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Thursday, 24 October 2019

Accessible hiking in the Cairngorms - the mountain itself

It's difficult for website owners to give accurate information about wheelchair access because all wheelchair users are different and there is so much variation between different types of chair. We recently spent a week on holiday in Aviemore, Scotland, exploring the area and enjoying some fresh air and exercise.

So how did the area perform in terms of accessibility? Here are my thoughts on some of our days out.

Cairngorm Mountain

I first visited the mountain a couple of years ago, when I had some adaptive ski lessons with DSUK. They have since left the area, in part due to the closure of the funicular railway. In the last week, we have been up the mountain at least three times. There is parking, including plenty of blue badge spaces, a cafe with accessible toilets and an exhibition, telling the history of the mountain. 

Parking and getting in

We found parking really easy, but that could be because it's a quiet time of year. Having said that, it was easy in the middle of the ski season too. What is not so easy, especially as a manual wheelchair user, is getting from the car to the cafe. It is a mountain, so of course you have to expect some steep slopes. It really is quite steep in places and the ground isn't particularly smooth. Once you get near the buildings, the ramps are pretty good, though still steep. Inside the buildings was a doddle though, with big wide doorways and smooth floors. 

Photo of the outside area showing how steep the entrances are

Exhibition

I thought the exhibition was great for access! There was plenty of space, nice clear displays and a couple of videos that were easy enough to see. If they ever get the funicular railway running again, I can vouch for good access there too. I was able to board and get off independently, as there is level access. There is a charge for the exhibition but carers go free.

Cafe and staff

We found the staff to be extremely welcoming and friendly! We arrived on a miserable sleety day. It was wet, windy and freezing cold! Nevertheless, a lovely old chap was standing outside to greet visitors and point them in the right direction of the exhibition, cafe and toilets. 

I was really impressed with one guy in the cafe. We were sitting, having a cuppa and a young chap came over and asked whether I had skied there a couple of years ago. He had helped out for one of my lessons. He was basically the route leader, who I followed, so I didn't get lost or into difficulties. He recognised me and remembered from two and a half years ago! That is pretty impressive! 

Outside

Most of the paths in the area are gravel and steep. I did manage to get around in my normal chair but it was hard going and a little scary in places. Neil took Liggy to explore the stream and have a sniff around. I managed to get down the gravel slope but going up, I had to use my ski technique and do a zigzag path, whilst simultaneously pulling constant wheelies. 

Photo showing gravel path on a steep slope.

Activities

At this time of year, the only real activity going on is tubing, which I didn't attempt. For me, whilst it would be great fun, I wouldn't be able to get from the bottom to the top and I would almost definitely get hurt. For the more able, there are hiking paths, but these are well outside my capabilities. Photography though, is doable and the scenery is outstanding! We had a variety of weather conditions, from snow to sunshine. Here's a selection of my favourite pics.

Photo of distant hills and Loch Morlich in thick cloud and mist

Photo of Cairngorm Mountain with snow on the top

View from the mountain across to Loch Morlich and beyond

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