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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.

Top 10 cyclist-friendly cafes/bars in the Cairngorms

COVID and retirement plans have created complete havoc in the cafe market here. Our list of cafes is now seriously outdated and we’ve been forced to revise it completely as when re-reading the list in October 2021, we noticed that at least half of the recommended cafes have now closed. Watch this space over the next week or so and we’ll give you the new improved list.

Graeme McLean of Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland recently described Aviemore to me as having a “cycle culture”. At the time this meant nothing to me, until they went on to explain that when you visit Aviemore you become seduced into cycling just because it seems to be the thing to do. When everyone else seems to be cycling around this must mean that it is the thing to do. Hence in our area it is not difficult to come up with a list of cyclist friendly cafes.

Certainly here at Fraoch Lodge we have noticed a definite increase in the number of people driving around the area with bikes mounted on the car and also a definite increase of bike use on the tracks.

These are the cafes we are most familiar with and are therefore almost all on the north side of the Cairngorms, in and around Aviemore. However, we will be in Deeside for a week in July and will be very happy to update our list after 16th July with some additions from Braemar, Ballater etc – if we find anything which meets our criteria: superb food (especially cakes), somewhere to safely leave your bike locked, somewhere to work on your bike, bike/cycling route advice, bike/cycling related reading materials, maps for sale.

After consultation with my fellow members of Petal Power (the Cairngorms area female mountain biking group), I’ve come up with the following list.

Listed in order of their proximity to Fraoch Lodge:

1. Osprey Coffee House (Boat of Garten)

The Osprey Coffee House has come on in leaps and bounds since it re-opened after Covid. It is now owned and managed by Andreas and Tanya Perch. The Perches have plenty of Coffee Shop experience having previously run their own enterprise in Val d’Isere (French Alps). They offer soup as well as “Fika” (coffee and cake, Swedish style).

Routes close by: Speyside Way, Burma Road, Ryvoan Pass plus numerous local routes through the woods, Woodland Wheels (Boat of Garten pump track)

Cycle friendly cafe in Boat of Garten. Outdoor stables and bike stand available.

Cycle friendly cafe in Boat of Garten. Outdoor stables and bike stand available.

2. Nethy House

Unfortunately Nethy House is currently up for sale but it is a highlight of any route in the area. They get any meat they  need for their lunch options from Balliefurth Farm Shop next door (the highest quality of meat). Cairngorms Connect venison is also available through the butchers at the farm shop. If you eat meat, certainly make the time to fit in a visit.

Routes nearby: Speyside Way, Abernethy Forest, Forest Lodge, Ryvoan Pass, plenty of forest routes and Rynettin also a highlight

3. Carrbridge Kitchen

Delicious smells were emanating from the door when I went by to take a peek at the menu. Great selection of hot food. The Cullen Skink is exceptional and the cakes are very hard to resist, especially the cheesecake.

Recommended by Petal Power

Routes nearby: Burma Road, Tomatin on Route 7, off road route to Boat of Garten via Route 7

 

Carrbridge has 2 options to choose between depending on if you would rather have cake or a light meal.

 

4. Ryvoan Cafe, Aviemore

Despite it’s proxmity to Mike’s Bikes, I have yet to sample the delights of Ryvoan Cafe personally, but I have had universally good reports from friends who have been there.

Under the personal supervision of owners, Nina and Daniel, Ryvoan Cafe isn’t just Aviemore’s latest neighbourhood deli-cafe – they’re passionate about creating a warm and inviting space where you can unwind and indulge.

“Our menus are carefully crafted to delight your palate with simplicity and finesse. We embrace the ever-changing seasons, incorporating locally sourced ingredients for an authentic and memorable dining experience. From sophisticated snacks and charcuterie to be shared, perfectly complemented by our selection of organic wines, to drinks and dining that draw visitors from far and wide.”

Routes close by: Rothiemurchus estate, Lairig Ghru, Glen Feshie and Glenmore to Inshriach

Cake & a cafe stop - Is it a reason for cycling?

Cake & a cafe stop – Is it a reason for cycling?

 

(Petal Power comments) Inschriach Nursery Cafe have always been very welcoming, even when wet and muddy.

5. The Barn, Coylumbridge

The Barn does take away cake etc as well as eat in. There is usually plenty of choice and there is the Rothiemurchus shop just across the car park if you’re looking for any treats to take home. Meat from the estate is also sold there.

Routes nearby: Burma Road, Loch an Eilean, Rothiemurchus estate, Speyside Way, Badenoch Way, Glenn Einich

Plenty of imaginative cake options at the Mountain Cafe. This particular cake is one of ours but the Mountain Cafe has spectacular offerings too.

Plenty of imaginative cake options at the Mountain Cafe. This particular cake is one of ours but the Mountain Cafe has spectacular offerings too.

