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All things hiking

August in the Cairngorms (views and flowers)

Get off the Beaten Track in the Highlands of Scotland

This is a minimum 2 day, 3 night stay with Scot Mountain Holidays. It works best for 2 or more people. You join us later in the day before your activities for dinner. We’ll all sit down for dinner together and discuss travels, politics, families or whatever else comes up in conversation. Andy will browse the weather and then come up with some suggestions for the guided walk for the following day. If necessary he’ll also run some checks of your hiking stuff to make sure that you won’t be at all uncomfortable when out hiking. (Unlike a lot of European hikes, once you are out on a hiking route in Scotland, especially if you head out on a mountain route, there are few if any chances to change your clothes, pick up extra food or any such shopping opportunities.)

The first day’s hike is aimed at familiarising you with the area and giving you the opportunity to get away from the beaten track. Andy has been guiding in the Cairngorms for about 25 years, he knows the area like the back of his hand and is constantly learning new interpretations of the landscape and its history. You’ll learn so much by spending the day with him, which will stand you in good stead for the following day.

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When you return from the hike we’ll have tea and cake ready for you, and a fire burning if the weather justifies it.

Before dinner we’ll check the weather and come up with a plan for the following day. Scot Mountain Holidays will provide the guidance and map for a route designed according to your requirements. If required we’ll also provide transportation, particularly if it’s a linear route we choose, which will allow you to see more of the area as you won’t have to return to the spot where you started. (Another plus point as if you were tied to your own transport or public transport, walking a route in one direction, would be so much more difficult to co-ordinate – one reason why support packages are so popular for the long distance paths.)

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After dinner prepared from local produce, much of it hopefully from our garden (so long as you’re not visiting in the depths of winter), you’ll be able to relax by the fire or retire to you room. We keep a plentiful supply of books and quite a few board games or cards in the lounge if you want to disconnect from electronic forms of entertainment; but for those who feel the need to keep in touch with the wider world there is WiFi throughout.

 

In the morning, after breakfast of your choice, and having prepared your packed lunch from the fresh bread, home made cake and other options we’ll have laid out for you; we’ll take you out to the start of your route and set you on your way with your map and route description. You should by now have a better idea of the area from your day out with Andy.

 

One of the joys of hiking in the Cairngorms is the wildlife which makes its home here. The area is regularly visited by wildlife photographers and BBC wildlife production companies looking for footage of capercaillie, crested tit, reindeer, pine marten, wild cats and many others. You never know what you might see on your hike.

Red Squirrels in the woods.

Only 120,000 red squirrels are left in Scotland. Less than half the number of grey squirrels.

 

We’ll pick you up at the end of your hike and bring you back to the fire and cake so you’ll follow the same simple formula which underlies all our trips: eat – sleep – hike.

 

At the end of your stay, despite the fact that you might be physically tired, you should be mentally refreshed for your return home.

 

Pricing scheme:

Get off the Beaten Track is a tailor-made hiking trip designed for people who want to explore a wee bit more and understand the area through the eyes of an experienced, qualified guide.

You can book from a minimum of 2 days: one guided, one self-guided.

The guided day with Andy will introduce you to the area and help to orientate you. You’ll get an idea of how far things are, how long it takes to hike on different routes, what plants and animals are around, how our countryside is formed and managed etc. Andy is very much an environmentalist and amateur geologist/meteorologist with a keen interest in wildlife. He has his summer, winter and international mountain leader qualifications.

For the second day, Andy will put together a personalised route with a map for you to follow on your own. It will be tailored to your ambitions and the prevailing weather. Where necessary we will also provide you with transport to the beginning of the hike and a pick up at the end of the route.

 

Your accommodation and all your meals are included at Fraoch Lodge.

 

included all meals at Fraoch Lodge, 3 nights accommodation at Fraoch Lodge, 1 guided hike, 1 self-guided hike with map, route information and logistics

 

Optional alternatives:

3 days, 4 nights

including all accommodation, transport and meals

 

1 guided day, 2 self-guided days:

2 guided days, 1 self-guided day:

3 guided days:

 

Useful links for planning your trip to Scotland

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.

