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What does ‘off the beaten track mean to you’? Depending on how adventurous you are, the phrase can mean different things to different people. It can be scary to choose the path less travelled by, but the benefits from getting off the beaten track in Scotland are exhilarating.

Skye Munros - Scotland

Topping out on the Innaccessable Pinnacle in glorious sunshine weather, Skye May 2016

But, this certainly doesn’t mean you need to skip all the top sites like Loch Ness. For some, getting out of cities is rural enough and therefore Loch Ness is a great choice. But for those feeling adventurous and wanting to get a little more remote, we can help you there.

So, how to find a place where few people go?

Wanting to find a little peace and quiet is the most natural thing in the world whether you’re most at home surrounded by nature, a city dweller or somewhere in between. And arguably, there is no better place than the Highlands of Scotland. Known for its epic beauty, contrasting scenery and out of this world views, you’ll soon find yourself where the air and water are fresher and the most prominent noises keeping you company is nature at its finest.

The Cairngorm National Park is the ideal base for you to experience and explore the remoteness the Highlands can offer. Depending how far off the beaten track you want to get you’ll find an array of options suited for all fitness levels and ages. Offering options to be guided, or self exploration if you prefer, Scot Mountain Holidays has it all.

Mountain peaks

We understand that only you know what getting off the beaten track means. But, Scot Mountain Holiday trips, by definition are all off the beaten track. It’s unlikely you’ll see crowds of people during any typical day with us. Choosing one of our trips is a great way to decide if the more unusual spots and a more active vacation is the way forward for you.

Whether you’re after hiking, mountain biking, walking or countryside relaxation, you’ll find it here.   We can help organise a tailor-made trip for you, friends and family. Or, you can join one of our scheduled trips where you’ll meet like-minded people and gain friends for life. The choice is yours.

Knoydart or Skye – hard to choose

Walking holiday options on the west coast of Scotland are almost endless. Knoydart or Skye – where to go? One of the most popular and endlessly filmed locations is the Isle of Skye. The dramatic jagged images of the Skye hills have formed the backdrop for many a dramatic movie. However, there are places which are just as satisfying to walk all up and down the west coat where the views are as magnificent or even more stunning. We’re heading over to Skye and to Knoydart in May this year. See our assessment here of the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you make a decision.

Knoydart or Skye – factors to consider

1. Skye’s reputation

Skye has a huge reputation as a destination in Scotland based on the dramatic nature of its scenery and its romantic attachment to the Stuart/Jacobite legend. The attraction of Skye for hillwalkers and Munro baggers comes from the nature of its terrain. There is nothing to match the jagged peaks of Skye in the UK. The closest comparable peaks are in the Alps, when you may also have to contend the the altitude and the additional possible complication of altitude sickness.

Skye Munros

Topping out on the Innaccessable Pinnacle in glorious sunshine weather, Skye May 2016

2. Accessibility of Skye

Skye is more accessible. The bridge over to Skye has made it much more accessible to everyone, especially now there is no toll. However, it has also taken away a small part of the mystique which comes from taking a ferry to get somewhere; it makes you feel more like you’re going somewhere exotic and unknown, almost as if you’re abroad. That’s now missing from the Skye experience (unless you choose to take a ferry route or are island hopping through the Hebrides), but is still a part of going to Knoydart

3. Using Ropes

To reach the actual Munro summits on Skye you will need to do some roped climbing. It is the ambition of many a Munro bagger to reach the top of the Innaccessible Pinnacle. Some will never make it as you do need to have some elementary rock climbing skills and a very good head for heights (see Skye photos below)

4. No bridge to Knoydart

Knoydart is only accessible after a boat ride from Mallaig or a long walk in along the peninsula. There is no motorised transport allowed on the peninsula for visitors i.e. you can not take your car there. It still has the feel of being remote and inaccessible. You feel privileged to have the opportunity to visit. Even the public ferry is a relatively small boat but most groups end up chartering wee motor boats to get down the loch to Inverie.

Knoydart

Loch Nevis looking towards the islands of Eigg and Rhum

5. No roped climbing experience needed in Knoydart.

All the peaks in Knoydart are accessible to a walker without the use of ropes.

6. Views

You can see the Cuillin Ridge clearly from Knoydart while climbing the peaks there.

7. Food options

Both have excellent dining opportunities, especially if you like seafood.

