For Christmas this year my parents rented a house in Aviemore in the centre of the Highlands, so five days before Christmas we drove north up the A9, with Scotland in the grip of some of the most wintery weather it had seen for a number of years.
When we arrived in Aviemore we discovered our house was uninhabitable – a power cut had meant the boiler switched off, so the pipes had frozen and burst. The letting agent quickly found us a replacement house though, so all was well.
The following day was incredibly cold, around -10 degrees Celsius with snow all around, so we didn’t go far and just wandered into Aviemore.
Just on the north edge of Aviemore is a stone circle, so we headed there. Situated in the centre of a housing estate of bungalows, this is actually a Clava-type cairn, although the cairn material has long since been robbed away, leaving a circle of kerb stones with the remnants of two surrounding rings of standing stones.
A nearby tree provided a musical background to our visit, with dozens of chaffinches chattering away as they braved the cold with chests puffed out.
The next day was also bitterly cold, but we decided we should try to go a bit further, so we drove to the Speyside Heather Centre where it’s sometimes possible to see red squirrels. It seemed to be too cold for squirrels as we didn’t see any, but there were plenty of birds, mainly coal tits, greenfinches, siskins and more chaffinches.
We were tempted to stop at the Clootie Dumpling Restaurant, but considering we’d not long left the house and were only a few miles from home we contented ourselves with buying some Cairngorm Brewery ales from the gift shop. The car park gives a good idea of how many people were out and about on this very chilly day!
We continued on to Castle Roy, which is said to be one of the oldest castles in Scotland still standing.
The castle doesn’t have much of a known history, save for the fact that it was probably built by the Comyn family in the later 12th or early 13th century. It consists of a simple rectangular set of walls standing on top of a small mound.
Access to the interior of the castle isn’t allowed as the walls are unstable, so we had to make do with taking photos from the outside as the sun started to go down.
Again the cold wasn’t conducive to staying outside, so we ran back to the car and made our way back to Aviemore, admiring the wonderful colours created by the sunset.
Another day, and more snow and wintry conditions. Today we put the sledge in the back of the car and drove up to the Rothiemurchus Forest to have a look at Loch an Eilein Castle. The whole area was covered with a few centimetres of fresh powdery snow from the day before.
We managed a bit of sledging on some of the low slopes around the loch, but the main reason we were here was the castle. Built mainly in the 13th and 14th centuries, it is now a ruin standing on a small island towards the north end of Loch an Eilein.
It would have been tempting to walk across the ice to the castle, were it not for the (relatively!) warm springs in the loch. The footprints in the snow showed that someone was tempted, but they stopped midway out where the warming effects of the spring are visible as a darker swathe across the ice. Instead we stood on the snowy banks and took photos from a distance.
Despite the cold it was a beautiful day and a stunning location, with blue skies overhead, surrounded by pine trees, and quiet all around.
We weren’t the only visitors this morning, with deer and dog tracks visible in the snow on the ice.
After a bit more sledging, we drove back through a wonderful winter wonderland.
After lunch we went for a walk in search of more sledging opportunities, and on our way past the station in Aviemore we saw the steam train of the Strathspey Railway warming up for tomorrow’s Santa Express.
We did a bit more sledging on a walk to the Rothiemurchus Centre. Within this building, the Old School House, is the Druie Restaurant Café, the smells from which were very tempting. But we knew the Christmas cake was ready to be cut at home, so we bought some more Cairngorm Brewery ales from the farm shop and headed back to the house.
The next day was Christmas Eve, and under another glorious blue sky we set off – rather ambitiously – on our way to Corgarff Castle. For those not familiar with the local geography, this route passes through Scotland’s second highest village, Tomintoul, and past The Lecht ski centre. With a light covering of fresh snow, the roads were pretty slow, but the views were simply stunning.
We stopped off at The Lecht, and as if to highlight how difficult the conditions were, we needed a push from some friendly snowboarders to get out of the car park!
Crossing the border and descending into Aberdeenshire, we headed for Corgarff Castle. Unfortunately the access road up to the castle was blocked by a combination of snow and an oil tanker, so we made do with a photo from a distance and vowed to return in better weather.
Retracing our steps we faced a steep climb up to The Lecht on slippy, snowy roads. For a moment it seemed like we were going to get stuck, but eventually we managed to get some traction and climbed to the flat. Beyond The Lecht and back in Inverness-shire we spotted a female Roe Deer looking for food in a field beside the road, so stopped to watch it for a few minutes.
Once again by the time we got close to Aviemore there was another beautiful sunset.
That night we walked into the centre of Aviemore to see a Christmas procession, with Santa’s sleigh being pulled by reindeer.
Following the procession, it seemed like the entire village headed to the Cairngorm Hotel, so we joined them. After a couple of ales we walked back to the house in anticipation of a white Christmas.