 

Unplug and Explore: A Family Adventure in the Highlands of Scotland

If you’re an active family with kids aged 12 and up, yearning for an unforgettable adventure, look no further than the Highlands of Scotland. Scot Mountain Holidays offers a unique 2-day, 3-night experience designed to immerse you in the stunning landscapes and rich history of the Cairngorms. Here’s a glimpse into what awaits your family on this off-the-beaten-track journey.

Day 1: Arrival and Welcome Dinner

Your adventure begins with a warm welcome at Fraoch Lodge. Arrive later in the day and join us for a delicious dinner made from local produce, much of it sourced from our own garden (except in the depths of winter). Over dinner, we’ll chat about your travels, families, and plans for the days ahead. Andy, our experienced guide, will check the weather and suggest a route for the following day’s hike. He’ll also ensure you have the right gear, as Scottish mountain hikes offer few opportunities for last-minute changes or resupplies.

Day 2: Guided Hike with Andy

Wake up to a hearty breakfast of your choice, prepare your packed lunch from an array of fresh options, and get ready for a day of exploration. Andy, who has been guiding in the Cairngorms for about 25 years, will lead you on a hike designed to familiarize you with the area. His deep knowledge of the landscape and its history will make this an enriching experience. You’ll learn about the unique flora and fauna, geology, and environmental conservation efforts in the region.

After your hike, return to the lodge where tea, cake, and a cozy fire (weather permitting) await you. Before dinner, we’ll review the weather and plan your route for the next day. This time, you’ll be on your own but fully equipped with a map, route description, and any necessary transportation arranged by us.

Day 3: Self-Guided Adventure

Start your day with another delicious breakfast and prepare for your self-guided hike. Armed with the knowledge and experience gained from your day with Andy, you’ll set out on a personalized route designed to match your ambitions and the prevailing weather conditions. Whether it’s a linear trail offering new vistas or a loop showcasing the diverse landscapes of the Cairngorms, you’re in for an adventure.

One of the highlights of hiking in this region is the chance to encounter wildlife. The Cairngorms are home to capercaillies, crested tits, reindeer, pine martens, wild cats, and the rare red squirrel. You never know what you might see on your journey.

At the end of your hike, we’ll pick you up and bring you back to the lodge for more tea, cake, and relaxation by the fire. This simple formula of eat, sleep, hike underlies all our trips, ensuring you’re well-fed and rested for each day’s adventure.

Departure: Refreshed and Rejuvenated

On your final morning, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and soak in the last moments of your Highland retreat. Despite the physical exertion, you’ll leave feeling mentally refreshed and ready to return home with memories of an incredible family adventure.

Pricing and Options

Our “Get Off the Beaten Track” package is designed for families looking to explore and understand the Highlands through the eyes of an experienced guide. The base package includes:

For those looking to extend their stay, we offer optional packages including:

Plan Your Trip

Ready to plan your Highland adventure? Email us for help in crafting the perfect vacation, hitting all the Highland hotspots and uncovering off-the-beaten-track surprises. For inspiration, check out our Pinterest board and Flickr account.

Join us at Scot Mountain Holidays for an adventure that will bring your family closer to nature and each other. The Highlands of Scotland are waiting for you!

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.

Why come to Scotland in winter?

10 reasons in pictures

Have you ever wondered what all the fuss is about? Scotland. Why? Especially in winter must be far too cold and far too dangerous. Take a look – yes, it’s proper winter but isn’t that preferable to wet rain, umbrellas and grey days with little to differentiate between summer and winter, except for the lack of leaves on the trees.

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Photo Credit: Paul Tomkins/VisitScotland

1. A Snow Hole Expedition:

Digging out a snow hole site in the Cairngorms under the guidance of Andy Bateman of Scot Mountain Holidays. It’s not quite Sweden’s ice hotel as you have to create the living space yourself, but they’ll have a relatively comfortable night out of the wind, cocooned in their sleeping bags enjoying being cooked for and served a three course meal by their guide.

 

Build a snowhole in Scotland

Build your own snow hole in the Cairngorms

 

kintail in winter

2. Winter mountaineering and ridge walking:

Hiking along the ridges of Argyll, Kintail or Glencoe – space to yourself away from all the crowds and views which stretch for miles under clear skies. We often visit the west coast of Scotland in March to bag some winter Munros: we’ve run trips in Argyll, Glencoe and Kintail. For this year’s offering check the calendar or the Munro bagging page. Some of our clients have left from these trips with the most spectacular images – but those are for another blog.

