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What does ‘off the beaten track mean to you’? Depending on how adventurous you are, the phrase can mean different things to different people. It can be scary to choose the path less travelled by, but the benefits from getting off the beaten track in Scotland are exhilarating.

Skye Munros - Scotland

Topping out on the Innaccessable Pinnacle in glorious sunshine weather, Skye May 2016

But, this certainly doesn’t mean you need to skip all the top sites like Loch Ness. For some, getting out of cities is rural enough and therefore Loch Ness is a great choice. But for those feeling adventurous and wanting to get a little more remote, we can help you there.

So, how to find a place where few people go?

Wanting to find a little peace and quiet is the most natural thing in the world whether you’re most at home surrounded by nature, a city dweller or somewhere in between. And arguably, there is no better place than the Highlands of Scotland. Known for its epic beauty, contrasting scenery and out of this world views, you’ll soon find yourself where the air and water are fresher and the most prominent noises keeping you company is nature at its finest.

The Cairngorm National Park is the ideal base for you to experience and explore the remoteness the Highlands can offer. Depending how far off the beaten track you want to get you’ll find an array of options suited for all fitness levels and ages. Offering options to be guided, or self exploration if you prefer, Scot Mountain Holidays has it all.

Mountain peaks

We understand that only you know what getting off the beaten track means. But, Scot Mountain Holiday trips, by definition are all off the beaten track. It’s unlikely you’ll see crowds of people during any typical day with us. Choosing one of our trips is a great way to decide if the more unusual spots and a more active vacation is the way forward for you.

Whether you’re after hiking, mountain biking, walking or countryside relaxation, you’ll find it here.   We can help organise a tailor-made trip for you, friends and family. Or, you can join one of our scheduled trips where you’ll meet like-minded people and gain friends for life. The choice is yours.

In the heart of the Cairngorms National Park lies it’s namesake, the Cairngorms. The Cairngorms, a range of mountain peaks adorning the skyline, are rich with historical importance, and full of nature and wildlife. The soul of the Cairngorms, boast four of the five highest peaks in the United Kingdom. Conveniently, this is located just a short drive from Fraoch Lodge, home of Scot Mountain Holidays.

Hiking Ben Macdui

Hiking Ben Macdui with Scot Mountain Holidays group tour

Hiking Ben Macdui

Ben Macdui, at 1309 metres was our destination. Departing Fraoch Lodge we set out for a full day of hiking with the group tour leader, Andy. As someone who hasn’t done much hiking I was in good hands. Scot Mountain Holidays offered plenty of advice, tips and tricks. I felt well equipped in handling the changing climate, the potential wet weather, and cool temperature ahead of us.

Guided Touring with Scot Mountain Holidays

Andy is knowledgeable in not only the secrets of the mountain, but also fauna, wildlife and navigation. This became increasingly comforting as the heavy fog set in the higher we climbed. Transforming the landscape into a world of grey, it wasn’t long before the dips, plains and landmarks of the mountain became a sea of similarity for me.

But, with what appeared to be second nature to Andy, we headed away from the path ready to experience the Cairngorms, raw and untouched. Appreciating the full benefits of guided touring, it was as simple as follow the leader. It’s also advised to keep a camera at the ready for wildlife that Andy has a knack for spotting. We also had Andy’s storytelling keeping us company as we rose higher, with stories of history and legends wealthy with detail and fascinating to hear.

wildlife spotting and hiking

Wildlife with a view

The secrets of Ben Macdui revealed

Before long, history came to life in the form of a plane crash memorial. Pieces of the aircraft littered the mountainside and somewhat eerily seemed almost untouched 70 years on from the impact. Andy’s knowledge of the Cairngorms secrets continued to be show cast during the ascent and decline. Continuing to hike away from the track we came across no one. Allowing us to appreciate the solidarity, and peacefulness of the mountainous environment. With gorgeous views, and amazing landscape treating us as the cloud cover ebbed and waned. The experience of hiking Ben MacDui was memorable and a great combination of challenging and rewarding.

