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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 Our list of cafes is now seriously outdated and we’ve been forced to revise it completely as when re-reading the list in October 2021, we noticed that at least half of the recommended cafes have now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/

Why come to Scotland in winter?

10 reasons in pictures

Have you ever wondered what all the fuss is about? Scotland. Why? Especially in winter must be far too cold and far too dangerous. Take a look – yes, it’s proper winter but isn’t that preferable to wet rain, umbrellas and grey days with little to differentiate between summer and winter, except for the lack of leaves on the trees.

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Photo Credit: Paul Tomkins/VisitScotland

1. A Snow Hole Expedition:

Digging out a snow hole site in the Cairngorms under the guidance of Andy Bateman of Scot Mountain Holidays. It’s not quite Sweden’s ice hotel as you have to create the living space yourself, but they’ll have a relatively comfortable night out of the wind, cocooned in their sleeping bags enjoying being cooked for and served a three course meal by their guide.

 

Build a snowhole in Scotland

Build your own snow hole in the Cairngorms

 

kintail in winter

2. Winter mountaineering and ridge walking:

Hiking along the ridges of Argyll, Kintail or Glencoe – space to yourself away from all the crowds and views which stretch for miles under clear skies. We often visit the west coast of Scotland in March to bag some winter Munros: we’ve run trips in Argyll, Glencoe and Kintail. For this year’s offering check the calendar or the Munro bagging page. Some of our clients have left from these trips with the most spectacular images – but those are for another blog.

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Photo credit: Dave Downing

3. Cross country skiing:

The beauty of Glenmore in the winter. Snow laden trees and cross-country skiing opportunities. Short days are not always a disadvantage as they allow for the most spectacular photographic opportunities, as seen above.

 

winter skills in the Cairngorms

4. A winter skills course:

Safety skills for walking in the winter hills, demonstrated here by Andy Bateman – ice axe arrest. Legitimate playing in the snow, but as part of a learning process on how to avoid a sliding fall.

 

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5. Winter photography:

Scotland on a cold, clear, crisp day in winter. What’s not to like, especially if you like to take stunning pictures.

 

Winter in the Cairngorms

6. Reindeer:

The Cairngorm Reindeer herd in their natural environment. When out walking in the Park, you can come face to face with the reindeer who roam the hills in winter.

Ptarmigan

7. Ptarmigan:

The Scottish Munros, particularly the Cairngorms, are the only area of the UK where you can spot Ptarmigan. Ptarmigan change their plummage twice a year – they have a summer coat, a breeding plummage and a winter coloration to blend in with the snow. You can almost step on the Ptarmigan sometimes as they like to conserve their energy by walking rather than flying if they can and they nest on the ground – there being no trees at the elevation where they are found.

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8. Burns Night:

a chance to savour some of Scotland’s most famous and unique produce. Haggis is a traditional meal to celebrate Scotland’s greatest bard, whose influence can be found everywhere from the Birks of Aberfeldy (where there is a thinking/writing seat dedicated to Rabbie Burns) to the Winking Owl in Aviemore, where the great bard is said to have taken breakfast. You might not even be aware of his influence on your own life from: “And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne” – which you’ll have sung if you’ve ever brought the New Year in; to “O’ my luve’s like a red, red rose, that’s newly sprung in June” and a special Scottish grace for a meal: “Soem hae meat and canna eat And some would eat that want it. But we hae meat and we can eat, sae let the Lord be thankit.”

Burns Night is 25th January and is celebrated throughout Scotland with a haggis meal and the address to the haggis – written by Rabbie Burns.

 

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9. Colours of winter:

Scotland is famous for the colours of heather in the summer but the winter can be colourful too. This is the time of year that you’ll get to appreciate the sunset. The snow also reflects the light of the moon & stars if the sky is clear, so a night out in winter can be glorious.

 

10. Snow is fun:

snow will entertain the kids for hours and cost nothing, but make sure you’re well stocked with socks, gloves and hot chocolate!

 

Useful links:

Have fun in the snow: 

Snow related activities for kids:

Free mountain weather service:

Met Office forecast for the hills:

Scottish Avalanche Information service:

 

 

It’s no secret that exercise is extraordinarily beneficial to achieving a happy, healthy lifestyle. Extensive research states that exercise not only improves physical health but also works wonders on mental health, and guided hiking health benefits are no different.

Couple pose for photo during climb

Celebrating mid climb during a guided walking tour.

Guided Hiking Health Benefits

Physical Health

Hiking uses some of the body’s biggest muscles resulting in an all-body workout. The legs, doing the grunt work will result in a workout of the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Hiking also strengthens the back and the abdominal improving overall stamina and endurance.

But it goes deeper then improving physical changes. The physical effort required in uphill walking strengthens the performance of the heart and lungs whilst lowering blood pressure. Studies have also shown that hiking and mountain walking reduces the risk of chronic illnesses, asthma and type 2 diabetes.

Mental Health

Mental health is extremely important and hiking is an amazing tool in benefiting this positively. The physical changes from mountain walking are a great incentive to continue exercising. They also work wonders with improving self-esteem and self-awareness. Due to the heightened mental concentration hiking requires it strengthens mental agility, helps sharpen brain activity and is an amazing stress reliever. And hiking can be challenging. But successfully completing such a strenuous activity gives you a great sense of achievement and a positive headspace.

Further benefits of guided hiking

Group hiking is just another point to put on the pro list. Guided hiking with Scot Mountain Holidays gives you have a leader to follow, eliminating the stress of figuring out where you are and allowing you to fully concentrate on the task at hand. The group aspect also builds social bonds and completing challenges together will develop strong friendships and trust.

hiking in Assynt

Hikers descending from a long day’s hike in the Assynt area (Scotland)

The truly great thing about hiking is that not only do you get the fantastic physical, mental and social benefits, but everything is enhanced due to the exposure of the elements. Along with burning calories you will profit from vitamin D, fresh air and more.

For more information on guided walking visit Scot Mountain Holidays and Courses.

hiking health benefits

walking holiday

The benefits of walking far outweigh many other forms of exercising, including going to the gym.

Useful links:

Top 50 Long Distance Hiking Trails In The USA

Authorized Boots

19 Physical and Mental benefits of spending time outdoors

Winter walking holidays and courses in the Highlands of Scotland

January 2018 has been a very busy month which Andy is currently rounding off with (another) snowhole trip into the gale-bound Cairngorms with a team from the BBC Travel Show. Nerves were displayed by the newbies presenting the programme. I think they were daunted by the Triathlon enthusiasts who’d been drafted in to help dig.

New Year Winter Walking

We welcomed in 2018 in the company of our select winter walkers. The group all brought in the New Year with a great deal of good-humoured and crowded dancing in the street in Grantown on Spey. Dancing was followed by a magnificent firework display. Great fun for everyone which topped off some fabulous snowy walks.

New Year Winter walking

Striding out across the snow before bringing in the New Year in the Highlands of Scotland

Andy was even able to get out the tentipi and show off it’s capabilities over a cosy whisky in the evening. His market research (which might be skewed by the whisky and warmth inside the tentipi) shows some demand for his pony wilderness glamping proposals.

wilderness glamping

Checking out the luxury tentipi wilderness glamping beds – deemed superior and mattress-like

5 Day Winter Skills

5 younger enthusiasts joined us on January 1st for the first winter skills and navigation course of 2018. We think the photos tell most of the story. Great fun and quantities of cake kept everyone happy throughout.

Winter skills in the Cairngorms

Winter Skills group hamming it up for the camera

Winter skills course

Striding out into the Cairngorms to practice ice axe and crampon skills – January 2018

Winter skills in the Cairngorms

Practising cramponing techniques in the Cairngorms, Scotland. There’s nothing more fun than legitimate play in the snow.

Winter skills in the Cairngorms National park

Putting their crampon techniques into play on the slopes of the Cairngorm mountains

winter in the Cairngorms

January snow cover in the Cairngorms (2018)

winter walking skills

Tumbling down the mountain, alternatively known as ice axe arrest on a 5 day winter skills course with Scot Mountain Holidays

winter skills course

Successfully stopping a sliding fall on an ice axe arrest – 5 Day Winter Skills course

winter in the Cairngorms

Head first ice axe arrest – what fun!

mountain navigation course

What’s going on here? This is part of the navigation instruction on the 5 day winter skills course

winter in the mountains

Work or pleasure? Heading up into the mountains.

 

Classic Winter Cairngorms

Back for some more trailbreaking through the snow-decked Cairngorms. Our blog advice on how to keep your hands warm and how to keep your phone going in the cold were of great help this week.

Cairngorms winter walking January 2018

Atop Bynack Mor deep in the heart of the Cairngorms National park. Not everyone goes on to see these magnificent “barns”. Quite a feat of climbing to get to the top, especially after the walk in!

Guided winter walking (Cairngorms)

The view you’d be rewarded with for the challenge of pitting yourself against potentially the worst conditions nature can throw at you. When you come out on top, you can feel the adrenaline.

Winter walking January 2018

Walking through the snow – January 2018. Winter walking is a completely different experience and a different challenge. If you haven’t tried it, maybe this is your time.

Guided winter walking in the Cairngorms

Cairngorms (January 2018) Spectacular views are the reward for challenging yourself to a winter extravaganza.

Winter in Scotland

A winter wonderland here in the Cairngorms

walking in the Cairngorms

Getting a workout through the snow in the glorious outdoors. Plenty of fresh air and stunning views.

guided winter walking

Glorious winter walking on the Classic Winter Cairngorms week with Scot Mountain Holidays this January (2018)

guided winter walking in Scotland

Lucky or what? The views of the Classic Winter Cairngorms week were stunning at times as this shot shows.

Winter walking holiday and courses in the Highlands of Scotland

A view for miles – the snow brings this landscape alive.

Snowhole Expedition

Lorna chose to encourage her friends and family to join her on a Snow Hole Expedition with Andy to celebrate her 50th birthday. We felt honoured. Lorna herself must have enjoyed the experience because she’s back right now helping the BBC to dig in tonight. Let’s hope they get to see the blue moon despite the snow showers.

Snow Hole Expedition

Heading out into the Cairngorms fully prepared for a night out on a Snow Hole Expedition with Andy Bateman

Winter in Scotland

Snow mascara! Who would have guessed?

Winter in the Cairngorms

Lorna is enjoying the break through moment. Now they can see that their overnight residence is a real possibility

Winter in Scotland

Dinner in the snow hole – carrot soup and vegetarian bolognese

 

If you’d like to join us for a winter walking extravaganza or to learn new winter skills, there’s still plenty of time. Winter in the Highlands lasts well into March and sometimes even April.

Plenty of choice of walking holiday or skills course

When to visit the Highlands? Is autumn a good time?

visit the Highlands

Autumn light and hills in Assynt

Scotland – “the most beautiful country in the world” as voted by Rough Guide – it’s now on a lot of bucket lists, not that it wasn’t before. In autumn, the whole of Scotland can be particularly beautiful. The trees start to turn the most amazing shades of red, brown, orange and yellow which contrast beautifully with the deep green of the pines. Unfortunately, in general, there are just not as many people around wanting to tour or visit the Highlands. A lot of businesses up here start to close up shop and think about maintenance or their own holiday. So if late autumn is your time to visit to Scotland, you might have to consider some compromises.

Here are some of our top tips:

Public Transport when you visit the Highlands

Timetables start to change after the end of September and you’ll find that some bus services might cease altogether. Ferries are also a lot less frequent.

Top tip:

If you want to hit all the places on your bucket list, particularly if you want, to head out to the islands it would be a bonus to hire a car. If you have to rely on public transport you could end up using a lot of your valuable vacation time waiting around for the next bus or ferry.

autumn munros

Because this is why it’s worth it

Hiring a car when you visit the Highlands

The hire car companies certainly don’t suffer from timetable changes in the autumn. In fact, it will probably be easier to get hold of the car you want as there will be less of a demand. You won’t need to plan so far in advance if you want to hire a car.

Points to remember:

Top tips:

Remember your driving licence and check that it is acceptable to the hire company. We have had guests who have had to amend their entire planned itinerary when the hire company didn’t accept the international driving licence they’d arranged.

Alternatives to car hire

If you’re not confident about hiring a car it might be worth your while investigating a tailor-made tour with a small company like Scot Mountain Holidays, it will be more expensive than a DIY tour but you’ll get to hit all the spots on your bucket list and may even have time for some surprises. Travelling with local guides also means that you’ll be able to visit places you haven’t heard about which may give you more of an insight and end up being the highlight of your trip.

You could also try booking with one of the minibus tour operators like the Wee Red Bus or Rabbies – but even they tend to travel less frequently in the autumn and you may not be able to get over to places like Skye unless you time your trip very carefully.

Visitor Attractions

You’ll need to pick and choose your attractions carefully as a lot of places start to close in October including the Highland Folk Museum. But on the plus side, you’ll probably pick up some bargain entries as well. Dalwhinnie distillery, for example, are now offering free tours all “winter”.

Hiking/Walking

Autumn hiking Highlands

Autumn Sunset in the Cairngorms

The hills are never closed. There are good weather periods throughout the autumn though September is renowned for being the best month for sunshine. It is still possible to strike sunny days in October and November. The only thing to be aware of (which most people come prepared for) is that blue skies in autumn also mean cold days. Finally a chance to wear the woolly jumpers (sweaters) which have been gathering dust at the bottom of your wardrobe.

