Helen Rose Outdoor Diary: Kincraig

December, 2022


Recently I visited Aviemore with walking friends to stay in Kincraig to celebrate 25 years of the group being formed.  Aviemore is a town in the Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands. It’s known for its close proximity to the secluded lochs, ancient forest, mountain trails and ski runs of the surrounding parkland. Aviemore is a year round destination with snow sports being the popular winter activity and walking, climbing, biking, and a whole host of other activities the main summer draw. It is less than three hours from Glasgow by the comfortable Citylink bus . It became very famous for winter sports and is similar to Arctic Canada with granite tors to indications of Ice Age glaciers. The Spey, Dee and Don valleys are major features of the lower ground. Around two million people visit the Cairngorms each year to ski, walk and fish. In Aviemore, there is a sculpture to commemorate the participants in the Olympic Winter Sports events. Kincraig is located about 8 miles south west of Aviemore.  Its original name was Boat of Inch, reflecting the ferry boat crossing of the Spey River that once operated here. The name was changed after a single track bridge was erected around 1871.



Nethy Bridge and Boat of Garten

On our first walking day we took the bus to Nethy Bridge often affectionately referred to simply as “Nethy”. It has been a holiday destination since Victorian times, yet it remains unspoilt next to the ancient Caledonian pine forest. Nethy has had a long and close relationship with the Abernethy Forest and as a result of this has taken on the mantle of ‘The Forest Village’. On the track we spotted large red mushrooms that were holding the rainwater in their curved tops. Basins for the fairies?!

The walk continued towards Loch Garten and on through the forest to see if we could spot the osprey nest for which Loch Garten is famous. Ospreys are awe-inspiring birds and seen at Loch Garten from mid-March through to the end of the summer as they wrestle large fish from the loch or ward off intruders from their nest, before they make the remarkable 3,000 mile migration to sub-Saharan Africa. Having been driven to extinction through persecution in the Victorian era, they have made a remarkable comeback. Unfortunately, we did not see the ospreys.

We continued on to Boat of Garten famous for the Strathspey Railway. Brought back to life in 1978 by a dedicated group of volunteers. This ten mile restored section of the original Highland Railway Line enables you to travel back in time to an era when steam whistles blew, carriage doors slammed shut and a familiar click-clack rhythm of the rails, as the train travels along the track.  In the evening at the Kincraig Centre we had entertainment with a clarsach, penny whistle and singing as a celebration. A clarsach is Scotland’s oldest national instrument, having been played throughout the land from very earliest times. Long before the arrival of the bagpipe it was the mainstay of Gaelic courtly music. It looks like a small harp.


Kincraig Highland Wildlife Park

The following day, I went to the Kincraig Highland Wildlife Park as I wanted to see the Polar Bears. . It was autumn and the trees had their autumn colours as a backdrop. It is all in the open and the park is located higher up in a cold area near the Cairngorms to house the animals who are used to cold weather.

There are Scottish Wildcats due to be released in to the wild but the other animals in the park cannot be released in to the wild although there is continuing consideration of re- introducing wolves to the Highlands. As this was autumn, most of the animals had offspring.

We visited the Amur Tigers who were some distance away from the viewing platform in their forest with their cubs.

The Polar Bears

polar bear feed

By the time we reached the Polar Bears, Victoria and her cub Brodie, it was feeding time and the keeper threw the food over the inner fence. The bears came galloping down the hillside through the forest from their den when they were called. We had lunch in the cold from a hill top opposite so you could say we had lunch with the polar bears! Brodie, the cub, was very grey from rolling in the mud at their pond.

brodie bear pond

When we visited the snow leopards, the mother was enclosed with the three cubs as she had a sore paw which was being monitored by the vet. The male snow leopard was outside on a ledge of a rock face which could be viewed from around the corner.


On the last day we took the bus to Kingussie, not far from Kincraig. Kingussie lies alongside the River Spey and most of our walk was on the Speyside Way. We passed some cute and friendly horses in a field which ran down to the River Spey. The name “Kingussie” comes from the Gaelic “Ceann a’ Ghiuthsaich” which means “Head of the Pine Forest”.

Ruthven Barracks

We continued on to Ruthven Barracks, which we could see on the hill from the roadside.The ruins of the early 18th-century Ruthven Barrcks is open to visitors at all times. It lies near the original site of the village, which was moved to avoid the flood plain of the River Spey. The Hanoverian Barracks were built on the site of Ruthven Castle, the seat of the Comyns, Lords of Badenoch in the Middle Ages. Ruthven Barracks were built by George II’s government in the early 1700s after the failed Jacobite uprising of 1715. The troops stationed there were to maintain law and order and enforce the Disarming Act of 1716.The barracks saw action twice. A 300-strong Jacobite attack failed to take the barracks in 1745, but a more heavily-armed attack the next year forced the barracks’ surrender. The Jacobites rallied here after their defeat at Culloden before conceding defeat.

River Spey

Best known for salmon fishing and whisky production, the restless River Spey is Scotland’s fastest, as well as second longest, river and passes through some of the Highland’s finest scenery as it weaves its way to the sea from its source in the shadow of the Monadhliath Mountains. On the walk, we saw the River Spey flowing between high rocky banks at great speed. At 98 miles (158 km) long, it is the eighth longest river in the United Kingdom.

Being autumn, we saw yet more mushrooms. This time, they were very white on wood.

Loch Insh

Our final destination on the walk was at the Loch Insh Watersports Centre for dinner.  Loch Insh sits in the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountains at the lower end of Glen Feshie. Here the River Spey widens to form Loch Insh, creating the perfect setting for a wide range of sports in safety.

It was a wonderful and varied three days of walking and thanks to Ian for arranging it and organising the entertainment.

Coming attractions:  Inverkip and any suggestions!




Helen Rose's Outdoor Diary: Inverkip
Helen Rose's Outdoor Diary: Raasay

This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary

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