Cairngorm Gateway

While many of us who visit or pass through the Cairngorm area are familiar with the hills, lochs and mountains, we perhaps know less about the history of the area than we should. This book, by local writer Dr Ann Glen, is a fascinating look at how the area has developed over many hundreds of years. This goes beyond the usual tales of clan warfare and battles, and shows how the area primarily around Aviemore has developed from a trackless and inhospitable wilderness to the centre of the Highland winter sports, through the coming of the roads and the railways.

t is an eye opening book, I was amazed at how much early inhabitants would have to endure to make some sort of existence here. With the passage of time comes change in land use and industry, and while we can zip through the highlands in a few hours, for the early motorist it was a real test of endurance, both theirs and their vehicles. As a railwayman I was particularly interested in the arrival, growth and decline of the railway here. In the days of steam the railway was a great employer wherever it went, and none more so than at Aviemore, where it was a major junction, it’s importance increasing during the Second World War. The attention to detail is what made this section one of my favourites, bringing a wartime village to life, with it’s descriptions of sooty buildings and a stockpile of coal painted white so workers wouldn’t walk into it during a blackout. The arrival of Canadians to cut timber during the wars, and the conditions they had to endure was a surprise to me, but it was a complete revelation to me to read of the hardships that Indian troops endured here, and to see pictures of them on manouevres against a backdrop of the hills I’ve climbed was amazing.

The book also looks at the development of the tourist industry, from it’s earliest role to the present day, and looks at the business shenanigans which have surrounded this area in recent years as well as the environmental concerns . From the expansion of the ski runs to the coming of the funicular, these are examined in detail, but in a very readable manner. What could be a rather dry section is anything but.

The book is illustrated with photographs from the author’s personal collection amongst others, and these images help her bring the area, the characters within and the book as a whole to life. If you think of Aviemore only as place off the A9 where you can get a coffee, or as somewhere handy to access the hills, you should perhaps give this a try, and see the area in new light. There’s more here than hills and heather!

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