It was the Victorians in the late 19th century who were enticed by the fresh air and mountain scenery of the Cairngorms when the railway line opened between Perth and Inverness and by 1892 the Highland village of Aviemore became an important holiday destination. Hotels were built and visitors came to enjoy the traditional Scottish outdoor pursuits of hunting, shooting and fishing. This was the beginning of the town’s gradual growth into a key tourist and sporting resort.

By the 1950s skiers and mountain climbers began to converge on the Cairn Gorm when long hard winters could offer good snow conditions from before Christmas to Easter. In 1961 the first chair-lift was completed and Scotland’s ski-ing industry began to take off. Eight miles away, Aviemore was a prime location for the developers to capitalise on the natural beauty to create an all-year sports and tourist destination specialising in winter sporting activities. The Aviemore Centre – costing around £2 million ($ 4 million – a fortune at the time) – opened in 1964 featuring hotels, self catering lodges, cinema, disco, swimming pool with sauna, ice rink and dry-ski slope. Forty minutes from Inverness airport with good rail and road links, the leisure facilities complemented by the surrounding landscape made this Britain’s first and most popular holiday and sports centre.

It was success story for a decade or so and then the tell tale signs of cheap concrete construction began to appear. Gobal warming in recent years has brought milder Scottish winters and less snow.  And so by the 1990s the famous leisure centre was no longer quite the state-of-the-art destination it had once been. What was needed was a facelift, capital investment, marketing and tourist awareness to put Aviemore, the Cairngorms and Speyside on the map again.

1998: Enter leading players, Macdonald hotels, the Bank of Scotland and Tullochs Construction with assistance from the Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who are joint  partners in a £80 million ($150 million) re-development of Aviemore.  The new Aviemore Highland Resort in the Spey valley is an all-year leisure and visitors centre offering choice of accommodation and a wide range of activities including pony-trekking, skiing, fishing, mountain or quad biking, clay pigeon shooting and white water rafting. The aim of the resort is to be the central gateway for visitors touring the Cairngorms and Speyside.

Sean Sullivan is Managing Director of Aviemore Highland Resort Ltd who is rightly proud of the holiday destination.

“ Few people would deny that we have one of the most inviting locations right on the doorstep of the Cairngorms National Park. The old perceptions of Aviemore as a run down 1960’s holiday camp are gone forever and a new dynamic and thriving heart of Aviemore has been created – one which will bring new UK and international visitors to the Highlands.”

Climb the Cairn Gorm Mountain

The Cairngorm mountain range is a magnificent and ancient natural environment created and moulded by 400 million years of geological and glacial movement. Cairn Gorm at the northern end is an exceptionally remote plateau with a summit of 4,082 ft, or 1,244 metres, the sixth largest mountain in Scotland. The good news is that you don’t have to be a skier or mountain climber to experience the exhilarating beauty of the landscape and superb views from the top.

The CairnGorm Funicular Railway, which opened in December 2001, transports skiers and non-skiers of all ages (and physical ability) on a fantastic 1.8 kilometre/ 10 minute journey (almost) to the summit. Talk about record breaking achievements! The Ptarmigan Restaurant is the highest in Britain at 3,600 ft.  This is ideal for drinks, snacks, lunch or a fine dinner at night as you watch the sunset. The Top Station is a magnificent visitors’ centre featuring the Mountain exhibition – featuring fascinating information on the wildlife, climate and geology of the environment – gift shops, ‘Shop at the Top’, and mail your postcards from the UK’s highest post box.

The Funicular Railway has been a great boon for skiers compared to the old chair lift. Each tram takes 120 people and can transport 600 up to the top of the mountain every hour.  There’s a Ski school and Zippy snowboarding school for excellent instruction to give you experience in all winter sports, ski-ing, boarding, blading or telemarking. For new recruits, sporting equipment and clothing can also be hired.

