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Britain's coldest wilderness and a popular skiing resort


Cairngorm Mountain Railway
Glenmore Forest Park
In olden times, these eastern mountains were called the "Red Hills". Many of them are covered in layers of loose granite, which glow red in the sunlight. At some point this title fell out of use. The current name comes from the most prominent mountain in the range, Cairn Gorm. Strangely, this means "blue hill" in Gaelic. Somehow, these rocky peaks seem to have changed colour from red to blue!
Regardless of the name, this is one of Britain's most spectacular mountain ranges. It includes five of Scotland's six highest peaks. Their height doesn't stop people from climbing them though. In 1859, even Queen Victoria managed to reach the summit of Ben Macdui. This is the second tallest mountain in the UK, after Ben Nevis. When she got to the top, she said it had a "sublime and solemn effect".
The Queen must have wrapped up warm for her trip, because the Cairngorms are chilly at the best of times. Actually, the UK's lowest ever recorded temperature was here. On the 10th of January 1982, it dropped to minus 27 degrees! Snow persists here longer than anywhere else in the country. On the slopes of Braeriac, the snow has melted only five times in the last 100 years.
It makes sense then, that the Cairngorms have 3 of Scotland's 5 ski resorts. They each offer an array of natural and man-made terrain, for winter sport enthusiasts to pit their skills against. If hurtling down a mountain with your feet strapped to a plank of wood isn't quite terrifying enough for you, then why not try ice climbing? The Cairngorms have a route that is reputedly the hardest in the world. It's called "The Hurting", which may give some indication of just how spectacularly dangerous it is.

Cairngorm Mountain Railway

Discover CairnGorm Mountains ancient landscape from the comfort and safety of the UK's highest funicular railway. You can ride the funicular 1097m up the mountain for phenomenal views down to Loch Morlich and across to Ben Nevis and Ben Hope, located over 80 miles away. Eat lunch with these panoramic views, sip hot chocolate, and browse the shops and exhibition. There is also a Camera Obscura, wildlife sculptures, picnic areas and photo points.
In this wild, inhospitable environment, you wouldn't expect there to be much life. However, this is a unique landscape, and it supports some unique creatures. Even reindeer can be found here, all Scottish-born. At the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre located within the Glenmore Forest Park you can feed and stroke these graceful animals. The forest park itself is worth visiting with its lovely Loch Morlich.
You'll find more creatures in the forests. There are various other breeds of deer and plenty of birds, including a pair of popular ospreys. This area is within the Cairngorms National Park, which includes much more than just the mountains. Its borders contain lakes, valleys and moorland. These varying landscapes add up to a total area of 3800 square kilometres, making this easily the biggest National Park in Britain.
Its most popular settlement is Aviemore, a place so old that it has its own prehistoric stone circle. Its facilities and convenient location make it a popular base for visitors. From here you can take the Strathspey Steam Railway through some of the park's best scenery. It passes through Boat of Garten, a charming village that takes its name from an old ferry, before ending up in Broomhill, where the TV series Monarch of the Glen was filmed.
On the opposite side of the mountains is Royal Deeside, an area of towns and castles spread out along the river. The Queen and her family like the place so much that they come here every year. They live at Balmoral, which is probably the prettiest building in North Scotland. Having said that, the castles at Braemar and Craithes give it a run for its money.
Watching over all these settlements are the snowy peaks of the Cairngorms. They can be cold, desolate places but, if you're prepared to brave the journey, there are things here that can't be seen anywhere else in the country.
Visitor Information
Cairngorm Mountain Railway operates a seasonal timetable. Day tickets around £11. Tel: 01479 861261

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