Are you gripped by Wimbledon fever? Has it inspired you to take up your old racket and try a few rallies? After all, there really is nothing that says a British summer quite like the thwack of tennis balls - and perhaps a well-deserved Pimms to follow!
If like the HPL team you’re partial to a game or two of tennis in the summer, you’re not alone. Apparently almost half the country watches the Wimbledon Championships every year and participation in tennis is growing once again year on year in the UK. So you’ll be delighted to hear that you have the option to play tennis during your Handpicked Lodges holiday, with courts available in Rothiemurchus near Aviemore, in Nethy Bridge and at Boat of Garten.
Rothiemurchus and Aviemore Tennis Club has just had its three all-weather courts totally resurfaced and we hear they play like a dream! The courts are open to visitors Monday to Saturday 10am - 5pm and Sunday 1pm - 5pm. It’s £15 per court per hour, for up to 4 people per court. They can be booked online or at Rothiemurchus Visitor Centre across the road from the club or on 01479 812 345. Plus, if you want to take the opportunity to brush up on your skills, or to learn from scratch, the club coach Alan may be able to help - call 07749 762806.
There are of course plenty of other activities to do around Rothiemurchus - from clay pigeon shooting and quad bike tours, to fishing, pony trekking and archery - have a look at their website to see what else takes your fancy.
Boat of Garten Tennis Club have two all-weather courts which are available for hire throughout the year. It’s advisable to book a court, especially at weekends and between June and September. Court hire is £12 per hour.
There are three tennis courts also available to hire at Nethy Bridge, priced at £5 per hour for adults and £4 per hour for children. Call 01479 821400 to book these.
Don’t forget that for playing at any of these tennis clubs you need to provide your own rackets and balls, although at Rothiemurchus you can also purchase used balls for 50p each. You should be able to pick some up rackets and balls cheaply during the summer at Home Bargains in Aviemore.
Westcott is our newest lodge, a gorgeous, spacious Edwardian villa which sleeps 6, and excitingly our first in the village of Kingussie. This great little village is a brilliant base for adventurers, sporty families and lovers of great food and drink. Mix and match from some of the fantastic local activities and attractions below for a Highlands summer holiday where everyone comes home happy!
Laggan Wolftrax (25 minutes drive from Westcott)
This mountain bike trail centre features over 20 miles of purpose-built trails, from easy greens up to extremely tricky blacks. Access roads lead upwards through the forest, and at the top you get the most amazing views, as well as the fun of the descent! For more experienced riders, try the natural trails over the other side of the road. There’s a bike shop for sales and rentals, plus a friendly cafe which sells delicious coffees, hot meals and home baking. Good to know: There are also hot showers available for a small charge in case you get just too muddy to get back into the car!
If your family is happier spending time on four hooves than on two wheels, why not book a pony trek at Highland Horse Fun, just around the corner from Westcott in Kingussie? Treks last from an hour up to a full day and are a great way to see the Cairngorm landscape at a leisurely pace on their lovely Highland ponies. If you are a more experienced rider, hacks are also possible. 01540 760000
Highland Folk Museum (5 minutes drive from Westcott)
Incredibly, this fascinating open air museum is free of charge - and you could easily spend a whole day here. The 18th century township is a real magnet for Outlander fans, as some of the early episodes were actually filmed here! There are reconstructed heritage buildings - some of which are staffed with museum employees in full vintage costume and in character - watch out for the strict Victorian schoolmaster - he doesn’t like latecomers or messy handwriting! The 1930s sweet shop is always top of the list for younger visitors, where they can buy a small paper bag of sweets from the assorted jars of traditional favourites such as Soor Plooms or Liquorice Comfits - and there’s a great play park here too. Open 7 days a week April-October.
Highland Wildlife Park (10 minutes drive from Westcott)
Another favourite with young visitors, the RZSS Highland Wildlife Park is home to a huge selection of animals from sub-arctic climates, including the pair of polar bears and their famous cub Hamish - the first polar bear to be born in the UK in 25 years. You can enjoy a drive around the safari park amongst some of the larger animals like camel and bison, and then walk around all the enclosures for a closer look. Big cat fans in particular will love the Amur Tiger and the two beautiful Snow Leopards.
