A Frontier Feeling

Despite their rounded relief, the Central Cairngorm Mountains can be surprisingly treacherous - they're home to the highest points in Scotland, as well as its snowiest and coldest temperatures. But when the light is right and the heather is in bloom, they're absolutely enchanting.

A Frontier Feeling Off the Radar in Scotland

It comes from my right, an explosion in the trail-side bushes that puts my heart into my throat.

I jump aside, and my surprise fades as a ruffled grouse, one of the many bird species native to the area, flutters off into safer foliage. I know the area’s only natural predator is a 10-pound wild cat, but when you’re someplace that feels this remote, it’s impossible for the imagination not to wander.

While the fauna isn’t dangerous, I’ve been well-warned that the weather is. I’m 15 minutes into my first ride in the Central Cairngorm Mountains, just five miles as the crow flies from the nearest village, and there’s no sign of civilization besides this narrow thread of singletrack, barely visible as it disappears into the scabrous, heather-clad mountains ahead.

My husband and I arrived in Scotland less than 24 hours before, on a self-guided mission to explore the network of trails outside the small town of Braemar. Home to just under 1,000 people and multiple castles, Braemar is located along the River Dee, in the craggy mountains of the Scottish Highlands. The peaks aren’t dramatic, but they are the tallest—and coldest—in Scotland, an area of stunning views with an ever-present frontier feel.

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