Our most recent Scottish road trip took us to Carrbridge in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. We were there to stay at one of Caledonian Escapes luxury, hot-tub lodges. Carrbridge is best known for its quaint, historic bridge. Old Packhorse Bridge was built in 1717, and almost (but not quite) destroyed when the River Dulnain flooded in 1829, in an event that came to be known as the muckle spate (big flood).
Carrbridge is home to the popular Landmark Forest Adventure Park. Each year the village hosts the World Porridge Making Championships and the Scottish Open Chainsaw Carving Championships too. So you could say, it’s a small village with a big personality.
This blog features the highlights of our 48 hour stay in Carrbridge, as we explored in and around the village.
Day one – things to see and do in the Cairngorms National Park
We arrived in the Cairngorms National Park late morning. It was a beautiful blue sky day, so we decided to kick off our Highland adventure with a hill walk.
Walk – Creag Bheag, Kingussie
It was summer and the heather was in full bloom when we last climbed Creag Bheag (479 metres) from Kingussie. Creag Bheag means small crag in Gaelic but don’t let the name fool you. What the hill lacks in stature, it makes up for in big, sweeping views.
With the exception of a couple of short stops to take in the view on our way uphill, we powered up Creag Bheag and reached the summit cairn in no time. It was a lovely clear day, and we could see the snow topped summits of the mountains in the Cairngorms National Park surrounding us.
My day was made when a trio of snowy white birds shot out of the heather nearby, before flying off. They were ptarmigan and it was my first ever sighting of the mountain dwelling birds. I was delighted.
With a great, wee hill bagged and a good step count banked, our attention now turned to lunch. It was time to ramble back downhill to Kingussie in search of food.
Lunch – Aroma Cafe, Kingussie
We found just the food we were looking for at Aroma Cafe on Kingussie High Street. The family-run cafe is dog friendly and serves popular lunchtime favourites, which makes it a hit with locals and visitors alike. We tucked into tattie and leek soup, freshly-baked scones and hot filled paninis, washed down with Irn-Bru – all delicious.
After lunch, we made our way towards Carrbridge – home for the next two nights.
Walk – Ellan Wood, Carrbridge
Carrbridge is surrounded by native pine forest, with miles of woodland trails hidden in them. We discovered Ellan Wood, directly opposite Caledonian escapes, Smithy Croft. There were several short trails there, so we decided to check one out, before settling down to unwind at our plush Highland pad.
After studying an information board at the entrance to the wood, we chose the 3/4 mile, Ellan Wood Walk. It would be an opportunity to check out some of the wood carvings Carrbridge is famous for as home of the Scottish Open Chainsaw Carving Championships.
Ellan Wood was filled with the beautiful sound of birdsong and flooded with the most gorgeous, ethereal light. As we wandered round the trail, we found intricate wood carvings hidden amongst the trees. There were ants, wolves, a lifelike looking owl and some modern art sculptures too. The place was an absolute gem.
And on that happy note, we left Ellan Wood to check into our accommodation.
Caledonian Escapes, Smithy Croft, Carrbridge
Caledonian Escapes specialise in luxury, self-catering accommodation. The majority of their properties are located in Speyside (whisky country), in the Cairngorms National Park.
Our home for two nights would be Smithy Croft, Carrbridge. The holiday home is a large detached lodge in spacious grounds, on the bank of the River Dulnain. The property is a stone’s throw away from the village centre and the iconic Packhorse Bridge.
We arrived to find a blanket of snow in the garden, which delighted the snow loving Wee White Dug no end. As fun as it would have been to play in the snow, we were dying to see inside Smithy Croft, so we didn’t linger outside long.
Heaps of space inside
We entered Smithy Croft through a boot room – handy for hanging up leads, jackets and pulling off muddy hiking boots.
There was a utility room next to the boot room and a bathroom too.
Much of the downstairs space in the property was taken up by a huge, open-plan living area with high ceilings and large windows. The lounge had a feature fireplace, and insanely comfy, stylish leather sofas. There was a dining table that could seat ten guests and a breakfast bar with additional seating.
