Cairngorms National Park
With Dream Escape's unrivalled knowledge of the Cairngorms, our experienced experts, headed up by Lesley Scott, will design you an all encompassing supreme journey, to include luxury accommodation and all the daytime highlights. With acres to explore, from immersing yourself in the ancient forests, cascading waterfalls, picturesque rivers and native wildlife, to reaching the summit of Scotland’s highest mountains - here's just a pick of the best when visiting the UK’s largest National Park.
One of the country'smost unique and cared for landscapes, Cairngorms National Park is home to more wildlife than you can shake a capercaillie at - that’s a vast woodland grouse native bird of Scotland by the way!
Expect to see red squirrels, reindeer, eagles and capercaillies in this spectacular mountainous area - the largest of its kind in the UK, covering approximately 1, 800 square miles.
Cairngorms National Park is also where you will find six of the UK's highest mountains with 55 Munros - a term that is applied to a peak over 3000ft.
Here are six outdoor adventures that we at Dream Escape believe should be essential on every Cairngorms travel wishlist!
GOING ON A COUNTRYSIDE RAMBLE
One way to explore the Cairngorm's beautiful countryside is by walking a loop around Loch Morlich. Set in the heart of Glenmore Forest, Loch Morlich offers extraordinary views of the northern Cairngorm mountains. This 3.75-mile route is all the more charming because of the sheer diversity of the natural surroundings; you’ll experience a mountain backdrop, beaches and pine-scented forests. Another great ramble is to head off the beaten track (accompanied by your own Dream Escape private guide) to explore Ballochbuie Forest, a designated Special Area due to its importance for breeding golden eagles. This beautiful part of the country is relatively seldom visited nowadays. Still, Queen Victoria must have appreciated it when she saved it from being felled in 1878, instead having it added to the royal Balmoral Estate. Lasting around half a day, during this experience you will cover around four miles. Your private guide will point out local high spots, including mighty Lochnagar - a pointed summit rising high above one of Scotland's most beautiful corries.
Keeping with the royal theme, you might also enjoy seeing Queen Victoria’s favourite view from the crashing Garbhallt Falls and a cottage hideaway where, years later, HM The Queen Mother held her legendary picnics.
LIVING LIKE A LOCAL
There is no better way to connect with a National Park than a Dream Escape immersive experience, to view it through the eyes of an experienced local - and in the case of the Cairngorms, Katy and Julian are all you need. Their passion and knowledge of the Cairngorms spans history, mountains, nature and wildlife.
They will take you on a privately guided walk through huge forests sharing their stories as you go, and if you wish, their wonderful springer spaniel, Mac may also come along for a stretch of his paws.
There may be the chance of a spot of light foraging, discovering delights in Scotland’s wild larder, building a bird-house and showing you evidence of both left and right-pawed squirrels.
Finish the day with a taste of genuine Scottish hospitality at its very best, dining with Katy and Julian. You will be welcomed into a real home with no menus or waiters - and treated as special guests of the family. Expect a wonderful evening, dining on traditional fare which is usually prepared and cooked by the host, often including popular dishes such as local smoked salmon or venison casserole, with the option of a well-deserved warming whisky.
STAYING IN A LUXURY PRIVATE CASTLE
Find sanctuary retreating to Candacraig, a stunning, exclusive-use, luxury castle, and Dream Escape preferred partner. Nestled in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, Candacraig is steeped in history and surrounded by the wild beauty of the Cairngorms.
This breathtaking baronial mansion is the perfect place to relax and unwind. Originally built in the 17th century, Candacraig House was enlarged in the Scottish baronial style, with its pepper pot turrets and crow-stepped dormer windows, in 1836. It has been extended several times over the years and was reconstructed in 1955, retaining its Scottish style. Current owners Lynne and Marc Lino, originally from New York, bought the property from famous comedian and actor Billy Connolly in 2014. Putting their heart and soul into lovingly restoring the 12 bedroom residence and grounds - they have a truly magical setting for guests to escape to. The period property features stunning Scottish architecture, a billiards room and whisky library with an impressive selection of single malts following many years of collecting.
“Originally built in the 17th century, Candacraig House was enlarged in the Scottish baronial style with its pepper pot turrets and crow-stepped dormer windows in 1836.”
IMAGE CREDIT: © THE CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK / VISITSCOTLAND / KENNY LAM / PAUL TOMKINS
As a Dream Escape guest, you can enjoy full access to 18 acres of private woodland and manicured lawns, including a large Victorian walled garden, a lochan fed by the celebrated River Don and a woodland bonfire area – a very special spot to enjoy a dram by the fire. Candacraig has numerous options for walks, ranging from a leisurely stroll through the grounds to challenging mountain hikes.
“The period property features a whisky library with an impressive selection of single malts following many years of collecting.”
If you prefer to cycle Candacraig has a selection of routes ranging from leisurely cycles down country roads to guided mountain bike rides on some terrific trails around Deeside.
