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2020 has been an “interesting” year for those who operate hillwalking holidays. It’s been a time to appreciate our Scot Mountain Holidays family and friends. A time when we’ve been thankful to have so many guests who come back time and again to see us and experience a slice of life in the Highlands of Scotland.

Certainly, for us, this has been a year to appreciate living in the Highlands; enjoying the little things; appreciating the ability to stay in touch with friends and family (even when we can’t see them in person); and thinking about new horizons or opportunities to explore.

Hillwalking holidays – enjoying the outdoors during the pandemic

There are things to be thankful for, despite the restrictions we’ve been forced to live with this year. Hopefully we’ll also be able to learn some lessons for the future. One thing which has been repeatedly emphasised is that being outdoors significantly reduces the risk of contracting the virus. Many people either discovered or re-discovered the joy of the outdoors and many ways to experience the UK this year – without being in crowded places. Long may it last.

Hillwalking has been the province of the middle-aged, middle-class, white person for some time now. I’ve yet to see figures and demographics for the many people who enjoyed the outdoors this summer (2020) but I hope statistics will show that there has been greater diversity. Certainly the rise in mountain rescue callouts would suggest that there has been a greater influx of newbies.

If you know of anyone who’s been bitten by the bug and wants to get into the outdoors more, bag more Munros, explore year-round – pass on our details – we’re always happy to share years of outdoor experience and can offer  foraging tips, navigation refreshers/intro courses and winter skills

hillwalking in Scotland

Social distancing – before it was an “in” thing to do

Stay safe while in the Highlands on hillwalking holidays

Fortunately we have several advantages which have allowed us to  continue to run trips through the pandemic (except during strict lockdown phases).

  1. we are a very small company – this virus thrives on people being in close proximity in large numbers. As a micro business we have chosen to be a single, household provider. We live in a very small community and provide all our meals in-house at the moment (we have temporarily suspended the meals out on the day off to restrict further the potential to be infected by the virus)
  2. all activities on our trips take place in the great outdoors
  3. every person/household booking on the trip has their own individual room to retire to.
  4. masks are worn when moving around Fraoch Lodge
  5. staff (us) and guests are socially distanced at all times
  6. Numbers are restricted. There is enough space for guests to socialise in the lounge and dining room, if they wish. You can still remain socially distanced at all times.
  7. plenty of soap and hand sanitiser are provided along with disinfectant wipes

We hope that we’ve managed to strike the right balance for you in providing a safe but social environment for you to come and explore the Highlands. Come and see us when travel is allowed once more.

hillwalking holidays

Our temporary advice until COVID is brought under control/defeated is to travel up by car where possible. Alternatively follow all the strictest guidelines on travel and wear a face covering at all times except when eating/drinking.

We hope that movement will be allowed once more for our winter season. Book your visit as soon as you can. There will no doubt be many desperate to get a wee break away from home by the time we’re released once more.

Conclusion

I could say a lot more about how safe it is to come and join us for a hillwalking holiday but really you’d probably be better off asking someone who was able to do just that before #lockdown2 started at the beginning of November. Here are Mala’s recommendations after her trip in September:

“I came to Fraoch Lodge with some nervousness as this was my first holiday on my own. From the moment I met Andy, Rebecca and Gregor, I was made to feel welcome and at ease.

I have had the best week here. I have loved the walks in the Glens, Forests and Lochs (programme) and Andy also kindly threw in a mountain! Through Andy’s knowledge of the environment and geography, I feel as though I have learnt so much about this incredible part of the world.

Rebecca’s cooking has been outstanding. Her inventive, creative cooking, and delicious dishes, and amazing cakes have really been a delight to experience and enjoy. I will miss “Cake o’Clock” and my evening with sage tea & Kindle.

I’ve loved chats and laughs with Gregor. Thank you to you all for making my holiday so special and memorable. Your hospitality and welcome has meant so much. I hope to come back and see you again one day.”

walking in the Cairngorms

by Tezhara Mae Reynolds

These thoughts on how to appreciate nature which surrounds her were recorded by Tammy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. They should still resonate with many and may even have more relevance now we’ve all been forced to step back from seemingly busy lives and “stay at home to save lives”.