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Photo credit: Dave Downing

3. Cross country skiing:

The beauty of Glenmore in the winter. Snow laden trees and cross-country skiing opportunities. Short days are not always a disadvantage as they allow for the most spectacular photographic opportunities, as seen above.

 

winter skills in the Cairngorms

4. A winter skills course:

Safety skills for walking in the winter hills, demonstrated here by Andy Bateman – ice axe arrest. Legitimate playing in the snow, but as part of a learning process on how to avoid a sliding fall.

 

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5. Winter photography:

Scotland on a cold, clear, crisp day in winter. What’s not to like, especially if you like to take stunning pictures.

 

Winter in the Cairngorms

6. Reindeer:

The Cairngorm Reindeer herd in their natural environment. When out walking in the Park, you can come face to face with the reindeer who roam the hills in winter.

Ptarmigan

7. Ptarmigan:

The Scottish Munros, particularly the Cairngorms, are the only area of the UK where you can spot Ptarmigan. Ptarmigan change their plummage twice a year – they have a summer coat, a breeding plummage and a winter coloration to blend in with the snow. You can almost step on the Ptarmigan sometimes as they like to conserve their energy by walking rather than flying if they can and they nest on the ground – there being no trees at the elevation where they are found.

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8. Burns Night:

a chance to savour some of Scotland’s most famous and unique produce. Haggis is a traditional meal to celebrate Scotland’s greatest bard, whose influence can be found everywhere from the Birks of Aberfeldy (where there is a thinking/writing seat dedicated to Rabbie Burns) to the Winking Owl in Aviemore, where the great bard is said to have taken breakfast. You might not even be aware of his influence on your own life from: “And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne” – which you’ll have sung if you’ve ever brought the New Year in; to “O’ my luve’s like a red, red rose, that’s newly sprung in June” and a special Scottish grace for a meal: “Soem hae meat and canna eat And some would eat that want it. But we hae meat and we can eat, sae let the Lord be thankit.”

Burns Night is 25th January and is celebrated throughout Scotland with a haggis meal and the address to the haggis – written by Rabbie Burns.

 

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9. Colours of winter:

Scotland is famous for the colours of heather in the summer but the winter can be colourful too. This is the time of year that you’ll get to appreciate the sunset. The snow also reflects the light of the moon & stars if the sky is clear, so a night out in winter can be glorious.

 

10. Snow is fun:

snow will entertain the kids for hours and cost nothing, but make sure you’re well stocked with socks, gloves and hot chocolate!

 

Useful links:

Have fun in the snow: 

Snow related activities for kids:

Free mountain weather service:

Met Office forecast for the hills:

Scottish Avalanche Information service:

 

 

New itinerary for Glencoe Winter Munros 2024

We’re busy pulling together the final details for all our winter Munro walking trips, including  a planned return to the Glencoe area. Despite not having written the prose to promote this itinerary we do already have bookings so best to express your interest as soon as possible.

We are delighted to announce our new, revised itinerary for our Winter Munros trip in Glencoe. We will again be based at River Mill Cottage and will be following the itinerary below as closely as the weather allows:

Here’s the outline itinerary:
Day 1: Glas Bheinn Mhor (997m), 14.6km, 1116m of ascent and 6hrs 25 min of walking excluding breaks, winter conditions, photo stops, etc.
Day 2: Beinn nan Aighenan (957m), 15.5km, 1254m of ascent and 6hrs 55 min of walking excluding breaks, winter conditions, photo stops, etc.
Day 3: Stob Coir an Albannaich (1044m) and Meall nan Eun (928m) circuit: 17.7km, 1285m of ascent and 7hrs 40 min of walking excluding breaks, winter conditions, photo stops, etc.
Day 4: Day off.
Day 5: Beinn Mhanach (952m), 20.3km, 860m of ascent and 7hrs 32 min of walking excluding breaks, winter conditions, photo stops, etc.
Day 6: Stob Ghabhar (1087m), 15.9km, 1014m of ascent and 6hrs 35 min of walking excluding breaks, winter conditions, photo stops, etc.
Day of Departure: We will all hopefully have a final breakfast together before departing for onward travel home. If we can drop anyone off for their onward transport we will be happy to do this in either Fort William or Aviemore.
To get an idea of the kind of conditions, views etc which you could expect do feel free to check out our unfiltered album from our trip in 2018
glencoe

Possible private itineraries in the Glencoe area

We have been in the Glencoe area before and have designed other itineraries for previous groups. Please do feel free to check these out in the private groups section, but bear in mind that in order to run one of these other itineraries for you we will need plenty of notice in order to arrange accommodation for your group and make sure that there is availbility for your proposed dates. Ideally we would plan a private group tour at least 6 months in advance.

