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Events in the Cairngorms Explaining Scotland Suggested things to do

Clans and clan ties are a strong pull for a lot of our visitors from the US, Canada and Australia. Many of these visitors are coming to the Highlands to trace their ancestral roots. The local clans here are “Grant” and “Macpherson”. You’ll still find a high number of families with these surnames in the area.

Clans and Highland Games

The clan system in Scotland has a fascinating history and has been associated with many famous stories like the Outlander series and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. From ancient origins in the Celtic, Norse or Norman-French traditions, by the 13th century, the clans had grown firm roots in the Highlands of Scotland.

While the term ‘clan’ means family or children in Gaelic, not all the member of the same clan were related. The clans lived off the land, with cattle being their main source of wealth. Over time the clan system has been romanticised. Along with border disputes, the prime cause of inter-clan unrest was cattle “reiving”. Cattle were frequently raided if the opportunity presented itself. The most important clan chiefs at this time were part-time kings, protectorates and judges. They held real power over their controlled lands.

The system remained largely intact until the time of the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. The royal troops of King George II ruthlessly crushed the rebellion. However, the conflict should not be romanticised. The facts behind the scenes are much more murky than you might think.

How and why the clan system changed

By this point, improved trade and communication links between northern and southern clans were already leading to the dilution of the clan system and the infamous Highland Clearances effectively signalled the end as thousands of Scottish land workers sought the promise of a better life on distant shores.

Today, many clans can be traced back to a specific part of Scotland, for example the MacLeods of Skye, the MacNeils of Barra or the MacNabs of St Fillan on Loch Earn. Do you have ancestry in the Highlands? Most clans have a particular tartan associated with them instead of a coat of arms. At the Kilt exhibition in Inverness you can see a huge array of different tartan patterns which have evolved over the years.

Ultimately clans and troops liked to compete.  A show of power and strength.  In heavy contests, including the hammer throw and weight for height, see competitors putting their muscles to the test, while field events such as the hill race and cycling competition test speed and stamina.   Over the centuries, the Heavy Events evolved from military exercises into festivals for the Scottish public.  With the addition of dancing, music, food and drink, the Highland Games were born

highland Games

Abernethy Highland Games

 

Origins of some of the Highland Games competitions

Do you know where the idea of caber tossing orginated? It was part of the logging industry. The lumberjacks would fell the trees and then have to float them down the river to the sawmill. The toss was the most effective way of landing the tree in the river.

Did you know that Baron Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, was so impressed by a Highland display he saw at the 1889 Paris Exhibition that he introduced the hammer throw, shot put and the tug o’ war to his competition? The former two are still included in the Olympics programme to this day however I think it’s time to start a campaign #bringtheolympictugowarback.

 

clans of Scotland

Usually the final event at the Games but always great entertainment

That’s what I think Scotland is most famous for… what do you think?

Best time to see a Highland Games

There are calendars online where you can see lists of dates for all the Highland Games and Gatherings throughout the year. Each one tends to take place on a set date. For example, our closest games (the Abernethy Highland Games), always take place on the 2nd Saturday in August. But if you’re not in the area then, you could always go to Tomintoul, Newtonmore, Braemar or Grantown Games.

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.

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