It’s well known that, by popular vote, the West of Scotland is far more popular than the East… and there’s a good reason for it. In terms of road trip splendour and easy-access vistas, nothing quite beats Glen Coe or Isle of Skye and truth be told, the multi-day tracking is probably better there, too.
Compared to Scotland’s most famous tourist draws, Cairngorms National Park in the North East might feel like a bleak, monotone or even boring affair. And yet, it’s none of those things – at all!
When we started our road trip through Scotland from Edinburgh, we chose to head North first: through the charming little town of Dunkeld all the way up to Newtonmore (and later, Aviemore and Kingussie). It was a very good choice indeed.
First of all, the road into the Cairngorms might not be the most scenic you’ll find on your trip through the highlands, but it is – on the other hand – very straightforward. Considering you might have just picked up a rental car with the steering wheel on the odd side… the A9 is a very good introduction to driving in the UK and gives you ample time to get used to the whole “look right, drive left” concept.
Secondly, Cairngorms has a wide offer of low key things to do, from some small clan museums to simple flat strolls around the many lakes, over leisurely driving the pretty B970. There’s many trails just perfect for people pushing strollers or walking little unfit dogs. In the end, we’re might not all be mountaineers but that doesn’t mean we don’t fancy a view.
Here are some of my favourite things to do between Dunkeld and Inverness:
Drive the B970 from Kingussie to Aviemore
This little road passes the ruins of Ruthven Barracks (which looks like a charming castle on a hill), the Insh Marches (where you can go bird spotting from a view house), the Speyside Distillery (yay, whisky) and pretty loch Inch.
It’s also a gateway to other lakes, like Loch An Eilein (which has a pretty dull and uninspiring path around it) and Uath Lochan, which has much nicer (yet still easy) trails like the slightly hilly Farleitter Crag trail and a leisure boardwalk through the marches. All the pictures below were taken on the Farleitter Crag trail.
Go for a stroll and eat cake in Dunkeld
Tiny Dunkeld wont go down as the cultural highlight of your trip, but non the less it impressed me with it’s white painted square, atmospheric cathedral and doll house like cake shop. Considering that it was raining quite badly when we got there, that means a lot (
usually rain soaked stuff doesn’t impress me at all).
There are some nice, mostly flat hikes just across the river on the other side of the A9. We did the Hermitage and Braan Walk to stir up our appetite before grabbing cake at the Spill the Beans Cafe. They had a whopping array of sweets to choose from and a welcoming interior to warm up with a cuppa, however the cakes (I had lemon, my dad mocha) weren’t as good as they looked.
See beautiful Loch Morlich from atop Meall a’ Bhuachaille
I’ve already dedicated a full post to the hike up this hill, but it seriously can’t get too much praise. The variety of landscapes you cross in just a mere 8km, the quality of the trail and the views from the top made for an unforgettable day of walking.
For those who don’t feel like breaking a sweat, there’s a reindeer farm at the visitor centre and a flat hike around Loch Morlich which offers stunning vistas. Of the dozens of lakes we’ve seen in Scotland, Morlich probably impressed me the most!
In summary: those who visit Cairngorms at the end of a Scotland trip might come away a little disappointed, but when you consider it a starter for what’s to come, it’s perfect. The area definitely feels less touristy than Skye, less intimidating than Fort William and less rushed than the cities. It’s a great region to take it slow, spend ample time in pubs and cake shops, and simply enjoy the fact that you have just started the holiday of a lifetime.