World-class food and drink in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, by H&I Adventures guide Chris Gibbs
My two great loves in life are riding a bike and enjoying great local food.
Whilst working towards becoming a mountain bike guide I had many jobs that allowed me to train, gain qualifications, and replace the numerous bike parts I broke in the process. These included everything from soundtrack writer, to outdoor instructor, to chef.
I’ve always been passionate about good food and have been lucky enough to travel through many different countries, tasting my way through local dishes and getting to know new cultures through their cuisine. A good meal often stays with you for a long time, and can make an adventure even more memorable!
I’m very lucky to now live in the Cairngorms National Park, in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland, which is home, not only to incredible mountain bike trails, but also to some of the best local produce in Britain.
The Cairngorms have a history of food and drink production dating back hundreds of years. Over 75 percent of the Cairngorms National Park is owned by private estates, each of them producing and supplying exceptional local ingredients to the surrounding area, and indeed, the whole of the UK.
One of the most distinctive and iconic flavours of the Highlands is venison. Rothiemurchus Estate, just outside Aviemore, has been supplying famous London restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand with venison since the 1930′s, a time when this fine meat was only accessible to the wealthiest households. It is now much more widely available and can often be found on menus across the country, which can be attributed in part to the fact that venison is lean, low-fat and full of flavour.
In the Cairngorms you are never far from a river and this provides an extremely fertile farming environment. The farming here is low intensity, which benefits the land and creates a habitat suitable for many types of plants and wildlife that would otherwise no longer exist here. For example, the vast moorlands of heather that bloom in the Cairngorms in July and August provide the perfect nectar for bees to produce sweet heather honey – delicious on a freshly baked scone!
Other delights for those with a sweet-tooth include sumptuous strawberries, brambles and raspberries grown on Alvie Estate, who supply their fruit to local shops and restaurants to create other sweet temptations to enjoy after a big day on the bike.
It would be remiss of me to talk about the produce of this part of Scotland without mentioning the world-famous Speyside whiskies, made from the clear, fresh waters the come from the mountains and rivers around the Cairngorms National Park. Speyside boasts the highest concentration of whisky distilleries in Scotland, producing well-known brands of our ‘liquid gold’ such as Glenlivet, The Macallan and Glenfiddich.
The whisky industry is closely linked with many other food industries, for example, salmon and trout caught in the River Spey, Scotland’s second longest and fastest flowing river, are often smoked in whisky barrels, giving them a fantastic, unique flavour.
Conversely, some locals might also argue that an even more iconic taste of the Cairngorms is that of the local beers brewed at the Cairngorm Brewery.
There’s nothing better than a nice cold craft beer after a big ride, and with an extensive range of permanent cask ales and seasonal brews, the Cairngorm Brewery has beers to suit all tastes. The best-selling Trade Winds has won numerous awards and it’s hard to find a decent bar in the area that doesn’t have it on tap. Black Gold is the big brother of the beers based on a traditional Scottish stout recipe and won the UK’s Supreme Champion of Beers award in 2013.
Local food and drink production is thriving in the Cairngorms National Park and the quality of the ingredients and dishes available here is world-class. The connection between mountain biking in the hills and forests of the Cairngorms, then enjoying a meal produced from this very environment is really special to me and I’m looking forward to sharing all this with you on our Cairngorms Adventure tour!