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I want to start “hillwalking” As a beginner, where do I start in Scotland?

We’re here to introduce you to the hills safely. Hillwalking can be a bit daunting for beginners in Scotland. As a beginner to hillwalking in Scotland, it might be difficult for you to find and trust the information available. It seems like such an easy thing to do to begin with. After all, weren’t we made to walk? However, there are a lot of things you need to take into account if you’re going to progress from local meanders to hillwalking or Munro bagging.

You might also want to read this blog

What are we doing about COVID-19?

As of March 20th Scot Mountain Holidays temporarily ceased running guided walking holidays and closed the doors at Fraoch Lodge for all accommodation bookings for the foreseeable future, in line with government advice. However, we are working towards a gradual reopening as the Scottish government’s release of Lockdown regulations allows (stage 2/3). We are also working on revised itineraries which allow you to visit the Scottish Highlands as early as possible, while still conforming with all health and safety advice.

I’m thinking of flying up. Which Airport should I fly to?

Inverness is our closest. There is an increasing amount of flights coming into Inverness from within the UK so go to Inverness Airport to see who flies from where. Once you’ve booked your flight let us know the details and we will be there to meet you. Of course we’ll happily to drop you back at the airport for your return flight home.

Is accommodation included?

On all Scot Mountain Holidays courses and holidays accommodation is included, as is full board (fresh bread baked daily!) and transport to and from the hill as well as transfers between Inverness Airport or Aviemore station.

Are there any hidden expenses?

There are none. All you really need money for is if you’ve forgotten a bit of kit or maybe to buy alcohol to go with your evening meal or for the pub in the evening if we should decide to go.

What is the maximum number of people on our holidays?

The maximum number will depend on the holiday or course but are highest number is 8 to one guide/instructor. It is generally recognised by professional operators that a higher ratio than this in the mountains is undesirable from the perspective of safety, the environment and the overall quality of the mountain and holiday experience. On our weekend courses the ratio drops down to 1: 6.

What happens if not many people book?

Scot Mountain Holidays is in the enviable position that all elements of our holidays and courses are provided ‘in-house’ and so if we only have a few people we don’t make a loss on the holiday. One of the many customer benefits of our ‘in-house’ operation is that once we’ve confirmed your booking and received full payment, we will honour our commitment to you. We do not cancel.

If the holiday you have booked is on the west coast or at the very least, based away from Fraoch Lodge, we may be able to offer you an alternative itinerary based from Fraoch Lodge; or a Tentipi base for your west coast trip. We will discuss the available options with you but we will always try to offer an alternative so you don’t have to cancel your travel plans.

When is the best time to come?

The weather is frequently asked about. Many of our holidays are based in the Cairngorm area which is climatically quite different to the wetter West Highlands. All of our West Highland trips are scheduled at the times of year when you can expect some fantastic weather in the west. There is a big misconception about the Scottish weather. Yes, Scotland does have some of the wettest places but because of the mountains, we also have some of the driest areas also. Historically, the best sunshine month is May followed by September. We also frequently have excellent weather in the latter half of April as well as through the months of July and August. A big advantage of operating day walks from a base is that we’re not necessarily committed to walking in a particular area on a particular day. With the excellent local knowledge of our guides (that comes from living in the Highlands) and careful weather monitoring, one of the most common comments from guests at the end of the holiday is “haven’t we been lucky with the weather”! In fact the huge variety of weather condition adds enormously to the atmosphere and mystique to the Scottish Highlands.

What about the midges?

Midges hate even light breezes and they are about between mid June and the 1st cool nights of early September so it’s easy to see that for much of the year they aren’t a consideration. They also like boggy ground which we don’t have much of in the East Highlands either. In fact they really aren’t a problem in the Cairngorms generally and again, our west Highland trips are run at times when they generally aren’t a problem. In the unlikely event we should have to deal with these little irritants you guide will be armed with a bottle of Avon Skin-So-Soft moisturiser!! We kid you not. This beauty product has the unintentional side effect of being the most superbly effective repellent against the Scottish Midge. In fact, when out on exercise in the Highlands, Scotland often has the sweetest smelling army in the world!! Read our blog about midges here.