6. Pine Marten Bar (Glenmore)

Another popular spot right next to Glenmore campsite and very convenient if you’re looping around Loch Morlich or more widely through Rothiemurchus estate or the Ryvoan pass. They have a bar but also do a roaring trade in coffee, hot chocolate and hot food plus they have a wee shop attached if you just want a snack. If you’re lucky enough to be out for a late ride you might even catch some of the live entertainment.

Routes nearby: Ryvoan pass, Glenmore Forest Park, Loch Morlich

7. The Old Post Office Kincraig

One of my favourite places to stop if I’m ever over this way. I just love the atmosphere and Tony himself (owner and front of house) is a keen cyclist too. They go the extra mile for cyclists for sure. There isn’t a massively extensive menu but everything they offer is top quality and reflects their Italian heritage. Ann Vastano (co-owner of the cafe) is a renowned local artist who sells prints and cards of her work, alongside the orginals displayed in the cafe.

8. Coffee Still (Glenlivet) – SEASONAL

Being a purpose built MTB centre, the Coffee Still at Glenlivet ticks all the best practice boxes. Currently run by the owners of Nethy House. There are bike racks, wee track to keep the kids happy, trail maps for sale, bike hire available, range of food – not only cakes but hot food like pizza and burgers too. The trails are great too and very family friendly.

Routes nearby: Glenlivet MTB trails, Glenlivet Distillery routes, Kinkardine Hills, Ladder Hills

Cyclist friendly cafes

The Coffee Still at Glenlivet MTB trails – right next to a wee practice track which keeps the kids occupied while waiting for your order to arrive.

Humps and Bumps to keep the kids keen while the food is being cooked in true Slow Food tradition from the best of local ingredients. (Glenlivet MTB Trails)

Humps and Bumps to keep the kids keen while the food is being cooked in true Slow Food tradition from the best of local ingredients. (Glenlivet MTB Trails)

 

Not forgetting the south side of the park (nominated by Petal Power, an all-female mountain biking club in the Cairngorms, centred around Aviemore and Nethybridge)

9. The Bothy at Braemar

The Bothy is an excellent relaxing spot attached to Braemar Mountain Sports. Bikes can be hired here and the back of the cafe looks out over the river. The cakes and hot chocolate also deserve some praise. Plenty of choice at the cake bar.

cyclist friendly cafes

The Bothy at Braemar

10. The Milk House at Cambus O’May

The Milk Hoose at Cambus O’May cheese celebrates everything cheesy! Toasties with a twist, using all our cheeses with different fillings creating flavours that will amaze the palate. Cambus O’May cheese with haggis was a particular favourite on St. Andrews day but all year round, menu includes homemade soup, toasties, cheese platters & croque monsieur.
 
The Milk Hoose cook has won awards as a pastry chef and her traybake and scones, accompanied by fine Italian coffee are a must for any visitor. In the style of an auld milk hoose there is old dairy equipment on the walls and their cheese heritage on the menu.

 

Honorary mentions nearby the Cairngorms

  1. Pottery Cafe (Laggan) – around the corner from Laggan Wolftrax

Linda, who runs the Pottery cafe and bunkhouse, has been baking bread and cake for more years than she cares to count. Her cakes are always light and the soup is delicious. The cafe is a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Laggan Wolftrax and though I haven’t eaten at Laggan so I can’t compare the two – Linda’s opening hours were longer and she’s open all year round. When I was at Laggan (before the main season opened) the cafe was closed.

Routes nearby: Laggan Wolftrax

2. Olive Tree Cafe (Logie Steading) – on the Dava Way, just outside Forres

Logie Steading is a collection of up-market operators selling all kinds of things from second-hand books to plants to pictures and not forgetting food. You can also catch up with

Across Scotland:

From the Daily Record: Top cycle friendly cafes in Scotland

http://www.skinnytyres.com/2010/10/14/great-cycling-cafes-is-scotland/

The Cairngorms, one of Scotland’s most breathtaking national parks, is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Home to a diverse range of species, this natural wonder offers unique opportunities for spotting some of the UK’s most iconic animals. But when is the best time to witness this wildlife spectacle? Let’s delve into the seasonal highlights of the Cairngorms to help you plan your wildlife adventure.

Spring (March to May)

What to See:

  • Red Squirrels: Spring is an excellent time to spot red squirrels as they become more active after the winter.
  • Bird Migration: The Cairngorms see a surge of bird activity with the arrival of migratory species like ospreys, which return to breed. The most famous nest in the area is of course the one at Loch Garten, but there are other accessible sites as well. Ask Andy for details.

Where to Go:

  • Caledonian Forests: These ancient woodlands are prime spots for red squirrels and crested tits.
  • Loch Garten: Famous for its osprey population, Loch Garten is a must-visit during the spring migration period. Loch Garten is currently suffering from being over popular as a wild swimming and wild camping spot. Please be aware that both these activities disturb the wildlife and may reduce their habitat.

