Sarah Cassells explores the Cairngorm region in the Highlands

PUBLISHED: 16:21 09 April 2010 | UPDATED: 16:51 20 February 2013

Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky

Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky

Wild and beautiful, the Cairngorm region is the ideal place for a Highland fling, says Sarah Cassells.

Living the high life

Wild and beautiful, the Cairngorm region is the ideal place for a Highland fling, says Sarah Cassells.


The magnificent Cairngorm Mountain dominates the heart of this ancient landscape. Travel towards its summit on the UKs highest funicular railway for skiing, walking or to simply appreciate the bracing mountain air and atmospheric scenery from the visitors centre, 1,097m above sea level.
Closer to the ground, experience the natural beauty of the Cairngorm National Park at Insh Marshes Nature Reserve in Kinguissie, where the new information viewpoint hide opens this month, offering breathtaking views of the marshland and its birdlife, roe deer and fox inhabitants. In fine weather, follow the nature trails and look out for lapwings, redshanks and curlews.
Just nine miles away, get close to some of Scotlands most famous and endangered species at the Highland Wildlife Park. Wildcats, red squirrels and otters are among the indigenous members of the park but there are also exotic species like lynx, red pandas and newest house guest, Mercedes the polar bear.
Also in the Kinguissie area is the impressive Ruthven Barracks, erected in 1719, whose dramatic history is intertwined with the Jacobite rebellion and Battle of Culloden. Today you can explore the ruins, enjoy superb views over the River Spey and listen out for the ghost of a notorious 14th century lord who is said to haunt the grounds.

Cairngorm Mountain, Aviemore, 01479 861261;
Insh Marshes, Kinguissie, 01540 661518;
Highland Wildlife Park, Kinguissie, 01540 651270;


For a quintessential Highland break, book in at the three-star Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore. The hotel offers traditional-style, comfortable rooms (from 55 per night), many of which give views across the Spey Valley to the Cairngorm Mountains or great rock of Craigellachie, and a restaurant packed with local produce from neighbouring Moray, Grampian and Angus.
Alternatively, become fully immersed in the regions surroundings at the Lochanhully Woodland Club with a stay in a Scandinavian-style pine chalet. Set in 35 acres of peaceful silver birchwood between the Cairngorm Mountains and Moray Firth river, the cosy lodges (424.97 per week in Feb and March 2010) are well-furnished and conveniently placed for sightseeing.

Or how about hiring your very own castle? From 850 per week, you can rent the luxurious Muckrach Castle in Dulnain Bridge. Standing on the top of a steep bank in the valley of the River Dulnain, the 16th century castle boasts four storeys, a garret, circular stairway and views across Spey Valley and the Cairngorm Mountains.

The Cairngorm Hotel, Aviemore, 01479 810233;
Lochanhully Woodland Club, Carrbridge, 08456 011734;
Muckrach Castle, Perth, 01738 477504;


Considered the capital of the Highlands, Inverness is a vibrant, up-and-coming city with a culinary culture thats boomed in recent years. Among its top eateries is Chez Roux Restaurant at the five-star Rocpool Reserve Hotel, where head chef Albert Roux serves an a la carte menu of Scottish ingredients with a French twist.

Great food at reasonable prices can also be found at The Mustard Seed, which overlooks the River Ness and uses the most select Highland produce to create an innovative menu of Scottish and European cuisine.

For something more rural, try Muckrach Lodge Hotel and Restaurant near Grantown-on-Spey, where Highland cows can be seen roaming the grounds. The menu is quite expensive, but rich in local ingredients, like crabs from Dry Island, seaweed-fed mutton from north Ronaldsey and Moray cheese. Or hop on the funicular train to Ptarmigan Restaurant on Cairngorm Mountain, with its panoramic views, hearty meals and famous hot chocolate.

Chez Roux Restaurant, Inverness, 01463 240089;
The Mustard Seed, Inverness, 01463 220220;


Its compact layout makes Inverness ideal for shopping, whether youre looking for specialist gifts on the Victorian Market or high street retailers in Eastgate Shopping Centre.
But a terribly sophisticated shopping experience can be found by taking the A9 out of Inverness to House of Bruar, near Blair Atholl. Regarded as one of Scotlands most prestigious independent stores, youll find everything from knitwear and country clothing to hampers and speciality deli goodies.
Also worth a visit is Revack Estate gift shop in Grantown-on-Spey, which sells high-quality gifts, and Rothiemurchus Farm Shop, which sells fresh and smoked trout straight from the Cairngorms sparkling waters alongside deli treats and non-edible presents.

House of Bruar, Perthshire, 0845 136 0111;
Rothiemurchus Farm Shop, 01479 812345;

Day trips

Saddle up and discover ancient woodlands and miles of unspoilt countryside on a morning pony hack, then join an Alvie Estate tour and learn about the farm and history of the Kinguissie area.
Pack a hamper and head to the Rothiemurchus Estate, where you will find The Best Picnic Spot in Scotland, according to a survey by bakers Warburtons, Loch an Eilein (pictured below). Built in the 13th century, the photogenic ruined castle offers the perfect backdrop for an afternoon of tranquil walking.
While for something even more relaxing, hop aboard one of Strathspey Railways nostalgic steam locomotives for a round trip from the beautifully-restored station at Aviemore through Boat of Garten to Broomhill, taking in the spectacular scenery over a Clansman or Highlander lunch.

Alvie Stables, Kinguissie, 07831 495397; ding
Rothiemerchus Estate, 01479 811085;
Strathspey Railway, Aviemore, 01479 810725;

Dont miss

Sledding! Experience the awesome thrill and power of a top class sled dog team through the Cairngorm Sleddog Centre. Meet the 30 highly-trained canines on the kennel and museum tour, join a sled dog trip with an experienced musher through the nearby forests, or be part of a real sled dog adventure by joining a 12-dog team safari through the Cairngorm National Park.

The Cairngorm Sleddog Centre, Aviemore, 07767 270526;

Drinking! You cant visit Scotland without sampling a wee dram. Head to Glenfarclas Distillery, which has been producing the renowned Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky a traditional Speyside drink with a heavy sherry influence for six generations, or Dalwhinnie Distillery for its full-bodied, smooth malt whisky and regular tours.

Glenfarclas Distillery, Ballindalloch, 01807 500257;
Dalwhinnie Distillery, Dalwhinnie, 01540 672219;

Take the high road or the low road
Norwich International Airport offers scheduled flights to Aberdeen daily all year round with BMI and Eastern Airways, (01603 428700; Its then a drive of approximately 100 miles to the heart of the Cairngorms.
Alternatively, Luton Airport offers scheduled flights to Inverness daily all year round with Easyjet (0871 282 0886;
To travel by rail, expect to change at Peterborough for the 8.5 hour East Midlands and East Coast service from Norwich to Aviemore (08457 484950;

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