As I whizz and screech my way through the floodlit forest, I gaze in awe at a series of illuminated waterfalls crashing through Alvie Gorge below.
I’m on a winter night zip line in the heart of the Cairngorms, and with the woodland lit up in magical colours, it’s a thrilling, hugely atmospheric experience.
There are 22 wires spread over 1.5km to zoom across, and I’m lucky to have picked a clear, calm night to enjoy the adventure.
I’m in a group of six people, and the friendly staff are quick to put anyone who’s a wee bit nervous (me) at ease.
Once we’re kitted out in safety harnesses, helmets, gloves and head torches, we hike for about 10 minutes uphill up to the start point.
Then it’s a case of clipping ourselves on to a pulley system, and working out how to move along the course.
Foolproof safety system
It takes me a while to get the hang of it, but it’s good to know I’m permanently attached to the zip line via a “continuous belay system”, aka, a foolproof safety system. So, really, no matter what I do, there should be no way of falling to my doom…
The first few zips are nice and short and, as far as I can work out, aren’t too high above the ground.
The course is meant to be self-guided but as I’m here solo, instructor Craig McNeil kindly accompanies me the entire way round.
He’s clearly a man who loves his job – he sings, cracks the odd joke, and gives me a hand when I get into a tizz. He’s full of encouragement, too, willing me to go for it when fear threatens to grip me.
Drop into the abyss
It’s an out-of-this-world, bizarre and yet amazing feeling as you walk to the edge of the wooden platforms in the pitch dark and then drop into the abyss.
You zip past brightly-lit crags and cliffs, and fly above the cascading water. What an amazing adrenalin boost!
You can go at your own pace but it’s a good idea to pause for a moment to drink in the beauty of the forest, illuminated in all the colours of the rainbow, and to listen to the furious rumble of the Allt an Fhearnna river below.
The grand finale is finishing on the 15m high zip tower, where two parallel wires allow you to race your friends side by side (I go head to head with Craig and of course, he wins) to the end of the course.
Daredevil zip adventure
I’m not the biggest fan of heights, and I’ll admit I had my reservations about signing up for this daredevil adventure.
I’d experienced a daytime zip years ago and was, quite frankly, scared witless.
However, it turns out the night zip – in my opinion – is less terrifying. That’s because you can’t see as much and you have no clue how far the ground is beneath you. Although I can see how some folk might consider it MORE scary precisely because you can’t see as much!
Back at base, staff member Jim DeBank tells me night zipping is a “very different” experience” from doing it during the day.
“People often say it’s more atmospheric at night, especially as the waterfalls are much louder and bigger with winter water levels,” he enthuses.
“Zipping in the day gives you a different perspective on the forest and there are spectacular views across to Cairngorm, Braeriach and the Feshie Munros which you won’t see in the dark.”
The park’s ‘Zip Trek’ is much longer, with 2.5km of wires, in contrast with the Zip Adventure’s 1.5km.
The last wire on the Zip Trek is 500m – and gives zip-liners the opportunity to hurtle through the forest at speeds up to 40mph.
Meanwhile, the Zip Adventure’s final double wire is 200m long and a little slower.
Spectacular winter experience
Ultimately, the Night Zip Adventure is a spectacular winter experience – a truly unique way to enjoy the Cairngorm National Park’s incredible Caledonian pine forest. So if you’re stuck for something fun to do in early January, head along to Alvie Estate!
- The Night Zip Adventure at G2 Outdoor runs until January 8. Day time zips run year round, with the course closed for a few weeks for maintenance. The zip park is on Alvie Estate, around six miles from Aviemore.
- G2 Outdoor also runs canyoning, gorge walking, white water rafting, tubing, a gentle river trips. For more information on activities and to book, go to g2outdoor.co.uk/
- Gayle stayed overnight at the Aviemore Youth Hostel. The hostel offers a range of private rooms and shared dorms. Facilities include a spacious lounge area with woodland and mountain views, TV and pool table, self-catering kitchen, drying room, laundry, private lockers, secure bike storage and ample on-site parking. The hostel also hosts a Scottish Natural Heritage visitor centre, with a peregrine nestcam and information about Craigellachie National Nature Reserve. For more information and to book, go to: hostellingscotland.org.uk/hostels/aviemore/