Cairngorm National Park has moved online to give armchair visitors a flavour of a Highland spring, finds Sandra Dick

The hotels, bars and restaurants are quiet, the visitors are at home. Even the Boat of Garten osprey nest seems to be missing its usual occupants.

Water sports at Loch Morlich and Loch Insh are on hold, and the winding road up to Cairngorm Mountain’s ski area has been taken over by the resident reindeer herd.

The mountains, lochs, forest trails and attractions that span the Cairngorms – Scotland’s outdoor playground – should have been bustling with visitors enjoying one of the best spells of springtime weather for years.

Instead, even the BBC’s Springwatch programme, filmed from its Cairngorms hub and which showcases the area in all its natural glory, is staying away.

Now, to help us all enjoy a flavour of Highland life, Cairngorms National Park has unveiled plans to bring the nature, sounds, culture and scenery that makes it so special to our homes.

For 10 days from Friday, May 15, a series of online events will offer a flavour of Britain’s biggest national park, including special reports highlighting conservation work to protect endangered wildcats and capercaillies, fun quizzes, music and art.

The online festival replaces the Cairngorms Nature BIG Weekend, an annual springtime celebration of the national park which typically sees dozens of free activities and first-hand experiences for visitors.

Instead, every day from Friday onwards, the Cairngorms BIG 10 Days Of Nature will showcase the park’s wildlife and nature online, with special emphasis on how the natural world can help support our mental health and wellbeing.

Along with traditional music from local artists, the 10 days of virtual events will include art classes offering tips for wildlife drawing and interviews with people working on the frontline of nature conservation across the park.

Lucy Ford, Cairngorms National Park Authority conservation engagement officer, said: “It was such a disappointment that the BIG Weekend had to be rolled over to 2021 after all the hard work everyone had put in.

“Unable to invite people here in lockdown, we decided we would take the celebration to them.

“I am very excited about what we have planned. All the event providers have joined in and each day has a theme.

“There are ideas and activities for the whole family.”

The 10 days of online events will spotlight Cairngorms’ “at risk” wildcats and capercaillies alongside less well-known rare scabious mining bees, found in only a handful of locations and which nest in burrows in the ground, and Kentish Glory moths.

Identified as a conservation priority species, the moths are only found in the northeast, in areas of young birch such as moorland or regenerating woodland.

There will also be special reports on the park’s bats, alpine plants and peatland restoration.

“We know that being exposed to nature is proven to have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing and so we will be featuring ideas and activities to get people involved from their own homes,” added Ford.

The role nature plays in mental health and wellbeing and tackling climate change will also be included in the festival, with a keynote talk from Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change at the Cairngorms Climate Conference, along with films that spotlight landscape scale projects designed to help tackle the climate emergency.

A film from Alzheimer Scotland’s Tipi project will highlight how the outdoors can aid people living with dementia and their families, while arts events include music from traditional musicians Hamish Napier and Jenny Sturgeon.

Sturgeon, who was due to be open the BIG Weekend with the Highland launch of her new work inspired by Nan Shepherd’s book The Living Mountain, said: “Nature and the natural world informs and inspires my music and is a great stress reliever.

“I grew up near the Cairngorms and walking in the hills and catching glimpses of species there is always a delight.

“Now more than ever the outdoors and watching wildlife has taken on a new meaning.”

Cairngorms BIG 10 Days Of Nature begins on Friday, May 15. The full programme is available at, or visit

How to keep tabs on your Cairngorms favourites

Missing your spring visit to Cairngorms National Park? Here’s how to stay in touch with what’s going on.

Reindeer tales

With paths and roads clear of traffic, the Cairngorms reindeer herd has been taking the easy route to new pastures and saving keepers the problem of scrambling through rough heather to reach them.

Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd has also been welcoming delightfully cute calves, while an adoption programme has been launched to raise vital funds lost during lockdown.

Regular updates, cute photographs and details of how to adopt a reindeer are posted on the Cairngorms Reindeer Herd Facebook page.

Plant life

A highlight of the Big 10 Days of Nature will be a short film highlighting Plantlife Scotland’s work in Cairngorms National Park.

Due to be screened online on Saturday, it was partly filmed at Anagach Woods, where there are rare wintergreen, creeping lady’s tresses, twinflower and stag’s horn clubmoss, the spores of which were once used to create magician’s flash powder.

The film includes an explanation of Gaelic plant names and film of tiny arctic alpine flowers flourishing on the windswept Cairngorms plateau.

To follow Plantlife Scotland’s work in the Cairngorms, its floral guardians who monitor plants and its Cairngorms Wild Plants Project, go to or like Plantlife Scotland on Facebook.

Beer and banter

Missing a pint at the bar of the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore, a foot-tapping evening in front of a roaring fire with some fiddle music in the background, or just some glorious scenery?

The Pine Marten Bar and Scran at Glenmore has been treating Facebook followers to daily images of dazzling sunsets, Loch Morlich scenes and news updates with plenty of banter thrown in – including indoor skateboarding.

Wash it down with a beer ordered online from the Cairngorm Brewery or a Speyside malt.

Hit the hills

Cairngorms National Park’s website is calling for walkers to bag a Munro by signing up for its virtual challenge.

Walk 30 minutes every day for six days to claim Ben Macdui, an hour a day for two days to bag Beinn a’ Ghlo and 30 minutes for four days to add Lochnagar to your "done it" list.

If cycling is your thing, Ride Cairngorm on Facebook is packed with pictures of bikes against stunning mountain scenery and the occasional competition.

Bird life

Keep on top of what’s happening with the park’s birdlife by following RSPB Loch Garten Abernethy’s Facebook updates.

There’s little news of ospreys nesting, but there is a species of the day feature, regular links to blogs and podcasts, and ideas to create wildlife features in gardens.

Brush up on your knowledge of birdsong by visiting Cairngorms National Park’s website – there’s a page dedicated to the sounds of the park.

On the estate

Lynbreck Croft on the outskirts of Aviemore, spans 150 acres and is home to thistle-chomping pigs, a couple of Highland cows, chickens, bees and a tea plantation.

Owners Sandra Baer and Lynn Cassells post regular vlogs and Facebook updates with plenty of pictures of life on the farm.

Swing by Alvie Estate on Facebook too for regular news from the Kingussie area, images of days gone by and plenty of pictures of new arrivals on the farm.

Meanwhile, Balmoral Castle and Estate’s page is updated daily with photographs and news from the royal residence.