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Stepping Back in Time with Strathspey Railway

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

aviemore 2

Having grown up on the doorstep of the Cairngorms National Park I have experienced the glorious mountain-clad scenery from many different angles: on foot, on skis, by bike and on the water, as well as journeys by car.  This rugged landscape never fails to inspire, soothe and invigorate me, and during a recent short break in Moray I experienced the majestic mountain scenery for the first time by steam train.  I have long wanted to take a trip on the Strathspey Railway – the longest steam heritage railway in Scotland - and my train-loving three year old was equally happy to be travelling on a ‘steamie’ (cue a lot of Thomas the Tank references).  Indeed, now with a 6 month old baby and a toddler in tow, the train ride was a relaxing way to spend some time in the national park.

The line was first opened in 1863 and the journey is incredibly scenic – particularly at this time of year when the landscape is beautifully wrapped in autumnal shades.  We took the return journey from Aviemore station, which stops at Boat of Garten and Broomhill (the whole journey taking around an hour and a half).  Even if you are not travelling on the steam train, I recommend walking across the bridge at Aviemore station to drink in the view of the Cairngorms.  

steam train fun

Autumn is a lovely time of year to journey on the steam train, with a backdrop painted in an amber palette.  The sun battled with the clouds during most of our journey, occasionally scattering sunlight over the autumn colours which, combined with the billowing smoke from the train’s funnel, made for atmospheric photographs.  The Cairngorm Mountains looked particularly pretty doused in layers of changing light and I loved the lines of golden trees against the purple of the heather.  

The train passes through moorland and woodland (home to a range of wildlife) on its way to Boat of Garten and within minutes of chugging out of Aviemore station my husband pointed out a deer leaping away from the noise of the train. 

As it was a morning journey we had a late breakfast of coffee and bacon rolls, and if you’re looking for a light bite you can also choose from pastries, cakes and freshly baked scones.  They also serve light lunches, and traditional Sunday lunch, as well as afternoon tea, evening meals and whisky tasting.  (Next time I’m planning to travel in one of the lovely first class compartments and tuck into afternoon tea!).

I hopped off the train at both Boat of Garten and Broomhill (aka Glenbogle Station for any Monarch of the Glen fans) and my son and I headed up into the engine room during the Broomhill stop for a closer look.  (Is there anything more exciting for children to see a working steam engine?!). 

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The staff were all great with the children and my son was in his element throughout the morning, from getting his ‘special ticket’ before boarding to climbing up to see the engine and ‘helping’ to put coal in the fire.  The friendly guard, Joe, let my son wear his hat and wave a flag – as a ‘trainee guard’ – and explained how various things worked in the guard room (Isaac very seriously relayed to me that the most important box on the train is for keeping Joe’s pies warm for lunch).  

Of course it’s a lot of fun for children but it’s also a brilliant experience for all ages (yes, ok I had fun trying on the hat too – just for blog post pictures, of course).  Both my son and I were fascinated by the engine room – I cannot imagine what it would have been like to work in that heat.  As well as showing him where the coal went, the men also tooted the whistle for Isaac, which completed his steam train experience.  

steam train collage 2

We thoroughly enjoyed our morning and it was the highlight of our little October break.  After our journey I watched the train puffing away with its next passengers and thought that, as well as a wonderful way to take in some truly breathtaking scenery, a journey on this heritage steam railway is a little window into a bygone era.  

steam train


Our trip was a Whole Line return from Aviemore but you can also buy a Whole Line single ticket.  Visit the Strathspey Railway website for more information on tickets and special events.  If you are thinking about a winter break in the Cairngorms National Park, Gael Holiday Homes has a wide range of self-catering accommodation in Aviemore.

My trip with Strathspey Railway was complimentary but the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

World Cup 2014 or a Break Away?

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

So, here’s the thing, I enjoy my football so I am getting in to the spirit of this years World Cup 2014 in Brazil. I am watching the games, entering the sweepstake and World Cup 2014 Predictor game at work but…do you think I should draw the line at my husband leaving for Rio de Janeiro to watch the last 16 game on 29th June?

Freyja Cottage in Melvaig

Freyja Cottage in Melvaig

My thinking is that while he jets off to the football I will fill up the car with the children and dog, head north to the west coast of Scotland and have a World Cup 2014 break.  After looking through the Gael Holiday Homes site I came across a delightful cottage in Melvaig, near Gairloch. It has everything we would need for a break away: private beach access, accommodates dogs, ideal base for walks and marine life spotting with a pub and shops nearby. It also looks like my husband has left his credit card next to the computer, time to book up!

Gairloch is only a 20 minute drive away from the cottage and at the harbour we will be able to book a boat trip that will give us the chance to look for porpoises, whales, dolphins and puffins. There is also a glass bottomed boat available, my boys will love that! After a spot of lunch we can choose pony trekking, a visit to the Heritage Museum or going for a bike run. With the many coastal walks in the area, the dog will get plenty of fresh air and exercise and enjoy his time in the area too!

