If you love winter and snow there is really only place you need to know about in the UK. I’m talking about the Cairngorms National Park, an epic wildernesses that forms the UK’s largest national park, and easily its most spectacular in winter. It boasts the most expansive mountain plateau in the British Isles, amongst myriad other winter charms, such as sleddog rides and the UK’s only wild reindeer herd!
If you’ve not been to the Cairngorms for a while you are in for a pleasant surprise. The park is properly managed these days and the Cairngorm Mountain Railway and winter sports centre is run by the dynamic team at Natural Retreats. Down from the plateau is one of Scotland’s most expansive stretches of native Caledonian Pine, which the Rothiemurchus Estate is at the heart of. It is one of the most public-friendly estates in Scotland, and offers a wealth of activties.
Wrap up in your warmest coat, don a cosy hat and gloves and come with me to discover 7 Reasons To Go to the Cairngorms in Winter…
Savour a Winter Wonderland
Few places in Scotland can virtually guarantee winter snow, but hop on the Cairngorm Mountain Railway and within minutes you will be whisked up to a height where snow is ever-present in winter. If you are not into winter sports, you can grab a coffee, enjoy a meal in the Ptarmigan Restaurant, or indulge a bit of retail therapy. The views whatever you do are spellbinding!
Ski or Snowboard
The Cairngorms offer some of Scotland’s best and most consistent skiing. These dramatic slopes used to just be the preserve of skiers enjoying some of the best snow conditions in Europe. Today snowboarders are welcomed in with open arms too. Great facilities include chairlifts that run from the top of the mountain railway up to the toughest runs – the longest is over 3km. Equipment hire and tuition is also available for those taking to the slopes for the first time, or who want to brush up on their skills.
Watch the Wildlife
In summer the Cairngorms are a real hub for wildlife enthusiasts, but many nature lovers don’t realise that winter has bountiful charms of its own. At this time of year the red deer – the largest land mammal in the UK – descend from the higher slopes in search of food and shelter, so they are so much easier to spot. The mountain hare and ptarmigan meanwhile don their dramatically stark white winter coats. All sorts of creatures have to scrabble around for scarce food resources in winter, so it is a great time for wildlife watching.
The Cairngorm mountain plateau is seriously testing for walkers in summer, so imagine what it’s like in winter! We’re talking seriously sub zero temperatures, deep snow, avalanches and storm winds in excess of 100 mph. If you are well equipped, have the necessary experience and are in a group you can enjoy some world-class winter hiking that – as you troop along armed with an ice axe and crampons – you will never forget. I always recommend you use the services of a guide up on the Cairngorm Plateau, especially in winter.
Yes I know it sounds unlikely, but you can find Scotland’s only sleddog ride operator in the Cairngorms National Park! Bashing along the winter trails through the woods – behind one of the Stewart family and their lovely dogs – is a uniquely exhilarating experience . The Cairngorm Sleddog Centre also offer longer courses that allow you to learn more about the dogs and how to care for them.
Enjoy a Horse or Pony Ride
You might imagine that the local stables close down for the winter, but the hardy trekking and hacking centre on the Rothiemurchus Estate stays open right up until the end of November and begins offering rides again as early as February. They can cater for all experience levels, including complete beginners. Cantering on horseback below the vaulting snow-capped peaks is a sublime winter experience.
While some of Scotland’s visitor attractions close down during the winter months, this plucky attraction stays open. Some of their attractions do close, but reduced admission rates make up for this. Some of the winter highlights at Landmark Forest Adventure Park include the Bamboozeleum, the Red Squirrel Trail and the Treetop Trail. Then there is the Ant City play area – which my wee girls love – and The Lost Labyrinth, Wonderwood, Timber Trail and Forest Viewing Tower. The Tropical Plant House meanwhile is open from 10 – 12am, and 12.45 – 4pm, handy as it’s a great place to warm up on a cosy winter’s day!
Here’s a handy link to the CairnGorm Mountain cam, which gives current daylight images of the weather: www.winterhighland.info/cams/cairngorm-mountain
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