After a full day of hiking we returned to the homely comforts of Fraoch Lodge. Arriving to a roaring fire and well-deserved coffee o’clock it was a warm and welcoming homecoming. Rebecca’s home cooked meal, delicious and restaurant quality was the perfect way to finish a great day. Scot Mountain Holidays is a perfect blend of leadership, knowledge and homely comforts resulting in an amazing experience for group tour hiking.

Burma Road: Natural MTB Trails in the Cairngorms

The Burma Road route is a fantastic way to see spectacular views of the Cairngorms and the picturesque countryside of the National Park. Graded hard and requiring a high fitness level to complete, this 26-mile cycling route is achievable in four to five hours.

Trekking over a mixture of tarmac, dirt, grass and rocky tracks makes sections of the trail challenging. And with a three mile extremely steep climb the initial part of the route can come across as particularly challenging. But, overall it is worth the initial exertion.

Map of the Burma Road route.

Map of the Burma Road Route.

Distance:

26 miles/41km

Approx. calorie count:

1800 kcal

Time:

allow around 4 or 5 hours cycling time.

Ascent:

2123ft/647m

 

Scot Mountain Holidays route

The official start point of the cycle begins in Aviemore, an enjoyable and relatively easy 6-mile ride from Fraoch Lodge across the countryside. Once reaching Aviemore it’s as simple as following the main road through town, crossing the A9 and following a single tarmac road to the Scripture Union Centre at Alltnacriche. Having followed the route through a forest gate this is where things begin to get difficult.

The Burma Road views

Views from the Burma Road Classic

The climb

The climb is very steep and walking is often quicker then riding at a gradient of this level. Certainly, you wouldn’t be alone in getting off your bike and pushing. The climb stretching over 3-miles levels out at points, but you will likely spend the uphill section hopping on and off your bike. Make sure to turn around regularly during the ascent as the view is well worth the exertion.

Once you have reached the top, the path down is quick and steep. The route in this section is made up of gravel and loose stones caused from water erosion. This will limit your speed, and you will need a fair amount of control and concentration to get down safely. The end of the descent can be celebrated once you reach a wide bridge. This also signifies the countryside section of the route having crossed the bridge.

The Burma Road Classic route

During the Burma Road classic

The countryside

From here it’s as simple as following the path alongside the left hand of the river. The path is overall a wide and good one. But, you will find small patches of boggy ground, grassy paths and several gates to go through. After a very enjoyable ride through the countryside the very end of the path is marked by a T intersection. Take the track leading right and you’ll pass over a bridge, up a small hill and you’ll find yourself back on tarmac.

The last stretch

Mostly downhill and with limited traffic the road to Carrbridge is one of the easiest sections of the day. About halfway along you’ll see a sign on the left hand side of the road to Sluggan bridge. This impressive structure is well worth the short 1-mile detour.

Sluggan Bridge

The Sluggan Bridge

After continuing on and reaching Carrbridge, make sure you stop for the iconic pictures of the bridge. And perhaps even a well-deserved pint at the local pub.

Burma Road

The 18th century packhorse bridge of Carrbridge

Boat of Garten is only 5 miles further from Carrbridge and it’s as simple as following the ‘7’ bike route back to base.

Map of the Burma Road route.

Map of the Burma Road Route.

 

External links:

More pictures and description of the route from Dave Banks

Share and compare the route

The route reviewed in The Herald newspaper

The Burma Raod in the Inverness Courier

The United Kingdom is treacherous when it comes to weather. One minute the sun is shining and the next its dreary, cold and you’ve retreated inside. Getting at least one wet day on your Scottish holiday no matter what the season is quite likely. But don’t let it dampen your day. No matter what the season we have the perfect wet weather inspiration for you.

