We are really looking forward to welcoming visitors back to the Cairngorms National Park. We’ve missed you; as we showed in our recent video, it’s not been the same without you.

We understand that visitors returning for the first time may feel a bit of trepidation. They may, understandably, want to avoid any of the places that are likely to be busier. That’s why we’ve put together this blog of hidden gems of the Cairngorms off the beaten track. One of the things that locals have loved doing in lockdown is exploring the area outside our door more closely, discovering new places we never even knew were there! We’re looking forward to sharing these with visitors now, too.

Please, when you’re travelling, bear in mind the #CairngormsTogether code, developed for locals and visitors alike, to #knowtheguidelines, #planahead, #beflexible and #bekind. If, for example, you arrive at your destination and find it is busy, then why not have a list of back-up plans in your back pocket? Here are a few great suggestions.

Art on the SnowRoads

You don’t need to go to an art gallery in a town to take in breathtaking art in the Cairngorms. If you’re nervous about potential crowds or bottlenecks, then driving the SnowRoads is a perfect choice because you’ll get a feeling of vastness and spaciousness when traversing it, and it’s like an open air outdoor gallery in itself! Not only that, but there are especially-commissioned art installations along the route; ‘Still’, ‘The Watchers’ and ‘Connecting Contours’.

The east side of the Cairngorms National Park, through which the SnowRoads winds, is less populated than the west; the next four suggestions are accessible off the SnowRoads route.

Braemar Castle – grounds & walk

While there aren’t plans currently to open Braemar Castle, the location is stunning and visitors will be able to park in the large car park and enjoy the grounds, complete with castle views, picnic benches, litter bins and portable toilets! It’s an enjoyable, historic quarter of a mile walk from the castle to Braemar village, taking you past the Invercauld Arms Hotel, where the 1715 Jacobite uprising began.

Braemar Village – nearby walks

View this post on Instagram

#scotland #scotlandhighlands

A post shared by w (@w99world) on

Park at the Highland Games Park, where there’s plenty of space, and take the charming, short walk from here up Chapel Brae to the Duck Pond, from where you’ll get a lovely view of the quaint village. Please note, however, that at time of writing the Highland Games Centre is not open and neither are the on-site toilets.

If you fancy a longer walk, you could do the more difficult and less clearly marked, but adventurously named ‘Lion’s Face and the Cromlins’. This starts in the centre of Braemar and climbs up, via woodland, and was apparently a walk frequented by Queen Victoria herself. The ‘Lion’s Face’ refers to the granite rock formations on Ben Avon and the Cromlins means “the crooked fields” which you also pass through. Or, also accessible from Braemar, why not walk up to famous nature writer Nan Shepherd’s ‘bothy’ on Morrone hill?

Another beautiful gem of a walk which often misses the crowds and has ample parking is the walk around Craig Leek, also near Braemar. Park at Keiloch (a charged car park) and the walk is about 8.5km.

Ballater 7 Bridges Walk

This 10km circuit of Ballater is a good one for the kids because it’s relatively flat, on clear paths, and it also includes the ruined ‘Knock Castle’, as well as striking bridges. As Ballater can ordinarily be tricky right in the centre for parking, particularly at weekends, it’s a good idea to head to the car park to the west of the village, near the Hilton’s Craigendarroch.

The Gorges of the Ailnack, near Tomintoul

If you’re after some wild, remote adventure, then head to the Ailnack Gorge, from Tomintoul, which is the biggest glacial melt water channel in Scotland, 6 miles long. The gorge is astonishingly dramatic, even on the most dreich of days, full of striking scenery, twists and turns and is a favourite location for canyoning and gorge walking. It is certainly a hidden gem and not as well known as it ought to be. You’re also bound to see some of the local wildlife, such as roe deer and mountain hare.

You can park, in the spacious car park, off the main street in Tomintoul and walk to the gorge. This makes it quite a substantial walk at of 20km. However you can shorten this if you park at Queen’s View car park in Glen Avon by Delnabo. Alternatively, you could hire a walking guide. Operators such as Hillgoers are operating group walks, and available for hire, from mid July.

Bungee Jumping – Killiecrankie

If you’re after even more adrenaline pumping, then Highland Fling, in Killiecrankie, at the southerly entrance to the National Park, has taken measures to combat Covid-19 and is operating with small groups at a time and increased hygiene measures.

Blair Castle & Gardens

Visiting Blair Castle Gardens makes for a great day out, particularly so in these days of social distancing because there is so much room for everyone and so much to see. For instance, there’s a nine acre walled Georgian garden, called ‘Hercules Garden’, a sculpture trail and a calming wooded area called ‘Diana’s Grove’. While the Castle will open soon for small group tours, the caravan park plans to open from 3rd July and the gardens from 15th July.

If you’re looking for a wonderful, short walk to team up with this castle visit, try the climb up to Bruar Falls, which takes about 1-1.5 hours and gives you impressive views of the Atholl valley.

Creag Bheag hill walk, Kingussie

This charming, family friendly hill climb is often far less busy than other better known summits. It’s also perfect if you’re staying in Kingussie or Newtonmore. You can set off from the heart of Kingussie, where there is plenty of parking at Ardvonie Car Park, next to the play park and GP surgery. Weave your way through beautiful pine forest up to the top where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the valley below.

Wildcat Experience & Trail, Newtonmore

View this post on Instagram

#newtonmore #lockdown #westiewalk

A post shared by Yvonne Richmond (@yvonnerichmond01) on

While the Wildcat Experience is pretty well known – that’s the treasure hunt for model cats dotted all around Newtonmore village – less tourists have actually walked the vast, spacious Newtonmore Wildcat Trail. This circles the whole of the village and can vary in length depending on route taken, up to 11km. It bypasses a variety of scenery from moor, river and forest land. The trail even has some favourite lockdown swimspots frequented by locals too; though always take care when dipping into a river, as these can be affected daily by factors like rainfall and currents.

Castle Roy and Craigmore Wood, between Grantown-on-Spey and Nethybridge

One of the first landmarks to appear on the SnowRoads app, Castle Roy is in ruins but remains a spectacle worth seeing due to its still-standing formidable walls, which are more than 2m thick! If you take the figure-of-eight walk that loops from Nethybridge to the castle and around to the woods, it’s about 5.5km. There’s parking available at the Balnagowan Wood car park just outside Nethybridge, near Causar. And if you’re lucky, you’ll spot the regular Heilan Coo there, too!

Walking up Glen Feshie

Glen Feshie is another gem in the Cairngorms where you are overwhelmed with an incredible sense of space, openness and awe, accentuated by the sweeping ‘U’ shape which allows you to see for miles. It also means that whether you are after a long, day’s hike into the mountains, or a shorter child-friendly wander along the valley floor, you have plenty of options. Additionally, you can take a short walk to the riverside and set up camp there for a picnic and dip. Or, you can scale higher and find beautiful, cascading waterfalls with fairy-like pools to plunge in.

Park at Achlean for multiple walking options.

Please access the outdoors responsibly

We are very lucky in the Cairngorms to benefit from the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which gives us the right to roam, as long as we behave responsibly. To check out the guidance on what this means, including being accompanied by dogs, see here.

#CairngormsTogether #knowtheguidelines #planahead #beflexible #bekind

VisitCairngorms newsletter