Summer (June to August)

What to See:

  • Red Deer: Summer is ideal for spotting red deer grazing in the open meadows and hillsides. You can do tours on the Rothiemurchus estate if you want to get up close and personal
  • Pine Martens: Although elusive, pine martens are more active during the long summer days. Although sightings are not quaranteed, there is a Wildlife Hide run by Speyside Wildlife where they tempt badgers and pine marten to come down. Bear in mind that these are nocturnal animals who you’ll only encounter in the twilight hours. In mid-summer this will make it a pretty long day for you.
  • Golden Eagles: Soaring high above the mountains, golden eagles are a majestic sight against the summer skies. Both eagles and osprey can be regularly seen if you know where to look. Sea eagles have also been seen locally  but as with all wildlife you need to be in the right place at the right time. Andy saw a sea eagle right near our local primary school but it’s not resident there. Ask us where is locally known as “eagle alley”.

Where to Go:

  • Glenlivet Estate: Known for its red deer population, this area offers excellent wildlife watching opportunities.
  • Cairngorm Mountain: A good spot for sighting golden eagles and other raptors along with snow bunting, and ptarmigan.

Autumn (September to November)

What to See:

  • Red Deer Rut: Autumn is synonymous with the dramatic red deer rut, where males compete for mates. They are incredibly noisy. If you’re out in the hills, virtually anywhere in the Highlands in autumn, you’ll be virtually guaranteed to hear the stags (even if you don’t get your eye in to spot them).
  • Ptarmigan: These birds begin their transition to winter plumage, making them easier to spot against the changing foliage.
  • Geese Migration: Large flocks of geese, including pink-footed geese, migrate to the Cairngorms during autumn.

Where to Go:

  • Glen Feshie: One of the best places to witness the red deer rut. Fewer opportunities to spot deer down Glen Feshie these days now they have the deer numbers under better control.
  • Insh Marshes: A key location for spotting migrating geese and other waterfowl.

Winter (December to February)

What to See:

  • Mountain Hares: Their white winter coats make them stand out against the snow-covered landscape.
  • Ptarmigan: Fully transitioned to their winter plumage, these birds are well-camouflaged but still detectable to keen eyes.
  • Snow Buntings: These hardy little birds are a delight to see during the winter months.

Where to Go:

  • Cairngorm Plateau: Ideal for spotting mountain hares and ptarmigans.
  • Moorlands and Hillsides: Look for snow buntings in open, upland areas.

General Tips for Wildlife Watching in the Cairngorms:

  1. Early Mornings and Evenings: Wildlife is often more active during these times, increasing your chances of sightings.
  2. Quiet and Patience: Move slowly and quietly to avoid startling animals. Patience is key to successful wildlife watching.
  3. Guided Tours: Consider joining a guided wildlife tour. Local guides have extensive knowledge and can significantly enhance your experience.
  4. Binoculars and Cameras: Essential tools for getting a closer look and capturing your wildlife encounters.

The Cairngorms offer an ever-changing tapestry of wildlife experiences throughout the year. Whether you’re an avid bird watcher, a keen photographer, or simply a nature lover, the Cairngorms promise unforgettable wildlife encounters in one of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes. Plan your visit according to the seasonal highlights, and you’ll be rewarded with the rich and diverse wildlife that calls this stunning national park home.

4o

Scotland is the perfect place for a family vacation. If you’re seeking to add awe-inspiring landscapes and unforgettable experiences, look no further than the Cairngorms National Park. A hiking adventure guided by the experts at Scot Mountain Holidays is the perfect way to add a little bit of memorability to your vacation. if you don’t have time to devote all of your vacation time to this adventure, don’t worry so long as you have a couple of days free, we can definitely add a little bit of adventure to your Scottish vacation.

#tourtuesday

Embark on an Unforgettable Hiking Journey

Picture this: you and your loved ones traversing ancient forests and discovering hidden lochs as you breathe in the crisp Highland air. With Scot Mountain Holidays, every step is a revelation. Our founder and main hiking guide, Andy, has been living and working in the Cairngorms for over 25 years. He came here with a lifelong interest in geology, the environment, wildlife and everything else in the natural world. Living here has only given him more knowledge, which he delights in sharing with all our guests.

Your knowledgeable guide will lead you through some of Scotland’s most iconic trails, sharing tales of folklore and history along the way. From the challenging slopes of Ben Macdui to the serene paths around Loch an Eilein, there’s a hike suited for every member of the family, regardless of skill level.

As you conquer summits and navigate valleys, you’ll witness wildlife in its natural habitat – red deer roaming freely, golden eagles soaring overhead, and maybe even glimpse the elusive Scottish wildcat. You may even spot a reindeer or an otter, if you’re lucky enough to be exploring their home turf. Each day promises new adventures and breathtaking vistas that will leave you in awe of Scotland’s raw, untamed beauty.

best walks in Scotland

On the way to Britains’s second highest peak, Ben Macdui. Perfect photo opportunity.

