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You can blame the continuing popularity of the Scottish resort of Aviemore on three things: Queen Victoria, snow, and BBC television program Monarch of the Glen. Golf, whisky and big hills play some part in it too. Surrounded by the beautiful and rugged scenery of Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands, yet with excellent transport links to central Scotland, Aviemore is an ideal destination to appreciate a very attractive area of the country and take part in a range of leisure pursuits from snowboarding to whisky drinking.

The area known as Speyside has long been a popular holiday destination, and Aviemore, which nestles in the valley of the River Spey 30 miles south of Inverness, is its best-known resort. Originally the visitors were the English upper classes, impressed by Queen Victoria's love of the area around Balmoral, which lies to the west across the Cairngorm mountains. In the early twentieth century, the Spey valley was still a popular destination for the upper class, as they donned tweeds or kilts and indulged in the country pursuits of salmon fishing, deer stalking, and other ways of killing innocent animals whilst appreciating the natural beauty.

Since the 1950s, the biggest draw has been the skiing, and more recently snowboarding, in the mountains nearby. However in recent years popular TV drama Monarch of the Glen, which is filmed in the area, has introduced more people to the area. Aviemore lies at the foot of the Cairngorms, a range which contains four of Scotland's five highest mountains (Ben Macdhui, Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Cairn Gorm)*. Because of its high altitude and inland location, it is one of the coldest places in Scotland in winter and usually receives a good fall of snow. In the summer, it is often warmer than the rest of Scotland, and the same mountains are a big draw for walkers and sightseers.

Whether in summer or winter, Aviemore offers good holiday prospects for many people. Like much of Scotland, your happiness will depend on the weather, but if it doesn't rain, there is much see and do. If it does rain, you may have to fall back on the other traditional leisure activity of the Scots, getting drunk; luckily you will also find plenty of places to eat and drink and good accommodation of all sorts.

Things to do in town

The bad news: Aviemore is not the most scenic of Highland towns and villages. Compared to nearby Kingussie, which still retains most of its old Victorian and Edwardian buildings, the difference is stark. A large part of Aviemore is a building site, and many of the buildings are modern and ugly. However, there are good bars and restaurants, a large number of shops selling souvenirs and hillwalking and sports equipment, and a leisure centre which includes a cinema and indoor sports. The town is also home to one end of the Strathspey Railway, where old steam trains will take you a few miles north to Boat of Garten. At Christmas, you can visit Santa Claus Land, although there are reindeer nearby all year round.

Things to do in the surrounding area

If you come to Aviemore on vacation, it is unlikely you will stay in town: the surrounding countryside is far more interesting. There are numerous routes for walking, whether you want a gentle stroll or some serious mountaineering. Aviemore is Britain's main centre for winter sports, but there also numerous other activities year-round. Nearby Loch Insh and Loch Morlich host watersports. You can also try curling and clay pigeon shooting, as well as pony trekking, quad-biking and mountain biking. The area contains a number of golf courses, and those fond of less traditional sports can visit the Cairngorm Sleddog Adventure Centre at Rothiemurchus.

For those not so athletically inclined, there are a number of museums and other visitor centres nearby. However, like the sporting venues most of these are outdoors, so when it is raining your options are limited. Speyside is one of the main centres of Scotch whisky distilling, and a number of distilleries offer visitor tours. For children, there is the Landmark Heritage Park, a few miles north at Carrbridge, which features an adventure playground and small theme park as well as exhibits and demonstrations of more traditional aspects of the area's history. The Cairngorm Mountain Railway, a funicular railway, allows visitors to ride to near the top of the mountain Cairn Gorm and appreciate the scenery without walking further than from the carpark indoors.

To the south is the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig, which allows visitors to see a wide variety of Scotland's present and previous wildlife, including majestic red deer, manic pine martens, car-threatening European bison, ferocious wildcats and wolves, and cute otters. There is also the Highland Folk Museum, distributed between nearby towns of Newtonmore and Kingussie: the Newtonmore site contains reproductions of a farming township from the early eighteenth century and a 1930s village, while the Kingussie museum is a more conventional indoor museum.

Accommodation

The area offers a wide variety of places to stay from the very expensive to the more modest. The main hotels in town are the old Cairngorm Hotel, just opposite the railway station, and the more modern Aviemore Hilton Hotel, which is by far the tallest building in the town and nestles in trees on the edge of the mountains; there is also a Hilton at nearby Coylumbridge. The Freedom Inn in the Aviemore Leisure Centre offers the excitement of a cheap bland hotel chain at more reasonable prices. As well as tourism, Aviemore is also a popular destination for conventions and conferences, so the hotels manage to stay full year-round, although for most the summer months are the high season. For those on a budget, there are also numerous smaller family-run hotels, inns and bed and breakfast places, as well as a youth hostel and nearby caravan (mobile home) and camping sites.

Transport

Aviemore lies just off the A9, the main trunk road to Inverness, which is a mix of single and dual carriageway. Depending on the time of day it takes about 90 minutes from Perth or two and a half hours from Edinburgh, or a little longer. The town is also on the railway from Perth to Inverness, with regular trains from Edinburgh and Glasgow and less frequently direct from London. There is also an airport at Inverness, 30 miles away, with flights from London, in rather small airplanes.


Notes

*Since the definition of what is a separate mountain varies, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, another summit in the Cairngorms, may be included ahead of Cairn Gorm. This means the Cairngorms have five of the highest six, although they are missing the highest peak in Scotland, Ben Nevis. See also the write-ups under Munro.


Sources

  • Cairngorm Hotel website. 2002-2003. http://www.cairngorm.com
  • "Aviemore and Cairngorms Experience". Cairngorms Chamber of Commerce. http://www.aviemore.org
  • "Monro Magic". http://www.monromagic.com/
  • "Did You Know?". Rampant Scotland. http://www.rampantscotland.com/know/blknow23.htm
And a wide variety of tourism leaflets, tour guides and visitor information.

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