If you have ever seen a picture of Cairngorms National Park then you have had the treat of seeing a glimpse of one the most spectacular high ranges in all of the United Kingdom. The Cairngorms themselves are located only partially within the park itself; the entire range actually extends beyond the boundaries of the official park.
The Cairngorms are a collection of low and rounded mountains that exist along a very large and highly elevated plateau area. They give the illusion of being a single large plateau when in actuality they are several plateaus connected closely to each other. However, because the passes cutting through the individual plateaus are quite shallow compared with many other mountain passes, the Cairngorms appear to be all on just one plateau of their own.
Visitors to the Cairngorms notice right away just how stunning the mountains appear during all seasons of the year, most particularly during the winter months. This stunning group of peaks form the coldest, snowiest, and highest plateau in the British Islands and are home to Scotland's six highest peaks overall. There is a long tradition in Scotland of people challenging themselves by climbing to the top of these mountains; Queen Victoria herself reached the top of the Ben Macdui peak in 1859, later writing about the tremendously moving experience that was one of the toughest tasks she ever set about finishing.
Aside from their spectacular beauty, the Cairngorms have a much more practical impact on life in Scotland. Their size and location make them a major and significant barrier to travel across Scotland itself. They have long been the reason why trade activities are so difficult from one side to the other and because of this they remain thinly populated and an extraordinarily rugged place to live.
While the Cairngorms have long been a significant obstacle to daily living requirements, it is this rugged nature that attracts so many visitors to the area each year. There are no public roads through the Cairngorms proper; rather, access to the area is via one of the roads built around the edges of the plateaus followed by a slow drive or trek up into the mountains using a smaller, local spur road. Some of these smaller roads become little more than a wide path as they go further up into the Cairngorms, making travel all the way to the highest elevations something that only the heartiest of people choose to pursue.
When visiting the Cairngorms, watch for the incredible variety and diversity of wildlife and plant life that thrive in the area. The unique habitat of the area, known as an alpine semitundra moorland, supports a whole host of birds (such as the ptarmigan, golden eagle, twite, Lapland bunting, Scottish crossbill, and the crested tit) living in and around the primeval forests of the Cairngorms; plan a visit to Abernethy Forest for the best bird viewing opportunities. Other animals you are likely to see in various parts of the Cairngorms include the red deer, pine marten, otter, and wild cat. Interestingly, the high reaches of the Cairngorms are home to a unique herd of reindeer, the only such herd in the British Islands.
If skiing and winter sports are to your liking, then the Cairngorms are an excellent choice to indulge in those activities. Three of the five ski resorts in Scotland are located in the Cairngorms the Lecht Ski Centre, the Cairn Gorm Ski Centre, and the Glenshee Ski Centre. All three of these resorts offer a fine variety of skiing challenges, and their locations are nothing short of stunning in scenery.
Just because the Cairngorms are so rugged and difficult to traverse directly does not mean they are without some lovely places to visit, explore, and stay over for a few nights. There are some lovely towns located in and around the Cairngorms, such as Aviemore, Kingussie, Boat of Garten, Braemar, Carrbridge, and more. It's well worth the time to explore these wonderful small towns to soak up their atmosphere, interact with the local people, and take advantage of their location as a jumping off point for exploration of the absolutely gorgeous surroundings in which they are situated.
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