The smell of pine and running of the river...

My family and I have loved the opportunity to escape up north as long as I can remember. So with the easing of lockdown restrictions we spontaneously set off to the Cairngorms National park for a long weekend. The three dimensional landscape is certainly something which is unfamiliar to the inhabitants of Edwin Abbott Abbott's Flatland or Cambridge for that matter - munros scrubbed with heather and piney woods clustered around lochs. It feels like home.

I've recently become interested in kayaking and was keen to explore the landscape by water...of which there is no shortage! Loch Ness contains more water than all the lakes in England combined whilst the winter melt water, draining from the hillside, feeds rivers which thread the park. The Spey meanders inexorably towards the sea and offered some fantastic paddling adventures downstream, and even more challenging upstream journeys for the salmon returning to spawn.

Turning to saltier waters, we also launched our craft at Chanonry point, jutting out from the end of the Black Isle peninsula - squeezing the Moray Firth into a narrow stretch commanded on the other side by the imposing Fort George. This geographical pincer movement, combined with the action of the tides, offers a natural bottleneck which bottle-nosed dolphins use to great effect in their hunt for fish. We paddled out to meet them but they swiftly moved on. Instead we were inspected cautiously by some grey seal who popped their head up when they thought we weren't looking!

Some gentle walks through the Caledonian pine forests took us to favourite locations near Glenmore and Loch Morlich. We wandered up by the Sugarbowl trail overlooking Cairngorm itself - an impressive ridge running alongside the Larig Ghru mountain pass. The hillside is home to a herd of reindeer but they seemed to be off rambling on the wilder parts of the slope.

On the road back home we stopped off near Pitlochry and kayaked up the river Tummel from Loch Faskally. Although initially nervous about the flow through the dam, the water was perfectly calm!