Welcome to Aviemore
The Cairngorms National Park was officially opened in 2003 in recognition, both nationally and internationally, of the area’s outstanding value in terms of nature conservation. Britain’s biggest national park is centred on the high and remote Cairngorm plateau: a mountain range stretching for 50 miles which rarely descends below 4000 feet and whose highest peak, Ben Macdui, is the second highest in Scotland, at some 4295 feet high. The plateau is a unique example of sub-arctic ecosystem, with a concentration of glacial and post glacial land forms and as one of the most important areas for mountain wildlife in Europe, home to scarce insects, plants, mammals and birds. Aviemore is a small town which lies at the National Park’s western extremity, a perfectly located mountain resort and an ideal base for exploring this unique wilderness.
Stone circle Aviemore
That the Aviemore area has been settled for thousands of years is obvious. One surprising feature of the town itself is a 4400 year old stone circle, now itself encircled by a modern housing estate. Aviemore Ring Cairn would originally have been a landmark in open farmland. Evidence from similar sites, where fragments of burnt human bone have been found, suggests that it may have been used as a site for cremation and communal burial. The alignment of the stones suggests that the site may also have been used for rituals at sunset on the day of winter solstice. Signposts from Aviemore’s Main Street will lead you on a short walk to the site.
The Cairngorms are historically interesting as a major geographical and cultural boundary. Difficult to transverse, the mountain range divided Scotland into Gaelic speakers to the west and Scots speakers to the east. The range also marked the easternmost extent of the clan system. While suppression of the Gaelic language and trends in urbanisation lessened the linguistic and cultural divisions marked by the Cairngorms, the dividing power of the mountains still lives on in the very different accents of the people of Deeside, to the east, and the people of Aviemore.
There is little evidence of development in Aviemore itself until the 17th century when it was used as a staging post for travellers on north-south routes. However, the old Aviemore was largely swept away by the coming of the railway at the end of the 19th century when the town began to develop to facilitate the growing number of adventure seekers making their way into Scotland’s remote places.
Aviemore was still a small outpost in the Scottish wilderness when Norman Collie, professor of chemistry in the University of London and a hillwalking enthusiast, arrived in the Cairngorms in 1891 in order to tackle Ben Macdui. On this mountain he was to bear witness to a phenomenon which has become one of Scotland’s most puzzling mysteries. While making his descent Collie became convinced he was being stalked. He estimated from the eerie ‘crunch’ of heavy footfalls in the snow behind him that the creature pursuing him was taking strides three or four times the length of his own. Filled with terror, he fled down the mountainside. Since then there have been numerous similar accounts, often from equally credible witnesses. From such accounts a picture of the creature has emerged: it is about 10 feet tall and extremely hairy, has long pointed ears, long arms and legs and big feet with large curled toes, which has led some to suggest that it may be the Scottish equivalent of the Himalayan Yeti or North American Bigfoot. A few other descriptions are incongruous with the Yeti or Bigfoot idea. It has been said to appear accompanied by singing or manic laughter, feelings of despair, terror or dread and to lead hillwalkers hypnotically to the edge of cliffs - he has even been seen wearing a top hat! Whatever you make of all of this, the fact that the mystery remains unsolved tells us that despite modern tourism the Cairngorms remain sufficiently remote and untamed that it remains a place of mystery.
Down in Aviemore itself, mystery gives way to the hustle and bustle of outdoor sports enthusiasts. The bulk of today’s town was constructed in the 1960s after the foundation of the Cairn Gorm Ski Areas. Since then Aviemore has become Britain’s premier ski resort, benefiting from the semi-permanent snow covering on the nearby mountains. The town’s importance as a mountain resort has led to the development of a number of facilities which one might not expect from a town of its size: a wide range of accommodation, a supermarket, countless shops selling skiing and walking related merchandise, a go-karting track, a swimming pool, and so on. A nearby funicular, the Cairn Gorm Mountain Railway, will take skiers and sightseers to within a short distance of the summit of Cairn Gorm mountain (4082 feet). Two important walking routes, to Braemar through the Lairig Ghru Pass and the Speyside Way (a 65 mile path to the coast at Buckie), provide challenges for even experienced walkers, whilst some of Britain’s clearest waters provide a draw for anglers. All in all, Aviemore is Scotland’s mountain resort par excellence.