Cairngorms National Park Authority chief executive Grant Moir says park is ready to welcome more visitors
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With coronavirus restrictions on travel loosened and more businesses able to open up, John Davidson speaks to Grant Moir, chief executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, about what plans are in place to deal with an expected influx of visitors this summer
It’s easy to understand why so many of us are attracted to the Cairngorms National Park, with its mix of high mountains, glorious forests and pristine lochs and glens.
There are plenty of stunning places to see in the Highlands, but the 4528 square kilometre park contains some of the very best, including 55 Munros – and four of the five highest mountains in the UK.
The trails and paths that offer off-road adventures to people of all ages are also well looked after and provide inspiration for a multitude of trips.
But last year its popularity after the first Covid lockdown eased meant it got more than its fair share of issues to contend with, from parking problems to irresponsible camping and dangerous fires.
Grant Moir is the chief executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, and he admitted there were some challenges last year, but said in the main people were well behaved.
“Fires were something that we dealt with quite a lot in terms of people lighting them in inappropriate places,” he said. “You shouldn’t be lighting fires in woodland or on peat soils, so we were asking people to put those out. And actually, most people did when they were asked – most people aren’t aware sometimes of what they’re doing, so when people are spoken to by rangers and others, they were in general putting out their fires.
“Most people who were camping did so responsibly as well, but that’s not to say that there weren’t examples of irresponsible camping or people doing daft things like cutting down green trees.
“But the vast majority of people were still coming to the park and enjoying themselves and doing the right thing, and that’s what we want to encourage.”
Responsible access is likely to be a key concern for many people in rural areas – both in the national park and elsewhere – this summer, particularly with overseas travel likely to be largely off the cards again.
The national park authority is focusing on putting the right information out as well as improving car parking facilities and services for motorhomes and other overnight campers.
Mr Moir went on: “We’re trying to work closely with the communities and others to make sure people are aware of the work that’s going on across the park, whether that be infrastructure work or traffic management or the extra rangers that are out in the park.
“We’re trying to make sure that the balance is right between the safety of communities within the park and making sure that visitors have a good time when they come.”
The man responsible for the running of the Cairngorms National Park – a park that is twice the size of the Lake District and makes up six per cent of the total land mass of Scotland – is keen to emphasise the welcome visitors will get in the park.
He said: “I think what we can do is to make sure we’ve got the right communications going out, that we’ve got the right people on the ground, that it’s a very positive experience for people and that people feel very welcome when they come to the Cairngorms, which is a key thing.
“It’s a national park, it’s for all the people of Scotland - and further afield in due course - to enjoy and we want to make sure that when they come here they have a good time.”
Mr Moir suggests that there is plenty of room for everyone who wants to visit the Cairngorms this year, and businesses across the area are looking forward to welcoming back the tourists, who he describes as the lifeblood of the economy of the park.
“Once you get off the beaten track you get away from the crowds very easily in the Cairngorms,” he said. “I mean, it is 4500 square kilometres!
“Even from Loch Morlich beach, if you walk off for 10 minutes along one of the paths, you’re pretty quickly on your own and there are beautiful routes.
“There are community path leaflets for each of the communities around the park that folk can download from our website and they’ve got great routes on them that people can use and enjoy – and that’s the main thing for me, there’s lots of lots of places to go, there’s not just one or two or three places to go.
“The Old Logging Way, which is the path that runs up from Aviemore to Glenmore, gets something like 70,000 people on it each year; the Speyside Way extension which goes out of Aviemore down towards Kincraig gets 10,000 to 15,000 people at the moment, so there’s capacity in other places that are very similar paths that people can cycle on and get to water and things like that.
“It’s maybe just a case of people having a bit of a wider look as to what they can do within the park and to look at what the facilities are and where they might want to go.”
He acknowledges the attraction of hotspots such as Glenmore, though, with the beach at Loch Morlich and the beautiful backdrop of the Northern Corries. That’s why there will be more rangers out on the ground this year to help people make the most of their visit and hopefully alleviate some of the issues that were experienced last year.
And for Mr Moir himself, it’s not the hotspots but the cold places higher up that are the main attraction of the Cairngorms.
“There are so many good spots in the Cairngorms but if I’m up wandering across the plateau to Ben Macdui or Braeriach or somewhere like that, I’m a happy man,” he added.
“There’s still quite a lot of snow up on the high tops. It’s still fairly wintry up there at the moment and while it’s nice and warm sometimes down in the straths it can still be pretty much an icy blast when you get up onto the plateaux, so folk need to take care and make sure they’ve got the right equipment with them.”