Please bear in mind that since the Covid pandemic it has become increasingly difficult to book accommodation in remote areas with limited options.

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

Longing to escape? Winter in a city getting to you? How about escaping into the wilds of theHighlands?

Every year there are reports of people getting lost in the snow and ice of winter. Mountain rescue callouts are predominantly about navigation errors. To make winter a safer place, it is a good idea to book a guide to lead or alternatively join a group heading out into the hills. Some groups are organised by companies on commercial trips, others are groups of friends or clubs. Nonetheless there is safety in numbers.

Every year there are winter wilderness expeditions running under the guidance of Andy Bateman of Scot Mountain Holidays in the Cairngorms and Glen Affric. There’s also usually a trip to Knoydart, home to Britain’s most remote pub; however there is a major reforestation project going on there this year which makes it less attractive to visit and all the accommodation will be taken by the forestry workers.

Life will be reduced to basics during the expedition and the only concerns will be: eat – sleep – hike (repeat). The perfect way to clear the mind and return feeling completely refreshed after only a few short days.

  • winter walking Cairngorms
    Walking in winter has it's own rewards in the endless mountain views in crystal clear visibility.

Winter Expeditions 

1. Southern Cairngorms Winter Odyssey

This is a rare opportunity to experience one of the remotest parts of the Cairngorms National Park at a time when the mountains are probably at their most glorious. The High Cairngorms are renowned for their wintry conditions yet at this time very few folk dare to do multi-day trips

winter in the Cairngorms

Celia enjoying her second (or third) winter expedition with Scot Mountain Holiadays

Highlights: winter skills, Monadh Mhor (Munro), Devil’s Point (Munro) Carn a’ Mhaim (Munro), Derry Cairngorm (Munro), Beinn a’ Chaorainn (Munro)

 

Price: £ on application

Email: SCO@scotmountainholidays.com for full information about this trip.

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

2. Winter Cairngorms 4000ers

This is Scotland’s ultimate winter mountain journey. The high “plateau” route takes in Britain’s 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th highest peaks on a journey that circumnavigates Scotland’s finest and best known mountain pass, the Lairig Ghru.

winter in Scotland

Check out the potential avalanche sites on the head wall. You can see how the corrie came to be made

Highlights: winter skills, Cairngorm (6th Highest Munro), Ben Macdui (2nd Highest Munro), Braeriach (3rd Highest Munro), Cairn Toul (4th Highest Munro), Sgor an Lochain Uaine (Munro)

Price: £ on application

Email: CWO@scotmountainholidays.com for full information about this trip

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

3. Glen Affric Winter Shangri-La

Imagine the soft orange light of a winters dawn gleaming down from the snowy celestial heights. Surrounded by snowy peaks and cradling a mug of tea in the crisp air, indeed a stunning winter’s day beckons.

Highlights: winter skills, Mullach Fraoch – choire (Munro), Mam Sodhail (Munro), Carn Eighe (Munro), An Socach (Munro), Carn a’Choire Ghairbh (Munro)

winter expedition Scotland

Spotting deer in Glen Affric while on winter expedition in Scotland

Price: £ on application

Email: Shangri-La@scotmountainholidays.com for full information about this trip

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

Or for something slightly different

 

4. Snow Hole Expedition

“Porridge with whisky at 9am whilst warm & dry in my sleeping bag has never tasted better!” Ric Taylor,Bristol.”

Have you ever dreamt of taking a short walk amongst a moonlit snowy wonderland. Amazingly no need for a torch! Imagine reflected flickering candle light giving way to the soft light of a winters dawn as you emerge from you snowy abode. Not a soul about! We’ll have a vast pristine winter wonderland all to ourselves. It’s a remarkable experience.

Highlights: winter skills on Cairngorm, overnight expedition to sleep in a snow cave, creation of said snow cave

snowholing expedition

how to build a snowhole in Scotland

All digging and cooking equipment supplied by your hosts, Scot Mountain Holidays.

