A September 2003 trip
to Aviemore by Re Carroll
Quote: Elegant Georgian buildings, heather covered fields, the majestic Cairngorms, and the winding Spey River combine to make Aviemore a place worth visiting. Aviemore is the largest town in the Cairngorm mountain range, and we used it as our base for exploring the highlands.
Owned by Peter and Gail Conn, the guest house is rated 3 stars by the Scottish Tourist Board meaning Very Good. The original part of the house was built at the turn of the 19th century, but the guest house has become so popular that a large extension was recently added.
After checking in, we went to unload the car and came back to homemade hazelnut cake waiting outside our room--a nice touch. Although Cairngorm is located on the main road in town, our room overlooked the side garden and was very quiet at night. I nicknamed it the lavender room, since that was the predominant colour in the walls, bed coverings, drapes, bath mats and thistle stencils that decorated each wall. The room had a double bed, wall-mounted TV, rocking chair, wooden wardrobe and tea and coffee making facilities. The tiled bathroom was compact, with modern shower, pedestal sink, fruit-scented toiletries, and a welcome feature on cold days--a heated towel rack.
The Conns used to be pig farmers, and piggie knickknacks are scattered throughout the house including our coffee mugs and bathroom light switch.
Breakfast was served between 7:45 and 8:45 in the large parlour on the main floor. Peter did the cooking and Gail and a couple of assistants took care of serving and socializing to ensure breakfast was a pleasant experience. We had a traditional Scottish breakfast with juice, cereal, bacon, sausage, egg, black pudding, fried tomato, toast, homemade jam, and tea; definitely enough food to keep us full long past lunch time. Vegetarian breakfasts and homemade porridge were also available but needed to be pre-ordered the night before.
The large guest lounge on the main floor was filled with videos, books, games, comfortable furniture, and a log burning fireplace that made it cozy and welcoming. For guests visiting during rainy or snowy weather there is a drying room for wet boots and clothes as well as a clothes dryer that is available for a fee.
Cairngorm is totally non-smoking, and all rooms have central heating and 24-hour access. The rate for our double room was £46 per night. Reservations are a good idea, and you can check out their web site at: www.cairngormguesthouse.com
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 9, 2003
Cairngorm Guest House
(014) 79 810-630
The hotel reminded me of an old hunting lodge, with lots of thick stone blocks and corner turrets. That image continued inside with tartan carpets, leaded glass windows, and dark, heavy furniture. The restaurant had a large wood burning fire place and the walls were decorated with thick, heavy picture frames and mirrors and a multitude of stag horns.
Their menu featured steaks, seafood, and Scottish specialties, but it seemed that most diners were here for the buffet featuring traditional Scottish food. We started with a big bowl of hearty Scotch broth and freshly
baked wheat bread. Then our waitress brought us large, heated dinner plates from the kitchen and set us loose at the buffet tables. We feasted on clapshot (mashed turnip and potatoes), potato and black pudding hash, minced beef in gravy, fish pie, steak casserole, haggis, chopped boiled cabbage with ham, stovies (mashed vegetables and meat), steamed vegetables, skirlie (oatmeal
fried with onions & butter), venison casserole, mashed potatoes and sliced potatoes in cream. Jim raved about the fish pie which was filled with salmon, white fish, prawns and mussels) and I particularly liked the steak,
mushroom, and ale casserole, but all the dishes were delicious, hot, and fresh.
The buffet cost £9.25 per person. Coffee and dessert was not included in the price. We were too full to order dessert anyway, although selections included sticky toffee pudding, profiteroles, trifle, and strawberry meringue.
The hotel has a second restaurant but the buffet is only available in the main dining room on Thursday nights, and reservations are definitely recommended. We were lucky to get in without them, but others who came in after us were turned away at the door.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 9, 2003
The coal burning steam powered locomotive runs several times daily from Aviemore to Broomhill, and I took the last journey of the day. Aviemore's station has been restored to its original state and has the appearance of a 19th century train yard. Other than a modern housing subdivision near the Aviemore station, it felt like we were stepping back in time, as we slowly made our way through the scenic highland countryside. We were soon rolling past glades of birch, rowan, pine trees, and heather carpeted moor land.
The first stop was at Boat of Garten with its pretty little station. We had about 10 minutes to explore and take pictures while the engine took on more coal. From Boat of Garten the train followed the curving Spey River, past herds of black faced sheep and placid dairy cattle. Our next stop was Broomhill, where the engine was disconnected and moved to the other end of the train in preparation for the return journey. The Broomhill station is quite small and was just opened in 2002. It serves as a setting for the popular BBC TV series Monarch of the Glen.
