The Cairngorm National Park takes a leading role in many wildlife and adventure stories.  It’s no co-incidence that Chris Packham and co are regularly spotted filming Springwatch and its seasonal counterparts here, as it boasts the full set of Scotland’s wildlife heroes, and a spectacular backdrop for every vibrant scene.

 For all the richness of the habitat and the wealth of different things to see and do, a trip to these wild lands does not have to cost a fortune.  This is Ginspired Scotland’s guide to AvieMORE, for LESS!

Getting Here

Map of Aviemore within Scotland
Easy to find – the heart of the Highlands

Aviemore is accessible by car (A9), coach and rail. The legendary Caledonian Sleeper train stops here too. The nearest airport is Inverness, just over 30 minutes to the north. Hiring bikes (or ebikes) is a great way to get around for the energetic.

So come on, join us as we take our #GinspiredDayTrip around Aviemore.

Just a few miles up the ‘ski road’ is the stunning Loch Morlich.  Fed by snow melt from high up on the sub-arctic tundra of the Cairngorm Plateau, the water here never feels anything less than baltic, but the local ducks will welcome you warmly, especially if you’ve brought some peas, sweetcorn, or porridge oats (never bread), to reward their attentions.  A small parking fee will allow you to spend a while here, paddling (for the brave), picnicking, watching the sailing boats and enjoying the views of the mountains behind.

Duncan’s Gin is produced nearby, and would complement Loch Morlich very well.  Serve it chilled, just like your toes, and enjoy.

Nearby Rothiemurchus Visitor Centre is a must during your day out.  Here you can refresh yourselves with coffee and cakes, and find local meat and game produced on the estate, plus some notable Scottish Gins, including most of the local ones.  If budgets and time allow, book for clay pigeon shooting, quad bike safaris and a whole range of outdoor adventures for those with money to spend.  If not, a map of the estate and it’s many trails and paths is a great investment. 

Loch an Eilein with mist
Loch an Eilein = Loch with an island

One of our favourites is the lovely path around Loch an Eilein.  It’s £4.50 to park a car, but that does give access to toilets and a small visitor centre telling more about the local area.  The walk encircles the loch which is home to a small medieval castle on a rocky island.  Strolling through ancient pine forests, this walk is as good in winter as in summer.  Red squirrels are evident, if you don’t see them in person, you’ll see the pine cones they’ve stripped littering the forest floor.  Look out too for wood ant nests, which form huge piles of pine needles among the heather and other woodland shrubs.  Interesting mosses, ferns and pine bark textures in among towering trees, some several hundred years old.  It’s both atmospheric and somehow inspiring. 

Photo of pine forest

Maybe ‘forest bathing’ will begin to take on in Scotland?  This would be an ideal spot to start! 

If you’ve built up an appetite, try The Winking Owl on Aviemore’s main street.  Plenty of free parking and a varied menu to suit all tastes and budgets.  Plus a great selection of the local gins, and beer from Cairngorm Brewery, their sister business.

Mountain biking is very much in vogue around here.  Not surprising as the trails are endless if you wish, shorter if required, and every possible level of talent and fitness can be accommodated. Hire a bike locally if you can’t bring your own.   Wear a helmet though – those ancient pine trees can be hard!   At the end of your cycle, why not refresh your senses with Cairngorm Gin?  It’s produced within the National Park and one of it’s key botanicals is pine needles!  It’s delicious and available online as well as from the Rothiemurchus Shop at Inverdruie.

A little further toward the ski slopes is Glenmore, where you can park and take the wide path up towards the Ryvoan Pass and the beautiful Lochan Uaine, or the Green Loch.  It is said the colour comes from the fairies laundering their clothes here, and who knows, it may be true.  It’s far enough to know you’ve stretched your legs, but not so far as to put your kids off hillwalking, so enjoy the scenery, the feeling that you are properly ‘in the hills’, and once your walk is over, restore yourself with a Kinrara Gin.  Their shop is not far away on the outskirts of Aviemore.

Heading south the Inshriach Forest is home to the fascinating Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail, which follows a short stroll alongside the River Feshie.  It’s a low level walk for all abilities, with the added interest of the works of art to enjoy.  As you’re in the Inshriach Forest, try Inshriach Gin as your tipple of choice after this one!  It’s made just up the road and available online and in the Rothiemurchus Shop at Inverdruie too.

The Highland Wildlife Park isn’t free to visit, those polar bears are hungry and expensive to keep, but on a ‘pounds per hour’ rating, we think it does rather well.  There aren’t too many places where polar bears, amur tigers, wildcats and snow leopards can be seen, as well as a host of other wonderful animals, many of whom live, or once lived within the National Park.  We highly recommend it, but it’s not possible to take your dog, even if you’re planning on leaving Fido in the car, it’s a no.  Byron’s Gin is produced close by, and you can pick up your bottle at The Snug in Aviemore, where you can usually get a small nip to sample too! If you’re heading the other way, High5 in Kingussie also stocks Byron’s.

Just a little further south, bordering the RSPB reserve of the Insh Marshes is Ruthven Barracks.  High on a hump above the floodplain, this fortified spot has been a Castle from medieval times as home to the Comyn and Gordon families. Rebuilt as a barracks by King George II in 1719,  as a defence against the Jacobites after the 1715 uprising, it’s free to visit, and full of atmosphere.  Daffy’s Gin is made in Strathmashie, just west of here, and would make a perfect gin and tonic to round off your day.

Ruthven Barracks

One of the area’s biggest bargains is the Highland Folk Museum at nearby Kingussie.  Free admission and free carparking give access to a fabulous array of historical exhibits, showing how life was in days gone by.  If history’s not your thing, it was also used as a location in the Outlander series, so channel your inner Jamie or Claire, and enjoy some time here.  There’s plenty of shelter too if the weather’s not on your side, so dinnae fash yersel.

Highland Folk Museum

Here are a few other ideas in and around Aviemore. Follow the links for more information about each one.

Cairngorm Reindeer Centre get to know these charming creatures close up.
Strathspey Steam Railway re-opening soon for journeys back in time.
Speyside Centre for great shopping, eats and garden goodies.
Ropes Course at Rothiemurchus
Treezone Rothiemurchus Aerial adventure for the brave!

So, we hope we’ve ginspired you to spend a day or two in Aviemore for less.  Even on a wee budget there’s loads to see and do, and some wonderful local gins to explore.

Recommended places to stay, eat and drink. Just follow the links to learn more:

Do let us know what you enjoyed the most, what you’d recommend to others, and if you have some secret discoveries to share with us. 

Have a great #ginspireddaytrip!