Knoydart

 

See our pictorial comparison below:

SKYE

We’ve chosen 3 images from our Skye collection. They certainly give you an idea of the kind of terrain which makes up the ridge. If you’re on social media (and connected to the right people, which includes us!) you might have seen the famous film of Danny Macaskil riding his mountain bike along the ridge. In fact, you don’t even need to have been on social media as a short programme about the making of the film was shown on BBC TV.

isle of skye munros

High in the Cuillin mountains of Skye

 

Skye Munros

Sunset over Am Basteir from Sligachan on the Isle of Skye during the Skye Munros itinerary

 

 

Sunset over the Cuillin Munros

Sunset over the Cuillin hills in Skye

 

KNOYDART

Britain’s most remote wilderness (on the mainland) – Knoydart does have a very special feel to it.

knoydart

The ridges of the Knoydart peaks

 

Knoydart walking

Eve negotiates the ridge

 

Knoydart hiking

Mick admiring the view in Knoydart

 

VALUABLE RESOURCES FROM AROUND THE WEB

Knoydart:

The Knoydart Foundation – http://www.knoydart-foundation.com/

The Old Forge, Britain’s most remote pub – http://www.theoldforge.co.uk/

Britain’s most remote wilderness in video – http://www.theguardian.com/travel/video/2013/jun/11/britain-wilderness-scotland-knoydart-peninsula-video

John Muir Trust in Knoydart – https://youtu.be/rGCL7uBRw5s

Skye:

Walkhighlands: The Black Cuillin

TripAdvisor: The Black Cuillin www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186585-d196763-Reviews-Black_Cuillin-Isle_of_Skye_The_Hebrides_Scotland.html

Black Cuillin Ridge of Skye – http://www.mountainhiking.org.uk/scotland-mountains/skye/skye4.shtml

Danny Macaskill – The Ridge – https://youtu.be/xQ_IQS3VKjA

The Munro Show – Sgurr nan Gillean https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lfc-dDsfV6c

November: Hiking in the Cairngorms

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Fancy a guided walking holiday in November? Not a question you hear every day.

One of the most frequent questions we are asked is: how do you cope with the short days in winter? Scotland is not Finland though. We never get 24 hour darkness. Actually it’s the long days of summer which make more of an impact. The shorter days of winter really don’t last that long.

The disadvantage of hiking in Scotland in November is that the day light hours are short though we still haven’t reached the shortest day of the year, so if you’re wanting to do a Munro hike it might be best to book a guide. At the very least, you’ll need to make sure you have a functioning head torch in your pack.

November hiking options:

1. “Get Off the Beaten track” –

When you go travelling the memories which stick with you are the unusual situations, or the times when you’ve done something different. These chances almost always happen when you meet new people. They give you new advice, or show you something you wouldn’t otherwise have experienced.

Get off the beaten track with us combines at least one guided day with the opportunity to explore on your own following our personally designed routes. When you take up the guided day as part of the “Get Off the Beaten Track” choice, you’ll be opening up an insider’s knowledge. You still get the opportunity to explore independently, but the trip will be so much more memorable and the day on your own so much more enjoyable. “Get Off the Beaten Track” is a safe way to be adventurous and get away from the crowds.

Click here for full details

August in the Cairngorms (views and flowers)

 

2. Gentle Giants

A chance to get under the skin of our area and learn about it through our eyes. You’ll be picking up information you’ll never learn from studying a guide book. Going out on a guided trip with us, gives you the chance to go places which would otherwise to inaccessible to you. You’ll see things you might never have had the opportunity to experience and learn what has taken us nearly 20 years to learn about our area.

A guided hiking weekend ascending Ben Macdui and Cairngorm.

Ben Nevis sees thousands of people plodding up to the summit every year in everything from flipflops to full on winter hiking boots or skis purely because it is the highest peak in the UK.

Ben Macdui, the second highest peak, is a lot less busy. As with all Scottish peaks, care always needs to be taken as it is the weather conditions and the speed with which they can alter, which makes these summits dangerous, rather than their height. Many Europeans are very scathing about the Scottish”Mountains”looking purely at their height in order to assess them and claiming that they can’t really be mountains when they are less than 2000m in height. Look at the Alps they say. Look at the Pyrenees.  Those are real mountains. In Scotland, though the mountains themselves are lower in altitude, the climatic conditions are as violent at they can be at 2000 or 3000m in the Alps. Hence, taking a guide to explore across the Cairngorms is sensible thing to do if you are not familiar with the area.

