Not a member?
Register and login now.

Issue 30 - Wild mountain sanctuary (Cairngorms)

Scotland Magazine Issue 30
December 2006


This article is 11 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.

Copyright Scotland Magazine © 1999-2018. All rights reserved. To use or reproduce part or all of this article please contact us for details of how you can do so legally.

Wild mountain sanctuary (Cairngorms)

The Cairngorms is Britain's largest national park and is home to a quarter of its threatened birds, animals and plants. Graham Holliday reports

Scotland is home to two of Britain’s 14 national parks. The Cairngorms National Park, which opened in September 2003, is the newest and the largest. It’s twice as big as Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, Scotland’s other national park. It’s a mountainous area, home to four of Scotland’s highest mountains. The Spey, Don and Dee rivers all flow through the vast natural expanse.

The park attracts more than half a million visitors every year and the abundant wildlife is one of the biggest draws.

The internationally renowned Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve at Loch Garten, located in the northern section of the park, is where the Osprey returned to Scotland more than 50 years ago. Between April and August the park’s Osprey Centre is at its busiest with bird watchers taking advantage of the binoculars and telescopes and trekking along short loch side trails or longer walks through the Caledonian pine forests.

The pines are home to crossbills, red squirrels and crested tits. RSPB wardens run guided walks through the forest. They will explain everything you want to know about the wildlife and the habitat. The wilder and more forbidding high tops are accessible via established footpaths or, more rapidly, by the funicular railway which opened in 2001. The journey to the top of Cairn Gorm itself, which rises to a height of 4,082 feet, takes just 10 minutes. At the top you’ll not only find Britain’s highest restaurant and highest post box, but also ptarmigan, mountain hare and golden eagle, if you look hard enough.

Cairngorm rangers run one and two hour guided walks. These are invaluable for visitors new to the area or with limited time. In summer rangers will concentrate on the alpine flowers and on one of Britain’s rarest birds, the dotterel. In winter the focus moves to other natives, the snow bunting and ptarmigan.

Last year was a good year lower down the slopes and in among the glades of Cairngorm’s Caledonian pines. The capercaillie had a remarkable year. This massive grouse had its most successful breeding season for 14 years. Eighty-eight hens raised 121 chicks, 40 were reared in Strathspey alone. The good news comes at the end of the final year of the Capercaillie LIFE Project, which injected £4.5 million into creating capercaillie friendly habitat in and around the national park.

“The extensive work carried out by forest managers for capercaillie is beginning to produce results – particularly when the weather is good, as was the case this summer. The results confirm that we are doing the right things and the benefits of the habitat work done in this LIFE project will continue to accrue for many years to come,” said Kenny Kortland, RSPB capercaillie project officer speaking at a conference to mark the end of the LIFE Project.

Visitors to the Cairngorms between April 1 to May 21 can join a “Caper Watch” at the Loch Garten Osprey Centre between 5:30am and 8:30am.

From 10am to 6pm the centre returns to regular viewing.


Cairgorm National Park 14 The Square, Grantown on Spey PH26 3HG
Tel: +44 (0)1479 873 535

Cairngorm Ranger Service Ranger Base, Ski Area, By Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1RB Tel: +44 (0)1479 861 703

RSPB Loch Garten Boat of Garten, Near Aviemore, Highlands PH25 3EF Tel: +44 (0)1479 831 476

Caperwatch costs £1 for RSPB members. Non-members pay £3 and children can visit for free. The Osprey Centre costs £2.50. Children pay 50p. The centre has a pine marten hide, which costs about £15

Where to Stay

Ravenscourt House Hotel
A former Edwardian manse with eight luxury bedrooms and a dining menu filled with venison, salmon, pigeon and haggis dishes. Seafield Avenue, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire, PH26 3JG. Tel: +44 (0)1479 872 286

Auld Cummerton
Billed as the only five star B&B in Cairngorms National Park, this stone cottage dates back to 1760 and offers two rooms including a double with a Stuart period four poster bed Glen Nochty, Strathdon AB36 8UP
Tel: +44 (0)1975 651 337

The Tordarroch Wing
is part of a Dunlichity country house. It has selfcatering accommodation for up to eight people and is situated in private grounds with a one acre midge machine to make you stay less stressful.
Dunlichity House, Tordarroch – Farr, Inverness IV2 6XF Tel: +44 (0)1808 521 442

Get back to basics and stay in a bothy.

For more information on bothies in Cairngorm see: