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All things hiking

6 questions to ask yourself when planning a hiking vacation in the Highlands of Scotland

The trouble with planning a hiking vacation in Scotland is that you are almost spoiled for choice. There’s no way you will be able to fit everything in to one vacation.

1. Do you cherry pick? Head for Skye, Ben Nevis and Glen Coe? You’ll have to gamble on the weather?

The scenery on Skye and around the west coast of Scotland is remarkable from the road. It has inspired movies such as “Brave”. The draw is understandable but the disadvantage is that for Scotland it can be “touristy”. It will be unusually busy with other visitors. If you’re looking for a quiet experience of Skye when you have a chance to enjoy the scenery without the crowds, you’ll need to consider taking the time to explore there out of the main tourist season. April, May and September are the best times to head over there. You have a high chance of good weather and a low to non-existent chance of encountering the dreaded midges.

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2. Can you afford the time to explore one of the waymarked long distance routes?

In recent years, particularly since the Land Reform Act (2003), there has been public money available to develop paths across Scotland. This has resulted in a proliferation of way marked long distance routes. The Land Reform Act (2003) formalised the right of access to all land in Scotland, whether privately or publicly owned. Access rights are for outdoor recreation, for crossing land and water, and for some educational and commercial purposes. Exercising access rights, and managing access land, must be done responsibly.

The most well-known of the long distance routes is the the West Highland Way, but there are many others like the Speyside Way (the one to do if you’re in to whisky). Another recently mapped route which is less formally organised is the Cape Wrath Trail. This trail is described by Cameron McNeish as: “It’s the sort of long distance route that most keen walkers dream of. A long tough trek through some of the most majestic, remote and stunningly beautiful landscape you could dare imagine.” You can research more details here: http://www.capewrathtrail.co.uk/foreward.htm There is also a recently published map by Harvey maps covering the area involved.

A full list of long distance paths across Scotland is available here:http://walkhighlands.co.uk/long-distance-routes.shtml They range in length from 338km to 38km. Some can be linked together to make a longer route.

The disadvantage, depending on your point of view, of most long distance paths in Scotland is though they go through mountainous areas most if not all of these routes do not go up the mountains so if you stick to the waymarked route you’ll only be admiring the peaks from afar.

Cairngorms - LGL options

Photo Caption: Long distance path walking in Scotland

 

3. Do you want to dabble in short walks along a driving tour through the Highlands?

There has been quite a lot of investment in path construction and signage in Scotland since the development of the Outdoor Access Code in 2002. There are opportunities virtually everywhere to get out of the car and explore a wee bit to a viewpoint or through spectacular woodlands or around a loch etc. The difficulty is in knowing which option to choose.

WalkHighlands can help with this in that all the walks they list are graded and have an estimated length in distance and time. However, possibly the best way of choosing is to ask your hosts at your accommodation for their recommendation of the best walk to choose and if you have a wee bit more time available take advantage of a guided walk as you will gain so much more insight into the area from the guide’s knowledge. There are ranger guided walks in most areas, particularly in the National Parks like the Cairngorms and the Trossachs which will reduce the cost. Some of these walks are even free. Boat of Garten has it’s own ranger service offering guided walks around the woods behind the village. The RSPB also offer guided walks on the Abernethy reserve.

4. Would you like a guide?

The advantage of booking a walk with a guide is that you’ll be able to get off the beaten track with confidence. You might even be able to do a longer walk or go higher than you would be confident doing on your own.

A guide will also have extensive knowledge of the local folklore, the environment, the flora and fauna as well as the terrain through which you are hiking. There really is nothing better for bringing the area alive to you. As a student or cash strapped tourist you may consider the cost relatively high. However when you look at the cost of eating in a restaurant or your accommodation for the night, you’ll realise that on an hourly rate your guide is not charging a lot of money. A qualified mountain leader will have invested years of training into his qualification not to mention the cost of the training course itself.