Extend Your Stay, Expand Your Horizons

But the adventure doesn’t end with hiking. Scot Mountain Holidays offers a myriad of additional activities to make your stay in the Cairngorms National Park truly unforgettable.

  1. Wildlife Watching: Embark on a guided wildlife tour to spot rare species such as ptarmigan, pine martens, and ospreys thriving in their natural habitat.
  2. Cultural Immersion: Dive into Scotland’s rich heritage with visits to historic castles, ancient ruins, and traditional Highland villages. Discover the tales of brave warriors and legendary clans that have shaped the landscape for centuries.
  3. Outdoor Pursuits: For the adrenaline junkies in the family, indulge in thrilling activities like ziplining, mountain biking, kayaking, or rock climbing under the expert guidance of seasoned instructors.
  4. Relaxation and Wellness: After days filled with adventure, unwind with yoga sessions, spa treatments, or simply soak in the tranquility of the Scottish Highlands when you give forest bathing a go.

activity choices in the Cairngorms

From exhilarating hikes to cultural discoveries and adrenaline-pumping activities, Scot Mountain Holidays offers a tailor-made experience that caters to every whim and fancy. So pack your bags, lace up your boots, and get ready to embark on the journey of a lifetime in Scotland’s wild heart.

Contact us for your private, tailor-made adventure-based vacation

 

13 things to do in Aviemore and the Cairngorms when you can’t ski (updated)

1. Mountain biking:

there are trails all round the area plus several centres with purpose-built tracks like Laggan Wolftrax and Glenlivet Bike Trails. Bikes can be hired from Mikes Bikes or Bothy Bikes in Aviemore.

mountain biking in Scotland

Enjoy the wild parts of the UK out on your bike

2. Enjoy the Zip Adventure Park 

with G2 on the Alvie Estate.

3. Go Ice Skating

Aviemore has a community ice skating rink again and you can also use the all weather rink at Loch Insh

4. Walk a section of the Speyside Way:

you could take the public bus to Boat of Garten (5 miles) or Nethybridge (8 miles) and walk back to Aviemore stopping in the Old Bridge Inn for a pint on your return.

5. Hire a Canadian canoe

and paddle the Spey;

canoe with the Moray Firth dolphins or kayak/canoe on Loch Ness.

what to do in Aviemore

Water based options might not be as appealing as you think, but water is surprisingly warm in the winter.

6. Take a tour to Loch Ness.

what to do from Aviemore

a tour to Loch Ness is a popular option for our guests at Fraoch Lodge

7. Head up to Findhorn

and check out the Findhorn Foundation or visit the Kimberley Inn for lunch and walk along the white sands of the beach.

8. Visit the ice rink in Inverness

and try out ice skating.

9. Take a swim at Inverness Aquadome.

unfortunately the Aviemore pool at the Macdonald’s resort is not currently available to the public for swimming.

10. Visit Speyside

and tour a distillery plus visit the Cooperage

what to do in Aviemore - whisky tasting

Always a wet or cold day option – a distillery visit or whisky tasting.

 

11. Take a detour to Knockando Wool Mill

or Johnston’s wool mill in Elgin if Knockando is closed. Tours are every hour until 3 or 4pm and are free of charge.

where you can experience the whole wool story from shorn fleece to completed material.

what to do in Aviemore

Get crafty if you’d like some time and space to knit, ask Rebecca for recommendations

12. Visit the reindeer centre at Glenmore.

reindeer in the Cairngorms

If you like to see reindeer, you should come to Aviemore, particularly in the winter which is their natural habitat.

 

13. Visit the Highland Wildlife Park

and/or the Highland Folk Museum

what to do in Aviemore

Traditional village which is part of the Newtonmore Highland Folk Museum

 

Useful links:

New website for the Cairngorms National park highlighting selected experiences within the park – cairngormsnationalpark.co.uk

Longing to escape? Winter in a city getting to you? How about escaping into the wilds of theHighlands?

Every year there are reports of people getting lost in the snow and ice of winter. Mountain rescue callouts are predominantly about navigation errors. To make winter a safer place, it is a good idea to book a guide to lead or alternatively join a group heading out into the hills. Some groups are organised by companies on commercial trips, others are groups of friends or clubs. Nonetheless there is safety in numbers.

Every year there are winter wilderness expeditions running under the guidance of Andy Bateman of Scot Mountain Holidays in the Cairngorms and Glen Affric. There’s also usually a trip to Knoydart, home to Britain’s most remote pub; however there is a major reforestation project going on there this year which makes it less attractive to visit and all the accommodation will be taken by the forestry workers.

Life will be reduced to basics during the expedition and the only concerns will be: eat – sleep – hike (repeat). The perfect way to clear the mind and return feeling completely refreshed after only a few short days.