Also available as part of your Dream Escape programme are falconry displays and demonstrations, conducted by an ex-gamekeeper and expert falconer.
His display includes a dozen or more different species typically including a “child-friendly” barn owl, falcons, hawks and the very impressive eagles, eagle owls, even a vulture!
Archery is available on the grounds of Candacraig, and can be geared towards either the beginner or expert, with several targets - or why not head out to the nearby Glen Tanar Equestrian Centre, noted for their lovely Norwegian Fjord horses. The centre provides a great base from which to ride out into the hills and glens around Deeside.
Discover Glenbuchat Castle, a nearby ruined tower house sheltering spooky nooks and crannies, and stairs to climb offering a wide-ranging view - or Braemar Castle situated in the heart of the stunning landscape of the Cairngorms National Park.
Thrill-seekers should include in their Dream Escape programme a visit the Deeside Gliding Club for a unique aerial experience involving a tug aircraft towing a glider up to 2000ft, at which point an instructor casts off, providing 45 magnificent minutes in the air, with the instructor even allowing temporary piloting!
MEETING THE CAIRNGORM REINDEERS
We will often tell our Dream Escape guests they can’t leave the Cairngorms without a special encounter with the Cairngorm Reindeers! The only free-range herd in the country, re-introduced to the park in 1952 and now 150-strong. Accompanied by an experienced reindeer herder, you will be guided up the mountainside where the main herd lives all year round. The reindeer’s soft velvet noses mean that they are a delight to hand-feed with their endearing and friendly nature - an unforgettable experience!
HM THE QUEEN’S FAVOURITE RESIDENCE
You might like to follow in the footsteps of royalty and travel through Royal Deeside to visit the Balmoral Estate - made famous by Netflix's seasons of The Crown – however the actual royal estate cannot be used as a filming location, so instead, the cast and crew shoot on the Highland sporting estate of Ardverikie.
The real Balmoral Estate was purchased by Prince Albert in 1852 as a gift for his beloved wife and since then successive generations of the Royal Family have adopted the area as their tranquil retreat. Balmoral remains a working estate and is widely thought to be HM The Queen’s favourite residence, and where she spends each summer holiday. She is well known to explore on horseback or, more famously, behind the wheel of a Range Rover!
Get immersed in the history suffused into this magnificent castle and talk about its extraordinary connection to the Royal Family, starting with Queen Victoria, for whom the estate was originally purchased.
Visit the Ballroom, which houses a collection of fine art and is the largest room in the Castle or spend some time wandering the three-acre gardens with a semi-circular wall of rocks surrounding a wonderful fountain, Victorian glasshouses and conservatory, which displays flowering pot plants throughout the year. A water garden has been formed to the west of the main garden, in the trees between Garden Cottage and the West Drive. Tucked away, slightly hidden from view is a life-sized statue of John Brown which Queen Victoria had commissioned following his death. Close to Balmoral Castle, stands Crathie Kirk. This pretty granite kirk was built in 1895 with the proceeds of a bazaar held at Balmoral Castle and is where HM The Queen and other members of the Royal family attend services when staying at Balmoral.
Accompanied by one of the Estate Factors, Dream Escape can arrange for you to enjoy a private Land Rover tour of the Balmoral Estate - which covers some 20,000 acres in total. This journey takes you through the manicured parkland and gardens at the front of the Castle deep into the forest – a haven for wildlife including red deer and grouse – with the chance to enjoy views of Lochnagar, one of Scotland’s most famous mountains.
One of the largest whisky-producing regions in Scotland, the Highlands is a veritable paradise for lovers of a wee dram!
You may wish to enjoy lunch at The Rothesay Rooms as part of your Dream Escape programme - located a short drive away in the village of Ballater. The restaurant is a collaborative project between local groups and Prince Charles, who is known as the Duke of Rothesay in Scotland. Decorated in traditional Highland style throughout, the relaxed interior boasts an array of antiques and bespoke wooden tables, with plenty of the vibrant Duke of Rothesay tartan on show.
TAKING AN EXCLUSIVE WHISKY DISTILLERY TOUR
Whisky is one of Scotland’s most valuable commodities, attracting visitors from all over the world. One of the largest whiskyproducing regions in Scotland, the Highlands is a veritable paradise for lovers of a wee dram! Dream Escape will arrange a private tour with a twist, from unusual tastings, pairings in private dining rooms to seeing limited edition Crystal decanters. Many distilleries offer exceptional behind-the-scenes experiences from seeing the Royal Warrant at Royal Lochnagar, sampling rare whisky at The Glenlivet, with founder George Smith, surrounded by beautiful countryside and Highland Cows, to experimenting with pairing your measures with hand-crafted chocolate made by chocolatier Iain Burnett - whiskies come with their own set of tasting notes and a flavour map to help you choose your preferred style.
Find out more
Lesley Scott, Head of Planning Scotland & Ireland "I love nothing better than a ramble in the Cairngorms! It has to be one of my favourite places to get away from it all." email@example.com