Hiking Ben Macdui

Hiking Ben Macdui with Scot Mountain Holidays group tour

Reasons to go guided

Bear in mind is that there is little waymarking of routes on the high plateau in Scotland. This is yet another way the Scottish mountains differ from Europe. Historically the land has been owned privately here. Waymarked routes have not been developed across the high mountains.

There is a system of networked paths at lower levels and there has been a lot of work in recent years to improve the paths for hikers; a knowledge of navigation is still required for mountain hiking.

The joy of hike in the Cairngorms is to take it to the “brink” – the edge of the plateau where the views down the steep glacial features of places like the Loch A’an amphitheatre are breathtaking. Andy has hiked in the Cairngorms for close to twenty years. He knows the hidden highlights, the history, the plants, the quiet spots where you’re more likely to see unexpected wildlife, where you might bump into the Cairngorm reindeer herd; but even he is always discovering new plants and seeing unexpected wildlife every time he heads out.

On the second day, we’ve put together a shorter route on Cairngorm – but as you can see from the photos below, despite the fact that it is very accessible, you’ll hardly be in the crowds!

guided walking holiday in November

Autumn hiking opportunities for everyone

 

guided walking holiday in November

Soft light of autumn combined with mist to produce excellent photography opportunities

3. “Munro Madness” Tailor-made – guided walking holiday in November

Put together a list of the Munros you want to bag this autumn. We’ll make sure you get to tick them off your list – if humanly possible in your timescale.

We can offer:

This package can also be adapted to take advantage of the sleeper service from London to Aviemore station.

Please contact us for a quote or to discuss options with Andy.

autumn_gorms.jpg

4. “Mountains and Malts” – BESPOKE guided walking holiday in November

Highlights: Glenlivet whisky, ascent of Ben Rinnes , iconic Scottish wildlife (pine marten and red squirrels).

Hiking, whisky & wildlife – this trip samples the crowning glories of the Cairngorms National Park.

We’re not heading out to bag the highest peaks on this trip; instead we’re bagging some of the top icons of the Scotland’s persona – whisky, wildlife, and the added bonus of some stunning scenery. There’s more to Speyside than whisky, but equally there’s more to whisky than most people are aware. Andy knows all the low-down. (Check out our “how to choose a connoisseur’s whisky” blog).

There was a time that the whisky industry was an illicit trade for smugglers. There was also a time that the wearing of tartan was illegal. All that changed when Queen Victoria made the Cairngorms a venue of first choice for summer vacations.

We won’t quite be hiking in the manner of Queen Victoria, in long skirts, with sedan chairs to take the strain, but we’ll certainly be covering some of the ground the royals enjoy when we’re on the Royal Glenlivet Estate.

whisky_walking.jpg

 

Email us if you think we can help plan your vacation in Scotland – we can hit all the Highland hotspots and include some off the beaten track surprises you might not know about.

For inspiration check out our Pinterest board and our Flickr account.

It’s no secret that exercise is extraordinarily beneficial to achieving a happy, healthy lifestyle. Extensive research states that exercise not only improves physical health but also works wonders on mental health, and guided hiking health benefits are no different.

Couple pose for photo during climb

Celebrating mid climb during a guided walking tour.

Guided Hiking Health Benefits

Physical Health

Hiking uses some of the body’s biggest muscles resulting in an all-body workout. The legs, doing the grunt work will result in a workout of the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Hiking also strengthens the back and the abdominal improving overall stamina and endurance.

But it goes deeper then improving physical changes. The physical effort required in uphill walking strengthens the performance of the heart and lungs whilst lowering blood pressure. Studies have also shown that hiking and mountain walking reduces the risk of chronic illnesses, asthma and type 2 diabetes.

Mental Health

Mental health is extremely important and hiking is an amazing tool in benefiting this positively. The physical changes from mountain walking are a great incentive to continue exercising. They also work wonders with improving self-esteem and self-awareness. Due to the heightened mental concentration hiking requires it strengthens mental agility, helps sharpen brain activity and is an amazing stress reliever. And hiking can be challenging. But successfully completing such a strenuous activity gives you a great sense of achievement and a positive headspace.

