North of Aviemore, the Strathspey Railway, Dalfaber Road (tel. 01479/810-725; www.strathspeyrailway.co.uk), is your best bet in Scotland to learn firsthand what it was like to ride the rails in the 19th century. The railway follows the valley of the River Spey between Boat of Garten and Aviemore, a distance of 8km (5 miles). The train is drawn by a coal-burning steam locomotive. The newest locomotive used was made nearly 4 decades ago, the oldest being of 1899 vintage. The trip re-creates the experience of travel on a Scottish steam railway that once carried wealthy Victorians toward their hunting lodges in North Britain. The round-trip takes about an hour. The rail station at Boat of Garten, where you can board the train, has also been restored.
Round-trip passage costs £16 first class or £11 third class. Schedules change frequently, but from July to the end of August, trains make four round-trips daily. From May to June and September, they run three times daily, and from March to April and October, they run Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. There's no regular service in winter but special Christmas-season trips are made with Santa Claus aboard. To complete the experience, you can wine and dine onboard on Sunday and Friday in July and August, when a single-seating casual lunch is served; the cost for the fare and meal is £22, rising to £32 at dinner. Reservations must be made for the meals. The dining car is a replica of a Pullman parlor car, the Amethyst. For reservations and hours of departure, call tel. 01479/812-349.
Skiers come to the area any time after October, when snow can be expected. You can rent ski equipment and clothing at the Day Lodge at the main Cairngorm parking area. Weather patterns can change quickly in the Cairngorm massif. Call the number above for a report on the latest weather conditions. To reach the area, take A951, branching off from A9 at Aviemore, and then head for the parking area at the Day Lodge.
There are several places to rent bikes in the area. Speyside Sports, Grant Road (tel. 01479/810-656), rents bikes at £12 for a half-day, £15 for a full day, and £50 for 6 days. Bothy Bikes, 81 Grampian Rd. (tel. 01479/810-111; www.bothybikes.co.uk), charges £15 for a half-day, £20 for a full day, and £170 for 6 days. Discounts apply when you rent for 2 days or more.
The tourist office can give you hiking maps and offer advice, especially about weather conditions. One of the best trails is reached by following B9760 to the signposted Glenmore Forest Park, in the vicinity of Loch Morlich.
For the grandest view of the Cairngorm peaks, you can take the Cairngorm Mountain Railway (tel. 01479/861-261; www.cairngormmountain.com), to the top. The best views of the Valley of the Spey can be seen from the point where the funicular railway lets you off. At the peak is a visitor center and restaurant. Wear warm gear because it gets mighty cold at the top, some 900m (3,000 ft.) above sea level. The railway is signposted off B9152. If weather permits, the train runs daily from 10am to 4:20pm, costing £9.50 for adults, £8.25 for seniors, £6 for students and children 6 to 16. From late June to the end of August, the last train is at 5:15pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.