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Issue 16 - Scotland's top adventure playground?

Scotland Magazine Issue 16
September 2004


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Scotland's top adventure playground?

The Aviemore and Cairngorm district of the Highlands is undergoing a major transformation. Dominic Roskrow gives this special report

If you’ve visited Aviemore in recent years then chances are you won’t have made plans to rush back.

From Scotland’s most progressive ski resort in the ‘60s, complete with state of the art hotels and leisure facilities, it has over the last decade or so most visually represented the declining fortunes of the area’s ski industry.

With tourists flocking off to Europe and America for their piste action, and increasingly unpredictable winters making skiing in the Cairngorms something of a lottery, Aviemore has been in not so slow decline. Its accommodation, sharp and progressive 40 years ago, became, to borrow a Royal phrase, ugly carbuncles blighting the route from Fort William in to the Speyside region.

Simply put, Aviemore had had its day.

Fast forward to 2004 and an ambitious double whammy that will put Aviemore firmly back on the map as a tourist destination. The area is benefiting from both a multimillion pound building investment and a new promotional alliance that is bringing together a range of attractions aimed at making the whole district arguably Scotland’s biggest adventure playground.

At the heart of the area’s change in fortunes is a £30 million ($52 million) redevelopment programme by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts in to a new project known as Aviemore Highland Resort.

In effect the old hotels have gone. In its place a variety of new accommodation has been built, including top quality hotel rooms and self-catering chalets in secluded woods around the complex. A hospitality academy, business facilities, exhibition rooms and shopping facilities are also included.

The move has won the backing of the Hilton group, which has maintained high standards in the region over the years, and the funding has won the support of a whole range of interested groups and bodies.

At the project’s heart is an indoor leisure centre, complete with fun pool. A new championship standard 18 hole golf course is also under construction. It all adds up to a cross between a Center Parcs leisure resort and an international business and conference hotel complex.

Sean Sullivan, managing director for Aviemore Highland Resort, believes that the development is set to give the region the sort of standard of facilities it has been crying out for for decades.

“The area is truly stunning and has every opportunity of becoming one of the biggest tourist attractions in the whole of Scotland,” he says.

“The new resort is aimed at giving the area both outstanding tourist accommodation but also business facilities to attract a new group of people to the area. The resort itself will be repositioned to be a little more upmarket than perhaps it has been in the past.

“The retail outlets we’re attracting, for instance, will offer something more in line with a retail complex such as House of Bruar, though we will hopefully be aiming more at a fashionable and younger market.”

With such an immense redevelopment taking place it is apt that this year has also seen the growth of a new marketing campaign in the area which brings together a whole range of people and organisations. Backed with a £100,000 marketing drive, Aviemore, Badenoch, Strathspey and Cairngorms Marketing (ABSC) aims to push home the message that the area offers everything from quad biking, white water rafting and canoeing to gourmet dining, fly fishing and clay pigeon shooting, skiing and trekking.

Cairngorms already enjoys National Park status but in addition a great deal of effort has gone in to promotional material and information to make it simple for the tourist to visit and enjoy a range of activities that really do cater for all ages.

ABSC chairman Hamish Swan said that the area now boasted outstanding tourist facilities.

“Visitors nowadays have information at their fingertips, and can choose to travel anywhere in the world. We need to make our voice heard above the competition by offering a unique, world class product and that is what we are doing.

“We believe that the quality and variety make Aviemore and the Cairngorms one of the ‘must see’ destinations in the United Kingdom.”

The region can be approached just as easily from east or west, with access from Aberdeen and Inverness or from fort William. Improved transport links mean that the area is easier to get to than ever before.

“We believe that the new development fully reflects the modern demands of visitors to the area,” says Sean Sullivan. “We are helping to secure a bight future for the whole region.”


After travelling on Scotland’s only funicular railway, eat quality food made from local ingredients in the highest restaurant in Britain, the Ptarmigan, 1097m above sea level (3600ft).

Shop at the top and enjoy the mountain exhibition area, all with the option of staying indoors. While walking wild in the Cairngorms is definitely for the well prepared, the ranger service offers a programme of guided walks for groups of all ages.

