When you are studying in Edinburgh and friends come over to visit, it’s the perfect time to have a little vacation and go on mini trips. This time we chose the Cairngorms National Park as our destination and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
Before we get lost in Scottish nature, let’s indulge in a makeshift Gaelic one-on-one for some of the places we will visit:
Perhaps some of you know that 'Ben' is a mountain, 'Loch' is a lake, 'More' is a moor or a bog and 'Glen' is a sort of deep highland valley.
- Cairngorms: The literal translation reads 'blue pile of stones' although the area was historically called Am Monadh Ruadh which means 'red rounded hills'. Now, is it blue? Is it red? Well, it is a beautiful mountain range spread across a national park and I will leave the colouring up to you. (writer’s note: colouring in gaelic is actually attributive, meaning the same word can be used for different items describing different colours).
- Aviemore: An Aghaidh Mhòr, meaning most likely 'a place of thinking/reflecting'.
- Kingussie: Ceann a’ Ghiùthsaich or Head of the pine forest.
- Newtonemore: Baile Ùr an tSlèibh, the New Town of the Moor.
For those who want to dwell more on the beautiful language of gaelic and its variations, I will leave this and this here.
Where did we go?
This trip was a bit more makeshift than the previous one and this was due to a very simple reason; I was already enchanted with Scotland and knew that anywhere the route might take us we would not be disappointed. Sometimes it’s nice to not have a fixed destination, you can decide spontaneously which locations you like and spread your time accordingly.
Let's sum up the trip:
Travellers: Sofia (me), Marina and Tonia
Distance covered: 650km
Costs: car (Enterprise Car Club) = £165
Accommodation (3 nights): £70 (first night slept in car, I wouldn’t advise this unless you have to)
Total: £235 in total / £79 per person
Overall experience: Priceless!
I can't provide you with a full circular route, so instead I thought I would give you one of my highlights:
Pitlochry: In the heart of Perthshire (aka 'The Big Tree Country'), Pitlochry is an ideal stop to make before entering the Cairngorms. Before going into the town itself, we made a quick stop to admire the amazing views and reflect upon our lives (extreme I know) in Queen’s view. We were tempted to hike around the area but some other travellers we met on the road told us to go to Craigower instead. If you enjoy forest walks, this is your place. There are many easy circular walking paths to choose from. We wrapped up our visit at Pitlochry with a stop at the Dam. Its hydro-electric powers didn’t fascinate us as much as its moving fish bridges did, that let you witness the migration of salmon across this leg of its journey. Although we didn’t visit ourselves, if you have more time, it is worth exploring Blair Atholl’s small villages, the distillery and even its castle.
Day 2: Newtonmore- Kingussie- Badaguish
Our second day started with a stop in Newtonmore, self-acclaimed heart of Scotland and the centre of the Scottish highlands. Many scenes from the series Outlander were shot here and we could definitely see why. It is a beautiful location and offers a lot of things to do nearby such as the Wildcat Trail or a visit at the Highland Folk Museum. We stopped at Ralia Café for a spiced pumpkin soup before continuing on our way toward the forests of the Cairngorms.
Nest stop- Kingussie (pronounced king-yoo-see). Fun fact alert (!): the town was briefly featured in a phone call scene in Danny Boyle’s movie Slumdog Millionaire when a woman calls in from Scotland. Kinguisse is a picturesque little town in the midst of the highlands. We walked around the pebbled streets and even though closed at the time, we heard it is worth booking a visit to the Speyside Distillery for a personalized tour from Susan.
Around early afternoon we reached our destination for the night, Badaguish. Our second night was truly magical. We had decided to book the cheapest accommodation we could find close to Aviemore (£40/entire wigwam). End result? A cosy little log cabin in Badaguish amongst the snowcapped mountains of the Cairngorms. If 5 star, all-inclusive, jacuzzi-fitted rooms are your thing then this is not the place for you; electricity is supplied via a coin meter and you have to bring your own bedding. The wigwams have an adjustable bed platform allowing you to arrange the space within! Don’t worry about the cold as there is heating available. We spent a memorable day there playing games in the outdoor sports arena and watched one of the most stunning sunrises.
Day 3: Back to Edinburgh via…Kinlochleven!
We awoke rejuvenated and full of desire for more exploration. The sensible thing to do if you want to see more of the Cairngorms is to return to Edinburgh via the east route of the park, passing through Ballater and Braemar and then back to Edinburgh via the main road through Perth.
What did we do? Well, I really wanted the girls to see Kinlochleven and Fort William before going back, since it was their first visit to Scotland. If you read my previous travel blog, you would know my love for the village of Kinlochleven. The nice thing about visiting a place you’ve already been to, is that you can discover new hidden corners and appreciate it under a fresh eye, especially if you visit with new people. This time we stayed at the West Highland lodge. The great thing about travelling off-peak season is not only the lower prices; but the fact that most places we went to had 1/3 of the visitors they would normally have. Everything felt like a personalised experience and we were free to appreciate the surrounding nature undisturbed.
This time we attempted a part of the West Highland Way, one of the most famous walking trails across Scotland. Kinlochleven is the penultimate stop of this journey and although we didn’t manage to make it all the way to Fort William, we were happy to hike around this truly beautiful area. There is something quite unique about being surrounded by the forest and its sounds, I definitely recommend long walks to anyone who is feeling up to it!
We arrived back in Edinburgh filled with new experiences and images and already wanted to start planning more trips in the future and explore the more northern parts of the Highlands!
"Sometimes not planning is the best plan you can make!" - Sofia Papaioannou, International Student Ambassador (yes, I am quoting myself).