Loch Insh Outdoor Centre (10 minutes drive from Westcott)
There is a huge array of watersports (and some land-based ones too) on offer at Loch Insh. You can try your hand at paddle boarding, sailing, windsurfing, open Canadian canoeing, fishing, river trips, rowing and raft building. For most activities you can choose from group or private lessons, a short course, or hire of boats and equipment if you are already competent. On land you can also have a go at archery, guided mountain biking and skiing or snowboarding on the dry slope. You’re sure to work up a hearty appetite on the water, and luckily their Boathouse restaurant serves breakfast 8-10am, home baking and coffee from 10am, lunch 12-4pm and evening meals 5-8pm. Children as young as 4 can take part in Loch Insh’s private tuition - there are also two great little play parks there.
In fact Loch Insh would make an ideal place for the kids to enjoy a couple of hours of healthy outdoor fun whilst you enjoy treats of a more grown up variety. What about a wonderful three course lunch, or even an artisan baking lesson under the tutelage of a traditionally-trained French chef?
The Cross, Kingussie
This exceptional award-winning restaurant is certainly one of the best and smartest places to eat in the area and offers a three course menu at £30 with three choices at each course. If you prefer to book for dinner you can choose from either a three-course a la carte (£55) or their six-course signature tasting menu (£65, or with 4 matching wines £95). Their menus change regularly and are designed around the best of seasonal and locally sourced produce. Booking is essential on 01540 661166
The Auld Alliance, Kingussie
Gastronomes should definitely try to book a table at this well-kept Kingussie secret! Provencal chef Lydie Bocquillon was trained in Burgundy, the home of French gastronomy, with some of France’s most renowned chefs. Having previously worked in France, England and Switzerland and as a food stylist for British TV, you’ll often see her these days as a guest chef on BBC’s Kitchen Cafe. The set menu at The Auld Alliance changes each day and is matched with an all-French wine list chosen by Lydie. The restaurant is open Wednesday to Saturday from 7pm till late, and on other days by arrangement. Lydie also holds artisan bread making classes from 11-4pm on Thursdays and Sundays out of season; £55 per person including a light lunch. 01540 661506 Note: The Auld Alliance will only be open as a restaurant until the end of 2018, after which it will be offering culinary classes and catering only. So book a table whilst you can!
Hopefully all of that has whetted your appetite for food, drink and some of the best outdoor activities close by our great new lodge Westcott. Get in touch with us today to book your family break and start planning a truly amazing Cairngorms holiday!
As its Bike Week (9th to the 17th of June), we wanted to celebrate by showcasing one of the wonderful young cycling talents in the area. Sally Devlin not only works in her parents’ well-known Aviemore cycle shop Mikes Bikes, but also races in a number of cycling disciplines, and leads the brilliant weekly Wednesday women’s ride which Tanja and Kyla (from Handpicked Lodges) both enjoy joining - when time allows! She was recognised in 2016 with the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) ‘Local Hero’ award - in recognition of her involvement in the local cycling community. If anyone has the inside track on cycling around here, it’s Sally, so we sat her down for an in depth chat about everything on two wheels in the Cairngorms!
What are your own favourite bike trails around Aviemore?
Oh that’s a hard one! If you’re looking for a long day out with stunning views one of my favourites has to be a trip to Loch Einich. Although it’s an out and back rather than a loop it’s still a great ride, there’s some fun rocky singletrack along the river side before you climb through the moorland to Loch Einich which is overlooked by stunning clifftops including Sgòr Gaoith. It’s definitely one to do on a warm summers day as the river crossings will keep you cool!
For a quick blast I love a little loop around the High Burnside Trails - Aviemore’s best kept mountain bike secret! In High Burnside you will find a range of steep technical climbs and descents, all easily accessible from the Trails End Lodge. My favourite thing about High Burnside is that fact that you can head out for a quick 30 minute blast or spend hours and hours up there on the trails! It’s a great area for fine tuning your mountain bike skills.
If someone hasn't cycled in a while or are just getting back into it, what route(s) would you recommend for a few hours or half a day?