In winter months, non-skiers may enter restricted access ski run areas as spectators to watch the skiers and snow boarders in action. Once the snow has melted it is vital to protect the environment, flora and fauna and therefore walkers and climbers are only free to walk from the Base Station to explore the mountain but no walking is allowed directly from the Top Station in summer months.

Cairn Gorm Rangers undertake one and two hour guided walks through the changing seasons covering geology, wildlife, alpine plants and ornithology.  The ptarmigan breeds here (hence the name of the restaurant) which has to survive on precious little sustenance throughout the arctic winter. Other species seen in the summer include the Dotterel, a highly protected species, and snowbunting.

Warning. Make sure that you are properly prepared for mountain conditions with suitable clothing and footwear.  The weather can change dramatically within a few hours from spring sunshine to winter snow blizzards with a wind chill effect of minus 30 celsius – any month of the year!

Aviemore’s Walking Festival

Aviemore’s Third Walking Festival takes place from 7th to 15th of May 2005. This is a time of year when the area usually enjoys extremely good, sunny weather and the rivers run fast and clear when the snow melts off the mountains. It is also a time when the trees and shrubs are vivid green and blossoming with an abundant young wildlife.

Take part in some stimulating walks through magnificent scenery with a choice of short strolls through forests and along river banks, or more strenuous hill walks to the remaining snowfields at over 4,000 feet high.

Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorm National Park opened in September 2003, covering 1,466 square miles of wild and spectacular Scottish scenery. The UK’s largest national park stretches between Grantown-on-Spey, Ballater and Dalwhinnie. Featuring mountain plateaux, heather moorland, forests and farmland, the Cairngorms is Britain’s largest area of arctic landscape.

The Caledonian pine forest is the habitat of a rich and rare wildlife, including the pine marten, red squirrel, wildcat, badger, capercaillie and golden eagle. The rivers Spey, Dee and Don run through it, and river quality is high – important in whisky production, and salmon fishing. The aim of the park is to conserve and protect the natural environment, cultural heritage and wildlife.

There are numerous outdoor activities and visitor attractions within the National Park – a true outdoor, natural adventure playground for all ages.

Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, (7 miles from Aviemore)

The Highland Wildlife Park is a must-see when visiting Aviemore and Cairngorm area.  It was opened in 1972 and is run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. But this is no ordinary zoo. Visitors drive around the main reserve of the estate in their car, listening to an audio guide on a magical journey, observing a wide selection of species of rare and protected Scottish wildlife in their natural environment. The park is divided into separate moorland, wetland, tundra and forest habitats with many areas where you can walk about to see animals and birds at close quarters. Species include wolves, red deer, wild boar, bison, lynx, wildcat, polecat, red and black grouse, arctic fox, otters, badgers, golden eagle, snowy owl, capercaille and the mouflon. The mouflon?

This wild sheep is an ancestor of our modern domesticated sheep, historically found on the islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Cyprus. Rams can grow to 4 feet tall at the shoulder with the ewes a little smaller. They have a coarse, brown coat with black stripes under which a soft woollen winter “bodywarmer” is shed in summer.

Another unique animal preserved in the park is Przewalski’s horse (pr. “p,sch-vall-skies). These wild horses were discovered in the 1880’s by the Russian explorer, Nicolai Przhevalsky and thought to be extinct in the wild after 1969 and are now a rare and protected species. The park has obtained five Przewalski horses from Vienna Zoo and Switzerland – four mares, Sara, Sand-ul, Ieda and Kadea and one stallion, now well established as a herd.

The specially designed and award winning Wolf Territory has a most fantastic watchtower from where you can have a very good view of their habitat and observe their behaviour in packs, controlled by the alpha male and female hierarchy system of leadership.  The Highland Wildlife Park is open every day of the year, weather permitting. Small café and shop with daily guided walks and special educational tours and events for children.

