It is hard not to get the urge to hike up a hill, swing yourself around on a mountain bike or throw yourself into a frothing river rapid at the SYHA’s Cairngorm Lodge. It is an infectious urge when everyone else at breakfast is getting geared up for a big day exploring the Cairngorms National Park, which the lodge is ideally placed to explore. Join me now on my action packed break in this scenic wonderland as I explore on two feet, two wheels and even in a giant rubber ring!
Cairngorms National Park
For me the Cairngorms National Park is as dramatic a corner of mountain landscape as you will find anywhere in Europe. This was recognised by National Geographic Traveller Magazine recently when they rated it one of the top 20 places to visit in the world. It is awash with things to see and do, from visiting whisky distilleries and wee shops, through to riding steam trains and savouring superb cuisine. I was here, though, for an adrenaline pumping adventure.
John and Robin
First up for my thrill seeking buddy John and I was a trip to Mike’s Bikes to pick up a mountain bike. Their staff were brilliant, making sure my bike seat was the right height and my helmet was fitted properly, before talking us through the route options. We chose to take a wide sweep through the ancient Caledonian Forests of the Rothiemurchus Estate.
Robin mountain biking in Rothiemurchus
Straight away we were bashing along undulating trails through the rugged trees as we barrelled towards Loch an Eilean. This for me is one of the most romantic lochs in the country. Its banks are lined by woodland, the Cairngorm mountains form a deeply dramatic backdrop and in its waters lies a wee island topped by a ruined castle. It has been voted Britain’s favourite picnic spot and it’s easy to see why. We were not here to picnic, though. We ploughed on through rougher tracks to the larger Loch Morlich, the watersports heart of the national park, before completing our circular route with a fast downhill whizz back to Mike’s Bikes.
There was just time for a delicious Rothiemurchus Estate venison wrap from their cafe before we were out of our cycling shorts and into something even less comfortable. Wet suits. Not just wet suits, for river tubing requires helmets, webbed gloves and neoprene boots too. Plus, of course, a life jacket. We joined a dozen hardy souls (who all had zero experience). We set off with Full on Adventure for Feshiebridge where our adventure began in earnest.
Robin off River Tubing
We were schooled in the ins and outs of river tubing. The most important out was what to do if you fall out (try to keep hold of your rubber tube or instead float downriver with your feet up in front of you). Soon we were in the frothy waters of the River Feshie tumbling through rapids as we went. I would like to say I stayed in the tube at all times, but I didn’t. No one bar the instructors did and part of the fun was getting tossed around and churned out in an adrenaline pumping rapid when you did get turfed out.
River tubing is not the only watersport on offer in the Cairngorms National Park. On previous trips I’ve been out on Loch Insh. They have an excellent watersports centre here. They offer sailing and windsurfing, with tuition available. My favourite was just paddling out on an open canoe in search of the ospreys who call the tall trees around the loch home. They have a good restaurant here too, the Boathouse, which boasts epic views out across the loch.
Exhausted after our first day it was back to Cairngorm Lodge to swap adventure tales with other like-minded souls. We also tucked into fish and chips – the hostel offers a range of evening meals. I loved that you could wash this down with a bottle of one of the ales produced by local brewer Cairngorm Brewery Company.
Next day it was up early for a fortifying cooked breakfast at the hostel. At £6.50 for a hearty plate of food (and bottomless tea and coffee) the hostel has to offer the best value breakfast in the national park! Also great value was Andy Bateman of Scot Mountain Holidays. He runs bespoke guided walking trips all year round and his knowledge of the Cairngorms National Park is second to none.
Andy parked at the ski car park and we were off on a mountain trail bound for Ben Macdui, at 1,309m the second highest mountain in Britain. We didn’t just bash up a ridge, instead taking our time to try wild berries and check out Alpine flowers such as orchids as went. We gradually worked our way up to the top of Ben Macdui via the fascinating site of a World War Two air crash, before a hungrily consumed lunch in the wee shelter at the summit. We spent the afternoon winding our way back down via some deeply scenic stops and a thrilling finale down the legendary Goat Track.
Wildflowers in Cairngorms
Our adventure trip ended in relatively sedate style with a wildlife viewing experience from Speyside Wildlife. We eked through the thick forest to the remote hide and our guide ranked up the excitement teasing us with what could expect to see. Badgers are pretty regular visitors and sure enough we soon had a half a dozen of these graceful animals feasting on the peanut butter and nuts that had been left to tempt them to visit. Then finally the real star of the show appeared – a pine marten. This cute wee fella shimmied down a tree branch to grab a whole egg in his mouth before turning tail back into the dark depths of the forest.
Badgers viewed from the wildlife hide
Back at the Cairngorm Lodge I enjoyed the reward of another Cairngorm Brewery Company ale while I pondered over a seed Andy had planted in my mind. He said that for him the Cairngorms National Park is even more dramatic in winter with a deep sweep of snow. I’d enjoyed my adventure trip so much in early autumn that I’m already looking at booking a return to the Cairngorms in winter. Stay tuned for more on that…
Robin and the Cairngorms Reindeer
Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel is open 13 Feb - 30 October and extended weekends in Dec 2015 and is available for Exclusively yours...RentaHostel.
Biography for Robin McKelvie
Robin McKelvie (www.robinmckelvie.com) is a Scottish travel writer, broadcaster and blogger who has been covering his native land since the 1990s. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Robin is the author of a number of guidebooks, including National Geographic’s Scotland guide. He regularly contributes to a variety of newspapers and magazines across five continents, such as the Times and the Scotsman, as well as doing travel slots for BBC radio. Robin can be found on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robinmckelvie.