With so much to see and do in the Cairngorms National Park this winter, compiling a top ten list has not been easy! However, when visiting, or living in, one of the best parts of the British Isles it’s always good to have a key list of exciting activities and places to visit to choose from. The following list just scratches the surface of what there is to do, have a look at www.visitcairngorms.com for the full list of local businesses and places to enjoy. So, what are you waiting for?
1) Visit the UK’s only polar bears
Walker and Arktos are the UK’s only polar bears and they live at the Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorms National Park. Their home is the largest polar bear enclosure in Europe and the region is typical of the polar bear’s tundra environment. Visitors can watch the boys enjoy their large natural pool set in over four acres of land, where they can often be found enjoying their toys. When the snow arrives it is great to see the pair frolick in the snowflakes. You can even become a keeper for the day and help out with feeding and cleaning out!
2) Try some baked potato ice cream
Anderson’s Restaurant in Boat of Garten is famed for its dedication to using the very best local Scottish produce to make the most mouthwatering of dishes. However, the restaurant is also making a name for itself with a new range of homemade ice cream. Flavours change all the time, but include blueberry meringue pie, chocolate chip and marshmallow, whisky and honey and the most unusual – baked potato flavour.
3) Visit the Cairngorm Reindeer
For an unforgettable winter experience the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre run daily hill trips to visit these majestic creatures. Up on the mountainside, you are able to get up close to these incredibly friendly and endearing animals and feel their velvet soft noses as you hand feed them in the shadow of the UK’s highest mountain plateau. They are incredibly curious and friendly creatures and no matter what your age you’ll become a child again when you meet the herd!
4) Have a wee Dram
After a bracing day in the frosty landscape, there is no better way than to sit back and relax in front of a roaring log fire and taste some of the very best whiskies in the world. From Dalwhinnie and Speyside to Glenlivet and Tomintoul there is a whisky for everyone’s palate and aficionado, You can even head to the hills onto the old Whisky Roads formerly used by smugglers exporting illicit whisky on hardy ponies over 200 years ago. Leading to Braemar, Nethybridge, Strathdon and over the Cromdale Hills to Grantown these spectacular hill walks with exciting views of the Cairngorms are filled with romantic connotations of days gone by.
5) Have a go on the UK’s only zip slide Park
For the milder days, there’s no better way to explore the forests than taking the plunge on more than1km of zip wires at the UK’s only zip slide park. Blast down from the top of a beautiful gorge and ‘fly’ all the way to the bottom going from one zip slide to another under the safety of the G2 instructors. You’ll be able to spot an abundance of wildlife on the Alvie Estate in the stunning local scenery and the Zip Park will give you the feeling of flying through the majestic Scottish pine trees.
6) Visit the home of Europe’s only private army
The Atholl Highlanders are Europe’s only private army, after being awarded colours in 1845 by Queen Victoria. Blair Castle in Blair Atholl provides the garrison for the army and over the spring and summer month’s visitors flock to the stunning whitewashed building to learn more about the history of the castle, it’s inhabitants and it’s famous army. This month enjoy a tour of the castle decked out for Christmas as it would have been in Victorian times and for the youngsters visit Santa’s magical Grotto. The castle has limited opening hours in winter so check before you go.
7) Walk a smuggler’s trail at Glenlivet Distillery
Get a flavour of the illicit whisky smuggling past by taking one of three historic walks across the Glenlivet Estate. Visitors can choose from three walks in the Glenlivet valley of varying length, from a family walk, to a one day hike to explore the secret smuggling paths of days gone by. Each trail is clearly sign-posted and has its own accompanying leaflet available from the visitors centre at the distillery to bring its history to life. Glenlivet Distillery Opening dates: 31st March – 31st October 2014
8) Ski Joring
The Cairngorms National Park is the first place in the UK to offer this amazing sport, which unbelievably combines horseriding with skiing! Ski joring (meaning ski driving in Norwegian) relates to anyone being pulled along on skis by horses, dogs or vehicle. It is the perfect way to explore the great outdoors in a completely new and different way. Get proficient and you could even be launching yourself off small jumps! Get in touch with Newtonmore Riding Centre to find out more.
9) Hit a Bull’s Eye
Archery is the classic ‘turn up and have a go’ activity. It’s great fun and the majority of people can demonstrate an aptitude for archery when they get the chance to try it. You don’t even need to don green tights and a peaked hat to become good enough within the hour to hit the bull’s-eye. There are a host of activity centres around the Cairngorms National Park that allow you to learn this skillful and ancient sport is great fun at all times of the year and very popular if its too wet or windy to do other things.
10) Get on the Pistes
In recent years, the Cairngorms has enjoyed some of the best snow conditions in Europe and with three out of five Scottish ski resorts based in the Cairngorms National Park the area is the best place to indulge your winter sports passions.
Each ski area has a host of different qualities, so whether you chose to hit the slopes at The Lecht, Glenshee or CairnGorm you will be sure to have a fantastic time. Each ski area has a dedicated hire shop for the essential boards, skis and boots etc and you can even book lessons to get you started or improve your skills.
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