Strathspey Steam Railway

Steam railway, Scotland

Strathspey Steam engine heading to Aviemore from Boat of Garten

The Strathspey Steam Railway is a major attraction in the Cairngorms National Park, and for good reason. This is a must do activity regardless of the weather. Jump aboard and enjoy the stunning scenery of the Cairngorms from the comfort of inside as well as a unique dining experience, and a piece of history. An activity the entire family will enjoy with the added bonus of it being a piece of history.

Loch Ness

Visit Loch Ness

Castles and historical landmarks

The Cairngorms National Park and Scotland in general is full of historical sites, such as castles and museums. Exploring castles and learning about Scottish history is the perfect way to spend a wet weather day. Made especially easy if travelling with a vehicle. Within easy reach of Fraoch Lodge are Balmoral, Braemar, Blair and Ballindalloch castles.

Braemar Castle

Braemar Castle, Royal Deeside

Breweries and Distilleries

Scotland is famous for it’s whisky and home to many delicious beers and other liquor. There are plenty of breweries to choose from depending on personal preference all within easy access some of which offer free tours and have gift shops. A tasting day and a bit of history is a great way for some wet weather inspiration.

Glenlivet distillery offer free tours on demand and can offer tours in a range of languages.

Cairngorm Brewery offer a very affordable tour and are quite liberal with their tastings. Make sure you are hiking, on public transport or have a designated driver as there are quite a range of beers on offer.

Scottish whisky distillery

Sample a snifter or two of the water of life at one of the many Speyside dislleries

 

Eat and Drink

Nothing is quite as enjoyable as enjoying local food and watching the world go by. It’s also a lovely way to spend a wet and cold day. Whether you head to a coffee shop and enjoy some delicious Scottish treats or a nice pub lunch of some haggis it’s the perfect excuse to take you indoors. Or, if you don’t want to leave at all join Fraoch Lodge for a delicious home cooked meal served family style.

If you’re out and about we recommend the Copper Dog in Craigellachie or the Rowan Tree just outside Aviemore or for a family meal with plenty for everyone try La Taverna for excellent pizza and pasta choices.

Cake O'Clock - although on this day it was biscuits!

Cake O’Clock – although on this day it was biscuits!

Indulge in some shopping

There are plenty of opportunities in Aviemore to check out the latest outdoor fashions. Mountain Warehouse and Blacks both have large stores in the village centre along with numerous independent (like Mountain Spirit) and smaller chain stores (like Nevisport).

Alternatively if you would like to pick up some souvenirs there are plenty of excellent art and craft galleries, including our own excellent gallery and coffee shop 1896 Gallery in Boat of Garten.

Visit a mountain bike trail centre

Mud is a feature to many a good day out on a bike. The more spattered you are, the more fun you’ve had. There are also many wee skills areas which you can use for free to practise your balance and bunny hops etc.

Take a crafty slant on the day

There are also craft workshops and demonstrations like “Throw a Pot” at Loch an Eilean pottery, weaving or spinning at Knockando Wool Mill or a tour of the Cashmere factory at Johnston’s of Elgin (tours are free). Interactive crafts can easily be arranged for groups, please contact us for full details of the options available.

Quiet day

If you’re on holidays you’ll most likely want some down time. And a rainy day is the perfect excuse. Stay inside, read a book, enjoy an open fire and take some time for yourself.

Scotland is a destination to be appreciated, and like anywhere the weather can be a little disruptive. But Fraoch Lodge is the perfect base for a number of inside activities and you’re sure to have an amazing time regardless of the weather.

Relax by the fire (whisky optional)

Relax by the fire (whisky optional)

Located in the heart of Scotland, the Cairngorms National Park is voted one of the top 20 places to visit in the world by National Geographic Traveller Magazine. Offering activities for all types of travellers it’s no wonder people flock from all around the world to see this little piece of paradise.

Wild scenery of Scotland

Glorious wild scenery for the Cairngorms National Park

So why visit the Cairngorms National Park?

  1. Accessibility

Easily accessible from Scotland’s major cities, Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Cairngorms are incredibly well connected and easy to navigate by all sources of public and private transportation. While in the national park you’ll find many walking/cycling paths for all levels of fitness connecting villages and towns making it exceptionally easy to explore.