The Loch Garten Abernethy Forest

Another very important nature reserve is the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Abernethy Forest bird sanctuary beside Loch Garten. Between 1915 and 1950, ospreys – magnificent fish-eating birds of prey – became extremely rare with fewer and fewer sightings across the UK but in 1954 a pair nested near Loch Garten and soon raised young chicks. Despite serious problems with egg thefts, ospreys have continued to return to this quiet lochside woodland with more than seventy young chicks hatched. Ospreys breed in Scotland then spend the winter in West Africa.

The RSPB Osprey Centre is very important for the preservation of the ospreys, to provide security for the nests and protect the eggs and young chicks. The visitor centre is constructed from pine timber and offers information on forest birdlife, with monitors showing live video pictures relayed from the osprey nests in the spring and summer. Many RSPB volunteers keep watch on a rota, 24 hours a day. Hidden amongst the trees are dark wood hides with binoculars and telescopes to keep a close watch over the precious birds. In the Caledonian pine forest, you may also see crested tits, Scottish crossbills, capercaillies and red squirrels. The reserve is open all year with the Osprey Centre open during nesting season from April until the end of August.

Where to stay

As part of the Aviemore Highland Resort, the Macdonald group of hotels and resorts has created two hotels and in the woodland, a group of superior self catering lodges.

The Highland Hotel has 152 bedrooms and designed in a contemporary style. The hotel includes the fine dining Aspects restaurant with magnificent views and the Laggan whisky and cocktail bar.

The Academy Hotel Designed especially for families, with large interconnecting rooms and informal dining in the Avenue bistro, the Aviemore Academy is a comfortable base for adventure holidays in the Highlands.

The Highland Lodges 34 two and three bedroom private self-catering log cabins located in the pine forest have en suite bathrooms, spacious living room and kitchen but only five minutes walk to the Highland Resort restaurants and leisure facilities. Ideal for couples, friends and families who want a home from home.

The Dalfaber Resort A new luxury 5 star hotel and golf resort is currently being built a short distance away on the other side of Aviemore with a golf course being designed along the riverside.

The Highland Leisure Complex, a glass and slate building, features a 25-metre swimming pool with beach and wave machine, children’s pool, health spa, fitness gym and a beauty salon.  The resort also offers a range of activities and sports nearby at the Rothiemurchas Estate, well worth a visit to try your hand at 4×4 driving, biking and fishing. Watersports, sailing and windsurfing take place on the beautiful Loch Morlich with its sandy beach, and for golfers there are several local courses.

The new Speyside Shopping mall within the Highland Resort brings world class retail experience and international luxury brands to Aviemore.  Merchandise consists of outdoor sports goods and clothing, luxury brand clothing, gifts, fine Scottish foods, wines and beverages.

The Aviemore Conference centre is one of the largest in Scotland will have an auditorium for 650 delegates, meeting rooms, boardroom, a ballroom which can seat 500 for dinner and a 1,000 square metre exhibition hall.

Other great places to stay in the area

Boat Hotel, Boat of Garten Highly recommended is this small, traditional Victorian coaching inn now completely refurbished into a smart, stylish country house hotel. Comfortable lounge and dining room serves extremely good food.  This is a lovely peaceful village from where you can take the private Strathspey Steam Railway to Aviemore and Broomhill – the fictional, Glenbogle, where the TV series, Monarch of the Glen is set.

Auchendean Lodge, Dulnain Bridge If you really want a Highland retreat away from the madding crowds, then book in to this privately owned, charming Edwardian, Art Nouveau Lodge which has hardly changed in generations. There are only five bedrooms (all with bathrooms) furnished with period furniture. Drinks are served in the drawing room before dinner based on superb local produce.

Visitor information

Travel to Aviemore

GNER train service from London up the east coast, via Edinburgh to Inverness, 40 minutes from Aviemore. www.gner.co.uk

First Scotrail from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Aviemore. Overnight sleeper from Euston, London  www.firstgroup.com/scotrail

Flights from London/Glasgow/Edinburgh to Inverness with easyJet, BA, BMI and Eastern Airways.

www.visitaviemore.com

www.cairngormmountain.com