Funicular tickets cost £8.00 ($15) for adults and £5.00 ($8) for children. Ptarmigan daytime meals start from £5 ($8). The first train is at 10am, with the last return generally around 4.30pm in the summer months. The journey takes less than 10 minutes. Evening dining on Friday and Saturday evenings during July-September.

Masses for all the family, including rock climbing, flume riding, red squirrel spotting, walking through the tops of tall pine trees, watching logs being sawn on a steam powered sawmill, exploring the hidden microscopic universe and learning all the secrets of Scotland’s ancient pine forests. Easily a whole day’s entertainment – and educational too. Then explore the wee treasure trove of a shop packed with great gift ideas and visit the family restaurant and snack bar with the biggest selection of ice creams in the north.

Family admission rate is £7.90 ($13) for adults and £5.90 ($10) for children. Open every day 10-6pm in April, May, June, Sept, Oct. 10-7pm in high summer.

The Highland Wildlife Park is a cornucopia of Scottish wildlife past and present. You can take a spectacular Highland drive around the huge main reserve in your own car, while you listen to the audio guide; then take to the park on foot to meet the animals our ancestors knew, hundreds and thousands of years ago.

See at least 30 unique species in five different habitats, ranging from snowy owls in the Tundra, through wildcats in the forest, to rare European bison in the main reserve. Two Przewalskis mares arrived this spring from Vienna Zoo, and another two arrive from Switzerland later this year.

Open throughout the year, admission for adults is £8 ($13), children £5.50 ($9). Family tickets are £27 (two adults, a senior citizen and two children, or three children). There is a range of concessions, including free entry for Royal Zoological Society of Scotland members. Open at 10am. Closing depends on daylight hours.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest attractions in Scotland - award winning Rothiemurchus Estate nestles between the high tops of the Cairngorm mountains and the broad basin of the River Spey.

It includes two of the highest mountains in the United Kingdom, 3300 hectares (8600 acres) of the finest remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest, and is home to some very special wildlife.

Rothiemurchus has been recognised as a site of European importance and estate lies within a national scenic area landscape.

The extensive network of walks includes Loch -an Eilein and activities such as ranger guided walks, fishing, clay pigeon shooting, quad biking, wildlife watching can all be enjoyed in beautiful surroundings. Among the many attractions are ‘behind the scenes’ Land Rover tours of the estate.

Your welcome to Rothiemurchus starts at the visitor centre for information and activity booking. It also sells the estate’s wild venison, naturally produced Highland beef and rainbow trout, as well as cards, gifts, cakes, fudge and craftwork. Land Rover tours are £15 ($28) per person (four people minimum) and require advance booking. Open daily.

It’s hard to resist the romance of steam and the Strathspey Railway between Aviemore and Boat of Garten gives a taste of how the journey to the north was in the days when Aviemore was a hub of railway activity. Arrive at Boat of Garten, a village created by the coming of the old railway companies that served the area.

See the driver and fireman tend to their engine and prepare for the journey, then on to Broomhill, known to many as Glenbogle from the television series Monarch of the Glen. Children even get to meet Thomas the Tank Engine on special days.

Round trip fares are £9 ($17) for adults, £4.50 ($7.50) for children and family tickets are £22.50 ($38) for two adults and up to three children, five to 15 years of age, travelling together. Intermediate single, return and first class tickets are available. Trains run every day from June-September and some days in March, April, May, October and December.

This award winning museum has transformed 300 years of history. A thriving township from the 1700s has been recreated with heather thatched roofs and open peat fires; plus a working croft with tractors and farm machinery, rare breed horses, cattle and ducks and an old, tin Highland school where the teacher rules! Staff in period costume help recreate the atmosphere of bygone times. Vintage buses can carry visitors round this open air museum. There is also a children’s play area, craft and gift shop, café and audio visual suite in four languages.

Summer opening times: 5th April – 31st August: Mon – Sun: 10.30am to 5.30pm. Adults: £5 ($9); children & senior citizens: £3 ($5). Family day ticket £15 ($25) for use at Newtonmore and Kingussie family season ticket £20 ($33) also for use at both sites.