After travelling down south for Christmas last year, I came to the staggering realisation about how much living in the Highlands has changed my life. I say to myself: “Never compare” but it’s something you can’t help. If when you go away, you instantly start missing home, you know you’re living in the right place.

For me, there is magic in the Highlands. Most of you may find this dubious, but in an area where mobile reception can be a luxury and saying hello to people that pass you is almost a necessity, it’s easier to focus on what’s going on around you. You become more aware of how much worldy things don’t really matter so much. Your thoughts can slowly, and peacefully get themselves into some sort of order.

As I said, magic.

best walks in Scotland

On the way to Britains’s second highest peak, Ben Macdui. Perfect photo opportunity.

Turn off and tune in

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that if we let go of our devices, we can discover more than enough time to be creative. Being in the Cairngorms has helped me realise that though I come to be reliant on these gadgets, that I can also find the time to let them go and look up. There is also joy to be had in writing with a pen; painting, knitting, cooking … loads of more productive skills that many of us rediscovered during lockdown. Lockdown has also reinforced the value of nature, and the outdoors. Many more of us have taken the time to explore by bike or on foot under travel restrictions – long may that last.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying the fact that technology is the way forward and that ignoring it would only hinder myself. I love the creations we humans have made over the years and how truly incredible they are, but we should also come to open our eyes to what’s already been made around us. We’re so closed in four walls of either an office or our own homes that we forget how we’re actually able to live in the most primal sense of the word.

We breathe air that trees make, we eat food that comes from the soil of the ground, we drink the water that flows from our streams and into our taps. We have a beautiful world and we shouldn’t ignore its beauty.

family walks for all ages.

Perfect spot to rest up after a wee walk. Popular in the middle of the day.

How to appreciate nature

I am so lucky to live in a place where I am constantly reminded of nature’s beauty.  Yes, the weather can be a bit drab, but it is one of the main reasons that I feel changed and challenged by the area.

There are some negatives to exploring the great outdoors. I don’t know when the last time was that you felt truly uncomfortable. Do you remember the wind biting at you with every gust? Was the rain drenching you down to the bone and the pain in your feet is threatening your very happiness? Though it may seem miserable in the moment, strangely enough this is not what you remember and talk about at the end of the day. It is through the discomforts of walking up these hills (where those experiences can easily happen) that I come to realise that we are not made of glass. We are not as fragile as we seem and that we are more than capable of conquering pain and discomfort, and we can use that to fuel what we can do next.

It is when we do something out of our comfort zone, (and believe me, it is well and truly out of my comfort zone,) that we tend to only remember what we’ve learnt and the good times we shared with those who we did the adventure with or to those who ask about it. We tell them how hard it was and how far you’ve had to walk, but there you are, standing next to them. You survived all that hardship and you’re telling your tale… and they admire you for it.

How to be comfortable with yourself

I have found that my confidence grew through the admiration of others. Then being comfortable in my own skin became easier and easier. I pushed myself to know where my limits are. Now I am not jealous or envious of those who do more or do less. I have come to see that there is no such thing as competition when it comes to living and challenging yourself. The only enemy you have is  your own mind.

But then again, this may not be for everyone long term, and I get that, but there is no denying that everyone needs this kind of time for themselves as well.

I’ve come to stop putting people, especially myself, in boxes with labels on them. We’re just people, going about our own lives. We put ourselves in labels in order to truly tell ourselves that we belong somewhere and that we’re not alone. If we were all the same, this world would not be what it is today. Yes, it’s pretty messy sometimes but in the grander scheme of things, we only truly want one thing. The freedom to express ourselves in our own unique ways.

Conclusion

The Cairngorms has taught me all of this. You see, nature doesn’t choose who it teaches. She (nature) will let anyone and everyone know of her wisdom if you only give her the respect she requires. It is scary, but also magnificent. It’s intimidating but also majestic. It’s as if the hills I’ve come to see almost every day whispered to me to just let the reins go on my mind. I might just be crazy, but aren’t we all?

 

If you’d like to start exploring either your local area of the Cairngorms National Park, take a look at our advice on gear

You might also like to look at our advice on gear specific to exploring hillwalking in Scotland.

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