I think it started when I found myself standing on a heathery hillside, blisteringly cold wind whipping my hair, trying to keep one of my two children in check so they weren’t inadvertently trampled, hand-feeding a wild reindeer who looked as though they’d like nothing more than to give me a swift one-two with their antlers. I think it started then…that feeling that maybe this trip was going to be a little bit more than I’d been expecting it to be.
From the stunning view of the misty mountains as we drove down the windy A9 to the first morning we woke to find frost glistening on the fields outside our lodge. The flush of success when we climbed a particularly steep section of hill and looked out across the vast autumnal landscape and the satisfaction of hunting for the Loch Ness monster. The local cafe which stayed open 20 minutes past closing time just so we could enjoy a hot chocolate out of the cold to the kindly gentleman who stood on the shores of Loch Lomond with me talking about the beauty of the scenery…we definitely had a trip to remember.
We took the opportunity during Meg and Eli’s half term to head up to the Cairngorms National Park in North-East Scotland. It took us (without counting the numerous stops we made to empty tiny bladders) around six and a half hours to drive from our home up to the lodge where we were staying.
The Cairngorms National Park is twice the size of the Lake District and home to an array of mountains, rivers, lochs, villages and wildlife. Neither James nor the kids had ever been to Scotland before and I have to say that this was probably the best way to experience the country for the first time. We stayed in the town of Aviemore which is well known for being a tourist spot, although we landed out of season so found that it was pretty quiet.
When I say ‘short break’ we were there from Saturday to Wednesday and we really tried to hit the ground running. We broke up travelling on both the Saturday and the Wednesday with a long stopover at two different spots: the Drumpellier Country Park and Loch Lomond and this really helped with any travelling fatigue.
The weather was brisk; some days it was mild by midday but others it was just bitterly cold and as you might have expected, the higher we climbed, the more vicious the wind and the lower the temperature dropped.
I’ve mentioned before that we are a family who love to be outdoors so for us, this was the perfect break. We would get up and have a semi-leisurely morning before heading out for the day. Autumn was the best time of year to visit too as everywhere we looked there was just a riot of golden colour. It took my breath away more than once to look out across at the landscape and see the trees in all their orange, yellow, red and gold glory.
We paid for two main experiences whilst we were there; the hand-feeding of the herd of wild reindeer and to get into Urquhart Castle which offered some stunning views of Loch Ness.
Going Nessie hunting had been Eli’s only request for the trip and although he is convinced the monster lives on beneath the water, we can report that we spotted no hint of the legend!
For the most part we went out and explored the local area, climbing hills and walking around local lakes such as Loch Morlich. James tried out a local brewery tour and I took the kids book shopping and hot chocolate drinking in Aviemore. We did the ‘tourist’ thing with a day spent at Loch Ness and watched the sun set over glistening waters and we ate out and cooked in our lodge when it suited. I can confirm that the local food was as good as the local brew (or so James assures me…) and a trip to The Winking Owl is a must if you happen to be staying near to Aviemore.
We had wanted to ride on the Funicular whilst we were in the area, as this is recommended as one of the top ways to see the views across the National Park but unfortunately it was closed for yearly maintenance on our main sightseeing days so we didn’t get the opportunity to do this.
I have to admit however, that despite everything we got up to the real highlight for me was that first day when we trekked up into the hills and got up close with a herd of wild reindeer. It isn’t something I had ever imagined doing but it 100% felt like a true bucket list moment and I am so pleased we did it.
If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Highlands then I would definitely recommend it. Just be prepared for things to close early in the winter season and for it to be cold. I am not a person who can handle even the slightest chill in the air without running for a scarf and the central heating button but it was so worth being cold for the scenery we got to experience. The views of the area are amazing. The Cairngorms are the highest, coldest and snowiest place in Britain and although we only got to see a dusting of snow I can certainly attest to the remaining two claims.
You might think you’ve seen beauty but I can honestly say that the Highlands stole a part of my heart and we will certainly be returning.