My first trip to Scotland was when I was sixteen. At the end of the summer term I was asked not to return to Lancing College, my boarding school, as I was deemed ineducable. My parents didn’t really know what to do with me but, somehow, my mother learnt of adventure training courses run by the Scottish Council of Physical Education (now Sportscotland) at Glenmore Lodge a Highland centre near Aviemore. The Glenmore Lodge I stayed in lies some seven miles east of Aviemore, and was formerly a Victorian hunting lodge. It became a hostel when the Central Council for Physical Education acquired it in 1947. It later became the Loch Morlich Youth Hostel, and then the Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel (which is its name today) after a newly built National Outdoor Training Centre was opened nearby in 1996 and was named Glenmore.
I set off by myself from home in Robertsbridge, East Sussex with rucksack and walking boots on the 600 mile train journey, mostly through the night and was met by coach with others in that fortnight’s mixed group of students. These fellow travellers mostly came from Scotland or the north of England but, being fresh out of boarding school, I settled in straight away.
From Aviemore station we drove through Inverdruie and Coylumbridge then followed the valleys of the rivers Druie and Luineag to Loch Morlich on the 7 mile journey to the Lodge itself in Glen More. The road ran through pine forests both natural and planted with areas of rough brown grass, moss, bilberry and heather. Some of the drier parts were close planted with conifers of even age giving an almost scandinoir film dimension and there were scattered boggy areas of pale green and fawn. The occasional patches of the old Caledonian Forest were characterised by the open branched Scots pines quite different in shape from Scots pines elsewhere in Britain and sometimes distinguished as Pinus sylvestris subspecies scotia.
Coylumbridge is often said to be a newly built hamlet but it features on many maps of over a century old. Today there is a four star, modern hotel there opened in 1965 on land granted by the Rothiemurchus Estate and many new buildings housing various sports and holiday activities.
On past the grey stone of the Aultnancaber hunting lodge, now a clay pigeon shooting centre, past the layby at the start of the track to what was the Cairngorm Sled-dog Centre opened around 2001 at Moormore. Among the conventional sled dog options, floodlit sledging was available. The centre closed in 2020 due, according to the owners, to global warming though they claimed that snow was not essential for sled dog action. This heavily forested area with its rows of evenly aged Scots pines is shown on the map both as the Queen’s Forest and Glen More Forest but there are often many layers of naming in the Aviemore area. In one of the more open areas to the south of the road there is the placename Rinraoich over open, boggy ground with a small 1,000 foot summit nearby. Rinraoich is thought to have been the location of a heather shieling, once an area of heathy pasture.
Where the road turns south towards Loch Morlich, there is the start of track on the northern side that leads to the Badaguish Centre established by The Speyside Trust in 2006 and catering for people with disabilities. This is essentially cabin style holiday accommodation with a range of appropriate activities at a site in a remote part of the Queen’s Forest.
Visiting the web sites and other marketing manifestations of the various attractions in the area a curious paradox emerges. The primary offer seems to be the opportunity to relax and stuff yourself with food and drink in tranquil and beautiful places, whereas the social intention of the tourist resort dimension seems to be on activity and vigorous sports and pursuits both outdoor and indoor. The centre also offers a Speyside Kitchen with a wide range of conventional restaurant dishes and a few specialities such as locally made boerewors sausage, popular in southern Africa, with sticky onion sauce. Elsewhere fancy names have been coined for new facilities, the Pine Marten Bar and Scran for example (scran is a Scots word meaning, among other things, take away food) at the Glenmore Centre. Then there is a car park near Glenmore Lodge strangely titled the Wanderparkplatz (perhaps to make German visitors feel at home). It is as though the lovely but unpronounceable local place names in Scottish Gaelic like Cnap Coire na Spreidhe weren’t enough vocabularic variation. A short distance further east of the Youth Hostel is the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. To add to the etymological circus ‘reindeer’ is a word deriving from the Old Norse ‘hreindyri’.
Not far along from the road from the Badaguish turn is the sign for Rothiemurchus Centre under Castle Hill some distance from the Glenmore road. It offers cabin and chalet accommodation to members of the British forces and associated people and organisations. There are also picnic sites, fishing opportunities, cycle trails and orienteering facilities on or near the shores of Loch Morlich and a large sandy area called Loch Morlich Beach, said to be the highest beach in the British Isles. One intriguing feature is a monument marked at full stop size on the map just north of the road and the western end of Loch Morlich. The Highland Historic Environment Bureau are aware of this but claim to know nothing much else about it – what in commemorates and how old it is. Neither do they have a photo or drawing of it. However, using StreetView an object like a sundial cam be seen among the pines in more or less the correct position and is apparently known as ‘The Queen’s Forest Pillar’ a name presumably connected to the fact that the surrounding area is shown on the map as The Queen’s Forest.
As outlined above the Glenmore Lodge I stayed in in 1954 is now the Loch Morlich Youth Hostel. It later became the Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel. A new build, Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre, a short distance to the east of Glenmore Lodge, was opened 1996 and appropriated the one word name Glenmore. This complicated nomenclature means that many of the maps and other manifestations of the area’s geography are incorrect and/or out of date, ironic for institutions one of whose major aims is to teach hill walking visitors how to use maps. The web site of the Reindeer Centre at Glenmore also claims that SatNav directions will take you to the wrong place – all part of the magic of the Highlands no doubt.
When we rived at Glenmore Lodge males were separated from females and we were allocated bunk beds in dormitories of half a dozen people. Very utilitarian with bland pale blue and cream walls and rough blankets. We all had to stow our walking boots and other outdoor accoutrements and then assemble in the dining room for our first meal for which we sat on benches on either side of long trestle tables. Then we were mustered for briefing before outdoor activities began. This walking, climbing, sailing and kayaking I will cover in another chapter
On some of the evenings there were social activities and I particularly remember everyone singing this song with its words and tune ringing through the ceilidh on the last evening of the course.
From Perth up to Dalwhinnie
And on to Aviemore
The hills and aw there splendour
Would set my heart a glow
You’ll make the open highway
And head for old Glenmore
The tune appears to be The Lights of Lochindaal a Scottish dance tune about Islay and I like the version on YouTube by Jack Sinclair's Television Showband. The words I knew are thought to have been written to the tune perhaps by someone at Glenmore Lodge. The song is a couple of lines short but the last two lines can be repeated at the end of the verse, The hills and aw there splendour should perhaps be The hills and all their splendour.
Despite the healthy and invigorating activities, the young people on the course soon tended to form into male/female pairs. Somehow, by the end of the first week, I found myself increasingly involved with a girl from Edinburgh called Faye. We had very innocent, fully clothed wrestling matches on her bunk bed. Being an only child and at boys boarding school from the age of twelve I knew very little about women either mentally or physically and, I am sure, Faye knew very little about men in those far off days when sexual relations were still very restrictive and contraception unreliable or non-existent. I had never had a sex education lesson or a biological chat from my mother or father. Faye was a lively and warm young woman with a posh Edinburgh accent and now, after all these years, I particularly remember the soft and fluffy very feminine pink jumper she often wore and her bright scarlet lipstick. After we returned to our respective homes from Glen More we wrote love letters to one another from time to time and hers would always be drenched in perfume and have SWALK inscribed in that bright scarlet lipstick on the back of the envelope.