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Eat, shop, and enjoy the view at 3600ft!
Cairngorm Mountain Railway (Scotland)
Member Name: markos9
Cairngorm Mountain Railway (Scotland)
Advantages: Stunning views and an almost unique landscape.
Disadvantages: Days of good visibility can be few and far between.
The Cairngorm mountain range, situated in the Cairngorm National Park is the highest, coldest, snowiest mountain plateau in the British Isles and is home to five of the six highest mountains in Scotland.
This is Britain's last great wilderness and its alpine semi-tundra landscape is home to some rare and spectacular wildlife. The mountains can be dangerous, changeable, and forbidding; many people have lost their lives walking and climbing here over the years.
Fortunately, there's an easy, safe way to experience this unique landscape; the Cairngorm Funicular Railway.
The railway runs from the base station at 2000ft and climbs steeply to the Ptarmigan station and restaurant at 3600ft, 500ft below the summit of Cairn Gorm. The base station is reached by car and is signposted from Aviemore and the general area.
A two way ticket on the funicular costs £9.00 for an adult and £6.00 for a child, although annual passes are available. If you want to walk up and take the train down, tickets for this are available too. The trains run every 20 minutes until 16:40.
Travelling on the funicular is an experience in itself. The large, single carriage, purple(!) train holds up to sixty seated passengers or, in the Winter season, 120 skiers. There are large windows all round including the front and back so getting a good view is almost guaranteed.
The train takes 8 minutes to reach the summit during which time a short recording about the cairngorms is played. The view from the funicular is really impressive, as long as the visibility is good. Seated high up, you can see for miles around, and it's worth keeping an eye out for some of the wildlife such as ptarmigan, mountain hare, and even golden eagle.
The Ptarmigan station is separated into four levels: mountain exhibition giving a history of the cairngorms, shop, restaurant, and viewing terrace.
The shop is a standard tourist shop selling all of the usual fare such as gifts and clothing. Two items of note are the paintings and photographs for sale, some of which are simply stunning, and the Cairn Gorm beer. You can also buy post cards and post them in the highest post box in the British Isles!
The restaurant is quite highly priced (perhaps expected as the highest café in the British Isles) but is of reasonable quality. Many of the tables are situated next to the huge windows so you can get a fantastic view whilst you're eating.
The viewing terrace is, however, the best part of the station. When I walked out onto the terrace, my jaw literally dropped at the stunning vista that presented itself. We'd had the good fortune to visit on a day of superb visibility (greater than 100 miles!) and it seemed that the whole of Scotland was laid out before and below us.
There are boards showing what you can see, and where around the terrace. We were amazed to pick out the jagged peak of Ben Nevis, with the naked eye, over 56 miles away!
The temperature at the station will be well below that at sea level, so it's worth wrapping up well. Snow can be expected to still be present in June and snow falls cannot be ruled out until this time.
When we visited in early May, there was still snow drifts on the viewing terrace making conditions slightly slippery, but great fun for the kids.
Visitors to the Ptarmigan station are not allowed onto the mountain itself, to protect the fragile, rare environment of the mountain. Although slightly disappointing, I support this approach; the damage that the thousands of visitors to the station could cause over time makes preventing access to the mountain a sensible precaution.
It's possible to see a lot from the viewing terrace, however. The only plants that appear to be able to survive are hardy grasses. These grow amongst the boulder strewn fields in sheltered spots. It's hard to understand how birds such as ptarmigan and dotterel manage to find anything to eat here at all!
Travelling down on the funicular gives a different experience to travelling up. A different recording, this time about the history of the funicular railway is played. The large front window gives a spectacular view down the steep track, as you're leaving the Ptarmigan station, it's almost like starting on a rollercoaster, with the track falling steeply away.
The funicular railway is then, a superb way to visit Britain's last wilderness in relative safety and comfort. Almost anyone can visit Ptarmigan station, wheelchair users are catered for, and no special equipment except warm clothing is required. If you're visiting the highlands, and get a day of good visibility, I can highly recommend travelling on the funicular for an experience that's almost unique in Britain.
Summary: A safe way to experience Britian's highest mountain plateau.
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