mountains, eagles and a snowy beach: the best of Scotland
Today I have less weighty reflections on my mind than the whole ancestral duty thing. Even living in a place like this, most of life is about the little things, thank goodness. Such as, sitting at the kitchen table with a freshly-brewed cup of coffee, savouring a half hour to myself between morning chores and nursery school run. (I do keep meaning to drink less coffee and more herbal tea, but there is something irreplaceable about that first rush of hot black coffee. Preferably with cake. I have never dared visit Austria: in a country where a whole culture is built around kaffee und kuechen, I think I’d rapidly end up as wide as I’m tall.)
In this lazy half hour over coffee, I am full of memories of our more energetic weekend. On Saturday we took our boys up to the Cairngorms for a long-promised day out. This is one of our favourite parts of Scotland. Between Aviemore and the Cairngorm plateau lies Rothiemurchus, an area of ancient Caledonian forest which has to be some of the most perfect woodland in all this beautiful country. Imagine, if you will, miles of pine forest: not dark and thick, but open to the sky, the trees mostly sculptural Scots pines with a few birches, the undergrowth a mixture of low-growing heather and wild blueberries. And beyond the trees, the constant presence of the round-shouldered mountains, streaked with white.
Rothiemurchus is a shining example of a highland estate that has diversified successfully, offering an enormous range of structured outdoor activities for visitors without spoiling the magnificent landscape which brings them there in the first place. On this occasion, however, we were very happy just doing our own thing in the great outdoors. We had woods to walk in, mountains to draw the eye…what more could one want on a day out with small children? Oh yes, a beach. And here is one on the shores of Loch Morlich, a beautiful freshwater loch at the foot of the mountains.
The boys marvelled to see snow on a beach for the first time, although the ducks seemed perfectly unfazed. Once back in the forest, we found a snowy clearing and coaxed younger son out of his whinging mood with a full-on snowball fight. (It’s amazing how a bit of snow down Daddy’s neck can brighten up the grumpiest child.) A couple of wonderful old pine trees to climb completed a memorable morning.
By this time we were ready for lunch at one of our favourite cafes. (Talking of coffee and cake…both are irresistible at this place, especially after a morning in the fresh air.) Later in the day we went to an indoor climbing wall to introduce the boys to the idea, and finished up with giving them a session in a soft-play area to work off any remaining energy. The car grew very quiet on the journey home!
To crown a lovely day, I spotted a pair of golden eagles spiralling lazily above the road a few miles from Aviemore. Despite the unnerving presence of a massive young sea-eagle at Castle Beastie over the past few months (we are rather hoping that he’s a juvenile who will move on) there is something uniquely thrilling about the golden eagle. Buzzards are almost as common as crows in our part of the world: the keepers call them ‘tourist eagles’ as visitors to the area often get rather excited at spotting them, thinking they are the real deal. When you are familiar with the smaller, blunt-winged buzzard, however, there is no mistaking them for the great splayed wing-tips of the golden eagle. (I’ll never forget my first sighting of eagles, over Castle Tioram in the West Highlands when I was six years old. We were visiting this ancient stronghold of our clan when we spotted the pair of birds high above the cliffs. Somehow, their presence became, in my memory, an intrinsic part of my then rather highly-coloured view of my highland ancestry.) I have seen few enough golden eagles – usually in the Cairngorms – for a sighting still to be a thrill every time.
This post does rather sound as if it has been sponsored by the Cairngorms tourism association. No such luck…maybe I’m missing a trick there! How can you not be enthusiastic about such a place, though? Mountains, lochs, snow, forest, beach, eagles and good coffee, all within a few square miles. I started off talking about ‘the little things’. In fact these are some of the greatest things which this country has to offer. Truly, Scotland at its finest.
See also: Prehistoric Encounters on Cairn Gorm