Not all footpaths are waymarked, particularly on the high hills. If you’re unfamiliar with the area or if you want to learn a bit more about the Cairngorms and their history, geology, habitats, wildlife etc; then it is always a worthwhile investment to book:

  1. Attractions

No matter what your age or situation the Cairngorms offer attractions for everyone. You’re sure to feel the culture of Scotland with many historical castles to visit.

  1. Balmoral castle
  2. Braemar castle
  3. Corgarff castle
  4. Ballindalloch castle
  5. Loch an Eilean castle (ruins)
  6. Drumin castle, in Glenlivet

And on the outskirts of the Cairngorms:

  1. Cawdor castle
  2. Urquhart castle
  3. Brodie castle
  4. Balvenie Castle (ruins)
  5. Huntly Castle
Castles in the Cairngorms

Pipers welcome visitors to Braemar Castle

There are also distilleries aplenty producing the famous whisky the region is known for. (We’re at the beginning of the famous Speyside Whisky Trail and our tours often include a visit to Glenlivet distillery and/or the Speyside Cooperage  – where the oak barrels are made for the distilleries.) The national park is also home to endless outdoor opportunities. Because of this, walking, hiking and cycling are fantastic day activities, as well as endless outdoor choices and wildlife spotting opportunities. As a result, you’ll visit the best locations along amazing hiking trails when joining Scot Mountain Holidays on a guided tour. And, with Andy as your guide you’ll learn so much more about the region and the wildlife.

 

Autumn hiking

Hiking in the autumn (Cairngorms, Highlands)

  1. Seasonal options

No matter what the season, the Cairngorms offer fantastic attractions. Water sports and water based activities are a great option in summer and spring. In winter and late autumn there are snow sports and more complex hiking options to choose from. And wildlife watching and incredible hiking and cycling trails are available all year long. Because the Cairngorms are so well connected, Scot Mountain Holidays have options to experience all parts of Scotland. Giving you the best of both worlds.

Whether you’ve been before or a first time visitor, The Cairngorms National Park is a place you’ll grow to love. Fraoch Lodge, the heart of Scot Mountain Holidays will give you a base near all of the major sites. And Scot Mountain Holidays will help you to experience the Cairngorms in all their glory.

wild blueberries in the Cairngorms

Wild blueberries abound in mid-summer here in the Cairngorms

4. Hiking for everyone

There are hikes suitable for the wee ones, the ancients, the enthusiasts and the dabblers. Wildlife and nature walks to backpacks across the park. You can lose yourself in the “backwoods” or “wilderness” of the Cairngorm hinterland or saunter at your leisure through stunning scenery with the dog, the kids or on your own. There are certainly enough paths to choose from that you can choose solitude if you wish. The multitude of options can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the area, but here at Fraoch Lodge, we pride ourselves on choosing the best option to give you memories which will be the highlight of your visit to Scotland.

Reindeer in the Cairngorms

Visit the Cairngorm Reindeer herd in the natural environment (Cairngorms)

Walking in the Cairngorms

Beautiful views and a clear path on the ascent of Meall a'Bhucaille

Wild scenery of Scotland

Glorious wild scenery for the Cairngorms National Park

Hiking in Scotland

Hiking through the varied habitats of the Cairngorms

5. Variety of activities

There are numerous activities in the Cairngorms, particulary for those who enjoy the outdoors:

 

All these options are open to guests based at Fraoch Lodge – Andy and Rebecca are here to guide you on what is possible in your available time.

6. Discovery tour

If you are short of time you may want help putting the highlights of the Highlands, particularly the Cairngorms, into a time frame to make the most of your visit. We have an ideal 3 day experience of the Cairngorms which will get you hiking, biking and experiencing some of the crafts which have been a part of daily life in Scotland for hundreds of years. Use the Cairngorm Discovery tour as your introduction to the Highlands or as a base for your own Off the Beaten Track experience.

crafts in Scotland

Sheep have been a major influence on the HIghlands as has their fleece!

