Christmas at the Old Bridge

I spent Christmas Day with family at the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore, in the most beautiful, spectacular snowfall I've ever seen in this country.

Aviemore is a mountainside town on the River Spey (home of many of Scotland's malt whiskies) with skiing and snowboarding in the Cairngorm mountains in winter, and rafting in summer. I haven't been joining in the all-action activities (my comparative advantage is definitely in the intellectual rather than physical factor of production, which reminds us that comparative advantage can accrue purely from an inability in one attribute with no compensating capability in another).

But if I can't ski, I can at least appreciate beauty. The whole landscape is covered with a thick, pristine blanket of snow, the sky is blue and the sunlight makes the world shine like a diamond.

Best of all is the Old Bridge Inn. A warm corner in the midst of the snow, with lovely, comfortable rooms, a log fire in the bar, amazing cooking from Stevie Matson and great hospitality from Owen Caldwell*, Kim Plimley and Gordon Reilly. We had a great meal on Christmas Eve - the famous venison with blue cheese dumplings competed with my roast halibut with artichoke puree for best main course (the tartiflette is definitely hyper-comfort food and can cure any frozen limb) - accompanied by some lovely arrangements from local singer and guitarist Rachel Sermanni. Then a wander around outside, up to the local railway station which looked as flawless as an illustration from Thomas the Tank Engine, in a thick covering of snow and silence. The peaceful quiet of windless snowfall is a deeply calming experience. Back into the bar for a closing-time round of drinks with local friends and visitors.

On Christmas morning a short exchange of presents and then a procession through to the bar for Cava and Christmas lunch. This time my choice of smoked venison with madeira and plum sauce was slightly more divine than the almost-traditional Christmas three-bird roast (turkey, pheasant, goose) with trimmings. I got a taste of the monkfish later and nearly wished I'd had that. I'll have to go back.

As the evening came in and the bar closed, two of the owners' families gathered round for quieter drinks and no Christmas TV at all. The snow started to fall again outside and a stunning couple of days came to a gradual slowdown with the first night off for staff and management in twelve days.

A relatively early night then up in time to see the sun rise - if you've never seen blue skies and golden sunlight pouring down on a pristine snowfall you haven't lived. I saw a heron, pheasants and - I think - an osprey all in flight on the river within an hour.

So was anything not perfect? One of our keys got stuck in the bedroom door for a while, and at one point someone was sitting in front of the fire and blocking the heat a bit. The accommodation is bunkhouse-style but absolutely at the top end of that range (each room is ensuite and well appointed); you can save money by sharing a room, but my advice is to book your own private room, which is still excellent value. If there was anything else missing I can't remember what it was.

If you're exploring the north of Scotland I can't think of a better base. And if you're within a hundred miles or so, the cooking alone makes it worth the visit, not to mention the music, the banter, the malts and the snowboarding. Maybe I'll get some lessons next time.

* Disclaimer: Owen, one of the owners, is my brother! But everything I said is still true. Even having known him for nearly thirty years, I was stunned at what a spectacular experience it was.

Old Bridge Inn Facebook group for latest updates.


Ynwestor said…
Beautiful photos. Unfortunately here in Poland we had Christmas without snow this year.

ynwestor, Poland 51 N 17 E

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