How a tiny vil­lage be­came the jewel of the High­lands

The Herald on Sunday - - NEWS FOCUS -

THE small Spey­side vil­lage had al­ready been on the tourist radar for decades when the first hardy skiers ar­rived in Aviemore.

The ar­rival of a rail­way in the late 1880s brought the tiny com­mu­nity its first taste of just how lu­cra­tive the emerg­ing tourism sec­tor could be.

For the first skiers, en­joy­ing the crisp moun­tain snow meant trudg­ing up­hill with skis strapped to their backs. Scot­land’s first ski lift in Glen­coe, in 1956, was a game-changer.

On De­cem­ber 23, 1961, Cairn­gorm’s White Lady chair­lift, the first mech­a­nised up­lift on Cairn­gorm moun­tain and re­puted to be the world’s first de­tach­able chair­lift, car­ried its first skiers on a chilly 40-minute jour­ney to the top of the hill.

Hatched by a group of friends from the Glas­gow ship­yards, all mem­bers of the Creagh Dhu Moun­taineer­ing Club, it launched Aviemore as a win­ter sport hub.

By the mid-1960s, Cairn­gorm’s net­work of chair­lift, poma and T-bar tows made it one of the world’s most highly de­vel­oped ski ar­eas, and Aviemore an ex­cit­ing hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion.

Lord Al­lan­der, of the House of Fraser chain of de­part­ment stores, poured mil­lions into cre­at­ing a High­land playground re­sort. Con­crete build­ings in the vil­lage cen­tre were not par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive by to­day’s stan­dards, but were ahead of their time com­bin­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, ice rink, go-karts, swim­ming and Scot­land’s first pur­pose­built re­tail park in a sin­gle lo­ca­tion.

A gen­er­a­tion of Scot­tish chil­dren grew up fas­ci­nated by Santa Claus Land. Un­veiled in the mid-1970s, it of­fered fun­fair rides, meet­ings with lo­cal man Ge­orge Swin­ney, whose feath­ery white beard and jovial na­ture sent lit­tle ones home con­vinced they had just de­liv­ered their Christ­mas list to the man him­self.

But by the late 1990s, Santa Claus Land – by then a mis­match of in­flat­able Fa­ther Christ­mas, fun­fair rides, a model rail­way and a plas­tic di­nosaur – seemed to sum up an area on its knees.

Con­cerned that jobs were at risk and the area was on a down­ward slide, £4.5 mil­lion of Euro­pean money was found to prop it up.

At the heart of the re­ju­ve­na­tion plans was to re­place the White Lady chair­lift with a new fu­nic­u­lar rail­way that would bring in­come to the moun­tain all year around.

Now, as at­ten­tion fo­cuses on Aviemore’s fu­ture, it once again ap­pears that the only way to go is up.

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