A qualified mountain leader (or accompagnateur) will charge from £150 – £200 for a day out. This fee will be split across the clients in the group. The larger your group of family the less the cost per individual. The rewards of going out with a guide for the day are however beyond price as you will learn so much more about the area which you won’t find in the guidebooks.

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5. Do you want to stick to one part of the Highlands and really get to know that area well?

Most organised hiking tours will explore only one area in depth. While this approach is not for everyone (many people visit a country with a tick list of sights they want to visit – which are inevitably the same spots 90% of visitors also want to see, resulting in overcrowding), if you go on an organised vacation you are often more likely to have a more genuine and authentic experience of the country you are visiting.

It is worth checking that the company you book with has a philosophy which appeals to you. Also that the structure of the trip suits your priorities. For example, if you are thinking of booking with Scot Mountain Holidays but it is important to you to have 5 star hotel style accommodation, rather than a home away from home, you will probably look elsewhere for your trip. The philosophy behind our vacations is that our guests stay within our home. They immerse themselves in the atmosphere and feel comfortable discussing all aspects of life in Scotland.

Of course, if you have enough time you could consider a shorter, organised trip as part of your vacation and tour the rest of the country by car/bus.

6. How will you get to your area of choice and how long will it take?

Think about access – a major consideration as part of the planning. Some areas of the Highlands are more difficult to reach than others. For our organised vacations we have tried to make it as easy as possible for our guest to access them. We offer pick ups from Aviemore station and Inverness airport. In the Cairngorms, we are lucky enough to be near the major route north from Edinburgh – the A9, which makes it very efficient to get here.

It may look like it isn’t far to reach some areas of the Highlands but travelling on narrow, sometimes single track roads, will take longer than anticipated.

When planning your trip bear in mind that reaching some areas by public transport can be time-consuming. Many of the routes used have to go around rather than through the mountains.

 

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

10 top tips for hiking: How to prepare for a Scottish hiking challenge (updated)

The challenge of hiking in Scotland can be underestimated. Below we’ve given our top tips for hiking in the Highlands of Scotland. The mountains here are not the giants of Everest or the 4000m peaks of the alps but they are mountains nonetheless. Only the roots remain of what were 7000m peaks in geological history; but they are still a challenge to conquer and offer rewarding vistas to rival those abroad.

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1. Don’t underestimate the mountains

Scotland’s highest peak,Ben Nevis is a mere 1309m above sea level, but the route starts from sea level and ascends all the way to the summit. A climb/hike of 1000m ascent is a good long day out in most people’s estimation and should not be attempted unless you are fully prepared for a mountain day with over the ankle walking boots, extra layers of clothing, waterproofs, food, water, map and compass.

2. Build your stamina

Mountain days in Scotland can involve long routes taking 8 or more hours to accomplish. The Cairngorm 4000ers trip which is run by Scot Mountain Holidays involves one day out whereby the bottom of the mountain is accessed by mountain bike to give at least a small chance of returning to base before dinner. Therefore to make the most of your time during you challenge, you’ll need to prepare beforehand by stepping up your fitness regime to build your stamina. Most challenges will last for more than one day, hence your fitness regime will need to take place more than one day of the week.

3. Book your transport as early as possible

Travelling up to Scotland is not always a cheap option. To get train budget train tickets you either need to know you’re planning to travel 12 weeks in advance; be in the right place at the right time to see a special offer or win a competition; or have a railcard. Booking rail tickets close to your time of travel can add significantly to the cost of your trip.

Flights to Scotland are available from budget airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair, but again the price can vary considerably as there is less choice for flights directly intoInverness- though you could always try linking with flights into Edinburgh.

4. Use a guide if not experienced in mountain trekking

A guide will know the local terrain like the back of his or her hand. They’ll be able to keep the pace on track, regulate breaks etc so that the day does not extend too late into the evening, it’s their responsibility to manage the group and they’ll have all the necessary emergency equipment and contacts.