What other hazards might we encounter?

There are no bears or large predators in Scotland which you need to watch out for when you go hillwalking in Scotland. But beware the mini-beasts

There are both midges and ticks in Scotland. Ticks could potentially be more dangerous to your health than midges (there can be longer term effects from a tick bite) but careful monitoring can minimise the risk and your guide will always have tick removing tools to hand. If you are on a self-guided itinerary, make sure you self-monitor for ticks and ask for tick removal tools if you find any. Do not attempt to remove with a match or any other folk lore removal methods you may have heard about.

What sort of people come on our holidays? What is the typical age of guests?

People of all walks of life come on our holidays and courses from postmen to high level civil servants. Many have interesting stories to tell but whoever you are, the mountains are the most fantastic ‘leveller’. Is it because they strips away the complexity and ‘rubbish’ of modern every day living to leave you to deal with the elemental. Whatever it is there is nothing so superb as sharing with like minded people there challenges and delights over Cake O’clock (tea & home baked cake ) on our return from the mountain. People of all ages come on our trips but typically they are between the ages of 30 and 55.

Do we stay in a different place every night or do we operate from a base?

All except our wilderness expeditions operate from a base whether that is Fraoch Lodge (Cairngorms) or a holiday cottage (West Highland holidays). It means that rather than being either in transit or at some stage of packing/unpacking you can quickly settle into your holiday and relax. Will I be fit enough Please refer to our grading page for this one but if you do have any queries please don’t hesitate to call on 01479 831 331 to speak direct to one of our experienced instructors or guides. This is the best way to make sure you get the right holiday.

What if there is no snow?

This is the most frequently asked. Firstly, in the 10 winter seasons we have been running these courses we have always been able to practise the winter skills. We’ve never had to cancel a course due to lack of snow. In the high snow accumulation areas where we coach, snowfall is only 1 of 3 factors that accounts for the huge build-up. The other two, and probably more importantly, are wind (for drifting) and the huge Cairngorm plateau (for snow capture) on the windward side of our chosen sites. It means that metres of snow can drift in hours. Three metres depth, even at the beginning of the season, is common. The snow only usually melts away in these sites in July or early August – after all we do have Britain’s most permanent snow-bed here in the Cairngorms!

On our courses we teach a variety of skills to deal with a variety of snow conditions and the hard icy snow that develops after a thaw and subsequent refreeze is ideal for teaching the crampon skills. A uniform 2 foot blanket of new soft snow doesn’t help us in this respect and unlike some snow-sports we don’t need the whole mountain to be covered.

winter walking Cairngorms

Walking in winter has it’s own rewards in the endless mountain views in crystal clear visibility.


when to come to the Cairngorms

Sometimes a late snowfall can catch you out – snow in April

Will my boots be OK?

It’s vitally important that your boots are adequate for winter conditions and are able to take crampons. Your boots should have at least a B1 crampon compatibility rating. There is the opportunity to hire winter boots if you don’t want to go to the expense of buying a pair. For more information on winter boots go to our gear advice page.  It’s important to appreciate that, in many respects, the Scottish mountains in winter are a more serious undertaking than the high Alps in summer.

What type of Ice Axe do I need?

There is the opportunity to hire an ice axe for the course but if you plan to buy before you come please read our advice on the type of axe best suited for general winter work. Go to our gear advice page.

Can I stay for longer than the course?

Whether you want to arrive early or stay a little longer we will happily try to accommodate you – as long as we have the availability. Please phone 01479 831 331 to check. If we don’t have space we can always arrange accommodation nearby.

I have a food allergy. Will this be a problem?

Certainly not. Rebecca is fantastically accommodating with her dishes. All we ask is you let us know what your likes and dislikes are on your booking form and then you can leave the rest to us. Because everything is home prepared Rebecca knows exactly what goes into her dishes. This quote says it all:

“Thank you to you again for cooking so well. It is the first time I have eaten out since I was diagnosed celiac. And it was so nice for me that you had taken so much trouble over it, and be able to relax and feel safe. We loved Scotland and hope to be back sometime.” -Birgitta and Chris Knowles

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