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Reflecting on an Action-Packed Season with Craggan Outdoors

Filed in Blog by on November 6, 2018 • views: 17

 

With the frostiness of early winter upon us, another season in Scottish tourism draws to an end. For the second consecutive year, records have been broken all over the place and travellers near and far have been immersing themselves in the best of what Scotland has to offer, including the Cairngorms National Park and Speyside in the Highlands where Craggan Outdoors is based.

aerial of centre

It’s certainly been a dynamic season for Craggan Outdoors, as their wide range of activities has continued to deliver great excitement for thousands of visitors seeking out immersive, safe and thrilling outdoor experiences in the Cairngorms. I’m taking the opportunity to reflect on my season of observing the team, and learning just what makes this kind of business tick.

Over the course of five visits throughout 2018, I’ve had a remarkably uncensored opportunity to witness the different stages of preparation, planning, implementation and reflection that comes with this kind of work. Owner & Managing Director Keith and his staff team have had me along to interact and observe, to get to know the team and some of the guests, and it’s been great to have had a much more holistic experience than media-types like myself are usually afforded.

kayaking is fun

My Season in Brief

Starting in very chilly conditions in March, I joined up with the freshly appointed seasonal instructors to jump head-long into their 8-week staff training programme. I say head-long….we literally were jumping into the freshest of waters for the teeth-chatteringly thrilling experience that is gorge walking. Splashing, clambering, panting and shrieking my way up the cragged gorge wasn’t just my introduction to these guys; it’s still amongst my most memorable experiences this year and it really is one of the must-do outdoor activities in the Scottish Highlands. Truly shocking on initial impact, the sensations soon transform to euphoria and it’s such an immersive way to bond with those with which you are sharing the experience, and these powerful lands. Fortunately for you good people, you don’t necessarily have to take this on in such icy conditions, as it’s probably best tackled in spring, summer or autumn, but whenever you do it you’ll struggle to beat it for thrills!

gorge walking activity

My other favourite water-based activity of the season was without doubt canoeing. A gloriously relaxing way to bond with the area, the team will take you on leisurely trips down an appropriately chosen section of the River Spey, with half-day, full day & multi-day options (with wild camping) being available. One of the most popular outdoor activities, the excellent summer weather-wise saw numbers boom, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for groups of up to ten people. For a Speyside whisky lover as well, the significance of actually being on those waters was a significance not lost on me, and the fastest flowing river in Scotland is entirely perfect for this sport.

As for the land-based stuff, getting bumped about rugged woodland trails on mountain bikes was right up there as well. I’m a walker – always have been – and there’s something both therapeutic and soul-warming about taking a forested trail at your own pace. Which is probably why I was so surprised that hurtling along at great speed on a bike was arguably even more enjoyable! Throw in the fun I had at footgolf (not an activity for taking yourself too seriously) and rock climbing (in the kilt!), and it really does underline the vastness of what is on offer. I can’t think of any other company in the industry offering such diversity on a day-to-day basis. Throughout, the Craggan Outdoors staff have always been exemplary. Taking each activity – with all of the safety procedures, variables and visitor ability levels into their stride – they ensure an absolutely first-class experience for all.

mountain biking craggan outdoors cairngormsThe Guests

So who should visit Craggan Outdoors ? One of my first questions when getting to know the team, I’ve been delighted to observe the range of clients that join in on all of the activities on offer. I’ve been a highly impressed observer as school groups, stag and hen dos, families and friends, corporate groups, & community groups such as Brownies and Guides, Scouts, and Forces cadets have all passed through the doors. Being outdoors and active together is an incredibly good way for folk to bond, and I’ve loved noting their enjoyment first and foremost, but also how it gets people talking openly and candidly and brings them closer. For kids in particular, I’m firmly of the view that the outdoors is integral in a youngster’s development. Although not a parent myself, I can imagine that keeping them entertained over the school holidays can be no easy task, and accordingly get them outdoors and active has to be one of the best solutions available.

craggan outdoor centre

Equally, the hilarity guaranteed with the likes of footgolf and disc golf, along with other favourites such as laser clay pigeon shooting, mini Highland Games, paintball and raft building is tailor-made for the hen and stag groups that enjoy a little bit of friendly competition, but enjoy laughing at each other even more! School trips are fabulous fun, I remember them well, and I’d have been right in my element getting out of the classroom and taking on the likes of archery, bushcraft, high ropes and the rest. Another of my best memories of the season was watching the kids fighting their anxieties and testing their boundaries, such as with the heights on the high ropes, taking to the water in a wobbling kayak, eating nettles & brewing pine needles tea in the bushcraft, and other unfamiliar challenges that each activity presents.

Holiday seasons are more about family time and, right up to the October school holidays, things have been steadily busy for the team. There has been a good spread of interest across the activities and the company’s own bunkhouse accommodation has continued to be extremely popular for those looking at extending their activities across multiple days, and/or combining with doing other things in the wider area. Truly, a provider for everyone!

landscape view

What’s Next?

The last days and weeks of the season have been spent bringing things down, carrying out the necessary autumn maintenance, and beginning preparations for the 2019 season, so things certainly don’t grind to a halt here over winter. Aswell as preparation and maintenance – the place always looks fantastic – there remains a steady flow of activity groups continuing through the winter, predominantly on land-based activities; and also with the Cairngorms always being extremely popular with winter walkers / climbers and snow seekers, keen on taking on some of the most challenging mountainous terrain in Europe, & visiting the snowsports areas of The Lecht & Caingorim Mountain, Craggan Outdoors’ Ardenbeg & Glenbeg accommodation provides ideal good value self-catering group accommodation year-round.

ardenbeg bunkhouse entrance

But, of course, minds will start to prepare for 2019 and the opportunities for the future. With TripAdvisor rating at a fantastic 94%, recognition for a third straight year as ‘Best Outdoor Venue’ finalist in the Scottish Hospitality Awards 2018, and being awarded ‘Best Outdoor Activity & Learning Centre’ in the Scottish Enterprise Awards 2018, it’s clear that clients and the wider activity tourism community are enjoying what Craggan Outdoors is all about. Although my time with them has now ended, I’ll enjoy following their progress and achievements over coming years, as the excitement and success look certain to continue.

gorge walking activity

Neil Robertson is a travel blogger, broadcaster and marketer who spends his time finding the best bits around his home country of Scotland, in his guise as Travels with a Kilt. Particularly fond of the outdoors and history, he can generally be found up a Munro, poking around ruins or chasing his drone around a loch. This year he has worked closely with Craggan Outdoors as they progressed through the various stages of the tourism season – with plenty of sporty participation in their wide range of activities along the way. You can follow his adventures over on his Scotland blog as well as looking back at the details of each of his visits to us on this site.

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