Aviemore proved a disappointment but a walk around the Rothiemurchus estate restored us on a grey day in the Cairngorms.
Fortified by a delicious breakfast of porridge and a fry-up, we left the four West Midlanders talking politics in the hotel restaurant to plan our itinerary on a day that threatened both rain and shine.
We plumped eventually for the trip to Aviemore, driving the 10 or so miles to the town that’s at the centre of the Cairngorms’ skiing and summer adventure sports industry. The road carved through pine forests and green fields populated by sheep and cattle, a contrast to the barren mountains beyond.
I’m not sure why we bothered. Aviemore turned out to be a rather ugly little town, with just a few attractive buildings amid the depressing parade of 60s and 70s shops and homes. Crowning it all was a concrete box of a monstrosity, home to a Macdonald Hotels resort that you could see for miles around.
Somehow, the railway station had survived as a reminder of what Aviemore must’ve once been like.
As we sat down to morning coffee in Cobbs cafe, I felt the gloom weighing me down. So we plumped for a reviving dose of nature and, with the rain holding off but the clouds hanging low over the mountains, drove to the Rothiemurchus estate just outside town.
Collecting a walking map from the chirpy folk at the visitors’ centre, we began a 6-mile hike out to the Loch an Eilein, or Lake of the Island, through a landscape of heather, Scotch Pine and Birch woods, part of the ancient Caledonian pine forest – or what’s left of it.
New spring growth from forest floor to the canopy showed up as fresh, bright greens.
We passed the small lake of Lochan Mor, where a family of ducks fed and played while the reflections of the mountains beyond danced around them.
At the head of Loch an Eilein we found a small visitor centre and gift shop in an old cottage. We bought two prints by a local artist before continuing on and circling the lake itself.
The sun tried to break through and the views of the loch and the surrounding mountains were majestic. This was nature at its best, Scotland as a gold medal destination.
In the water sat the island that gave the loch its name, and the ruins of a castle atop it. Thought to be about 600 or more years old and used by locals as a place of refuge in times of danger, it looked overgrown but romantic, home to birds and other wildlife.
Light winds rippled the surface of the lake as we completed our walk, feet sore and in need of a reviving pint. We landed at the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore. A pretty dismal place it proved to be, full of noisy stag and hen parties all trying to get as shit-faced as possible in the shortest possible time.
We withdrew to our hotel and more lager, and Graham’s dream came true as watched a red squirrel feeding in the grounds.
In the evening we went into Grantown-on-Spey for dinner, discovering a cab driver with the thickest Scottish accent on the planet along the way. We had a conversation with him en route but I’m not exactly sure what it was about…
We had a drink in the Grant Arms Hotel, one of those places locked in a timewarp with terrible 80s furniture. A shame it was too because the building itself is a grand affair and such a dominant feature of the high street.
Despite being a Friday night, the town was quiet and decent pubs seemed few and far between, even non-existent.
We ate in the nearby Garth Hotel, a homely place but pricey. I had beef fillet, overdone despite asking for it to be pretty rare, while Graham had lamb with mussels. Afterwards we drank in the bar as it looked like the only place in town that seemed to have any life to it. Being in Scotland I thought I would try a whisky, and horrid it proved to be.
Outside, the clouds rolled down from the hills and the rain began… Again.