Clear, cold air also brings excellent photo opportunities

Don’t forget: headtorch

Cycling and mountain biking

Acitive activities and events in the Cairngorms

Mountain Biking in the Cairngorms. Thanks to @greggbleakney for sharing this image with us. Taken during the ATWS in Scotland at Laggan Wolftrax.

The natural tracks are never closed but be aware that some trail centres might close up. This year (2017) Glenlivet mountain bike trails have had to close for the winter due to a fungus in their lodge pole pines. A huge area of the centre will have to be clear felled to protect the remaining trees from the fungus. Autumn is in general an amazing time to go biking in Scotland and particularly in the Highlands. You can just cover that bit more ground when cycling and with the shorter days, it makes sense to go out on the bike and make the most of the day which you might still be able to finish in daylight.

Main disadvantage would be that the temperatures can get quite uncomfortable for biking, especially at the beginning and end of the day but all you need to do to combat this is to dress up warmer than usual, particularly on your hands and feet. (Check next week’s blog for top tips on how to keep warm on your bike with input from our local biking companies.) The views and colours will be a reward in themselves – and you can justify the hot chocolate(s) and cake(s). The cafe stops will help to keep you warm!

Essential gear:

Lights, gloves, warm footwear.

Extra comforts:

Sitmat and thermos flask

More adventures: canoeing, zip wire ….

It might seem mad to go and deliberately get yourself wet at this time of year, but as with all outdoor activities in autumn the light and colours nature provides are a reward in themselves. The water temperatures are also some of their warmest too after a whole summer of above freezing weather. (Cairngorm swimmers are still swimming in Loch Morlich – but perhaps they are hardier than most of us.)

It is of course much easier to book a slot to kayak or go on the zip wire and you can afford to be a bit more spontaneous rather than be tied to a slot no matter the weather.

Conclusion:

It will generally be much quieter everywhere you go, than the height of the summer season, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. You will probably find most people, including the staff at any attractions you visit, more prepared to spend time chatting to you.

The days will be shorter, but you’ll really appreciate a log fire at the end of the day.

Traditional Scottish cuisine comes into its own at this time of year as this is the weather hearty food was designed for. You won’t really get to enjoy the wonderful Scottish soft fruits unless you’re here a wee bit earlier, but wild mushrooms, venison and wild cowberries will be in season.

A hiking tour in Scotland: To hike or to tour – that is the question?

distillery whisky

Typical pagoda structures which seem so incongruous on a distillery

When you have a very limited amount of holiday time, it’s very difficult to make choices for your time in Scotland without spending a lot of time in a car/bus/train as you’ll no doubt want to do everything the guide book recommends. Every different district in Scotland is busy promoting itself as “THE must-see destination”. No doubt you’ll want to spend some time in Edinburgh. A lot of people put Skye very high up the list. If you’re American, St. Andrew’s will no doubt be up there near the top of the list too and if you’re a first time visitor Loch Ness will probably be somewhere near the top too. How on earth are you going to fit it all in to your schedule?

minibus tours of Scotland

Classic highlights of Scotland will inevitably include a visit to Edinburgh Castle

Option 1: Minibus tours

Your first option of course is to consider one of the many minibus tours of Scotland, which will promise to take you to all the top sites and also deliver “off-the-beaten” track extras. They’ll reserve accommodation for you and suggest places to eat, but watch out. The quoted price is usually just for the bus tour and doesn’t include accommodation, meals or entry fees into the various places of interest. When you’re budgeting for one of these tours, make sure you take into account the extra expenses you will have to incur.

Many of these tours, particularly Rabbies, will also promise you some opportunities to get out of the bus and walk a wee bit. Most of these walks are very short (around 2 hours) and are generally in very scenic but popular places like Loch an Eilean (in the Cairngorms) or the Fairy Pools (on Skye).

Option 2: Self-drive tours

Do you truly want to be part of a crowd? Another option is to hire a car and research an efficient route around the places you want to see. Try not to double back on yourself. See if you can find a suitable circular route. Visit Scotland have developed quite a few suggested itineraries on their site which are free to download and usually follow various themes so you should be able to find one which fits in with your interests.

We can offer self-drive itineraries. Please bear in mind that we are always going to recommend that you spend some time with us here in the Cairngorms National Park. We believe it is by far and away the best area to base yourself when exploring the Highlands.

