The Cairngorms National Park was one of the places I found myself longing for during lockdown. We usually spend quite a bit of time in the park, so not setting foot in it for months was hard. When travel restrictions were lifted in Scotland at the beginning of July, we started planning a couple of day trips to celebrate our newfound freedom with some walks in the Cairngorms National Park.
Day 1 – walks in the Cairngorms National Park
The first day of our Cairngorms adventure was a family affair, with my Mum and the boy’s goofball nephew joining us.
We left Edinburgh, a car full of excited humans and dugs, eager to ramble.
Two hours later, we arrived at Uath Lochan Forest for the first of our walks in the Cairngorms National Park.
Farleitter Crag (2 1/2 miles)
There are two circular trails in the forest – the Farleitter Crag Trail and the Uath Lochan Trail.
We started with the Farleitter Crag Trail, which led us up a wooded path. Tall Scots pines surrounded us. The trees were covered in lichen, which I knew would delight my mum. A few years ago she learned that lichen means good air. If I had £1 for every time she’s shared that nugget with me since, I’d have a sizeable hoard of coins.
And three, two, one – GO. “Look at all that lichen”, she said, delighted. “It means the air’s really good”. Boom, another virtual £1 banked.
Besides lichen, the grasses and wildflowers along the trail were covered in cuckoo spit. I’ve never seen so much of it before. If you don’t know what cuckoo spit is – it looks like human spit. It’s nothing to do with uncouth birds though. Cuckoo spit is created by tiny sap-sucking insects called froghoppers.
I ended up droning on about the cuckoo spit as much as my mum did, the lichen. What a pair.
Mr G and the boys marched on ahead. Three keen hikers, not the slightest bit interested in the flora and fauna surrounding them.
Our ramble round the trail culminated in an incredible view from the top of Farleitter Crag. Below us we could see the Uath Lochans, framed by a backdrop of rugged mountains.
By walking the trail in an anti-clockwise direction, we’d saved the best till last.
It felt good to be out and about exploring Scotland freely again.
Uath Lochans Trail (1 1/2 miles)
To work up an appetite for lunch, we decided to walk the Uath Lochan Trail too. Uath is pronounced wah. The name means hawthorn small lochs.
There are thirteen species of dragonfly and damselfly living in the Cairngorms National Park. If we were lucky, we’d spot a rare northern emerald dragonfly on the Uath Lochans Trail.
No sooner had we started the walk, than I’d spotted my first wee beastie of the day. Not a rare green dragonfly, but a teeny frog crossing the path. I’m as blind as a bat until it comes to wildlife, then I have an uncanny knack of spotting everything that moves.
We left the frog to go about its business and carried on along the trail. Me with my nose to the ground, making sure no frogs were trampled as we rambled.
It was a pretty trail, that took in peat bog, lochans and forest. We spotted more teeny frogs and a common blue damselfly, but there was no sign of the elusive emerald dragonfly.
Wildflowers on the other hand, were everywhere. There was heather just starting to bloom, bog cotton dancing on the breeze and water lilies, which made the lochans look like a scene from a Monet painting.
The four legged boys were in their element. Lots of interesting sniffs had made for two thoroughly enjoyable walks in the Cairngorms National Park so far.
By the time we finished the trail hanger was kicking in for Mr G. We needed to track down food and fast.
Luckily, there was a great wee lunch venue a stone’s throw away.
Lunch – Old Post Office Cafe, Kincraig
The Old Post Office Cafe in Kincraig was open for takeaway. We studied the Italian influenced menu and everything sounded delicious.
Eventually, we settled on a sandwich, cold drink, coffee and cake each. We found a picnic table outside the cafe free, so nabbed it for a spot of al fresco dining.
Lunch was even better than expected and our expectations were high after reading the menu. My Mum and I had a filled bagel with pastrami, Swiss cheese, pickle and mustard. While Mr G had focaccia with aubergine and hummus.
We thought the sandwiches were fab, but the cakes were on another level. Mr G and I had ordered a cinnamon donut each and my Mum a slice of chocolate and orange cake.
I’d expected a single round donut. What I got was a box full of pieces of cinnamon dusted heaven with chocolate dipping sauce and cream.
I suggested to Mr G we share a box and keep the other for later – he vetoed my suggestion.
I didn’t have to ask my Mum twice. I’d seen her eyeing my box of goodies. Her chocolate and orange cake was squirrelled away to be enjoyed with an evening cuppa at home. Between us we polished off my box of donuts, while Mr G wolfed his in record time.
Feeling satisfied but sluggish after a fab lunch, it was time to do another couple of walks in the Cairngorms National Park.
Our next one was a 5 minute drive away.
Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail (1 mile)
The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail at Feshiebridge, is located in a lush, green woodland next to the River Feshie.
Frank Bruce (1931 – 2009) was a self-taught sculptor from Aberdeenshire, although he spent most of his adult life living in Aviemore.
Bruce didn’t sell his work, because he believed art should be free for all to enjoy.
The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail opened in 2007, after Bruce arranged for his sculptures to be moved from his hometown of Banff to Feshiebridge.
The trail is a must see if you visit the national park, as it won’t be around forever. Bruce wanted his sculptures to mirror life. You’re born – you live – you die. And that’s exactly what the mostly wooded sculptures are doing – crumbling back into the earth they sprung from as saplings. The circle of life almost complete.
Bruce’s sculptures were inspired by folk history, literature, art and Scotland’s place in the world.
They’re thought provoking, poignant and hauntingly beautiful. The staggering scale and intricate, lifelike detail on them is amazing, if not a wee bit unnerving. Especially now some of the toppled ones, look like they’ve dropped dead and are lying where they fell.