Further benefits of guided hiking

Group hiking is just another point to put on the pro list. Guided hiking with Scot Mountain Holidays gives you have a leader to follow, eliminating the stress of figuring out where you are and allowing you to fully concentrate on the task at hand. The group aspect also builds social bonds and completing challenges together will develop strong friendships and trust.

hiking in Assynt

Hikers descending from a long day’s hike in the Assynt area (Scotland)

The truly great thing about hiking is that not only do you get the fantastic physical, mental and social benefits, but everything is enhanced due to the exposure of the elements. Along with burning calories you will profit from vitamin D, fresh air and more.

For more information on guided walking visit Scot Mountain Holidays and Courses.

hiking health benefits

walking holiday

The benefits of walking far outweigh many other forms of exercising, including going to the gym.

Useful links:

Top 50 Long Distance Hiking Trails In The USA

Authorized Boots

19 Physical and Mental benefits of spending time outdoors

Winter walking holidays and courses in the Highlands of Scotland

January 2018 has been a very busy month which Andy is currently rounding off with (another) snowhole trip into the gale-bound Cairngorms with a team from the BBC Travel Show. Nerves were displayed by the newbies presenting the programme. I think they were daunted by the Triathlon enthusiasts who’d been drafted in to help dig.

New Year Winter Walking

We welcomed in 2018 in the company of our select winter walkers. The group all brought in the New Year with a great deal of good-humoured and crowded dancing in the street in Grantown on Spey. Dancing was followed by a magnificent firework display. Great fun for everyone which topped off some fabulous snowy walks.

New Year Winter walking

Striding out across the snow before bringing in the New Year in the Highlands of Scotland

Andy was even able to get out the tentipi and show off it’s capabilities over a cosy whisky in the evening. His market research (which might be skewed by the whisky and warmth inside the tentipi) shows some demand for his pony wilderness glamping proposals.

wilderness glamping

Checking out the luxury tentipi wilderness glamping beds – deemed superior and mattress-like

5 Day Winter Skills

5 younger enthusiasts joined us on January 1st for the first winter skills and navigation course of 2018. We think the photos tell most of the story. Great fun and quantities of cake kept everyone happy throughout.

Winter skills in the Cairngorms

Winter Skills group hamming it up for the camera

Winter skills course

Striding out into the Cairngorms to practice ice axe and crampon skills – January 2018

Winter skills in the Cairngorms

Practising cramponing techniques in the Cairngorms, Scotland. There’s nothing more fun than legitimate play in the snow.

Winter skills in the Cairngorms National park

Putting their crampon techniques into play on the slopes of the Cairngorm mountains

winter in the Cairngorms

January snow cover in the Cairngorms (2018)

winter walking skills

Tumbling down the mountain, alternatively known as ice axe arrest on a 5 day winter skills course with Scot Mountain Holidays

winter skills course

Successfully stopping a sliding fall on an ice axe arrest – 5 Day Winter Skills course

winter in the Cairngorms

Head first ice axe arrest – what fun!

mountain navigation course

What’s going on here? This is part of the navigation instruction on the 5 day winter skills course

winter in the mountains

Work or pleasure? Heading up into the mountains.

 

Classic Winter Cairngorms

Back for some more trailbreaking through the snow-decked Cairngorms. Our blog advice on how to keep your hands warm and how to keep your phone going in the cold were of great help this week.

Cairngorms winter walking January 2018

Atop Bynack Mor deep in the heart of the Cairngorms National park. Not everyone goes on to see these magnificent “barns”. Quite a feat of climbing to get to the top, especially after the walk in!

Guided winter walking (Cairngorms)

The view you’d be rewarded with for the challenge of pitting yourself against potentially the worst conditions nature can throw at you. When you come out on top, you can feel the adrenaline.

Winter walking January 2018

Walking through the snow – January 2018. Winter walking is a completely different experience and a different challenge. If you haven’t tried it, maybe this is your time.

Guided winter walking in the Cairngorms

Cairngorms (January 2018) Spectacular views are the reward for challenging yourself to a winter extravaganza.

Winter in Scotland

A winter wonderland here in the Cairngorms

walking in the Cairngorms

Getting a workout through the snow in the glorious outdoors. Plenty of fresh air and stunning views.

guided winter walking

Glorious winter walking on the Classic Winter Cairngorms week with Scot Mountain Holidays this January (2018)

guided winter walking in Scotland

Lucky or what? The views of the Classic Winter Cairngorms week were stunning at times as this shot shows.

