The Cairngorms National Park is a magnificent area containing some of Scotland's oldest habitats. The Park contains the largest remnants of native Caledonian Pine Forest where you can see pines that are several hundred years old.
The landscape is stunning and the best way to see it is to get out there and walk amongst it. There's everything from easy forest tracks good for strolls and cycling through the forests to hill climbs up the mountains. Local ranger services can give you advice on where to go and what to see.
The Cairngorms National Park covers 3,800 kilometres from Grantown-on-Spey down to the Angus Glens. It was designated in 2003 and is the largest National Park in Britain. It contains more continuous tundra and Arctic alpine plant and animal communities than anywhere else in Britain. The Cairngorms also contain the largest remnants of native woodland in Britain, as well as important examples of heathland - a key cultural element of the Scottish landscape. Red deer and golden eagles are majestic native inhabitants of the Cairngorms and ptarmigan, mountain hares and capercaille are other mountain specialists that you can regularly see in the park.
Just outside Aviemore is the Glen more Visitor Centre that has an audio display on the native pinewoods, gift shop and cafe. Glenmore, Aviemore, Inverness-shire, PH33 1QU. Tel: 01463 791575. Fax: 01463 793872. There is also Abernethy Visitor Centre for more information about the Abernethy Forest Tel: 01479 821 565. Many of the ranger services organise an events programme including guided walks and talks. They can also offer advice on places to go and mountain weather conditions.
There are 13 ranger services operating throughout the Cairngorms National Park as follows: Cairngorms Ranger Service Tel: 01479 861703. Highland Council Rangers Tel: 01540 672 907 Newtonmore or Tel: 01479 873 914 Grantown-on-Spey. Forestry Commission Ranger Glen More Visitor Centre: Tel: 01479 861 220. Rothiemurchus Estate Ranger: Tel: 01479 812 345. Glenlivet Estate Tel: 01807 580 283. Aberdeenshire Ranger Service: Tel: 013398 85751. Glen Tanar Estate Tel: 013398 86072. Balmoral Estate Tel: 013397 55059. Invercauld Estate Tel: 013397 41224. Marr Lodge Estate Tel: 013397 41669. Angus Glens Ranger Service Tel: 01575 550 233.
Check their websites, links right, for more information.
East of Aviemore is the Rothiemurchus Estate and Glen More where remnants of Caledonian pine forest still survive. The oldest mature pines are called "Granny Pines" due to their age and their twisted limbs that develops over time. These are truly magnificent to see and shows the true beauty of Scots Pine in its natural setting.
There are two Visitor Centres within the Rothiemuchus Esate where you can find out more about the estate, its wildlife and landscape and where you can pick up a free Visitor Guide and Map. Rothiemurchus Visitor Centre is open every day 9.30am-5.30pm. Closed on Christmas Day. There is also a gift/food shop and restaurant. Loch an Eilein Visitor Centre is open daily from April to October.
Abernethy Forest northeast of Aviemore near the Boat of Garten is internationally important and is the largest remaining tract of native pinewood in Britain. Scots pine trees grow naturally here with heather, bilberry, bearberry and juniper shrubs growing underneath. There are also areas of northern bog within the forest where there is a good variety of mosses including Sphagnum mosses.
It is particularly important for breeding capercaillie, osprey and scottish crossbill - all of which you can see from the RSPB's Osprey Centre at Loch Garten.
Just west of Aviemore the hill that looms over the main road is Craigellachie National Nature Reserve. It's important for its mature birch woodland that clothe the lower slopes and its distinctive crag that rises above the woodland to 500 metres above sea level. Some of the trees are ancient in terms of birch trees that aren't that long lived, perhaps only reaching 100 years old, and it is estimated that Craigellachie has been continuously wooded for over 140 years. Look out for individual birch trees that have grown out to their full form. They have an elegant drooping look which is why they are often given the name "Lady of the Woods". Other species you'll find here include aspen, rowan, hazel, bird cherry, willows, juniper and the scented bog myrtle.
A path winds all the way from the bottom up to the summit through a gradation of habitats from woodland to heathland, to bare rock where peregrine falcons nest. Spring is the best time to visit for woodland flowers. If you want to see the peregrine falcons then April to July is best.
Once you get to the top you'll have fabulous views out across the Cairngorm National Park including the River Spey and the ancient pinewoods of Rothiemurchus Forest and Glen More.
To get to the reserve, park at the Tourist Information Centre (at the discretion of the Youth Hostel). Obtain permission from the warden prior to leaving your vehicle. Take the track between the Youth Hostel and the Caravan Park. Access the reserve is via the subway under the busy A9 trunk road!
Within the ancient Caledonian pines of Abernethy Forest, west of The Boat of Garten, is the Loch Garten RSPB Reserve. Loch Garten is considered the ancestral home of the Osprey and they have been recorded as breeding here for 50 years.
The Osprey Centre has CCTV cameras linked to osprey nests so you can watch them and their young close-up without disturbing them. The centre also opens at dawn during the spring so you can watch the capercaille lekking via remote cameras.
The best time to visit is April to August when ospreys and other wildlife can be easily seen from The Osprey Centre. Ospreys, capercaillies, red squirrels, siskins, crossbills, crested, blue and great tits, great spotted woodpeckers and roe deer are frequently seen in Spring. A variety of guided walks are also organised during May-August.
Check the link right for more information.