Travel experiences play one of the most important roles in why so many of us continue to explore the world. Although this age of technology allows us to document almost every part of our day, nothing compares with experiencing something firsthand.

Hiking in Scotland

What more could you ask for from a hiking holiday in Scotland

So what makes travel experiences so much more special compared to our normal day-to-day experiences?

Open Mind

Visiting somewhere you’re not familiar with already means you have an open mind. But exposing yourself to the unexpected when travelling often allows you to broaden your mind so much further. This includes with culture, religion, food and people. Having an open mind and being willing to dive head first into an experience will make travel experiences exceptional.

Stretch your Boundaries

One of the best things you can do when travelling is get out of your comfort zone. Pushing yourself mentally, physically and emotional often yields the most wonderful of rewards. Scott Mountain Holidays will stretch your boundaries through both tailor made and structured group trips. But not to worry. Your boundaries may be stretched, but with Andy as your guide you’ll be well looked after.

Mountains and Malts - whisky themed hiking

Hiking in the Highlands exploring the footsteps laid by smugglers of old

Embrace and interact

Creating a special travel experience means you need to be willing to embrace interacting with locals, nature and culture alike. This will provide you with a well-rounded experience of a place and the opportunity to interact with likeminded individuals from across the world. Completing a tour with Scot Mountain Holidays will also allow you the rare opportunity to really embrace Scotland.

Be present in the moment

Photos and videos are such a wonderful way to capture the very best moments of a trip. However travelling is also a wonderful opportunity to take a step away from technology. When travelling, you can be present in the moment rather than experience it through the lens of your phone. So make your travel experience extra special and take the opportunity to really appreciate the place you’re in and what you’re exposed to. Scot Mountain Holidays hiking and walking trips allow you the chance to do this with plenty of opportunities to whip out your camera.

Scot Mountain Holidays is all about the experiences. Participate in walking, hiking or mountain biking holidays in a stunning Scotland, and you’ll go home with travel memories and experiences that will stay with you forever.

Do you agree? Is there anything you would add about your own travel experiences? For us, what has always made the best memories are those experiences we have had involving local people and unusual active experiences. What has given you the most memorable travel experience?

ROUND AND ABOUT: NEWS FROM THE HIGHLANDS (Spring 2015)

We’ve had a mixed winter – some winter skills and some glorious sunshine. We tried to start our mountain bike season early in March and then the weather went and turned again welcoming the early Easter arrivals with some pretty thick snow showers, interspersed with sunshine. Glorious April sunshine now through has brought the daffs out to follow the snowdrops and encouraged us to start with the potatoes in the garden, despite the overnight frost.

Our first international visitors are starting to trickle through the door: we had 2 American couples visit in mid-March, who came up to us after starting St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Edinburgh; they were keen to explore the landscape that helped to inspire the popular series already on their screens and just released in the UK – “Outlander” based on Diana Gabaldon’s books. Despite being published in the 1990s these books are now enjoying a second round again and are to be found much more pre-dominantly in the bookshops at the moment. We’ve read a few and are ideally placed to explore some of the main sites described in the book. We haven’t considered adding “Outlander” tours to our programme but if there’s any interest?

Something to look forward to: we hear there’s another series planned by the BBC of the programme “The Mountain” which featured life on and around Cairngorms Mountain in the winter season. The new programme will show Cairngorm in the summer season.

NEWS AND ARTICLES FOR SPRING 2015

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More stories in brief

Most of these news items were distributed to our newsletter subscribers at the end of March 2015. If you want to keep up to date with news and items of interest around and about the Highlands plus upcoming events, subscribe to our newsletter on the right hand side of the page.