Winter walking holiday and courses in the Highlands of Scotland

A view for miles – the snow brings this landscape alive.

Snowhole Expedition

Lorna chose to encourage her friends and family to join her on a Snow Hole Expedition with Andy to celebrate her 50th birthday. We felt honoured. Lorna herself must have enjoyed the experience because she’s back right now helping the BBC to dig in tonight. Let’s hope they get to see the blue moon despite the snow showers.

Snow Hole Expedition

Heading out into the Cairngorms fully prepared for a night out on a Snow Hole Expedition with Andy Bateman

Winter in Scotland

Snow mascara! Who would have guessed?

Winter in the Cairngorms

Lorna is enjoying the break through moment. Now they can see that their overnight residence is a real possibility

Winter in Scotland

Dinner in the snow hole – carrot soup and vegetarian bolognese

 

If you’d like to join us for a winter walking extravaganza or to learn new winter skills, there’s still plenty of time. Winter in the Highlands lasts well into March and sometimes even April.

Plenty of choice of walking holiday or skills course

A hiking tour in Scotland: To hike or to tour – that is the question?

distillery whisky

Typical pagoda structures which seem so incongruous on a distillery

When you have a very limited amount of holiday time, it’s very difficult to make choices for your time in Scotland without spending a lot of time in a car/bus/train as you’ll no doubt want to do everything the guide book recommends. Every different district in Scotland is busy promoting itself as “THE must-see destination”. No doubt you’ll want to spend some time in Edinburgh. A lot of people put Skye very high up the list. If you’re American, St. Andrew’s will no doubt be up there near the top of the list too and if you’re a first time visitor Loch Ness will probably be somewhere near the top too. How on earth are you going to fit it all in to your schedule?

minibus tours of Scotland

Classic highlights of Scotland will inevitably include a visit to Edinburgh Castle

Option 1: Minibus tours

Your first option of course is to consider one of the many minibus tours of Scotland, which will promise to take you to all the top sites and also deliver “off-the-beaten” track extras. They’ll reserve accommodation for you and suggest places to eat, but watch out. The quoted price is usually just for the bus tour and doesn’t include accommodation, meals or entry fees into the various places of interest. When you’re budgeting for one of these tours, make sure you take into account the extra expenses you will have to incur.

Many of these tours, particularly Rabbies, will also promise you some opportunities to get out of the bus and walk a wee bit. Most of these walks are very short (around 2 hours) and are generally in very scenic but popular places like Loch an Eilean (in the Cairngorms) or the Fairy Pools (on Skye).

Option 2: Self-drive tours

Do you truly want to be part of a crowd? Another option is to hire a car and research an efficient route around the places you want to see. Try not to double back on yourself. See if you can find a suitable circular route. Visit Scotland have developed quite a few suggested itineraries on their site which are free to download and usually follow various themes so you should be able to find one which fits in with your interests.

We can offer self-drive itineraries. Please bear in mind that we are always going to recommend that you spend some time with us here in the Cairngorms National Park. We believe it is by far and away the best area to base yourself when exploring the Highlands.

Self-drive tours are a great way to go as you can be completely independent. You are able to get to all those out of the way places which are inaccessible on public transport. The disadvantage is that they can be very time-consuming to plan and if you don’t know the country you could make mistakes which cost you time-wise. Don’t forget to allow a relatively significant budget for fuel on top of the hire and activities you’ve planned.

loch an eilein

Classic short walk in the Cairngorms visits Loch an Eilean.

 

Option 3: Join a hiking adventure or design an Off-the-Beaten Track tailor made adventure 

Off the beaten track:

A tailor-made itinerary with Scot Mountain Holidays doesn’t have to be too expensive. Don’t forget if you’re making comparisons that we provide a complete service. You won’t have to allow extra in your budget for additional meals or accommodation or activities. We’ll look after everything for you. Usually our prices include everything except alcohol from when we pick you up to when we drop you off. We can make adaptations to suit you and your party but our trips aim to provide you with a unique experience of Scotland not a package off the shelf.