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5. Check the mountain weather forecast

The best sites to monitor are:

The Mountain Weather Information service: the best resource for mountain weather information

The Met Office: go to the specialist forecasts section and check the mountain forecast.

The Rain Radar:

If you also monitor the web cams in the week leading up to your trip it’ll give you an idea of what to expect on the ground.

For the Cairngorms the web cams are:

6. Pack for all weathers

The weather in the UK, and particularly in the Highlands, is maritime and not continental i.e. it is constantly changing. When people say we can have 4 seasons in one day, they’re not joking – particularly in the spring one minute it can rain, the next snow, the next glorious sunshine … just don’t expect weeks of glorious sunshine; if we did, then Scotland would not be so beautifully green and lush. Always a good idea to have a warm hat and gloves at the bottom of your bag.

7. Make sure you take plenty of water

You can top up your water bottle from the streams on most of the hills in the Highlands as the water is potable. Dehydration is one of the most insidious hazards dangers in the hills.

8. Pack emergency food supplies

In Scotland there are no alpine style mountain huts where you can stop and pick up provisions. There used to be a lot more emergency huts but they have never had wardens or been stocked with provisions. Hiking in the hills here in the UK means that you need to be self-sufficient and be prepared for any emergency. This is a philosophy we Brits take abroad when we hike so you can always spot us in the Alps. We’re the ones with the huge rucksacks with all our emergency supplies as opposed to many of the European hikers with their tiny packs relying on the huts for supplies.

9. Choose the time of year carefully

May and September are when we have the longest days and most reliable weather in the Highlands of Scotland. Mid summer has it’s own hazards even if summer thunder storms are less common than in the Alps. We have midges and ticks to contend with in the summer particularly if the weather is still and you are on the west coast (Glen Coe and Skye are hot spots.)

10. Use a 1:50,000 map

You’ll be able to fit your route on to one side of the map and not have to readjust the map part way in to your route.

top tips for hiking

The tried and tested manual navigation aids which will always help you out

 

Guided Challenge possibilities in summer

Classic Mountain Horseshoes

Not only do we climb Ben Nevis on this challenge but we do it by the most spectacular and challenging route including the Carn Mor Dearg Arete with stunning views of the cliffs which make up Ben Nevis’ north face. We also ascend Cairngorm via the overlooked north ridge and visit the popular winter climbing venue of Craig Meagaidh also known for it’s long cliff-face. The final route is on Ben a’Ghlo.

All routes are strenuous on their own so fitness is a priority for this trip

Hiking in the Highlands

Tramping through the Scottish Highlands is the ultimate way to refresh yourself for the working week ahead.

Cairngorm 4000ers

Climb across Scotland’s rooftop, the highest, most extensive area of mountain plateau with an average annual temperature of zero degrees. This is a challenge you can build into as the longest day is generally the last day of the trip but is bi-modal due to the length of the route. Only the fittest of people attempt this challenge. You must be capable on a mountain bike.

Cycling in the Cairngorms

Road cycling and mountain biking in the Cairngorms are increasingly popular

Classic Torridon

Ascend the classic mountains in the Torridon range. An area of the Highlands which is greatly under-rated, perhaps by it’s proximity to Skye, Torridon has really to be seen to be amazed. Glen Coe, with its dramatic history, and Skye, by reputation and movie fame, receive a far higher number of visitors, but the scenery in Torridon can certainly hold its own in this company

Liathach, Torridon

The Pinnacles on Liathach, Torridon. A classic view of one of the premier ridge walks in Scotland

 

Tentipi weekends

top tips for hiking

Happy campers on a Tentipi weekend

tentipi weekends

Talk about luxury dining (even if it was cooked on a gas powered camping stove)

Please enquire for details. Current top destination is Knoydart. Perfect for a sleeper weekend – long weekend would be best to make the most of the opportunity. Hot shower facilities also supplied.

Recommended reading:

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!

