It seems that not a year goes by without the Cairngorms National Park topping yet another worldwide destination poll. In 2011, National Geographic Traveller had the region in the Top 20 places to visit in the world. In 2012, the Cairngorms National Park was outlined by National Geographic Magazine as one of the world’s top 50 ‘Last Great Places’, and was lauded for it’s stunning natural – and often untouched – beauty.
Now, to kick start 2013, US news channel CNN has named Scotland as the number one destination for tourists to visit this year. CNN focused on “pristine lochs and haunting glens” of the dramatic, misty Highlands. What better accolade for the UK’s largest National Park when Visit Scotland is celebrating the Year of Natural?
From stunning natural and historic landscapes, art inspired by nature, surprising wildlife and delicious food & drink, Visit Scotland is putting the spotlight firmly on the great Scottish outdoors and the Cairngorms National Park has all this and more.
We’ve taken a look at some of the most stunning places to visit in the Park – the best places to check out the views, the wildlife, fresh air and simply immerse yourself in nature. Why not check them out for yourself?
Muir of Dinnet, Ballater
Situated on low-lying ground, Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve is full of extensive Birchwood, wetlands and heather moor.
Blending woodland, heath, open water and an impressive example of nature’s sculptural work, all on one site, Muir of Dinnet is a wonderful place to spend a day or a few hours. Visit the Burn `o Vat, a giant pothole carved by a huge melt water stream during the last Ice Age – it’s like something out of Lord of the Rings! Elsewhere, wander through birch woodlands, watch for the flash of a damselfly’s wings or savour the peace and tranquillity of a sunny reflection in the clear waters of the lochs.
The best time to visit for birdwatching is the spring, and facilities here include a visitor centre and toilets at Burn O’ Vat, which are open daily throughout the year. Paths are available to the Burn `o Vat, onto Parkin’s Moss, around Loch Kinord, from Dinnet village and between Lochs Kinord and Davan. The paths are of varying standards, so bring your walking boots!
Loch Garten Osprey Centre, Boat of Garten
When ospreys returned to breed in Scotland, this ancient Caledonian pineforest is where they choose to come, and it’s easy to see why. With tranquil lochs surrounded by the intoxicating smell of the grand pine tress, Loch Garten is the perfect place to spend a few hours. The Loch Garten Osprey Centre provides fantastic views of these magnificent birds on the nest, as well as close up views thanks to the non-invasive CCTV camera.
The reserve has some excellent walks, with the chance to see red squirrels, dragonflies and crested tits.
Early in spring, why not check out the Caper-watch and see the spectacular display of the capercaillie, Scotland’s largest grouse?
The lower slopes of the hill of Craigellachie are cloaked in mature birch woodland and it’s a perfect destination for a stroll from Aviemore. The woodland of this Reserve brings together the gentle motion of silver birch trees with the constant activity of countless insects, birds and other wildlife throughout the year. Looming above the woodland, like sleeping grey giants and providing a home for peregrine falcons, are the silver grey crags. These crags attract climbers throughout the year, but anyone can visit simply to take in the majestic panoramas of the Cairngorms. March to May is the perfect time to take a trip to see the woodland flowers and June to September to see the dragonflies and butterflies making this place their haven.
There are a series of waymarked paths for mixed abilities and mobile phone listen and learn stops.
Ailnack Gorge, Tomintoul
At 600′ wide, 300′ deep and 6 miles long, the spectacular Ailnack Gorge is Scotland’s largest glacial melt water channel. It really will take your breath away.
The wooded slopes around the gorge are home to red squirrel and roe deer, whilst the moors above are the haunt of reindeer, red deer and mountain hare.
To the south lies the remote valley of Upper Glenavon whilst a short distance to the north is Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands. On a fine day you will see across the gorge and the plateau to Ben Avon with it’s myriad of tors running along the top. The most spectacular part of the gorge at the so called “Castle” which is an impressive piece of hard rock that withstood the erosive forces of the glacier better than the softer rock around.
Atholl Woods, Blair Atholl
Atholl Woods on the Atholl Estate in Perthshire stretch across many acres of hill country to the north of Dunkeld with many available walks around the vast conifer plantations and feature a diverse range of trees and wildlife.
The trees are regularly harvested and the cleared areas provide wonderful views from the forest tracks for walkers across to the lochs of Craiglush, Lowes and Butterstone. You can also see the River Tay winding it’s way through the countryside, framed by the high mountains.
Whilst there be sure to keep your eyes-peeled for wildfowl, including widgeon, mallard and tufted ducks. Close to the edge of the lochs, stealthy grey herons can often be seen waiting motionless to catch an unsuspecting fish or frog for lunch. It really is picture perfect.
So why not Make It Yours during the Year of Natural Scotland and visit the Cairngorms National Park – the Scotland of your imagination. Having inspired royalty, artists, authors, film directors and the general public for hundreds of years, it’s a place that cannot fail to impress.
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