Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands is a big favourite with travellers, but don’t expect quaint highland architecture. Aviemore is a thoroughly modern town.
It’s geared up as a place to kit yourself out, or take a break between trips out into the Highlands themselves.
You can get here on the train from Edinburgh in about three hours and it’s a great place for outdoor sports.
Mountaineering in the Cairngorms
In the summer, the hiking, rock climbing and watersports are second to none and in the winter the mountaineering and ice climbing are spectacular.
You can also ski and snowboard here, but remember that you’ll be at the mercy of the unpredictable British weather.
If you want something more sedate, or the weather stops you heading for heights, then there are some beautiful places to walk at ground level.
Loch an Eilien
A little way outside Aviemore is one of the largest remaining ancient Caledonian Forests and the almost impossibly romantic Loch an Eilan.
Birdwatchers come here for the osprey, but most people come here for the Castle the rises out of the still waters.
No one even knows for sure who built this castle, but it’s reckoned that sometime in the 1200s, the Bishop of Moray began building defences on the island that, today, you can no longer see.
Some hundred or so years later, the notorious Wolf of Badenoch, Alexander Stewart, grandson to Robert the Bruce, added to the building.
Though much of what you see today was probably built much later, in around 1600 by Patrick Grant of Rothiemurchus.
The reason you can’t see the island anymore, is that later waterworks on the estate raised the waterlevel significantly and it now laps at the castle’s doorway.
In 1690, the defeated Jacobites returning from the Battle of Cromdale besieged the castle and in 1745, after the battle of Culloden, when the British routed the Highlander army of Bonnie Prince Charlie, many of the fugitives fleeing the slaughter hid out here.
A couple of the mountain guides suggested we try this place and they weren’t wrong! It’s a café run by a New Zealander in the Highlands of Scotland. They’ll make you pay more than you’d like, but for that you get great coffee, the most fantastic views and the kind of food that even gets hungry mountaineers describing a ham sandwich as ‘art’.
This place wasn’t gouged from the landscape by glaciers, like may of the lochs in Scotland. It’s a Kettle Hole.
A huge slab of ice was once left here by a retreating glacier and buried under the earth, as the ice slid back.
When the underground eventually melted, the earth simply collapsed in on itself, leaving this vast hole in the landscape.
And it’s a pretty good clue as to the violent process of extremes of heat and cold that it took to create this place.
About ten minutes’ walk from the centre of Aviemore is the fantastically friendly Cairngorm Brewery. They’ll take you on a tour of the place and let you taste the produce.
This isn’t like the great Guiness tour of Dublin, but the folks really make an effort and it’s a great half-day to keep in your back pocket for a day when the weather gets the better of you.