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

 

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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

 

Choosing a walk in the Highlands of Scotland

We’re spoiled for choice here in the Highlands when it comes to hiking opportunities. This can make choosing a walk even more difficult. Where do you start when you’re trying to make a decision on where to go? First you need to decide where your priorities lie:

    1. area

      Have you already seen loads of beautiful pictures of a particular area? Are you planning to tour around the majority of the Highlands? If hiking or mountain biking are your main interests you may want to consider reducing the amount of car travel you do during your stay in Scotland. Instead it would be a good idea to concentrate on one area in particular and explore it in more depth. If you enjoy this visit, then perhaps you can be persuaded to come back and explore again; or visit another area and explore this one too. Remember, if you’ve seen lots of beautiful shots of a particular area, it probably means that loads of other folk have seen them too and this might reduce your enjoyment of the area when you get there and find hoards of people there.

      choosing a walk in Scotland

    2. length of walk

      Once you’ve decided on an area (not the easiest thing to do), you’ll want to think about how long you plan to walk. Do you want to follow a multi-day, long distance route or would you rather return to a comfortable base at the end of the day? Do you want to walk all day? Would you rather incorporate some attractions into your walk or for a rest between walk days?

    3. circular or linear

      Long distance, way-marked paths in the Highlands, like the West Highland Way are really the only way to enjoy linear walks, unless you have 2 vehicles at your disposal. Public transport to most hiking areas is virtually non-existent, so trying to return to the start of the walk to pick up your vehicle can be a nightmare. Unless of course you sign up to a transfer service, like we offer for our self-guided itineraries: Self-guided CairngormsLairig Ghru Logistics or for mountain biking.

      Walk the Lairig Ghru

      Self-guided Lairig Ghru logistics

    4. quality of habitat

      Most people are amazed by the scenery they see when they visit the Highlands of Scotland. What a lot of people don’t realise is that much of the scenery they are seeing is heavily influenced by man-management of the land. For example, if you visit the west coast of Scotland, you’ll notice a lot of barren hillside. This is the influence of many years of over-grazing by deer. The reason the deer numbers are so high: no predators other than human hunters. Unfortunately though we have the red deer commission to regulate deer numbers, many estates are privately run and maintain relatively high numbers of deer so as to offer the opportunity of shooting a stag to their clients.

      Here in the Cairngorms, we have a landscape which offers a wider variety of habitats including Caledonian pine forests, moorland and sub-arctic tundra. The variety of habitat is one of the reasons the area is so popular with bird watchers.

      osprey in the Cairngorms

      An osprey soars over Strathspey

    5. wildlife

      You might also want to consider the wildlife watching opportunities when you are choosing a walk. Some coastal walks are great for spotting otters, seals and even dolphins, but you won’t see ptarmigan. In the Cairngorms, you’ll probably see at least 2 different kinds of deer alongside plenty of birdlife (crested tits, ptarmigan, scottish crossbill, buzzards, red and black grouse and if you’re lucky a Capercaillie).

    6. features

      Have you come to Scotland with any preconceived ideas? Do you have a tick list of features you want to see? You might be surprised by the opportunities which open up if you let a guide make the choice for you. This works particularly well if you’ve never been to the area before. It is obviously more expensive than exploring on your own, but you can learn so much with an experienced guide that we can guarantee that your guided day will provide plenty of fodder for chatting about your experiences with your friends.

      Guided hiking in Scotland

      Guided hiking holidays in the Highlands of Scotland

    7.  crowds

      The Highlands of Scotland cover a massive area and there are literally 1000s of routes which could be walked. Some days it feels like everyone and their dog have chosen to visit the same spot as you. This almost always applies if you are choosing a walk in certain honey spot locations: Ben Nevis,the Old Man of Storr, Glenmore or Rothiemurchus, Meall a’Bhuchaille and certain Munros particularly on sunny days.