Exploring products from Scot Mountain Holidays

Highlighting Scotland’s most famous export – Scotch or whisky is a feature of this trip. Link in with the Speyside Whisky festival and join us for the first trip of the year departing soon for Whisky month (May) –https://scotmountainholidays.com/tours/19/4871/mountains-and-malts

A wild and secret exploration in Knoydart, home to Britain’s most remote pub and the mountains where Bonnie Prince Charlie i supposed to have hidden after the battle of Culloden:https://scotmountainholidays.com/tours/7/4871/wild-knoydart

A great all round exploration of Scotland’s adventure and culture. Dress up as a Highlander and sample haggis; hike in the remote hills; mountain bike through glorious forests feasting on wild berries and plenty more – https://scotmountainholidays.com/tours/51/4871/visit-scotland-highland-family-adventure

A quick weekend away in the Cairngorms National Park suitable for almost all ages and using the Strathspey Steam Railway to help you explore through Abernethy, Aviemore and beyond –https://scotmountainholidays.com/tours/34/4871/under-your-own-steam

Explore the culture and adventure which makes the Highlands a special place like no other –https://scotmountainholidays.com/tours/54/4871/cairngorm-discovery

Related blogs from Scot Mountain Holidays

Other news items from Scotland –scotmountainholidays.com/index.php/blog-search-results/?akID[18][atSelectOptionID][]=2

Useful links

The Scotsman

The Herald

BBC Highlands News – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/scotland/highlands_and_islands

VisitCairngorms Events

National Visitor Information – www.visitscotland.com

Why do we say Hogmanay in Scotland?

Most Scots don’t question the origins of Hogmanay, just as you wouldn’t question the traditions associated with any of your big national celebrations such as Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter. I’m sure a lot of kids in the local schools would be hard pushed to tell you why Hogmanay is such a big deal; so much so that all Scots have an extra bank holiday at the beginning of the year that the English don’t get.

Hogmanay – as a word – is said to have either French or Norse roots. There is some confusion and argument as to which of these influences has the strongest claim to being the root of the word. The French word means the act of giving a gift to bring in the New Year or the children’s tradition of asking for sweets or small treats to bring in the New Year – a bit like trick or treating at Halloween.

Many of the traditions though are associated with ancient fesivals like the Gaelic “Samhain” (which also has close ties to Halloween as it marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter) and the winter solstice.

Of course any cause for celebration here in the Western Hemisphere and we break out the alcohol and dance!
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Why is Christmas not as big as Hogmanay in Scotland?

When Protestantism under John Knox was gaining support in Scotland, it was turbulent times across the whole of Britain. Catholicism was under attack and the festivities of Christmas were seen by Knox as a very Catholic tradition and as such despised. He moved to abolish the celebration of Christmas in Scotland as being too Catholic by far.

Of course this did not mean that the celebration went away completely, it was just transferred somewhat over to New Year. After all, everyone needs a reason to celebrate something in the depths of winter.

There are many traditions related to Christmas in England and the rest of the continent that are only visited once a year at Christmas time. Many wonder why – for example, why are brussel sprouts so strongly associated with Christmas? Watch this hilarious video from Michael Mcintyre about his interpretation of Christmas traditions.

Hogmanay events in modern times

Nowadays we have reason to thank John Knox as his ban has meant that in Scotland we get an additional public holiday to bring in the New Year and the differing traditions associated with Hogmanay bring many a visitor to Scotland:

In Edinburgh they have one of the biggest street parties in the world with an amazing firework celebration which has been in the Guiness Book of Records.

In Stonehaven, there is a fireball parade.

Across the country people visit each other from midnight onwards to “first foot”. It brings good luck for the year for a visitor to be asked in on New Year’s Day. You should take a piece of coal, whisky and black bun i.e. food, drink and warmth/comfort.

Hogmanay at Fraoch Lodge

Here at Fraoch Lodge we head out into the snow and bring the New Year in with a walk across the high peaks of the Cairngorms using all the cramponing and ice axe techniques learnt during our guests stay leading up to New Year’s Day.

Funny though – when you look through the other images on Flickr no one else seems to think about New Year celebrations in quite the same way!

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Reference:

The Great British Bake Off explains Hogmanay food

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hogmanay

Stonehaven fireball parade

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