Check full details on the website 

 

5. Winter Knoydart Expedition

Highlights:

Accommodation: Barrisdale Stable (if available) or heated Tentipi

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

6. Winter Loch Nevis Expedition

Highlights:

Accommodation: Barrisdale Stable (if available) or heated Tentipi

MINIMUM GROUP SIZE: 3 PEOPLE – Private dates available. Please enquire.

 

Why book with Scot Mountain Holidays?

  1. The routes have all been checked carefully. In addition, routes are very familiar to the guide who will know how to adapt according to the weather conditions. He or she will also know where and how to avoid the cornices (overhanging snow features)
  2. Accommodation is organised therefore no tents flapping in the wind keeping everyone awake.
  3. Toilet and wash facilities will be available without having to “go native” and dig a hole.
  4. Cooking will be done by the guide.
  5. Food will all be prepared from fresh, local produce to a wide range of recipes including carrot and cardamom soup. Obviously no commercial packets for us.
  6. All group equipment will be provided.

What would your idea of Highland Adventures include? There are all kinds of options available these days.  However, walking the hills and woodlands of the iconic Cairngorms National Park is an experience never to be forgotten. Communing with nature and enjoying spectacular hikes and landscapes is a treat for the senses as well as having proven benefits for both mental and physical wellbeing. But do you ever miss a few home comforts? Or wish you could explore a little further or stay a little longer if only you could carry more kit? Walking with pack ponies could be the answer – an ancient activity that could enhance your Highland adventures in unexpected ways. Both walking and riding with pack ponies alongside are activities which have taken place in the Highlands for centuries.

Surely you’ve seen pictures of Queen Victoria (admittedly astride a pony herself) accompanied by pack ponies, exploring her Highland estate at Balmoral. Ponies are still used by some traditional estates in Scotland during the deer season to help bring the deer carcasses off the hill.

Ponies would also have been an important part of life during Outlander times. They’ve always been expected to be working animals here in the Highlands. The breed has been developed to be strong and unflappable; able to carry enormous weights and large for a pony.

highland adventures

WORKING WITH HIGHLAND PONIES TO BRING YOUR HIGHLAND ADVENTURES TO LIFE

“Their training is quite a long process,” says McLauchlan. “But they have a very quiet temperament and are virtually bombproof.”

We’ll go into more detail in a separate blog but the story in brief is:

We like to hike but both parents on an all day hike and a young child don’t always mix. We looked for a way that we could go on a hiking holiday without having to endure endless complaints from the children. Fortunately, one of our clients had been there before us and mentioned hiking with a donkey (in France). It was a lightbulb moment and led to Andy thinking about how much he could do with Highland ponies instead of donkeys.

Now we are launching our highland adventures: Highland Wilderness Glamping.

highland adventures

So the benefits of hiking with our ponies include:

1. A change of pace

Walking with a pony can be an almost meditative experience – allowing you to slow down, indulge your senses and immerse yourself more deeply in the wildest and most beautiful natural environments

2. Feel better

There is a growing field of research that shows that spending time with ponies and horses helps reduce stress and anxiety, as their emotional intelligence quickly creates an emotional bond and calming effect.

3. Carry Less on your highland adventures

With only a day pack you can explore well beyond the normal limits, penetrating deep into isolated terrain, yet still enjoy all the benefits of a fully equipped base at the end of the day, brought to you (and taken away) by the most environmentally-friendly transport in existence

4. Treat yourself

Your equine partners make it possible to bring a few of life’s home comforts to further enhance your experience. Imagine the joy of a sturdy Nordic tipi, warm showers, comfy beds and even a toilet

highland adventures

5. Connections

Working together you and the ponies form a team with an intense connection with nature and a genuine appreciation of each other – great company and a great team. Walking with ponies is a traditional pursuit which has incredible relevance to our hectic modern lives. Just imagine slowing down, reconnecting with nature, wild camping, leaving no trace – and yet a warm shower and comfy bed at the end of a satisfying day’s walk.

Best of all, your ponies become your friends. Your kids will be so much more involved in the day and not think of the trip as a “boring” walk at all. They might even get the chance to lead one of the ponies or groom them themselves.