      Fortunately it is possible to walk away from the crowds. You can also avoid the crowds completely by choosing less well-known routes and less well-known areas. For example, the Outer Hebrides are very well-known for glorious white sand beaches – far fewer people venture into the hills of Harris. In the Cairngorms, there are routes up many hills but there is no public transport down Glen Feshie. Far fewer people make it here, but it is one of the most glorious parts of the Cairngorms – don’t tell everyone!

      Guided hiking in the Cairngorms

      The colours of summer in the Cairngorms National Park

    8. views

      What will you see when you reach the climax of your route? Do you want to climb a mountain or hill? It’s always good if your walk will offer you a change of perspective. It feels so much more rewarding at the end of the day when you have some magnificent photos to show for your efforts.

    9. seascape or not

      Fortunately Scotland is small enough that a great number of hill walks will also offer a view over the coast. There is something about the combination of mountains and coastal scenery which is so satisfying for us. This is one of the utter joys of the Assynt area. The hills look stunning and grand, but are actually not too high, and they’re right next to the sea. Definitely an area which we love to visit. If you have the time, add it to your bucket list as it is just as stunning as Skye, but receives far fewer visitors because it is north of Inverness.

    10. geology

      Don’t you ever wonder how the mountains got their shapes? Nature is so intricate that there is always something to provide us with interest and fascination. When children are young they find the outdoors endlessly fascinating. Parents can then be much more relaxed as the outdoors with all the rocks, sticks and water provide entertainment (or education) in and of themselves.

pub walks in Scotland

Relaxing in the Cairngorms while out on a family walk

Or book a guide and leave the choice to him/her once you have talked with them.

Another option for choosing a walk: Self-guided hiking itineraries

Of course if you are having trouble balancing all the various factors yourself, or if you don’t have a lot of experience choosing a walk in Scotland, you may want to go for a safer option. Let someone else make the choice for you. In 2017, we launched our first week long Cairngorm Self-guided itinerary. It has proved to be very popular, particularly with our French visitors. We’ve selected a range of walks in the area; we’ve collated the transfers and we’ve provided the accommodation, maps, meals etc. You don’t even need a car. What could be simpler!

We did of course already offer a logistical package to facilitate the Lairig Ghru This 2 day package includes 2 nights accommodation, transfers and all meals to help access a popular 18 mile hike through the centre of the Cairngorm National Park. If organised by yourself you have the logistical nightmare of hours by public transport to return to your vehicle and a longer walk to access the main road – amongst other problems.

Next: part 2

Choosing a walk in Scotland – which area to visit

 

Most popular self-guided hike

Lairig Ghru Logistics: a self guided hiking weekend in the Cairngorms National Park

The Lairig Ghru is the most prominent pass through the centre of the Cairngorms National Park. A road has never been built through the middle of it. It used to be a drovers’ pass for taking the cattle to market, but is now a route for walkers and cyclists to pass through the centre of the Cairngorms National Park. It runs roughly north-south from Aviemore to Braemar and is a prominent feature on the mountain skyline from Aviemore.

Lairig Ghru

Hiking into the heart of the Cairngorms

 

Photo credit: David Mansell

The main roads all circumnavigate the Cairngorms National Park which means that to drive from one side near Braemar, to the other, near Aviemore, will take close to 2 hours. To access either end of the route you’ll need to make a massive diversion on public transport via either Perth or Aberdeen, as there is no longer a bus service from Grantown on Spey to Braemar. (The Council sponsored a bus route from Grantown to Braemar – the Heather Hopper, but when funding ran out no one took the route on.)

The walking route

The route for hikers through the pass is 19 miles from Linn of Dee to Whitewell. However, if you plan to organise your own walk you’ll need to arrange for someone else to make the 2 hour diversion to the other end to meet you and take you back to your start point, or allow for the extra walk from Linn of Dee to Braemar, an additional 18 miles and perhaps the additional mile to Coylumbridge (and possibly from there to Aviemore if you miss the bus.