Firemore beach near Poolewe

Firemore beach on the West Coast

There will be many lovely places to stop off en route with numerous parks, beaches and woodlands to choose from. I will organise a picnic so as to sit and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. My husband, on the other hand, will be ‘enduring’ a winter weekend in Rio de Janeiro. I prefer my idea of a World Cup 2014 break as there’s no place better than the Scottish Highlands, and it ties in perfectly with the start of the school holidays!

By the way, I got Holland in the sweepstake and am currently ranked 149 out of 715 in the World Cup 2014 predictor game so watch this space to see if I win any prizes!



Homecoming Scotland 2014…a Wee Reminder

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Homecoming Scotland 20142014 is set to be an amazing one for Scotland, not only do we play host to the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games but it is also the Year of Homecoming, giving Scotland the chance to show off!

Whether you are already a resident of Scotland or want to visit us you will get to experience outdoor activities, taste some exquisite food, sample some amazing drinks, visit and explore ancestral, arts and cultural heritage…I am getting dizzy trying to write it all down! There will be so much to see and do all through the year, all over the country, you really need come and join in.

A beautiful sight to see is The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry which is a project that involves communities in Scotland, as well as around the world, and is a celebration of Scottish heritage and culture.  The tapestry is made by 25 communities and its panels depict the impact that Scots have made in the places they made their homes. The tapestry will be exhibited throughout Scotland in 2014, making stops at Inverness and Wick in September and October.

For those that wish to find out more about their Scottish roots then there will be many events and festivals, from finding out your Clan name, attending Highland Games and Castle Trails. There is also the Highland Homecoming which is a celebration of contemporary Highland culture. Held in Inverness over two months from 1st September to 31st October the Highland Homecoming opens with the World Sheepdog Trials and concludes with The Royal National Mod.

With so much to see and do in Scotland this year, start planning now for what you want to see and when, it will be the chance of a lifetime so come and join us and gie it laldy! 

Let’s Celebrate, it’s St Andrews Day!

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

StAndrewWith St Andrews Day fast approaching, how much do you know about our patron saint?

The information about his life and why he is the patron saint of Scotland are sketchy, to say the least. What we do know is that Andrew was a fisherman at the time of Jesus and became one of his first Apostles and was sentenced to death in Greece by the Romans. Andrew did not feel worthy to be crucified on a cross of the same shape to the one Jesus died on, so he asked for it to be a diagonal cross. 

According to legend, in the 4th century a Greek monk named St Regulus or St Rule had a vision and was ordered to take some of the relics of Andrew to the ends of the earth for safe keeping. He set off at sea and following his shipwrecking off the east coast of Scotland, ended up in Kinrymont in Fife.  The church at Kinrymont consequently became St Andrews Cathedral and became the centre for medieval pilgrimages.

In another tale of lore, there was a Pictish King called Angus mac Fergus who was about to go into battle at Athelstaneford and saw a saltire in the sky, he then rose to victory at the battle and afterwards adopted St Andrew as our patron.

We are not the only country to lay claim to Andrew, Russia, Greece, Barbados and Romania have him as their patron saint also.

What are your plans for St Andrews Day this year? With the 30th November falling on a Saturday this year why not enquire if there are any local celebrations taking place? The past few years have seen many more events pop up all over the country with many of Scotland’s historic attractions letting people in for free that day.

Before the rush of Christmas shopping in December, it could be the last chance to grab a break away. Spending St Andrews Day in the Scottish Highlands, raising a dram to the man and recharging the batteries…sounds like a plan to me!

Get Set for a Summer of Highland Games!

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
Perhaps most famous for its breath-taking scenery and relaxed country pursuits, the Highlands of course is also known around the world for the Highland Games. Undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most successful exports with games taking place in many different countries, for the real deal there’s no other place but the Highlands to come and watch this spectacle! 
tossing the caberTaking place during the summer months, the games, or gatherings as they are known, are traditionally a mix of sports and cultural events, and are a great opportunity for visitors to embed themselves into Scotland’s rich cultural heritage. Traditionally associated with bagpipes, kilts and of course the famous caber toss, Highland Games attract visitors and competitors from around the world and a large gathering is an event that’s simply not to be missed!
One of the gatherings kicking off the summer season of games is the Gordon Castle Highland Games & Country Fair, taking place at Gordon Castle, Fochabers, on May 19. Originating in the early 20th Century, this famous event was presided over by the Duke and Duchess of Richmond and Gordon, and in its heyday used to attract crowds of over 30,000 people.
These days the games are just the main part of a large and exciting festival of culture, with attractions to suit any visitor. This year’s programme includes Highland dancing, country sports, a 10km race and many children’s activities and events. With family tickets available for just £20, it certainly provides a lot of bang for your buck.
If you’re visiting later in the year, then the governing body of the games, the Scottish Highland Games Association, has a packed calendar for the summer with events taking place right up until September. All gatherings vary in size and scale and the specific events taking place, however from Inverness to the Isle of Skye, each has its own unique experience!
highland gamesAugust sees the biggest event in the Highland Games calendar, with the Cowal Highland Gathering. Taking place in the town of Dunoon each year, this fantastic event has over 20,000 visitors annually and features over 3,000 competitors, doubling the population of the town.
So what are you waiting for! Highland Games are not just about strongmen throwing cabers, they’re family events that let you experience the best of Scotland’s cultural traditions!