  • winter walking Cairngorms
    Walking in winter has it's own rewards in the endless mountain views in crystal clear visibility.

Winter Expeditions 

1. Southern Cairngorms Winter Odyssey

This is a rare opportunity to experience one of the remotest parts of the Cairngorms National Park at a time when the mountains are probably at their most glorious. The High Cairngorms are renowned for their wintry conditions yet at this time very few folk dare to do multi-day trips

winter in the Cairngorms

Celia enjoying her second (or third) winter expedition with Scot Mountain Holiadays

Highlights: winter skills, Monadh Mhor (Munro), Devil’s Point (Munro) Carn a’ Mhaim (Munro), Derry Cairngorm (Munro), Beinn a’ Chaorainn (Munro)

 

Price: £ on application

Email: SCO@scotmountainholidays.com for full information about this trip.

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

2. Winter Cairngorms 4000ers

This is Scotland’s ultimate winter mountain journey. The high “plateau” route takes in Britain’s 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th highest peaks on a journey that circumnavigates Scotland’s finest and best known mountain pass, the Lairig Ghru.

winter in Scotland

Check out the potential avalanche sites on the head wall. You can see how the corrie came to be made

Highlights: winter skills, Cairngorm (6th Highest Munro), Ben Macdui (2nd Highest Munro), Braeriach (3rd Highest Munro), Cairn Toul (4th Highest Munro), Sgor an Lochain Uaine (Munro)

Price: £ on application

Email: CWO@scotmountainholidays.com for full information about this trip

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

3. Glen Affric Winter Shangri-La

Imagine the soft orange light of a winters dawn gleaming down from the snowy celestial heights. Surrounded by snowy peaks and cradling a mug of tea in the crisp air, indeed a stunning winter’s day beckons.

Highlights: winter skills, Mullach Fraoch – choire (Munro), Mam Sodhail (Munro), Carn Eighe (Munro), An Socach (Munro), Carn a’Choire Ghairbh (Munro)

winter expedition Scotland

Spotting deer in Glen Affric while on winter expedition in Scotland

Price: £ on application

Email: Shangri-La@scotmountainholidays.com for full information about this trip

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

Or for something slightly different

 

4. Snow Hole Expedition

“Porridge with whisky at 9am whilst warm & dry in my sleeping bag has never tasted better!” Ric Taylor,Bristol.”

Have you ever dreamt of taking a short walk amongst a moonlit snowy wonderland. Amazingly no need for a torch! Imagine reflected flickering candle light giving way to the soft light of a winters dawn as you emerge from you snowy abode. Not a soul about! We’ll have a vast pristine winter wonderland all to ourselves. It’s a remarkable experience.

Highlights: winter skills on Cairngorm, overnight expedition to sleep in a snow cave, creation of said snow cave

snowholing expedition

how to build a snowhole in Scotland

All digging and cooking equipment supplied by your hosts, Scot Mountain Holidays.

Check full details on the website 

 

5. Winter Knoydart Expedition

Highlights:

Accommodation: Barrisdale Stable (if available) or heated Tentipi

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

6. Winter Loch Nevis Expedition

Highlights:

Accommodation: Barrisdale Stable (if available) or heated Tentipi

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

Why book with Scot Mountain Holidays?

  1. The routes have all been checked carefully. In addition, routes are very familiar to the guide who will know how to adapt according to the weather conditions. He or she will also know where and how to avoid the cornices (overhanging snow features)
  2. Accommodation is organised therefore no tents flapping in the wind keeping everyone awake.
  3. Toilet and wash facilities will be available without having to “go native” and dig a hole.
  4. Cooking will be done by the guide.
  5. Food will all be prepared from fresh, local produce to a wide range of recipes including carrot and cardamom soup. Obviously no commercial packets for us.
  6. All group equipment will be provided.

by Tezhara Mae Reynolds

These thoughts on how to appreciate nature which surrounds her were recorded by Tammy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. They should still resonate with many and may even have more relevance now we’ve all been forced to step back from seemingly busy lives and “stay at home to save lives”.

After travelling down south for Christmas last year, I came to the staggering realisation about how much living in the Highlands has changed my life. I say to myself: “Never compare” but it’s something you can’t help. If when you go away, you instantly start missing home, you know you’re living in the right place.

For me, there is magic in the Highlands. Most of you may find this dubious, but in an area where mobile reception can be a luxury and saying hello to people that pass you is almost a necessity, it’s easier to focus on what’s going on around you. You become more aware of how much worldy things don’t really matter so much. Your thoughts can slowly, and peacefully get themselves into some sort of order.

As I said, magic.

best walks in Scotland

On the way to Britains’s second highest peak, Ben Macdui. Perfect photo opportunity.