Lairig Ghru Scotland

Traversing the Cairngorms on the classic Lairig Ghru route, which used to be a drovers road

 

Photo Credit: Scot Mountain Holidays

The hike is 19 miles (minimum) and passes through the main Cairngorm massif under Ben Macdui, Braeriach and Carn Toul. The high point is at approximately 2000ft, so not a mean feat. The high point is within sight of Aviemore and towards the end of the south – north route we advise. You’ll finish the hike within sight of the Lairig Ghru itself.

Walk the Lairig Ghru

Self-guided Lairig Ghru logistics

Inclusive package:

Scot Mountain Holidays have put together a package for hikers to make the Lairig Ghru accessible to small groups. We can accommodate up to 8 people in our own transport, but have also arranged the trip for larger groups with additional transport. Max: 14

We offer:

The trip is very popular with couples, but priced on our website for 4 or more people. Please enquire directly with us if your group is smaller than 4 people. We’ll quote you directly.

Cairngorms - LGL options

 

Photo credit: Scot Mountain Holidays

 

Mountain Challenge:

Hiking the Lairig Ghru is a challenge in itself which anyone can complete as a charity challenge. It is a well-known and clearly defined goal familiar to most Scottish hikers, though has less of a reputation south of the border. Some mountain rescue teams already offer the route as an organised challenge event. Please contact us if you are proposing to hike the Lairig Ghru to raise funds for a charity.

Guided hike option:

We can also offer the Lairig Ghru as a guided option which might be a good option if you are on your own as we are not able to combine self-guided groups for insurance reasons. Please phone: 01479 831 331 for full details or visit our contact us page.

 

When is it a good time to visit Skye?

We’re often asked when it is a good time to come to Scotland. For us every season has it’s advantages and perhaps disadvantages, depending on your point of view. There are definitely certain times of year which are better for hiking than others. There are also certain times of year when it is best to be in particular areas. If you’re a weather geek, you can find out for yourself which are statistically the best weeks to plan your trip by studying the “weather singularities”.

Skye Munros

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

Weather singularities are statistically proven times of year when the same weather tends to re-occur e.g. always dry that week. In fact, these have been noted so frequently in some cases that they even have traditional names like: “St. Luke’s Summer” or “Old Wives Summer”. Andy has studied the weather very closely and plans our west coast trips around the times of year when we are statistically likely to have the best conditions. This is why one of the most frequent comments we have as guests depart is: “Haven’t we been lucky with the weather?” Mind you, that might also be due to the fact that they come expecting to be rained on every day. Any day which is dry is considered to be a bonus!

You can choose by season which would be the best time of year to plan your trip. Whether it will rain or not, is not necessarily the only factor which would influence your decision. You may also want to consider what wildlife will be around or how long the day will be.

Guided walking on the Isle of Skye

Spectacular views for the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye

Is Spring a good time to visit Skye?

The division for the Spring months may be surprising, but here in the Highlands of Scotland, Spring doesn’t really arrive until April. Skye is a wee bit more of a warmer climate than by our home base in the Cairngorms. Being closer to the sea, Spring can arrive earlier and the wildflowers will often start to put on an appearance in March. Our Spring months are more often than not April, May and June. Spring is an amazing time to visit Skye, in particular, as more often than not the dreaded midge has not awoken from her winter slumbers; the days are long and the weather is frequently dry and more often than not, sunny.

Guided walking on the Isle of Skye

It’s hard hiking the Munros on Skye but all the views make is well-worth it in blue sky weather.

The seabirds, like the gannets and guillemots’ start to return to the cliffs surrounding Skye in Spring. Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles nest on Skye. The Sea Eagles tend to lay their eggs early in the Spring with a 6 week incubation period. The chicks could well be hatching around the time we will be on Skye in May. Once the chicks hatch the Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles are very active hunting for food to feed them. Spring is a very good time to spot the eagles.