I loved them all, but my favourite was ‘The Walker’ – a giant man striding through the forest with a walking stick in hand.
He had a braw big pair of legs for climbing mountains. I’d come to wish they were mine before the weekend was over.
The boys weren’t fussed by the artwork, but found lots of good sniffs along the trail.
Saying goodbye to the tree people, we left Feshiebridge and drove to Glenmore Forest Park in search of faerie folk on our final walk of the day.
Lochan Uaine, Glenmore Forest Park
Lochan Uaine (the Green Lochan) is a lovely spot, reached via a pleasant walk through gorgeous Cairngorms scenery.
Parking at Allt Mor, we followed a path which skirted the side of a burn.
The boys seized the opportunity to cool their feet and lap up some fresh Highland water.
The Lodge Trail (2 1/2 miles)
After walking for a while we reached a wooden post with a purple band on it. Leaving the side of the burn, we joined the waymarked Lodge Trail. It led us into woodland.
Passing Glenmore Lodge (an outdoor activities centre), we noticed several moss covered gravestones in an overgrown clearing. Intrigued, we took a closer look. They dated to the early 20th century and marked the graves of dogs. I’ve since discovered they were pets belonging to a wealthy shipping family from Glasgow, who often visited the area on shooting trips.
We continued along the Lodge Trail, stopping to watch a red squirrel leaping overhead, then a perfect domed anthill, teeming with ants.
It’s safe to say they made us feel a wee bit itchy.
The Ryvoan Trail (3 1/2 miles)
When we reached a wooden marker with a blue band on it, we left the Lodge Trail and joined the Ryvoan Trail to reach the Green Lochan.
After a day spent walking, the path felt longer than we remembered it. Thankfully, we were only doing a short, flat section of the trail. It was worth the effort, as the Green Lochan never fails to impress.
The strange green water makes it look otherworldly, so it’s no surprise local folklore claims the water takes its colour from fairies washing their clothes in it.
On one side of the lochan a steep, scree covered hill slides into the water. It’s called An Sidhean (the fairies’ hill). In Scotland, where there are fairies, you’ll always find a fairy hill.
We didn’t meet any fairy folk, but the boys made a new friend and enjoyed an energetic game involving lots of leaping.
It’d been a fun day, but it was time to head home to Edinburgh.
Not before stopping in Aviemore for fish and chips though – a well-deserved reward after clocking up 25,000 steps.
Day 2 – walks in the Cairngorms National Park
By 8:00am the next morning, Mr G, the boy and I were en route back to the Cairngorms National Park for another walk. This time to bag a Munro – our 10th and the boy’s 6th. A Munro is a mountain over 3,000ft. There are 282 of them in Scotland and climbing them is known as Munro bagging. We’re by no manner of means Munro baggers, but from time to time we get the urge to scale one.
The Munro we’d set our sights on was Cairn Gorm. It’s Scotland’s 6th highest mountain and the namesake of the famous Cairngorms mountain range, where five of the six highest mountains in Scotland are located.
Parking at the Cairngorm Mountain snowsports centre, we headed towards the path we planned to follow up the mountain. The snowsports centre has a shop, cafe, nature trail, ski and snowboard slopes and a funicular railway (currently out of service) which takes sightseers up Cairn Gorm to Scotland’s highest restaurant for a view (weather permitting) and a bite to eat.
The long and winding road
We set off up a gravel track, keeping left of the funicular track. It was steep, but not ridiculously. So far, so good.
We zigzagged our way up the track until we came to a set of rocky steps people were descending.
Thigh busting stone steps
I’d read about the rocky steps and had planned to avoid them at all costs. So, why I left the track to climb them is anyone’s guess. They were torturous and many required giant, unnatural strides to climb. Frank Bruce’s ‘The Walker’ would have breezed his way up them. Not me – I wheezed.
Stopping often, I pretended I was admiring the view of Loch Morlich below, instead of waiting for the fire in my lungs to subside. The boy was cruising uphill with ease and Mr G kept telling me he was finding it easy and wasn’t the least bit out of breath. I think my response was something along the lines of “I’m *%#^€$ delighted for you”.
My mood temporarily lifted when we reached the bealach (low point between summits) and I realised we were at the top of a corrie we’d hiked to back in December. There was still some snow in it too, so it was living up to its name – Coire an t-Sneachda, or corrie of the snow.
Thankfully, Mr G seemed quite taken by the bealach and didn’t march straight on for the final pull up to the summit. He wandered off to take photos and I enjoyed a nice flat potter around.
More choice language and the summit cairn
Bealach appreciation over, it was time to punch on to the summit. There was a steep rocky incline to tackle to reach it. I cursed like a sailor all the way up it.
But eventually … there it was. The summit cairn – woo hoo.
Euphoria kicked in immediately and I forgot the misery of my ascent. Munro number ten (six) had been bagged.
The view from the summit was spectacular. We were surrounded by mountains as far as the eye could see. Even the summit of Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest mountain) was visible 56 miles away.
We sat at the summit cairn for a while, enjoying the view and savouring the feeling of being on top of the world.
We decided to descend Cairn Gorm by a different route, avoiding the rocky steps and making our way back onto the gravel track. Oh, how I wish we hadn’t. Hiking down a steep track covered in dry gravel is like trying to run on ball bearings – hazardous. With each hair raising slip, I cursed Cairn Gorm.
Eventually, we reached another path. It was the nature trail. We joined it, leaving the path from hell behind. The remainder of our hike was accompanied by the soothing lull of a mountain stream. Wildflowers covered the mountainside and there wasn’t a piece of gravel to be seen – bliss.
And there ended a fab weekend of walks in the Cairngorms National Park.
You can read about our other Munro bagging escapades here.
Until next time …