Sometimes we do take our guests to the more popular tourist sights, like Loch Ness. If we didn’t include places like this, we wouldn’t get any enquiries. Usually however, these visits are not the most memorable parts of the visit. Sometimes guests are marginally disappointed by their day out with the rest of the tourists. One couple we worked with spent a week with us: they went hiking with Andy; they went out on mountain bikes exploring the forest and picking mushrooms; they went on the Zip wire in Aviemore and they went to Loch Ness (as on their itinerary). Their visit to Loch Ness was nowhere near as high on their list of memories as their day out with Andy in whisky country where they didn’t see another tourist all day.

 

Why choose a guide to hike in Scotland?

Nature’s bounty: handpicked chanterelles mushrooms

 

Guided and self-guided hiking adventures

Our hiking adventures are also aimed at providing all our guests with unique experiences so we avoid the hotspots other companies list as “off-the-beaten track” or as the French say “hors de sentiers battus” as in our opinion Glen Coe and the Old Man of Storr on Skye are not off the beaten track at all. We’d take you to places you’ve probably not heard of as below.

Hiking will be the focus of the trip and not visiting the popular tourist sights. You’ll certainly go home with a unique experience which will have involved all your senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. Memories created involving all your senses last longer and create more stories to share with your friends. No queues and no crowds!

hiking in Assynt

Hikers descending from a long day’s hike in the Assynt area (Scotland)

 

walking holiday

Looking out over the vast expanse of the Cairngorms National Park (Highlands of Scotland)

Conclusion

There are lots of ways to explore Scotland from minibus or coach tours to hiking adventures. The method you choose will depend on your own personal priorities and who’s to say that you can’t come back and try another kind of experience the next time. We’ve certainly had some guests whose first experience of Scotland was a minibus tour round the highlights, but they’ve chosen to return and explore in greater depth with us as the bus tour merely whetted their appetite to see more.

Further Reading

Walking holidays in Scotland

Walking route options and choices

Planning a hiking holiday in Scotland (but not the West Highland Way)

Where to walk in the Highlands

When to come to Scotland

 

Autumn seems to be racing up right now. Munro bagging in autumn has it’s own rewards. The day’s are starting to draw in but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The leaves are starting to turn on some of the trees here in the Highlands bringing splashes of bright red to the landscape. The later start to the day means we’re approaching a time when we’ll be able to see the colours of dawn. We can already see the evening colours (when there are any) without being up late into the night. The cooler temperatures mean we can get the fire on once more and dust off the pie recipes.

It’s a fantastic time to get out in the hills and maybe bag a few Munros. Here’s a reminder of why autumn is a great time to be out and about if you can get away outside of the school holidays.

Review: Autumn Munros – munro bagging in autumn in the Highlands

Paul Chapman’s first walking holiday in Scotland was on the munro bagging week we run in Autumn. Paul has now been on several holidays with us including recent trips to Arran and the Outer Hebrides. Here’s his review:

MEMORIES OF SCOTLAND

My first walking holiday with Scot Mountain Holidays was “Autumn Munros”. I had never walked in Scotland before then and was looking forward to some excellent walking. I finished the holiday having experienced a lot more than that.

Wildlife sightings

munro bagging in autumn

One of the joys of walking in the mountains in the autumn weather is the increased chance of walking above the clouds

We were three days into the holiday doing Craiggowrie. It had been a lovely autumn day, the walking had been everything I hoped for. Late in the afternoon, with the light beginning to fade we started to make our way off the ridge and down into a corrie. As we started our descent; we saw a group of white snow bunting busily feeding among the heather.They were not really very bothered about us, but as we stood and watched they suddenly took off in alarm, flying low over our heads. Looking up we could clearly see a Golden Eagle soaring effortlessly above us. It had obviously spooked the bunting. You hear about these birds and see pictures of them, but standing in the heather on the side of a Scottish mountain watching one soaring effortlessly above you is an experience that can’t be forgotten.

We continued down towards the floor of the corrie, but then a couple of hundred metres ahead of us saw a group of red deer. There was a stag and a number of hinds. As I watched he calmly led his harem away from us, head held high displaying his magnificent antlers, confident that he was the monarch of the glen. At that point I knew what proud meant. As we stood and marvelled, a second stag with his own group of hinds appeared on our right, equally as majestic and again with a full head of antlers, and he too calmly led his hinds away from us and over the hillside.