Baby lambs will be playing in the fields. Skye is certainly a good place to spot lambs. Plenty of sheep in the lower fields of Skye as well as a thriving wood industry producing both yarn and cloth.

Another advantage of Spring, particularly May, is that the daylight hours are so long. Though we’re not quite at the longest day (mid-June), you can still be out at 10pm without the need for a headtorch.

Is Summer a good time to visit Skye?

Seeing the sun still up at 10pm and 3am or earlier is something which astounds most tourists. Be sure to make sure your accommodation has good curtains though if you’d rather have a good night’s sleep. If the sun is out, it can be glaring at 4am and most of us don’t appreciate that when we’d rather be sleeping.

July is the month to see the best of the orchids.

In August, there are plenty of wading birds to be found on the shores of the lochs and the heather is out in full bloom turning the sides of the hills purple. It’s also a really good time to spot whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The biggest disadvantage of visiting Skye in the height of summer is the sheer volume of tourists with the same idea. It can be extremely difficult to find accommodation and the road’s there just aren’t built for the volume of traffic.

Hiking on the isle of Skye

The Trotternish ridge on the isle of Skye

Is Autumn a good time to visit Skye?

October is far and away the best time to spot the northern lights from Skye and November is the time to see the fireworks display at Dunvegan Castle. The display includes setting fire to a Viking longship. The difficulty for hikers though is that the sun sets before 5pm meaning that it is difficult, but not impossible, to complete a full mountain day in the light. The plus side though is that both sun rise and sun set can be glorious. It’s much easier to spot a good sunrise when it takes place around 7am rather than in the early hours of the morning.

Is Winter a good time to visit Skye?

December is an extremely good time to spot the sea eagles who are in the midst of their mating rituals now. The eagles will be soaring in the sky displaying and getting ready to pair up. Winter can also be a very good time to spot red deer who tend to come lower down the hills and can be spotted at the roadside in search of food. It’s also the best time to look for otters.

Visiting Skye with Scot Mountain Holidays

We’ve picked a prime week in May to visit Skye and pick off the Cuillin Munros. The guided trip will be fully inclusive of accommodation and meals as well as transport to the walks and pick up from Inverness airport, Fort William and Aviemore station depending on your travel arrangements.

We also have our Superlative Skye trip available to groups of 4 or more people. It’s not currently scheduled and our calendar for 2017 is rapidly filling up so do get in touch soon if you’re hoping for us to run this itinerary. We could even make a plan for 2018!

when to visit Skye

Perfect weather in May 2017 when our group picked off all the Munro summits.

 

Related web links:

Making the most of your time on Skye 

When to visit the Glendale area of Skye

The weather statistics for Glendale

WOW Scotland: the best time of year to visit the Highlands of Scotland 

Scotland Weather and Climate

Win a hiking weekend in Scotland

This month we’re offering the chance to win a hiking weekend in Scotland. On offer is our Gentle Giants weekend at the end of August. A guided hiking break in the Cairngorms National Park with Scot Mountain Holidays for one lucky person (and their chosen +1). The weekend is fully inclusive of accommodation, guiding, transport to the walks, pick up from Aviemore station and all your meals during your stay. The prize is worth over £500.

To win scroll down to the bottom of the page to enter. Hurry though – closing date is 31 March 2017

Walking, whisky and wildlife

The varied habitats of the Cairngorms National Park

Gentle Giants – the details

Win a 2 day guided hiking weekend in the Highlands of Scotland with Scot Mountain Holidays.

