Riding on the wild side …

Love walking and bike riding? We took time out near Aviemore this summer to explore some well-trodden paths – as well as to discover some hidden gems …

Aviemore is a hub for all visiting the north of the Cairngorms National Park. A popular holiday destination in its own right, the village is surrounded by beautiful scenery and boasts a wealth activities for all ages. It is a gateway for lovers of the great outdoors – offering a year-round menu of adventures. We were staying just outside Aviemore – on the B970 that snakes south east towards the Cairngorm Mountain – walkable distance back to Aviemore: we enjoyed leg stretches to collect take-away pizzas from the long-established La Taverna as well as delicious ice creams from Miele’s Gelateria next to Aviemore’s new wee retail park. Check what others have said on La Taverna via this TripAdvisor link.

Our base was right on the well-signposted foot and cycle paths that crisscross the whole area – over 30 miles of routes superbly maintained by the Rothiemurchus estate who manage much of the forestry and also have a wealth of businesses supporting locals and visitors alike: from the Druie Café and Farm Shop (below) to all manner of experiences – shooting and fly fishing, quad trekking, river tubing, wildlife photography and the much-loved TreeZone. The Druie Cafe is a real favourite – check them on TripAdvisor.

Rothiemurchus has Scotland’s longest established private sector Ranger Service, a very experienced team on hand 364 days of the year to help you get the very best from your time – offering advice on where to visit, what wildlife to look out for and to answer any questions you have on the local flora and fauna. Pop in to see them at the estate office, call 01479 812345 or follow this link for more on the experiences they provide.

We’d taken bikes – and loved being able to cycle out from our doorstep onto miles and miles of safe and stunning tracks. Our first ride took us to Loch an Eilein with its 13th century island castle: we rode along the wooded northern shore and then out into open countryside – sometimes on rough tracks where you need to keep and eye on stones and tree routes, and then on near-motorway standard forest trails … blasting along with a breathtaking backdrop of the Cairngorms mountains. Our destination? The beach at Loch Morlich.

We could spy the loch through the trees – as well as those messing about on the water: some in canoes, some in kayaks … others paddle-boarding. There are lessons for first-timers and equipment to hire for those who know their stuff. And if you have a school or youth group, the Loch Morlich Watersports can provide all kinds of fun and games.

We headed half way along the back of the beach (there are toilets) and parked our bikes against the trees on the sand. This is a very special place – a stunning location, crystal clear waters where you can sunbathe on the soft sands and glance up at the snow-capped Cairngorms. Unique.

The watersports’ centre also has a cafe.  When it is busy, you’ll have a wee wait, but don’t come here expecting fast food and soulless service. You get freshly-made cakes and bakes, rolls and salads – as well as ice creams. And whilst you queue – you have a view over the loch. There’s seating inside and out (on the balcony and beach) – but we headed back to our spot on the sands. When we visited it was blue skies and sunshine all the way with around 22 degrees: if you want to see what it is like today – check out their webcam! And a tip if you’re driving here, the parking is paid to help maintain all the facilities – £2 for the whole day.It is well worth the visit and easy to see why those on TripAdvisor list Loch Morlich as number one on their ‘things to do’ whilst in Aviemore.

The ride back is (almost) all downhill. It can be busy – certainly busier than the ride on the opposite side of the loch, so just be aware of others. You also have to stop to cross the road near the Rothiemurchus Clay Shooting Centre befdore rejoining the cycle path that descends into Aviemore passing the Hilton Coylumbridge, a family-friendly resort set in 65-acres of woodland. A number of their activities are available to be booked by non-guests.

When travelling around, we like to support small, family-run businesses where possible – and so visited Anderson’s Restaurant in Boat of garten for dinner. Top of Trip Advisor’s list for eateries in the village, it didn’t disappoint. Anderson’s is committed to using local, in season produce. Their menu – including their daily specials – changes each month. It promotes itself as ‘family friendly’ and that’s very much the case. We piled in for a late sitting near to 9pm – with children – and were made to feel very welcome, the last out around two hours later. The food was simple but delicious – empty plates testament to the skills of the chef and hearty appetites from pedaled out people.

Our ride to Loch Morlich had skirted the northern edge of Loch an Eilein: we returned the next day to ride the loch’s circular route – a lovely track (busy in places with walkers, so please be aware) …

… ending with an ice cream and explore of the wee shop, gallery and visitor centre at the west end of the loch (by the car park) …

This whole area is Speyside: famed for whisky in the east, salmon fishing, forests and fantastic outdoor fun. The Spey is over 100 miles long – and rises away in the west, 10 miles south of Fort Augustus at Loch Spey in the Corrieyairack Forest. It flows east through Newtonmore, Kingussie – through Loch Insh – before reaching Aviemore around half way along its course … finally heading out into the Moray Firth.

Before heading home, we took a trip to explore Glenfeshie. The Feshie is a major tributary of the River Spey, rising in the remote Glenfeshie Forest in the Cairngorms National Park. Many burns feed it, building as the river heads down the Glen. This makes the Feshie an iconic braided river – streams occurring within the river bed, braiding the sediment that the waters have brought down from the steep slopes of the Cairngorms plateau … the river roaring ‘neath Feshie Bridge (a haven for adventure sports – below) as it heads towards the Spey at Kincraig.

Glenfeshie is an extraordinary landscape: millennia old – carved by ice. Today, it is managed by Wildland who acquired it more than a decade ago with one objective: to protect the land against exploitation and to preserve it for future generations. They’re working – and investing – to preserve and regenerate the glen, including a huge project to recreate acres of what was once the ancient Caledonian Forest. We were visiting – walking – but you can holiday in the Glen. By staying in one of the Glenfeshie Cottages, you’re contributing to the area’s conservation and restoration works as the revenue from your stay is ploughed back into Glenfeshie.

You can also stay at Glenfeshie Hostel – one of the most beautiful locations of any hostel in Scotland – and the Outdoor Learning Centre at Lagganlia provides high quality residential outdoor learning opportunities for primary and secondary schools, colleges, and all other types of groups.

We were here to walk – and what a choice! Our thanks to Forestry Commission Scotland for their handy site with walking information …

  • Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail (easy): A winding path through tall trees and a tranquil walled garden, visiting the remarkable sculptures of Frank Bruce. A firm smooth path, generally flat with some short gentle gradients. Frank Bruce was a self-taught sculptor from a village in Aberdeenshire. His carvings, exploring Scottish culture and our relationship with others, fill the woodland with spirits and stories in the only outdoor sculpture garden in the Cairngorms National Park. Just a mile long – allow around 45 minutes.
  • River Feshie Trail (strenuous): A narrow natural path along the river. There are lots of places to stop and watch the water. A mostly narrow grassy trail with rough and uneven rocky sections. Be aware – it can be wet and muddy after rain. Contains some short, fairly steep sections and narrow bridges. This is just over a mile – allow an hour.
  • Feshie Woodland Walk (strenuous): Please note, some surfaces on this trail are uneven. Also, timber lorries are working on the site so please take extra care and observe any signage. A peaceful trail into a classic landscape of tumbling burns, heather and Scots pines. A moderately steep route, with short steeper sections. Earthy paths with some narrow, rough sections, including stone steps and roots. Allow 75 minutes to cover the 1.75 miles.

Our final visit was to Loch Insh Outdoor Centre. Started in ’69 by Sally and Clive Freshwater, their sons Duncan, Andrew and Jonathan continue to build … a place that “enthuses and inspires through life changing experiences“. Loch Insh offers many activities – from skiing and snowboarding on their dry ski slope to archery; mountain biking and walking trails. Water enthusiasts can enjoy – with or without instruction – a whole raft of loch and river experiences including kayaking, windsurfing, sailing and canadian canoeing not to mention river trip and a wildlife boat tour.

Add in the adventure play parks, picturesque beach and The Boat House Restaurant and The Quarter Deck Bar and it is easy to see the popularity! And then there’s the accommodation: 12 self-catering log chalets (which sleep from 4-8), 2 apartments (sleeps 5) and extensive B&B accommodation in their main lodge at Insh Hall. Check TripAdvisor to read what others have written about their time here.

As with many of our visits, our Blog scratches the surface: we hope it whets your appetite to visit and discover more of this incredible wild landscape.

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For our visit, we stayed at The Green Lodge – a new property on the outskirts of Aviemore … just off the road to Loch Morlich and with easy access to footpaths and cycle trails from the door.

Thanks for reading!