What constitutes a perfect long weekend in the Cairngorms will mean different things to people. So instead of me trying to cover all bases, let’s instead tackle the arguably (if you’re me) more interesting question of what constitutes my perfect weekend in the whisky-dotted highland mountain range. Luckily for you (me?), I’ve just experienced it and am chomping at the bit to tell you all of my hot, if somewhat braggadocious, tips.
From Edinburgh, the Cairngorms are about a two to three-hour drive away depending on where you’re setting up for the weekend – we were heading to an estate just outside Aviemore. As we wanted to make the most out of our first day, my partner dutifully crawled out of bed early in the morning to pick up our rental car while I laid about in bed and sipped coffee like the useless morning person that I am. The most direct route to the Cairngorms is on the A9, which becomes very scenic after about an hour or so of driving and stunning after two.
Where we stayed
Inshriach House is a curious little estate fifteen minutes out of Aviemore. It’s set among rolling hills, woodlands and is bisected by the River Spey. The main house sleeps seventeen and is available for private hire only. What drew us in was the option of ‘camping in style’ in one of Inshriach’s alternative accommodations out in the field. Guests can choose between two yurts, a shepherd’s hut, a bothie or a converted WWII fire truck, all of which are nestled away in their own private corner of the estate. Having never stayed in a vintage military vehicle and not knowing when we may get the chance again, we leaped at the charmingly converted fire truck complete with a double bed, dining table, kitchen, sink and wood burning stove – all the necessary ingredients for a cosy weekend away.
About 100 meters from the truck was a woodshed, compost toilet and a wood burning sauna set on the edge of the river. To add to the folky feels of this rustic destination, the reception is a ramshackle set of wooden farm houses, which consist of a larger kitchen, a shower, the aptly named ‘inconvenience store’ (where you can pick up eggs, postcards and general oddities serviced from an honesty box) and a boutique gin distillery.
For food, we stocked up on smokey sausages, cured meats, salads, fine cheeses, pickled herring, chocolate biscuits, fresh bread and artisan coffee – basically anything fancy that required little to no cooking. Oh, wine, whisky and a bottle of Inshriach’s bathtub gin too, of course!
The Macallan Distillery
If you only go to one whisky distillery in your lifetime, make it this one. The Macallan Estate has recently undergone a massive refurbishment converting their old school distillery into a state of the art, glass-walled whisky fantasyland full of interactive displays, sweeping panoramic views and congenial staff. The building itself is a stroke of architectural mastery that’s built naturally into the countryside and camouflaged with a grass-topped roof. Special attention has been made to incorporate natural elements into the framework resulting in a dreamy almost art gallery-like atmosphere. Fifteen pounds will get you a comprehensive tour of the facility and a condensed history/masterclass of the brand, ending with a generous five noses of The Macallan’s biggest hits. It’s ruddy awesome.
This is the part of my story where perfection meets reality. There are numerous activities to occupy the adventurous traveller when exploring this arresting mountain range including but certainly not limited to breathtaking hikes, sailing, clay pigeon shooting and even gliding! However, loving autumnal colours can sometimes come at a cost, especially in the Scottish Highlands, and we were rained in for our stay on the Cairngorms. Happily in our case, as we dutifully tucked into our newly-purchased Macallan and played fiery rounds of cribbage and backgammon, while listening to the romantic and thunderous sounds of a storm brewing outside our truck.
Melanie Chenoweth is a London based, freelance food writer and photographer. If you can eat it, she’ll snap it. Then eat it. Then write about it.