I would recommend the Speyside Way (National Cycle Route 7). This starts at the north end of Aviemore next to the Mikes Bikes Bike Hire Centre and takes you along a well maintained, smooth track to Boat of Garten (approx 9-10km). There are no major hills but there are stunning views and well earned cake at the 1896 cafe in Boat of Garten!
There are also some lovely routes to Loch Morlich and Glenmore which are great for starting out however expect a few hills in that area!
We've heard a lot about electric bikes - how easy are they to use?
Very, and don’t say people are lazy because they use them! There are many reasons why you would use an electric bike, through my work at Mikes Bikes in Aviemore I have met lots of e bikers from many backgrounds. Some people will use them if they have a medical problem that is restricting their cycling, if they have a physical job and not enough hours in the day, or if they do just want to keep up with family and friends.
They are very easy to use and there is a huge choice of e-bikes available now, from city bikes to downhill mountain bikes. Most electric bikes will have 3 or 4 modes that are operated using a handlebar control, these range from Eco - > Turbo mode, Turbo obviously providing the most assistance. If you use these modes correctly and efficiently you will get up to 90 miles per charge on most e bikes, our rental ones are powered by a Shimano Steps motor and will do 90 miles on one charge.
Some of our guests want to give downhill mountain biking a shot - where should they head to to get started on some easier routes? What equipment do they need?
I would definitely recommend fine tuning your skills up around the High Burnside Trails or along at Badaguish, although there is no uplift there the trails offer a great downhill/enduro mountain bike playground.
If you are looking to try uplift then Nevis Range/Fort William is worth the visit, it’s around 1hr 15 from Aviemore and there you can use the Gondola to access two downhill mountain biking tracks.
A full face helmet, knee and elbow pads and a full suspension bike will be mandatory for riding the downhill tracks at Nevis Range however most trails in Aviemore can be tackled on a hardtail bike.
Do you have a kit list of what people should take with them whenever they go out for a cycle?
Here are a few things I recommend for your cycling Adventure in the National Park.
You are probably going to be riding the Cairngorms and the weather can be changeable here, one minute we can have sun and the next sleet or heavy rain, so don’t let bad clothing let you down.
· A 16 – 20 Litre comfortable backpack, this way you will have plenty room for what you need.
· Cycling glasses and gloves
· Padded Cycling Shorts (a must!) and this doesn’t mean being seen in lycra, you can pop them under your baggy shorts, waterproof trousers etc.
· Durable, cycling specific (if possible) shorts or trousers. Nothing too baggy as these will get caught in your chain/chainrings/or any other bike part!
· Protective Gear (knee/elbow pads): I always wear soft knee pads as a precaution (and they keep your knees warm).
· Durable cycling specific shoes or high quality outdoor shoes, no plimsoles/sandals. A well fitted cycling helmet that complies with EN 1078 Safety Standard.
· A cycling specific jersey and thermal top.
· Leggings (not cotton) keep you warm and are great under your baggy shorts.
· Longer socks protect your ankles from sharp pedals, branches or anything else that may jump out on the trails, I recommend these over ankle socks. Ankle socks on a bike are not cool
And obviously bike spares, even if you don’t know how to use them, someone else will. Upon booking of any Mikes Bikes Guided Bike Ride we will provide you with a full kit list and recommended snacks!
We hope that’s whetted your appetite for cycling in the Cairngorms. Don’t forget that if you’re planning on renting from Mike’s Bikes during your stay, they offer a really helpful drop off and pick up service to your Handpicked Lodge. So no need to rush back from your ride to return your bike - and no having to clean it either! See you on the trails!
But it wasn’t all plain sailing as Clare describes:
“We were making good progress, at least halfway to Bonar Bridge. The rain had stopped and Helen had negotiated the boggy patches and burns so far along the way. So far so good! By this point one of our party had come off the track which resulted in a shoe full of mud and another had ended up going for an unintentional swim in the burn.
Seeing two of the team dismount and walk their bikes around what looked like a puddle should have been a warning sign for Helen, but no! After surveying the puddle, quite a long one admittedly, Helen thought she could ride through it. In a split second decision (or in hindsight, a moment of madness) she rode in with great gusto only to grind to a halt about half way across - sinking into stinking boggy mud up to her knees! Once we had managed to contain our hysterical laughter, her helpful friends came to her aid and thankfully the only damage done was to Helen’s pride! Luckily for Helen, as they were laughing so much, none of the team thought about capturing the moment on camera!”