Turn off and tune in

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that if we let go of our devices, we can discover more than enough time to be creative. Being in the Cairngorms has helped me realise that though I come to be reliant on these gadgets, that I can also find the time to let them go and look up. There is also joy to be had in writing with a pen; painting, knitting, cooking … loads of more productive skills that many of us rediscovered during lockdown. Lockdown has also reinforced the value of nature, and the outdoors. Many more of us have taken the time to explore by bike or on foot under travel restrictions – long may that last.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying the fact that technology is the way forward and that ignoring it would only hinder myself. I love the creations we humans have made over the years and how truly incredible they are, but we should also come to open our eyes to what’s already been made around us. We’re so closed in four walls of either an office or our own homes that we forget how we’re actually able to live in the most primal sense of the word.

We breathe air that trees make, we eat food that comes from the soil of the ground, we drink the water that flows from our streams and into our taps. We have a beautiful world and we shouldn’t ignore its beauty.

family walks for all ages.

Perfect spot to rest up after a wee walk. Popular in the middle of the day.

How to appreciate nature

I am so lucky to live in a place where I am constantly reminded of nature’s beauty.  Yes, the weather can be a bit drab, but it is one of the main reasons that I feel changed and challenged by the area.

There are some negatives to exploring the great outdoors. I don’t know when the last time was that you felt truly uncomfortable. Do you remember the wind biting at you with every gust? Was the rain drenching you down to the bone and the pain in your feet is threatening your very happiness? Though it may seem miserable in the moment, strangely enough this is not what you remember and talk about at the end of the day. It is through the discomforts of walking up these hills (where those experiences can easily happen) that I come to realise that we are not made of glass. We are not as fragile as we seem and that we are more than capable of conquering pain and discomfort, and we can use that to fuel what we can do next.

It is when we do something out of our comfort zone, (and believe me, it is well and truly out of my comfort zone,) that we tend to only remember what we’ve learnt and the good times we shared with those who we did the adventure with or to those who ask about it. We tell them how hard it was and how far you’ve had to walk, but there you are, standing next to them. You survived all that hardship and you’re telling your tale… and they admire you for it.

How to be comfortable with yourself

I have found that my confidence grew through the admiration of others. Then being comfortable in my own skin became easier and easier. I pushed myself to know where my limits are. Now I am not jealous or envious of those who do more or do less. I have come to see that there is no such thing as competition when it comes to living and challenging yourself. The only enemy you have is  your own mind.

But then again, this may not be for everyone long term, and I get that, but there is no denying that everyone needs this kind of time for themselves as well.

I’ve come to stop putting people, especially myself, in boxes with labels on them. We’re just people, going about our own lives. We put ourselves in labels in order to truly tell ourselves that we belong somewhere and that we’re not alone. If we were all the same, this world would not be what it is today. Yes, it’s pretty messy sometimes but in the grander scheme of things, we only truly want one thing. The freedom to express ourselves in our own unique ways.

Conclusion

The Cairngorms has taught me all of this. You see, nature doesn’t choose who it teaches. She (nature) will let anyone and everyone know of her wisdom if you only give her the respect she requires. It is scary, but also magnificent. It’s intimidating but also majestic. It’s as if the hills I’ve come to see almost every day whispered to me to just let the reins go on my mind. I might just be crazy, but aren’t we all?

 

If you’d like to start exploring either your local area of the Cairngorms National Park, take a look at our advice on gear

You might also like to look at our advice on gear specific to exploring hillwalking in Scotland.

We are so lucky here – wild camping in Scotland is a perfectly legal activity. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code allows us remarkable freedom, but as a result of coronavirus there seems to have been a resurgence in irresponsible access to the outdoors. Lockdown has inspired many to head out into the countryside and enjoy nature; exercise outdoors etc – especially as the gyms have been and remain shut in Scotland for now. Many have turned to so-called wild camping – much of which is a result of people touring in their own motor, caravan and motorhome. Not what we call wild camping. For us, if you’re wild camping you’re unlikely to see any other people at all and you won’t have the luxury of motorised transport.

 

What is wild camping? – our personal definition

We’re seeing an increasing number of reports in the local and national press these days about rubbish & fires. All these reports relate to what the press call “wild campers”. Social media is full of images of heaps of rubbish collected by local residents from walks in local beauty spots. It seems that there is an increasing problem with camping equipment being left behind and human waste not being properly disposed of. Of course, this is more of a problem at the moment as public toilets have been slower to open up in this age of coronavirus pandemic.

All this though is not due to “wild camping” in its truest sense. By rights wild camping and roadside camping should not be confused.

To wild camp you must:

wild camping in Scotland

Wild Camping v roadside camping

“At Mountaineering Scotland, we continue to promote responsible access and behaviour to our members and the mountaineering community through our communications and campaigns. We believe that the problem is the behaviour, not the activity of camping, and that the creation of additional legislation will not be the solution. The existing legislation already deals with irresponsible and criminal behaviour; what is needed is more investment in low cost facilities, improved public information and councils, communities and police working together to find local management solutions.”