Possibly the only museum ever to move from an island to the mainland, the Highland Folk Museum at Kingussie was first founded on Iona in 1935. Now, with reconstructed buildings and an extensive collection of bygone everyday domestic objects, it is a fascinating insight into the social history of the ordinary people of the Highlands. This is a great opportunity to experience life in a traditional Isle of Lewis Black House, reconstructed on site for the purpose.

Summer opening times: 14th April – 27th September: Mon – Sat: 9.30am to 5.30pm. Adults: £2.50 ($4); children & senior citizens: £1.50 ($2.50). Family day ticket £15 ($25) for use at Kingussie and Newtonmore family season ticket £20 ($33) also for use at both sites.

Amassage for mum or dad while the kids are in the playframe, that’s the unique attraction of the Funhouse in Coylumbridge.

Designed with families in mind, the Funhouse is three games areas, a mini bowling alley, adventure golf course and unique playframe area, with an upper age limit of 12.

Mum and dad can relax with their favourite newspaper while keeping an eye on the children from a glass-fronted quiet room. If you’re hungry after all the activity, there’s an American-style diner on site. As a special treat, the Funhouse hosts birthday parties in under age VIP suites, complete with costumed supervision from the likes of Cyril the Squirrel.

While residents at the adjacent Hilton have some preferential rates, non-residents pay £3.75 ($6.30) for over fives, £3.10 ($5.30) for two-four year olds and £1.50 ($2.60) for under twos to spend 90 minutes in the Playframe. Mini bowling and adventure golf are £2 ($3.30) and £2.25 ($3.60) each. Burger meals are around £4-£5 ($6.50-$8.50). The massage costs from £18 ($30) for a neck and back, up to £35 ($55) for a full body tone.

Open all year round for watersports of all kinds and with an impressive programme of dry sports as well. With 14 acres of forested land and 700 acres of beautiful Highland loch to enjoy, there are plenty of activities for everyone, including sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, skiing, fishing, rowing, biking, archery, rafting and walking. Children will love living in a Douglas Fir log cabin, and getting their feet wet in an endless variety of fully supervised activities. Self-catering is supplemented by the Boathouse Restaurant, and there’s a lovely gift shop.

A wide range of sporting sessions, days and instruction start from around £5.25 ($8.50) for half an hour canoeing. Accommodation ranges from just under £500 ($850) to just over £850 ($1,450) for seven nights, for a luxury four berth cabin. Equipment hire is included for stays of two or more nights.

You might find yourself rubbing shoulders with the elite of Scottish sport at Glenmore Lodge, one of the premier mountain training centres in the world, founded upon the quality of the courses offered and of the instructors. There is a full programme of courses to suit everyone from the committed expert to the keen amateur. Set amidst some of Europe’s most challenging and spectacularly beautiful countryside, Glenmore is able to offer courses that can simply be enjoyed for themselves as well as courses leading to qualifications.

Asix-berth chalet per night costs £84 ($140). A typical five-day mountaineering course costs £350 ($570), with accommodation. Glenmore Lodge is open all year-round.

Getting there
• Daily flights to Inverness Airport with easyJet, British Airways, British Midlands and Eastern Airways.
• Train services to Aviemore with GNER, Scotrail and Caledonian Sleeper.
• Citylink bus service.
• Aviemore is less than three hours by car from Edinburgh and Glasgow


Cairngorm Mountain
Tel: +44 (0)1479 861 261
Contact the Cairngorm Ranger
Service on +44 (0)1479 861 703
or email:

Landmark Forest
Theme Park, Carrbridge
Tel: +44 (0)800 731 3446.

Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig
Tel: +44 (0)1540 651 270

Rothiemurchus Estate, by Aviemore
Tel: +44 (0)1479 812 345

Strathspey Steam Railway, Aviemore to Boat of Garten
Tel: +44 (0)1479 810 725

Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore
Tel: +44 (0)1540 661 307

Highland Folk Museum, Kingussie
Tel: +44 (0)1540 661 307

The Fun House, at the Hilton Hotel, Coylumbridge, near Aviemore
Tel: +44 (0)1479 813 081

Hilton reservations
Tel: +44 (0)1479 811 811

Loch Insh Watersports, near Kingussie
Tel: +44 (0)1540 651 272

Glenmore Lodge, near Aviemore
Tel: +44 (0)1479 861 256