Well done Clare and Helen and thanks to all who supported them on their challenge. Perhaps this will be the start of many more HPL road cycling adventures? Look out for our blog during Bike Week 9-17th June where we’ll hear from one of our own local cycling heroes!
The HPL team is absolutely delighted to introduce our newest member, Clare Johnston. Clare has been appointed to the newly-created role of HPL Operations Manager to help us deliver first-class standards across our expanding portfolio of lodges. Clare will be managing the day-to-day running of the privately-owned holiday properties, while HPL Directors Judith and Tanja remain the main contacts for owners, guests and enquiries. You can read more about Clare’s credentials here.
A regular visitor to the area, her love of the Cairngorms National Park and all it offers prompted Clare’s move here in 2014. With glimmers of summer sunshine reviving us this week after the long, cold winter, we asked Clare to tell us about her perfect summer’s day ...
“There are so many fantastic ways to spend a summer’s day in the Cairngorms National Park. With so much on offer it’s difficult to choose the perfect day out.
For me, the perfect summer’s day would begin with taking our dog Cas to Nethy Bridge for a morning walk. There’s something magical about walking alongside the river with the sun sparkling on the water and listening to the birds singing away in the trees. A visit to Nethy House Café afterwards is a must for delicious pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.
In the afternoon, I would head out for a cycle with my husband and son to Loch Morlich where we would hire a kayak or Canadian canoe for some fun on the water. Having the Cairngorm Mountains as a backdrop as you paddle out into the loch is just stunning and I love how peaceful it can feel sitting in the middle of the loch admiring the view.
Afterwards we would pay a visit to the Old Bridge Inn for a refreshing drink and catch up with friends, sitting outside at the picnic benches to catch the last of the sunshine, a lovely way to end a perfect summer’s day.”
Cas enjoying a dip in the River Nethy
Cycling in the summer sunshine with the perfect backdrop
Glass calm reflections at stunning Loch Morlich
How will you spend your perfect summer’s day in the Cairngorms National Park? Let us know!
All dogs will enjoy a visit to Loch Morlich, Loch an Eilein or the Green Lochan, where they can paddle and cool off to their hearts content. Dogs of all ages and fitness will love a walk around Glenmore Forest, up into the forest tracks behind High Burnside in Aviemore, or along the Speyside Way path between Aviemore and Boat of Garten. If your dog is particularly fit, why not try a walk uphill from the Ciste car park (on the mountain road up to Cairngorm Mountain). From there you can reach a cairn above the Ciste Gully, from which you’ll get stunning views back over Glenmore. Another great walk takes you from the day lodge car park on Cairngorm Mountain along a path towards Coire an t’Sneachda (Corrie of the Snows).
Where do your dogs like to explore on their Handpicked Lodges holiday?
We always love to hear what our guests have been up to with their four legged friends on their Handpicked Lodges adventures, and to hear about any particularly great walks that you've enjoyed together. Do send us your photos of your dogs enjoying their Handpicked Lodges break - the best images may even make it onto our Facebook page!
With the new Aviemore Retail Park open, we now have easy local access to big brands like Home Bargains, Superdrug, and Costa (already open), and Aldi and Tiso (opening soon). If a standard skinny iced chai latte or soya caramel cortado is your drink of choice, then Costa can no doubt meet your order. But while you are here in the Cairngorms, we would strongly encourage you to explore our fine selection of local independent cafes and try something new! Here are our top 5 picks …
The Druie Cafe Restaurant, Rothiemurchus
Located on the Rothiemurchus Estate by Coylumbridge just outside Aviemore, next to the estate’s farm shop and deli, the Druie serves great lunches incorporating fish, venison and beef from the estate, wonderful home-baking and good coffee in a relaxed, friendly environment. Dogs are welcome in the outdoor seating area. You can also view selected artwork from the Loch an Eilein Gallery, which is on display around the cafe.