There are no doubt many people who camp close to the road and leave no trace. Unfortunately as per normal, it’s the minority who could spoil it for the rest of us. It is especially important in the time of a hugely infectious pandemic, to make sure that you do not leave any waste behind you. By this I am not referring only to plastic, cardboard etc, but also to any bodily waste. If you’re going to go and camp outside a camp site where public toilet facilities are not available, you need to either take your poo away with you to dispose of properly or bury it in a safe site. If you do not know the protocol, make sure you find out before you leave.

Our personal choice

When you work for yourself, from home and your home is your business, it is difficult to get quality time away from work. Our choice is usually to head out for an overnight wild camp – maximum enjoyment for minimum time away. It often feels as if we’ve been away for a week after we come back from an overnight in the hills. The only problem is that we don’t go often enough!

We think it’s such a great way to relax and get away from the stresses of daily life, that we’ve incorporated a luxury version in our programme which you could enjoy too.

wild camping in Scotland

Wild camping with Scot Mountain Holidays

We’ve taken the wild camping concept one step further and made it more of  a glamping experience. However, we’re still conforming with all the principles of “wild camping” above. No motorised transport; more than 30 minutes walk from a road; self-reliant and independent. Check it out.

wild camping in Scotland

 

Respect a few simple rules or run the risk of losing the right to camp responsibly: check out this article

For a more in depth article covering wild camping across Scotland check out Alex Tiffany’s article on JustgoExploring

Resources:

Camping – a beginner’s guide by Fiona Outdoors

Wild Camping: Scotland’s top 10 spots

Guide to Wild Camping in Scotland (WatchMeSee)

Visit Scotland guide to Wild Camping

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

MC of S – concerns about Wild Camping

Lockdown encouraged surge of interest in nature

Scottish Weather – planning your visit.

Scottish weather has it’s own reputation. Everyone who comes to visit seems to be prepared to be cold and wet. Many are pleasantly surprised when they come to stay with us. Scotland has a great many ambassadors who spread the world all over the world but there’s no getting away from the fact that it is a green and beautiful land and that green comes at a price sometimes. However, it is possible to minimise the effect a poor weather day could have on your vacation.

A quick comparison between a relief map of Scotland and the annual rainfall map shows a very close correlation.  The higher you go the higher the annual rainfall. The altitude of the land can change considerably in a single mile and so can the amount of rainfall both on an annual and daily basis depending on the prevailing wind direction.

The point is, the Scottish Highlands are packed with micro climates and by jumping in the car and placing big mountains between you and the prevailing wind direction, you can massively improve the weather you’ll experience for your day.  It can be the difference between frequent heavy down pours and sunshine with the odd very light shower. If active frontal systems are sweeping across the country, well you’re probably going to experience some kind of precipitation at some point wherever you are but if they’ve all passed through and it’s just an air-stream scenario then some judicious planning can pay handsome dividends.

scottish weather - rainfall map

An example of managing the weather

I remember turning up at a house in Glenfeshie one April. I was to guide the group of ladies up from the London area. The forecast for the N. Cairngorms was not good: 70 mph NE winds, blizzards above 800m and torrential rain. I arrived to the gutters overflowing but having studied the weather closely I suggested we jump into the cars for an hour and drive around to Pitlochry on the leeward side of the range to do Ben Vrackie.  The suggestion wasn’t greeted with any enthusiasm and possibly a certain amount of doubt but the thought of an hour in a dry bus was better than an extra hour walking in the heavy rain.

As soon as we passed over Drumochter Pass the weather started to improve (as is often the case) and by the time we got around to Pitlochry we were in sunshine to the comment of “Andy, haven’t you done well”.  We had clear views from the summit, albeit in a strong bitter wind. On passing back over the pass we drove back into the bad weather. ‘Had it been wet and horrible all day’ I asked Rebecca, my partner. “Yes’ was the answer.

scottish weather map

 

4 tips to get the most out of your visit to the Highlands:

 

Closely follow the weather forecasts

The prevailing weather/wind direction makes a big difference. If there’s bad weather on the way make sure you’re on the sheltered lee side of big mountain ranges. One of the most common comments made by visitors is how changeable the weather is.Don’t judge the days’ weather by what’s happening at breakfast.

 

Remain flexible

So when it comes to planning your tour, if you can remain flexible and not book things too far in advance it can often make a big difference. Avoiding the high season from the middle ofJuly until the end of August can be a big help in this regard. April & May can produce some of the best weather.

 

Base yourself in the North East

The vast majority of Scotland’s bad weather comes in from the south and west. You will notice the east side of the country is considerably drier than the west. In fact the west coast ofScotlandcan receive up to 3 times the annual rainfall of the east. So by basing yourself, for example, in Strathspey or in the North East side of the Cairngorms National Park you can often greatly increase your chances of experiencing better weather. Also, with easy access to the main road routes to Ullapool in the North West Highlands and Fort William in the West Highlands are only 1hr 40mins and 1hr 30mins away respectively from Aviemore it’s easy to make a foray into these areas.

