2012. For some reason it’s the year that all our friends, many astrologers and the media are touting as a really positive year. We have been inundated with a series of “This is the year” texts and features in magazines telling us how you can make 2012 the “Year of You”. All this has got us quite excited as to what this year will hold, so as a starting point we decided to look into exactly what we could learn, see and do on our own doorstep.

Come rain, snow or sunshine the list seems to be endless, so why not join us and try something new this year? It’s always good to push those boundaries and we get to explore one of the most beautiful parts of the world at the same time! What’s On has shortlisted 5 activities as a start, so what are you waiting for?!

Acquire the Art of Snowshoeing

Why not spend a few days snowshoeing through the ancient Caledonian pine forests with the majestic Cairngorm Mountains towering above? The technique is really easy to learn – you literally float over the snow as the shoes distribute your weight over a larger area so that your foot does not sink completely into the snow.

Snowshoeing has been around for thousands of years. And, obviously, the art has become more sophisticated over time – now it’s considered a winter sport. From the early wood-frame to the aluminum-frame models, snowshoeing has garnered quite a following throughout the world. Modern day snowshoeing is made up of casual snowshoers who hike trails for pleasure, the snowshoeing enthusiasts who trek through the backcountry, and the competitors who race.

The sport is easy to learn, virtually inexpensive (compared to other winter sports), poses little risk of injury and is a great way to exert energy during the cold winter months.

Learn to Ride

There are eight horse-riding centres across the Cairngorms National Park so no matter where you are you can take to the hills on horseback. Whatever the weather horse riding is a great activity to get you out into the great outdoors, get some fresh air and explore the area. Magnificent scenery is enhanced by abundant wildlife including red and roe deer, red squirrel, golden eagle, osprey and buzzards. Riding tuition is available at all levels and a range of ponies and horses, as well as qualified friendly staff, ensure memorable riding for children and adults.

At some of the estates you can book accommodation in a range of cosy cottages and bothys and you can even request homemade bread, jams, chutneys, home baking and a range of oven-ready meals for when you don’t feel like cooking.


Quad Biking

It may not get you fit, but what you lack in terms of shaking off the Christmas turkey thighs you will make up for in speed, adrenalin and excitement in learning to quad bike.  Quad biking is definitely a sport where you need to book an activity provider to take you onto marked and approved trails, but with plenty of providers around the Park you will not be stuck for choice. You will be taken across varied terrain, taking in spectacular views of the surrounding landscape by experienced and fully trained professional guides who are happy to stop at particularly impressive view points and tell you all about the area, the wildlife and the history along the way.


Know your birds

Don your walking boots and head to the vast expanse of any of the Estates dotted around the Park. Here you will discover the host of birds and mammals that inhabit this very special part of the UK. For an extra special experience, why not book a ranger or a guide and head into the wilds to watch a Black Grouse Lek – the courtship ritual of the rare member of the grouse family – and whilst there keep your eyes out for roe deer, curlew, lapwing and oystercatcher as well as mountain hare, brown hare, raven, song thrush, pied wagtail, grey wagtail or red deer. The professional wildlife experts will guide you to the very best places in the Park to spot the wildlife and teach you about the different species and the history of the area and also keep you on track so that none of the landscapes or habitats are inadvertently spoilt by lack of knowledge about where to go.


Mountain Biking

With 64km of off road routes throughout the Cairngorms National Park there is no excuse not to ride a bike up here!  It’s easy enough to hire bikes for all the family, hire a coach or tour guide or simply get your own bike out onto the tracks. What’s more you get lots of fresh air and the best exercise you can think of!

There are a range of great tracks suitable for all ages and abilities, but if you want to push yourself further then it’s easy enough to head out into the middle of nowhere and camp under the stars.

Alternatively, what about pushing the boundaries and spending a few hours hurtling down some of the best manmade downhill trails in the UK? Some of the activity providers also provide more technical tuition, so if you are proficient on a mountain bike, but want to take it one step further then these are the guys to show you how.

Without even scraping the surface of what is available in the Cairngorms National Park we have managed to get out and about, get some fresh air into our lungs and learn some new skills. The activity list is endless, so why not join us and try something new for 2012?

For more information on the Cairngorms National Park please go to www.visitcairngorms.com or m.visitcairngorms.com for the mobile app.