Nethy House Cafe, Nethy Bridge
Located by the bridge in the village, this cafe opened in November 2017 and has quickly become a firm favourite with locals and visitors. It serves delicious soups and sandwiches, daily specials and a mouth-watering array of home-baking in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The broad drinks menu includes artisan coffee from specialty Highlands-based roasters Glen Lyon, and an array of teas and soft drinks. There is on-site parking at the rear and disabled access at the front of the cafe. A raised decking platform at the rear will provide a really lovely spot for customers to enjoy the sunshine in summer. Very well-behaved dogs are welcome too
1. The 1700s township at the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore was the filming location for many of the 18th century village scenes, with traditionally-built croft houses and “black houses” on site. You may remember if from Series 1 when Claire joins the tax-collecting visits with the rest of the MacKenzie clan. This open air museum is a fascinating day out with over 30 historical buildings containing period artefacts, from the 1700s to the 1960s.
5. Shinty or camanachd in Gaelic, is only slightly less frantic and brutal in real life than in Episode 4 of series 1, when the MacKenzie men play a ferocious game in the castle grounds! If you would like to see a game whilst staying here, try the clubs at Newtonmore or Kingussie - great local rival clubs and prize-winning teams.
6. Clan History: If Outlander has fired your interest in the history of the clan system in Scotland, you could pay a visit to the Clan MacPherson Museum in Laggan, Newtonmore which has displays and information on the Scottish clans in general as well as its own clan heritage. Try also Grantown Museum and Inverness Museum.
4. Inverness - only a few miles from Culloden - where the Outlander story begins as Claire and Frank take their second honeymoon after the Second World War.
There are so many ways to make your journey to our beautiful part of the Scottish Highlands. How will you reach your Handpicked Lodge this year?
If you prefer to travel a little slower, the Caledonian Sleeper is a wonderful way to arrive direct to the centre of Aviemore. Or take a daytime train to sit back and enjoy the scenery along the way – regular daily trains run north to Inverness and south to Edinburgh and Glasgow (and connecting beyond: Trains to Aviemore).
Regular daily buses stop in the centre of Aviemore on their way north from Edinburgh and Glasgow, and on their way south from Inverness (Citylink and Megabus). For the local bus service around Badenoch and Strathspey, you can find timetables and information on the Stagecoach website.
Having a car will really help you make the most of exploring our wonderful area during your time here. If you are arriving in Aviemore by train or bus, take a look at the great service provided by Aviemore Car and Van Hire. You’ll need your Drivers Licence, proof of address, passport (if non-UK resident), to have been driving for 2 years and aged between 23 and 75 years. They are open 9am to 5pm but for £30 extra they can be available for you outside these times if you’d like your car waiting at the station for your arrival.
If you are driving your own car, the Traffic Scotland website is a good source of up-to-date traffic information, journey times, roadworks, road traffic incidents and weather affecting routes. You can expect to be driving for around 2.5-3 hours from Edinburgh or Glasgow to Aviemore, 2 hours from Aberdeen, 30-40 minutes from Inverness.
All that hard work will be worth it when you reach the luxury of your Handpicked Lodge!
Our newest addition to the HPL portfolio, Trails End Lodge, was named for the mountain bike trails which start and finish at High Burnside, some of which are decidedly daring. If you want to locate some of these trails, try www.trailforks.com - you can also download their really useful app. They’re a bit beyond our technical ability (which is a roundabout way of saying we’re too scared to try them) but our mountain biking friends and family all seem to enjoy them!
For a really gentle cycle with some beautiful scenery, try the Speyside Way out to Boat of Garten from Aviemore. The path runs parallel with the Strathspey Steam Railway so you may get some friendly waves from the carriage windows as the lovely old steam train puffs past. Once you reach Boat, reward yourself with tea and cake or lunch at 1896 Café - or bring your own picnic to eat in the gardens next to the little steam railway station. Once you head back on the return journey, you’ll be rewarded with some utterly stunning views of the mountains.
A longer and more challenging route takes you out to Loch Einich – beware, there are some seriously steep short uphill sections, and some fords of varying depth - but also truly breathtaking views on the way there and back. You’ll most likely have the loch to yourself too. Or how about the Ryvoan Pass or the Burma Road if you want to put in the mileage and the altitude? You really could spend a lifetime exploring the cycle routes which radiate from Aviemore, so grab your bike, a map and a helmet, and start pedalling!