Self-drive tours are a great way to go as you can be completely independent. You are able to get to all those out of the way places which are inaccessible on public transport. The disadvantage is that they can be very time-consuming to plan and if you don’t know the country you could make mistakes which cost you time-wise. Don’t forget to allow a relatively significant budget for fuel on top of the hire and activities you’ve planned.

loch an eilein

Classic short walk in the Cairngorms visits Loch an Eilean.

 

Option 3: Join a hiking adventure or design an Off-the-Beaten Track tailor made adventure 

Off the beaten track:

A tailor-made itinerary with Scot Mountain Holidays doesn’t have to be too expensive. Don’t forget if you’re making comparisons that we provide a complete service. You won’t have to allow extra in your budget for additional meals or accommodation or activities. We’ll look after everything for you. Usually our prices include everything except alcohol from when we pick you up to when we drop you off. We can make adaptations to suit you and your party but our trips aim to provide you with a unique experience of Scotland not a package off the shelf.

Sometimes we do take our guests to the more popular tourist sights, like Loch Ness. If we didn’t include places like this, we wouldn’t get any enquiries. Usually however, these visits are not the most memorable parts of the visit. Sometimes guests are marginally disappointed by their day out with the rest of the tourists. One couple we worked with spent a week with us: they went hiking with Andy; they went out on mountain bikes exploring the forest and picking mushrooms; they went on the Zip wire in Aviemore and they went to Loch Ness (as on their itinerary). Their visit to Loch Ness was nowhere near as high on their list of memories as their day out with Andy in whisky country where they didn’t see another tourist all day.

 

Why choose a guide to hike in Scotland?

Nature’s bounty: handpicked chanterelles mushrooms

 

Guided and self-guided hiking adventures

Our hiking adventures are also aimed at providing all our guests with unique experiences so we avoid the hotspots other companies list as “off-the-beaten track” or as the French say “hors de sentiers battus” as in our opinion Glen Coe and the Old Man of Storr on Skye are not off the beaten track at all. We’d take you to places you’ve probably not heard of as below.

Hiking will be the focus of the trip and not visiting the popular tourist sights. You’ll certainly go home with a unique experience which will have involved all your senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. Memories created involving all your senses last longer and create more stories to share with your friends. No queues and no crowds!

hiking in Assynt

Hikers descending from a long day’s hike in the Assynt area (Scotland)

 

walking holiday

Looking out over the vast expanse of the Cairngorms National Park (Highlands of Scotland)

Conclusion

There are lots of ways to explore Scotland from minibus or coach tours to hiking adventures. The method you choose will depend on your own personal priorities and who’s to say that you can’t come back and try another kind of experience the next time. We’ve certainly had some guests whose first experience of Scotland was a minibus tour round the highlights, but they’ve chosen to return and explore in greater depth with us as the bus tour merely whetted their appetite to see more.

Further Reading

Walking holidays in Scotland

Walking route options and choices

Planning a hiking holiday in Scotland (but not the West Highland Way)

Where to walk in the Highlands

When to come to Scotland

 

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

Walking is one of the best forms of exercise being gentle, easy and free. It’s something everyone can do, and extremely beneficial to your wellbeing. So, it’s no wonder masses of people are beginning to introduce walking to their daily lives. But to keep the habit up it’s important to ensure you’re not letting your walking become a chore. So to avoid this, try these easy steps to turn a walk into an adventure.

Mountains and Malts - whisky themed hiking

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

Turn a walk into an adventure

Walking has been proven to assist you in maintaining a healthy weight, prevent or manage various conditions including heart disease and high blood pressure and additionally, it strengthens your bones and muscles. Not only this, but it’s extremely positive to your mental wellbeing. And, it’s a great excuse to take some time for yourself.

Take the road less travelled by

Firstly, it’s time to get off the beaten path. Head away from the pavement and hit the trails. The Cairngorm National Park is full of gorgeous forest, river and mountain walking so you’re rich for choice.

Switch off

Once you’re away from the roads, and traffic of the world, take some time away from technology. Leave your phone at home, turn the music off and appreciate the beauty of nature. This will not only be a refreshing break and an opportunity for you to restart. But, you will find yourself so much more connected to nature, and you’re much more likely to spot wildlife and fauna. This will add a level of appreciation, and excitement to your walks.

Walk the Lairig Ghru

Self-guided Lairig Ghru logistics

Follow your instinct

This goes hand in hand with switching off. If you have some sense of direction, try to avoid planning out your route prior to your walk. Follow your instinct, keep things fresh and go somewhere new each day. Making a split second decision at each fork you come to, will add a sense of exhilaration to your walking adventures.

These three easy to do steps will be just the thing to turn your walking into memorable adventures.

 

 

 

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