hill and peak, of each colour and change in the landscape. Whilst every where you turn is an unforgettable photo opportunity to share with friends, family and social media. The Cairngorm Region is truly spectacular. Tell them nothing beats seeing this in person.