M and I recently spent a week in Scotland. Our itinerary involved a night in Edinburgh, two nights in Aviemore, two nights in Ballachulish, and a final night in Edinburgh. We drove around Loch Ness, spent an afternoon on the sea in Oban, visited mid-evil castles, and stopped to sip Scotch in Pitlochry. We had so much fun it’s difficult to put into one post, so I thought I’d break it down into a few highlight sections. Our time in Aviemore felt like a good place to start.
Aviemore is a town in the Eastern highlands in Cairngorms National Park. It has the feel of a classic mountain resort town- local eateries, lots of outdoor outfitter shops, and recreational opportunities for all ages and ability levels. In the winter the focus is downhill skiing, but in summer months warmer weather activities dominate.
We got a rental car on arrival in Edinburgh and set off fairly early in the morning. We stopped at Scone Castle in Perth where Robert the Bruce was crowned in 1306 and walked the grounds. About an hour later we stopped in Pitlochry and had a fantastic lunch at Port-na-Craig Inn. M had the haggis burger and we both delighted in eating along the river. Following this, we did a scotch tasting at the Bell’s distillery across the river. About an hour later we arrived in Aviemore. M had planned the route and stops the night before and it worked out perfectly.
One interesting thing about driving in Scotland was the roadways. We expected multilane highways we have seen in many international destinations like New Zealand, Ireland, and Spain. Instead, major cities and towns are connected by two lane streets with minimal shoulder. Don’t expect to drive 70mph between sites. We embraced the driving by building in entertaining stops along the way.
We stayed at the Hilton Coylumbridge. I would not recommend it for those traveling as a couple. It is a great place for families but not ideal for romantic escapes. The rooms are dated and cuisine caters to families. Unbeknownst to us when booking dinner was included in the rate. Convenient for families but restrictive in our circumstance.
Aviemore had incredible recreational options. We started with a quintessential highland hike around Loch an Eilein. It is frequently photographed and popular because of the ruins of a 15th century castle located on a small island within the Loch. It was an easy 4 mile hike with a well developed trail. (Walkhighlands.co.uk was a detailed resource broken down by region, hike distance, and skill level required.)
The other hike we did was around the elevated part of the Cairngorms near Ben Macdhui. Close to the funicular, this trail offered the best views we saw of the eastern highlands. The trail overlooked the valley containing Loch Morlich. At the start of the hike a herd of wild reindeer crossed our path.
For some variety we decided to try a 4 wheeler tour of Rothiemurchus forest. After a quick tutorial we set off with our guide through forest trails crossing streams and rivers. We saw highland cattle and great mountain views. We had a blast and would highly recommend it!
We didn’t spend a ton of time in Aviemore but did venture in to try the Mountain Cafe for lunch, a local spot suggested in an Outside magazine article I had read. They had solid local and international cuisine at reasonable prices. We also stopped in to the Cairngorm brewery to try craft beer in Scotland. The scotch ale was served warm and cask pulled. (Not sure M was sold on warm beer.) If you are a whisky fan, the Speyside whisky trail has several nearby distillery stops.
One activity we felt was a bit of a letdown was the fishing. They had a bait fishing well stocked pond and rental equipment ideal for children. Then they had a Loch devoted to fly fishing. The day we were there the water was still and fish were not biting. The only fish we saw caught were in the children’s bait fishing area. I’m sure Scotland has fantastic fishing but Rothiemurchus was not the spot. [M note: perhaps the fact you took a hook in the eyebrow when I was teaching you to fly fish influenced the “letdown” judgement…]
Had we had another day we would have rented bikes. They had an extensive trail system connecting Aviemore, Rothiemurchus forest, Loch Morlich, and the Cairngorms.
-Loch an Eilein hike
-Cairngorm mountain hike
-4 Wheeler tour of Rothiemurchus
-Speyside whisky trail