What struck me most about Smithy Croft, was how light it was inside. The sun was streaming in through the windows when we arrived and it cast a warm, cosy glow over the lodge.
The kitchen was spacious and well-equipped, with lots of storage space. Sadly, no welcome pack containing handy items like tea, coffee, sugar, milk and bread was provided. Welcome packs are fairly standard in self-catering accommodation (especially luxury accommodation) and it’s the simple things, that can make the difference between a nice break and world class one. And despite being dog friendly, there was no doggy pack either. It’s pretty commonplace these days in hotels and self-catering accommodation for dog beds, bowls, towels, treats and poo bags to be provided. Like humans, doggy guests also really appreciate thoughtful little extras.
Bedroom wise, there were two family rooms downstairs, both with a double bed and cool, built-in bunks.
Upstairs, were a further two bedrooms, one en suite (which we chose), and the other with a bathroom next door to it.
There was a smaller upstairs lounge too. It boasted a river view and a fab cubby full of cushions. It was the ultimate den, for children of all ages, including kidults like me.
And heaps of space outside too
Outside, the enclosed back garden overlooked the river. It had more seating than you could shake a stick at, plus a barbecue, pizza oven and hot tub. There was a pirate-themed play area for younger guests, complete with a pirate ship.
Smithy Croft was the ultimate, luxury pad. It had everything you could possibly need for a wonderful break – and more.
Finding snow on the ground, I took the opportunity to make snow angels. The boy sensing fun afoot, piled on top of me for a game of rough and tumble. Mr G, had no time for such nonsense – he was too busy sailing the high seas in search of pirate treasure.
After frolicking in the snow we headed back inside and Mr G popped the kettle on, while I lit the fire.
Now it was time to get down to some serious relaxation.
A lovely, relaxing night at Smithy Croft, Carrbridge
Wanting to make full use of the excellent facilities at Smithy Croft, I made pizza dough, then we rolled it out thinly, added our toppings of choice (chicken for Mr G and salami and jalapeño for me) before taking our creations outside to pop them into the wood-fired pizza oven. Mr G almost shook the cheese off his, trying to get it into the oven, but managed to salvage enough to stop it becoming a cheese free pizza.
Dinner was fun to cook and tasty too.
After dinner, we headed outside again to slip into the hot tub with a nice, snow chilled bottle of fizz.
Ahhhh – this was a lifestyle I could get used to.
Back indoors and with PJs on, I relit the fire and we spent the rest of the night, cooried beside it. The boy shunned my fabulous fire, preferring to snuggle on a rug, beneath a radiator instead (it remained his favourite spot for our entire stay at Smithy Croft).
Day two – things to see and do in the Cairngorms National Park
Our first night at Smithy Croft was quiet and comfortable, so we woke feeling fresh and were raring to get outside to explore more of the Cairngorms National Park.
Not before breakfast though. When in Carrbridge, porridge is an absolute must for breakfast. I’m a dab hand at making porridge. Even if I do say so myself. The only kitchen implement I found lacking in Smithy Croft’s well-equipped kitchen, was a spurtle. You may be wondering what a spurtle is, so let me enlighten you. A spurtle is a wooden stick for stirring porridge. The porridge should obviously be stirred clockwise to keep out the devil. Spurtles have been used in Scots kitchens since at least the 15th century. The winner of Carrbridge’s annual World Porridge Making Championships is presented with a golden spurtle. So there you have it. An introduction to spurtles.
After demolishing our wooden spoon stirred (clockwise) porridge, we wrapped up warm and headed out in search of a snowy trail to explore on our morning walk.
Our hunt for snow led us to Glenmore Forest near Aviemore – a short drive away from Carrbridge.
Walk – Lochan Uaine/Green Lochan, Glenmore
We arrived in a magical winter wonderland – yippee. Leaving the car at Allt Mor car park near Glenmore Visitor Centre, we set off on our morning ramble to visit Lochan Uaine (Green Lochan). It’s somewhere we’ve visited many times over the years, but never after a snowfall. Wow – it looked like an enchanted forest. Our snow loving boy was beside himself with excitement. He stopped to roll in the white stuff frequently. It was a joy to see him so happy.
We made slow progress on the walk, due to making frequent photo stops. It didn’t matter though, as we were outside, enjoying the great outdoors and all was good with the world.
It took us almost an hour to reach the Green Lochan. We arrived to find it frozen – another first. It looked beautiful. The icy lochan still had the distinctive green hue it’s famous for. According to local legend, fairies wash their clothes in Lochan Uaine and dye from their little outfits runs into the water, turning it green.
We spent thirty minutes at the popular beauty spot, before our thoughts turned to lunch. With a snowy trek between us and a warming bowl of soup – it was time to retrace our snowy foot and paw prints back to the car park.
Lunch – The Barn at Rothiemurchus
We decided to visit The Barn at Rothiemurchus (a ten minute drive away) for lunch. The cafe is super dog friendly and has a doggy menu with a large selection of goodies on it, including sausages and paw star dog martini. The boy’s teetotal, so he stuck with water. Food wise though, he was spoiled for choice. After having a good sniff at all of the options available he chose chicken sausages and a grainy looking lollipop.
We humans were equally enthralled by the choice of food on offer at The Barn. After much humming and hawing, we both chose broccoli and cheddar cheese soup. Mr G had a filled roll with his and I opted for a cheese scone. I also had a cheeky wee slice of billionaires shortbread to go with my coffee.
The Barn was cosy and welcoming after our snowy morning walk. The food was excellent too, so we were pleased with our choice of lunch venue.
Walk – Big Pines Trail, Abernethy Forest, Loch Garten
After lunch, we drove to Loch Garten to explore a shorter snowy trail in Abernethy Forest. The Big Pines Trail is a flat, mile long, out and back trail. It’s short but gorgeous. Some of the pines along the trail were standing during the Napoleonic Wars. It’s incredible to think of the history those silent giants must have witnessed.
The boy trotted happily along the Big Pines Trail, stopping regularly to bury his face in the snow. After a while, I decided to find out what all of the fuss was about. I planted my face into a pristine patch of snow and Mr G followed suit. Oh, how we howled with laughter to see our snowy doppelgängers’ gazing back at us.
We finished the walk with rosy cheeks and in high spirits – simple pleasures.
Drinks – The Cairn, Carrbridge
Back in Carrbridge, we popped into the Cairn Hotel bar for a drink. We were greeted with a friendly welcome and a roaring fire inside. We sat by the fire with our drinks, enjoying some down time after spending the day outdoors.
The boy snoozed happily by the fire, but sprang to life when the owner arrived at our table with biscuits and water for him. It turns out she was a Westie Mum too. She showered the boy with attention and he lapped it up.
Another relaxing night at Caledonian Escapes, Smithy Croft, Carrbridge
After leaving The Cairn, we wandered back to Smithy Croft to spend another chilled night there. Once inside, I lit the fire and we cooried beside it with coffee and macarons, toasting our toes – bliss.
Later, we had pasta for dinner, before heading outside to slip into the hot tub for another night of drinking fizzy wine under the stars.
It was the perfect way to round off a wonderful stay with Caledonian Escapes. We’d arrived in Carrbridge, looking forward to spending a couple of days in a beautiful part of Scotland. We left feeling energised, refreshed and revitalised.
Fancy a break with Caledonian Escapes too?
If you fancy experiencing a relaxing break in the Highlands too, Caledonian Escapes are offering a 10% discount for booking made until the end of April. To claim your discount visit the Caledonian Escapes website and add discount code WEEWHITEDUG10 at checkout.
We stayed at Smithy Croft as part of a paid partnership with Caledonian Escapes, however all opinions are entirely my own.
Until next time …