Finishing the day

munro bagging in autumn

A herd of deer watch the munro bagging walkers nearby

We continued on, reaching the floor of the corrie as the light faded and soon had to use our head torches. As we walked out of the glen the light disappeared completely.We walked along the track in pitch black with just the light of our torches to show the way. As we walked I could see nothing except a small circular pool of light created by my head torch. Then I started to hear noises. It was a stag roaring in the night, seemingly not far from us. As we continued, more stags started to roar and I looked up. All I could see were the eyes of the deer, like red pin pricks shining through the black of the night.

The volume seemed to grow as we walked through that dark night. Although twenty minutes before there seemed to be two stags and a dozen hinds on the hillside. The deer seemed to be many hundreds of metres away from us. Now there seemed to be many, many, more, close to us, all bellowing into the night. Later I was told that they roared to control their harems. It was rutting season. Whether I was there or not was of no interest to them.

As I thought about the experiences of that day I knew I was hooked on Scotland.

I’ve been back 5 times now and never been disappointed. I may be a “townie” but always feel a lot nearer to nature when in those hills. Each day there is worth innumerable days in a busy, congested city. Now I just keep looking forward to my next visit.

Useful links

Check out the Autumn Munros itinerary

 

For full details on all our walking holidays

 

Have you tried any of our self-guided itineraries?

In the heart of the Cairngorms National Park lies it’s namesake, the Cairngorms. The Cairngorms, a range of mountain peaks adorning the skyline, are rich with historical importance, and full of nature and wildlife. The soul of the Cairngorms, boast four of the five highest peaks in the United Kingdom. Conveniently, this is located just a short drive from Fraoch Lodge, home of Scot Mountain Holidays.

Hiking Ben Macdui

Hiking Ben Macdui with Scot Mountain Holidays group tour

Hiking Ben Macdui

Ben Macdui, at 1309 metres was our destination. Departing Fraoch Lodge we set out for a full day of hiking with the group tour leader, Andy. As someone who hasn’t done much hiking I was in good hands. Scot Mountain Holidays offered plenty of advice, tips and tricks. I felt well equipped in handling the changing climate, the potential wet weather, and cool temperature ahead of us.

Guided Touring with Scot Mountain Holidays

Andy is knowledgeable in not only the secrets of the mountain, but also fauna, wildlife and navigation. This became increasingly comforting as the heavy fog set in the higher we climbed. Transforming the landscape into a world of grey, it wasn’t long before the dips, plains and landmarks of the mountain became a sea of similarity for me.

But, with what appeared to be second nature to Andy, we headed away from the path ready to experience the Cairngorms, raw and untouched. Appreciating the full benefits of guided touring, it was as simple as follow the leader. It’s also advised to keep a camera at the ready for wildlife that Andy has a knack for spotting. We also had Andy’s storytelling keeping us company as we rose higher, with stories of history and legends wealthy with detail and fascinating to hear.

wildlife spotting and hiking

Wildlife with a view

The secrets of Ben Macdui revealed

Before long, history came to life in the form of a plane crash memorial. Pieces of the aircraft littered the mountainside and somewhat eerily seemed almost untouched 70 years on from the impact. Andy’s knowledge of the Cairngorms secrets continued to be show cast during the ascent and decline. Continuing to hike away from the track we came across no one. Allowing us to appreciate the solidarity, and peacefulness of the mountainous environment. With gorgeous views, and amazing landscape treating us as the cloud cover ebbed and waned. The experience of hiking Ben MacDui was memorable and a great combination of challenging and rewarding.

After a full day of hiking we returned to the homely comforts of Fraoch Lodge. Arriving to a roaring fire and well-deserved coffee o’clock it was a warm and welcoming homecoming. Rebecca’s home cooked meal, delicious and restaurant quality was the perfect way to finish a great day. Scot Mountain Holidays is a perfect blend of leadership, knowledge and homely comforts resulting in an amazing experience for group tour hiking.

Walking is one of the best forms of exercise being gentle, easy and free. It’s something everyone can do, and extremely beneficial to your wellbeing. So, it’s no wonder masses of people are beginning to introduce walking to their daily lives. But to keep the habit up it’s important to ensure you’re not letting your walking become a chore. So to avoid this, try these easy steps to turn a walk into an adventure.

Mountains and Malts - whisky themed hiking

Hiking in the Highlands exploring the footsteps laid by smugglers of old

Turn a walk into an adventure

Walking has been proven to assist you in maintaining a healthy weight, prevent or manage various conditions including heart disease and high blood pressure and additionally, it strengthens your bones and muscles. Not only this, but it’s extremely positive to your mental wellbeing. And, it’s a great excuse to take some time for yourself.