As well as the steam engine, the train had 3 passenger cars, and their interiors varied--one was pretty old and dirty, but the others were OK, so I'd recommend walking through all the cars before you decide on a seat. Normally there is a dining car serving light meals and refreshments, but it was out of commission during my trip.
Passengers on morning and early afternoon trains have the option of disembarking at any of the stations and taking a later train back. This allows time for a walk from the Boat of Garten station to Milton Loch, about 3 miles away, to view herons and other wildlife. The Broomhill station also has nearby walking trails.
The cost for the return journey is £8.40 for adult and £4.20 for children up to 15 years of age. One-way tickets are also available. Trains run from April to December and there are special trains at various times throughout the year, especially during the Christmas season. The return trip from Aviemore to Broomhill takes just over an hour and is a must do for rail enthusiasts.
Strathspey Steam Railway
I was initially disappointed to find out that it was only a garden centre, but once we got inside, it soon became apparent that it's not just anything. One area contained a Heather Exhibition explaining the historical and/or current uses of heather. I learned it was used in dye, weaving of ropes, thatched roofs, and doormats. Edible uses included medicinal products as well as flavouring for tea, honey, ale, wine and whisky. Heather was considered a good luck charm, and even now, many brides carry a sprig in their bouquet. Soldiers wore heather into battle and ancient custom had the dead buried with heather to ensure good luck in the after life. Superstitious farmers still wave heather over the land to ensure a good harvest.
The garden centre advertises hundreds of varieties of heather for sale--large and small blooms, tall plants, and low ground cover, pink, purple, and white flowers as well as metallic blue, which is achieved through dying and, according to Jim's cousin, fades quickly. I'd checkedbefore leaving Canada, and knew I couldn't bring any home with me because I didn't have the proper permits.
The gift shop had a wide selection of merchandise: lovely thistle-decorated crystal, linen, toys, china, tartans, jewellery (including earring and brooches made from polished heather), candy, books, music, and alcohol. We tried a sample of Heather Cream Liqueur and found it sweeter than many other cream liqueurs.
Another section that caught my interest was The Clootie Dumpling Restaurant, whose claim to fame was clootie dumpling served 21 different ways. Dumpling
can best be described as a type of fruit cake or pudding, and I'm an addict. Jim's grandmother used to make it for special occasions and would stuff it with sixpence and tiny toys, and it was the highlight of a birthday celebration. The menu listed a savoury sausage topping as well one with cream, ice cream, and Heather cream liqueur, but I didn't see any penny-filled varieties. The store is open daily, year round. Although it isn't a major must-do, the Heather Center is a fun way to learn about some Scottish customs and traditions.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 9, 2003
Speyside Heather Centre
Skye of Curr
Free guided tours are offered throughout the day, so we took
advantage of one to learn about the distillery. Edradour is a free spirit
compared to many of its competitors, and even the tour process was a reversal of ones we'd been on at the larger distilleries. Tasting is done first here and the tour comes later.
Our kilt-clad guide led us to the Malt Barn, where we were given a generous sample of their 10-year single malt. As we enjoyed the pleasantly smooth, peaty whisky, we watched a short video explaining how
whisky is made, and then we were given a tour of the premises. The guide explained that there are only three workers involved in the production of Edradour, and there has been little change to their whisky-making process in over 150 years.
We visited another building to the see the mash tun where
the malted and peat-fire-dried barley is soaked with water to make wort. The wort is initially very hot, but is slowly cooled in their Morton refrigerator, built in 1934 and the only one still operating in Scotland. The cooled liquid is then sent to giant pine washback tubs to ferment. From here it, goes to copper stills, which are some of the smallest allowed for commercial distilling.
Once the whisky is made, it is stored in wooden casks for 10 years before it is
shipped to Glasgow for bottling.
Edradour produces only 12-15 casks of whisky per week, but that still adds up to £3 million paid in taxes per year. Estimating the amount that giant distilleries like Glenfiddich pay was mind-numbing.
After the tour, we stopped at the gift shop. As well as their
signature 10-year, they sell Edradour cream liqueur and their newest product - unchilled whisky which has a cloudy look to it but I'm told is quite smooth. Edradour isn't as widely available as some of the other brands, but you can check their website: www.edradour.co.uk for the distributor nearest you.
Pitlochry, Perthshire, Scotland
01796 472 095
Abbotsford, British Columbia