The days are shorter, the nights darker and the weather colder; attributes that give December its own appeal. Think cosying up in front of a roaring fire, looking upwards at an inky sky glittering with twinkling stars or feeling childish excitement as the first snowflakes fall from the heavens. We can’t guarantee you perfect winter conditions but the Cairngorms National Park has a wealth of things to experience, both indoors and out, during the last month of the year.

Winter is a time to appreciate new aspects of the great outdoors. Take part in a Big Tree Walk (6th) in Nethy Bridge (The Forest Village) to celebrate National Tree Week. For the more adventurous, why not join John Muir Trust members and the Rangers (6th) at Glen Tanar Visitor Centre, Ballater and try some practical, hands-on conservation work. If you prefer to learn about the work of a ranger from the comfort of indoors you may be interested in a talk on ‘The Wildlife of the Angus Glens and the Ranger’s Role’ which takes place that afternoon at Glen Doll Ranger Base, by Kirriemuir.


Naturally a focus of December is the run up to Christmas and one annual landmark is the switching on of festive lights in towns and villages. There are always craft events too where you can have a go at making your own Christmas decorations. You can try your hand at doing just that at Spittal of Glen Muick Visitor Centre, Ballater (12th) or the following Saturday (19th) join in Christmas craft making fun, featuring pine cones, at Loch Garten Osprey Centre, Boat of Garten.


At this time of year we are reminded of causes that rely on donations and fund raising activities. A fund raising Christmas Coffee Morning in Laggan (5th) is an opportunity to buy some original crafts and festive fare while helping to raise funds for Laggan Forest Trust. And what about a Fun Run with a festive twist? Take part in or support the Aviemore Santa Run on 19th Dec. This is a 1 mile or 5k run in aid of Disability Snowsport UK; the only stipulation for entry is that you run dressed as Santa!

santarun - Robin McConnell
Aviemore Santa Run Image: Robin McConnell

Of course this is a time when the ‘real’ Santa is very busy indeed although he is always happy for you to visit him in his Grotto. Surely one with the most dramatic of settings is Blair Castle, Blair Atholl. The castle in winter is decorated for Christmas as it would have been in Victorian times and you may even witness Santa playing the pipes – yes a bagpipe playing Santa! Of course Santa will be making an appearance at many spots across the Cairngorms National Park. Wherever there is a Christmas Parade you are likely to find him – and his reindeer. Santa’s diary usually includes Grantown’s Street Parade (23rd) and despite a busy night ahead he finds time to be part of Aviemore’s Parade on Christmas Eve. There will be appearances in Kingussie and Newtonmore too that evening. In the East of the Park embrace the seasonal atmosphere with a visit to Balmoral Castle’s winter sale (12th) ahead of Santa’s visit there on Christmas Eve.


The star of the show however is not always Santa! His sleigh is drawn by his four legged friends from the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. There are particular characters in the herd that are comfortable appearing in public; indeed they love being the centre of attention and are quite happy to be fussed over.


Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without music. Yes there are parties aplenty with dancefloor favourites and live music in bars and hotels but it is also a time for seasonal, traditional music and carols. An evening of Christmas Carols in the Ballroom of Blair Castle (13th & 20th) sounds inviting. There is the intriguingly named ‘Christingle’ Service of Carols and Candles at St Columba’s Church Boat of Garten 10am (13th) and for a truly atmospheric setting, come along to the Service of Carols and Lessons at historic Kincardine Church (20th). And of course, on Christmas Eve, across the National Park, there are Watchnight Services that offer a warm welcome to residents and visitors alike.

And that takes us to Hogmanay. Every town and village has its own gathering points and ways of celebrating the end of one year and welcoming in the new. Private and organised parties, neighbourly get-togethers, and community celebrations go hand-in-hand and illustrate the diversity of Hogmanay. You may encounter and enjoy any or all of these; a ceilidh, live music, piping, dancing, fireworks at the bells, a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, a dram or two and First Footers. One of the area’s highlights and which draws one of the largest Hogmanay crowds in the Highlands is the Party in the Square in Grantown-on-Spey where locals and visitors mingle to see in the New Year. Earlier in the evening you could be part of a Torchlight Procession in Nethy Bridge being led by a piper round the village before enjoying music and mulled wine.

Wherever you are this December, whatever your plans, the What’s On team wish you an entertaining month, a cheerful Christmas and a wonderful New Year.


For details and timings of the events mentioned, as well as many others, see local press and visit the events pages at