//UK Holidays: the Cairngorms

UK Holidays: the Cairngorms

In the heart of the Scottish Highlands, a visionary new initiative is now boosting biodiversity and nature-based tourism, writes Daniel Allen.

From a vantage point high above the mist-cloaked Glenfeshie valley, one side of Coire Garbhlach glows golden in the late afternoon sun. To the east, carpeted in alpine flowers, the undulating, high-altitude tableland of Moine Mhor (“Great Moss” in Gaelic) stretches as far as the towering peak of Ben Macdui. On the edge of Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park, it’s a wildly dramatic panorama.

To many of us, the term Scottish Highland estate conjures up images of grouse hunting, mounted stag’s heads and musty stately homes. Yet here on Glenfeshie, a new way of managing the land is leading to tourism and leisurely pursuits of an altogether different and far more benign kind.

“The concept is pretty simple,” says Davie McGibbon, the Glenfeshie estate’s head gamekeeper, as he strides over the Moine Mhor looking for red deer. “In the absence of predators, we are committed to keeping deer numbers at a natural level to prevent overgrazing. Doing this lets native tree species return, which in turn benefits a whole range of other animals and plants.”

From around 100 deer per square mile in 2002, the Glenfeshie estate is now down to just five. As a result, virtually every landscape is undergoing an evolution, with Scots pines recolonising valleys and slopes. There have been increased sightings of field voles, red squirrels, pine martens, golden eagles and tawny owls, while populations of endangered black grouse and capercaillie are also thriving.

Glenfeshie is not the only body of land within the Cairngorms National Park looking to boost biodiversity by controlling deer numbers. The Cairngorms Connect project has seen the estate team up with RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Enterprise Scotland. The four neighbouring landholders, whose properties cover a combined 595 square km, share a long-term vision to restore habitats and grow nature-based tourism.

Drawn to the comeback of wild nature, increasing numbers of people are already visiting the Cairngorms Connect area. Lodges and bothies (former labourer’s huts or cottages that are now used by hikers) are being renovated and reopened, while active pursuits and nature-based experiences are multiplying. On the Glenfeshie estate, which is part of the Wildland Limited property portfolio, guests can hike, bike, ride horses, swim and go birdwatching.  

James Shooter is a photographer, filmmaker and guide who has lived and worked in the Cairngorms National Park for five years, running a series of wildlife photography hides to watch species such as osprey, red squirrel, crested tit and black grouse. He believes Cairngorms Connect should be a role model for other conservation initiatives across the UK.

“This is exactly the kind of ambitious landscape-scale restoration project that we need in this country if we are to improve the overall health of our habitats and wildlife,” says Shooter. “With Cairngorms Connect developing and the wild gradually becoming wilder, so the local nature-based economy is really taking off. It’s great to see more and more people reconnecting with nature here.” cairngormsconnect.org.uk 

Interview

ABTA member Wilderness Scotland is based in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park in Aviemore. We caught up with Stevie Christie, the company’s head of sales, to find out more.

Can you tell readers a little about the history of your company and its connection with the Cairngorms?
Wilderness Scotland has a long history with the Cairngorms and the Scottish Highlands, and the region has always been a core part of our trips. In our free time, we’re out exploring the mountains, valleys and lochs ourselves any way we can – on foot, by bike, in a kayak or by swimming.

What tours does Wilderness Scotland currently run to the Cairngorms?
We have an easy walking trip, Cairngorms National Park & Royal Deeside. The highlights include walking along an old smugglers’ pass, a hike to a 13th-century castle and a visit to one of the most beautiful and little-known glens in the Cairngorms, Glenfeshie.

For those looking for more of a challenge, check out the High Points of the Cairngorms National Park. Highlights include the summits of some of the Cairngorms’ most impressive peaks, and Scotland’s only herd of reindeer.

And for those looking to explore the Cairngorms from a new perspective, try our Canoeing the Scottish Highlands tour. Highlights include exploring iconic Loch Ness to search for the mythical Nessie, the spectacular Aigas Gorge, and paddling the quiet waters of the rivers and lochs of the Cairngorms.

How would you say tourism in the Cairngorms is evolving?
As more and more people visit and broadcast the beauty of this area to the world, so the standard of accommodation and tourism experiences is constantly improving. At Wilderness Scotland we’re proud to promote Scotland’s remote corners, bringing visitors to off-the-beaten-track locations and communities.

ABTA Magazine – November 2018

The November 2018 issue of ABTA Magazine is the fourth created by Waterfront Publishing.

With an exciting new look, feel and ethos, the magazine has a renewed focus on industry news. In this issue, Nicky Holford looks at the 2019 ski season; James Litston visits the Great Barrier Reef; Anthony Pearce heads to Hokkaido, Japan; plus, there’s an exclusive interview with G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip. Click on the cover to read the magazine in full or subscribe here.