 

Book an Adventure Guide

This is you buying into in-depth local knowledge of suitable locations with regards to the weather conditions. Adventure activities also provide you with the opportunity to immerse yourself in the beautiful landscapes and amazing wildlife of the Scottish Highlands.

Adventure Tour Operators in Scotland

Scot Mountain Holidays

Wilderness Scotland

Highlands and Islands Adventures (mountain biking specialists)

WOW Scotland

 

Walking holiday providers in Scotland

Scot Mountain Holidays

CnDoScotland

About Argyll

Walkabout Scotland

 

mountain biking in autumnHow to avoid cold hands and feet on your bike

We did our first big ride of the autumn as a family last weekend – 28 miles on the mountain bikes. Unfortunately this also coincided with the first really cold day of the autumn. As we were riding with our 9 year old, there were occasions when we just couldn’t go as fast as we would have done on our own. I particularly suffered from cold hands and feet and the others weren’t best prepared. We decided it was time to get advice from our friends in the bike business.

We asked Backcountry Bikes, Mikes Bikes, Go Where and our own local ladies mountain biking club, PetalPower for their help:

Backcountry.scot

“Mmmm. It’s a tricky thing and many people have a bunch of ideas around it. It’s useful to look at why it happens. 1. your touching/gripping great big lumps of metal, that’s effectively a heat sink 2. as you move through the air the air whips away heat add moisture to that (sweat or rain) it happens 20 times quicker. 3. what the state of the rest of your body temperature? if you core’s chilling your body will react and protect the core by drawing blood away from your extremities.

Things you can do…

1. insulate from the heat sinks, silicone grips on the bars silicone covers on brake levers, bigger shoes (windproof is ideal if not block mesh up with gaffer tape/or loosely wrapping your forefoot in tin foil) with nice wool socks and plenty of space to wiggle in…

2. pogies on the bars ( check out what pogies are on my site or look at hotpog on the internet) manage moisture, by not working to hard that you sweat or having a number of liner gloves to change as they start to get wet.

3. your hands and feet are relatively static while riding, so stop get off the bike and do something to get blood moving, have a pre ride routine to encourage the whole body warm up, think about fueling the body so it has plenty to go around, ‘warm head warm hands'”

Andy from Backcountry.scot – Backcountry.scot specialise in bikepacking and packrafting. They run trips and sell the essential gear you’d need to head off on your own.

mountain biking in Scotland

Enjoy the wild parts of the UK out on your bike

Go Where

“We swear by Sealskinz waterproof socks (along with a thin pair of Point 6 merino socks when it’s v.cold) and their gloves are ace too: https://www.sealskinz.com/m/by-activity/mountain-biking” Go Where Scotland

The Sealskinz socks are also highly recommended by Cycling weekly We’ll definitely be looking to invest in a pair.

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Go Where Scotland – Guided, self-guided and bespoke mountain bike tours – we’re proud to be the ‘Scotland only’ mountain bike travel specialist since 2008. That means we know exactly what makes for a great mountain biking holiday in Scotland.

Bike at sunrise cold hands and feet

Biking across the Boat of Garten river at sunrise.

Petal Power – our local ladies only mountain biking club

If you belong to a cycling club, don’t be shy about asking for advice. Any enthusiast, no matter the activity, is always keen to offer advice. All you need to do is to filter down to the advice which suits you for your problem and your budget. Cold hands and feet are a common problem here in the Highlands when you reach a certain time of year. If you don’t want to pack the bike up for nearly half the year, invest in a wee bit more gear.

” I use a size bigger shoes for winter so there’s room for thick socks. And goretex boot liners if wet. Also neoprene overshoes help.”

For those of you not fussy about branding “Check Aldi, they had neoprene gloves, waterproof socks and merino socks.”

“I have waterproof socks with merino lining – not sure of the make- I’d have got them from Mikes Bikes I think? And I wear Seal Skinz winter gloves and add a cheap silk liner pair from Mountain Warehouse if v cold. I agree with Dot – looser shoes to get more layers under.”

“Always have cold feet even with thick socks and over shoes but once warmed up have cold hands but will wear ski gloves if I have to. Just never care what you look like just get out and ride!!”

mountain biking in the Cairngorms

Petal Power members out riding coast to coast in Scotland to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer

Also … a word or two from the Telegraph who interviewed Gary “Flash” Blesson

Very timely – obviously I’m not the only one thinking about this as an issue. I’m pleased to see that The Telegraph is also getting on the bandwagon with their recent article about the Best Cycling Gear for Winter

If it’s gear you’re after you might want to check out these:

30 Seven Rechargeable heated gloves

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