Take the road less travelled by

Firstly, it’s time to get off the beaten path. Head away from the pavement and hit the trails. The Cairngorm National Park is full of gorgeous forest, river and mountain walking so you’re rich for choice.

Switch off

Once you’re away from the roads, and traffic of the world, take some time away from technology. Leave your phone at home, turn the music off and appreciate the beauty of nature. This will not only be a refreshing break and an opportunity for you to restart. But, you will find yourself so much more connected to nature, and you’re much more likely to spot wildlife and fauna. This will add a level of appreciation, and excitement to your walks.

Walk the Lairig Ghru

Self-guided Lairig Ghru logistics

Follow your instinct

This goes hand in hand with switching off. If you have some sense of direction, try to avoid planning out your route prior to your walk. Follow your instinct, keep things fresh and go somewhere new each day. Making a split second decision at each fork you come to, will add a sense of exhilaration to your walking adventures.

These three easy to do steps will be just the thing to turn your walking into memorable adventures.

 

 

 

Choosing a hiking guide for your hiking tour in Scotland

What is it you want from your hiking trip to Scotland?

No doubt if you’re travelling from further afield – Canada, the US, Australia- then you want to see a bit of Scotland; experience the culture; try the iconic foods and meet some genuine Scottish folk. How can you do this within your limited time and budget?

Researching a trip takes time, energy and to make the trip extra special, a wee bit of local knowledge. If you’re lucky you can pick this up from your friends and relatives who may already have visited the area you want to go to. If not, you’re left with the wide morass of the internet and the opinions of strangers. You can cut through the confusion and distraction though by booking an initial introductory trip with a local expert.

Choosing a hiking guide

Guided hiking holidays in the Highlands of Scotland

What to look for when choosing a guide?

A good indication that your guide has the technical navigation skills and training to lead groups is to make sure that he/she has one of the following qualifications:

These are the national governing body certificates which cover the technical skills a group leader needs in the mountain environment. In Scotland, for mountain/hill walking, it is best to check that your guide has a winter mountain leader award as there can be snow on the ground in May/June or on Ben Nevis, most of the year. We have taken clients out in the Cairngorms in July and August and still found patches of snow in shady, north facing areas.

How to choose a hiking guide

Summer snow patches in the Cairngorms National Park

Is your guide local? How good is their local knowledge?

Check carefully to make sure your hiking guide is or has been resident in the local area for some time. If so they are more likely to have intimate knowledge of the best spots to take their clients/guests. It would also be an idea to see if your guide has interests which coincide with your own:

On wildlife:

If you are a keen wildlife enthusiast, make sure your hiking guide has a good grounding in the local wildlife. For example, here in the Cairngorms the species to keep an eye out for, along with the iconic red deer, are:

Capercaillie, red grouse, black grouse, ptarmigan, crested tits, Scottish crossbills, red squirrels and golden eagles among many others.

Cairngorms wildlife

Some of the high mountain wildlife frequently seen in the Cairngorms

On Geology:

If you have an interest in geology, it’s also worth investigating the depth of your hiking guide’s knowledge. You might find that some hiking guides, especially the younger guides, have only very superficial knowledge of the geology of the area, particularly if they are not resident all year round.

On local history:

If you are interested in local history, it is especially important to make sure your hiking guide has been resident in the area for some time. He or she should also have an interest in the history which has formed his environment. This really is the only thing which is going to improve their knowledge of local history.

Highlander habitat

Live like the Jacobite Highlanders

On local cuisine:

If you’re interested in local cuisine, it’s again a good idea to book a hiking guide who is local to the area as they will probably have the most up-to-date information about the local cafes and restaurants. You never know one popular local eating venue might have changed hands or lost their chef since they were last listed in a guidebook or reviewed online. Online reviews are usually only snapshots of one person’s experience at that moment, your guide (if local to the area) will probably have accumulated a more rounded impression of the various local establishments.

On foraging:

If you are particularly lucky, you might find a hiking guide who has an interest in wild foraging who can introduce you to the spectacular harvest Scotland’s nature has to offer.

Amazing meals at Fraoch Lodge

Amazing meals at Fraoch Lodge

Wild foraging

Wild foraging in the Caledonian pine forest of Scotland

To check out the profile of our own main guide and company director, Andy Bateman, view his profile.

 

 

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