Top Tip: add a packet of extra strong mints to your packing and the ponies will be begging you to be their friend.

highland adventures

 

Further reading:

How a pony in the Highlands always beats a quad bike

Deer stalking and the traditional highland pony

Richard Fraser – Scotland’s king of the hill pony

Highland ponies on the hill

The Highland Pony’s role at work

 

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.

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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.

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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

Top tips: what to pack for a day hike in Scotland

We are frequently asked what to pack for a day hike in the Highlands, usually by our guests preparing for their guided walking tour with us. People often ponder on whether they should pack shorts, a sun hat, sunscreen. What gloves to bring etc – the list goes on.

Bear in mind, that if you are planning to head out on your own or at least without a guide, then you will also need to pack the following gear and be familiar with how to use it.

map & compass: you will need a good quality, local, walking map such as Harveys or Ordnance Survey (we stock the 1:50,000 OS map for our area). Do not rely on your mobile phone mapping.

You should also always pack some food (even small snacks) and some water. It is possible to refill your water bottle along the route, but take care if you are following a low level popular path. If there is a lot of livestock in the area, it would be best not to refill your bottle unless you have a water purifier with you.

Long or short pants (trousers)

Always tempting if you happen to strike the good weather to whip out the shorts to go for a hike. It is however worth bearing in mind that Scotland is not without its pests. There are ticks in Scotland which hang on the undergrowth, particularly at low levels waiting for someone or something to come past. Ticks are often carried by deer who rub them off on the vegetation. The ticks wait there for the next host to continue their life cycle. They can wait for years.

If you do pick up a tick it is not the end of the world. There is Lymes Disease in the UK which can be treated with antibiotics – but early removal of the tick is key to the prevention of the disease. We have tick removers here at Fraoch Lodge. Make sure you check yourself over at the end of the day. However, you can minimise the risk of picking up a tick by wearing long trousers and gaiters over the top of your boots. Generally speaking dog walkers and golfers are often at more risk than hikers of returning with ticks.

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Long or short sleeves

Unless you’re going to be battling through particularly overgrown parts of the countryside, the length of your sleeves is not too vital and the rate at which you get cold will determine whether you think long or short sleeves suitable for the day.

 

Boots or approach shoes

There are not many well graded, smooth paths in the Scottish hills. Most tracks are relatively rough with loose stones and rocks. It is usually sensible to use over the ankle walking boots to protect your ankles from turning and also to keep your feet as dry as possible. Leather boots, though heavier, should provide the best protection and will be generally more waterproof than gortex lined fabric boots.

Cairngorms - LGL options

 

Gortex or Nikwax Analogue/Paramo waterproofs

Waterproof shell jackets are by far the most popular. Most shops stock a wide range of jackets designed with gortex fabric. Andy himself prefers to wear Paramo clothing or Cioch direct waterproofs. Both these companies use the same material. Cioch Direct specialise in made to measure clothing. The advantage that the Nikwax analogue material has over gortex is that it is designed to be reproofed after washing so is likely to last you longer. The jackets can also be returned for repairs at little or no cost. The disadvantage is that the material is heavier and can prove to be too warm in the height of the summer – though at an average year round temperature of 0oC, the Paramo jackets are usually suitable for the Cairngorm plateau.

Hat and gloves

Always useful to include a warm hat and gloves at the bottom of your pack as it can be cool on the hill tops even in August.

Base/Mid layers

The most sensible attitude to your clothing for hiking is to make sure you have several light layers which will provide maximum flexibility rather than one or 2 choices. Make sure that your layers are not cotton options as you could cool off very rapidly, should your cotton layer become damp whereas synthetic or wool layers will either dry more rapidly or stop you from cooling down too much.

Rucksack/Backpack

The most useful size of packpack to bring with you is a 35 litre pack. This will be large enough to take all excess clothing, camera, packed lunch etc. Smaller than this may mean that you have to limit what you take on the hill, particularly in winter.

what to pack for a day hike

Wandering into the Cairngorms

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any queries about the clothing/gear you are intending to bring with you for your Scottish vacation.

Want to get more out of your hike?

If you’d like to book a guide for your day hike, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Andy is extremely knowledgeable about the Highlands of Scotland from history to nature and everything in between. A hike with him is an introduction to everything you wanted to know.

Email: info at scotmountainholidays.com

Tel: +44 1479 831 331

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