We’ll provide:

All you’ll need to arrange is your transport up to Scotland.

win a hiking weekend in Scotland: the routes

During the weekend in the Cairngorms National Park we’ll hike to Ben Macdui (Britain’s second highest peak) and also go up Cairngorm, the peak which gives the park its name, following a lesser known route to the summit avoiding the ski slopes. Full details are available from the trip information page

Hiking Ben Macdui

Hiking Ben Macdui with Scot Mountain Holidays group tour

win a hiking weekend in Scotland: the accommodation

You’ll stay at our home base, Fraoch Lodge, in the small village of Boat of Garten, in the Cairngorms National Park. Boat of Garten is just 30 minutes south of Inverness and a 10 minute transfer from Aviemore. You and your +1 will have a private room. Fraoch Lodge is our family home as well as the accommodation for our holiday guests. We offer a comfortable lounge with a very full book case and loads of family games but no TV. Instead we have an open fire. We don’t go in for dainty decorations but have chosen to share our memories of great travelling experiences in the photos on the walls and the carvings we’ve collected around the world.

accommodation near Aviemore

Fraoch Lodge in it’s autumn plummage

win a hiking weekend in Scotland: the food

We’ll cook for you and provide your picnic for heading out into the hills. We don’t go in for Michelin star or nouveau cuisine type food. We provide good quality, hearty home cooked meals suitable for active people. Rebecca is an adventurous cook who likes to provide good, healthy meals made from fresh, local produce. She has travelled widely, particularly in Asia, and often brings these influences to bear in the meals she prepares. She also loves to bake, particularly with chocolate. All the treats we provide for when you come back after your hike are freshly prepared on the premises. Previous guests are often keen to know the secrets of our recipes particularly for the more unusual bakes like green tomato cake.

win a hiking weekend in Scotland

A classic British favourite which we are doing our best to introduce across The Pond (into the USA).

win a hiking weekend in Scotland: the destination – Cairngorms National Park

Have you ever been to the Cairngorms before? If not, prepare to be surprised and amazed by the sheer beauty and expanse of open land which stretches before your eyes when you reach the summits.

https://www.facebook.com/perfectviewproductions/videos/867823343329933/

The Cairngorms are also renowned for wildlife. Many rare species make their home here. The BBC Springwatch team are often to be found in the Cairngorms filming such animals as the pine marten or birds like the Capercaillie or Crested Tit. We hope that during the weekend you’ll have opportunities to see the ptarmigan, the mountain hare, red grouse and red deer. Much of the land on our side of the Cairngorms is owned by the RSPB and managed by them to provide excellent habitat for the wildlife.

win a hiking weekend in Scotland

Wildlife with a view

Go for it – hope to see you in the Cairngorms this summer. Good luck!

Guided winter walking in Scotland

What a week of Guided winter walking in Scotland – almost 4 seasons in one week! From full whiteout blizzard to stunning views for miles from the summit of Braeriach, enhanced by a broken spectre with 2 silhouettes in the middle.

From conditions like this:

Guided winter walking in Scotland

Wintry conditions on the summit of Cairngorm at the beginning of the week

To glorious views like this:

Guided winter walking in Scotland

Stunning views to compensate for the lack of snow cover in the Cairngorms (courtesy of Claire Grogan)

 

The weekend at the beginning of the trip offered the worst of the weather, but unfortunately if you have to get back to work … maybe next time those who couldn’t stay on will be treated to views similar to those from Braeriach at the end of the week.

Quotes and reviews:

“Thank you again for a very enjoyable week. Andy’s knowledge of the mountains and of the geology, flora and fauna, together with the welcoming and homely atmosphere and Rebecca’s cooking makes for a great combination”

Guided winter walking in Scotland – the highlights from Gentle Giants/Classic Winter Cairngorms – January 2017

These are just a selection of some of the points which have made the week so memorable and will hopefully serve as talking points when everyone gets home.

Group:

included

– a diverse group of individuals (including one couple) united by a common interest.

Guided winter hiking in Scotland: Wildlife highlights:

We saw a vole and it didn’t just pop out and disappear; it stayed and snuffled around searching for food. We have a really good view of it.

Sightings of ptarmigan became quite common place as the week went on. The first was exciting but by the end of the week, we’d had at least 5 sightings. Ptarmigan sightings were exciting for one of our guests whose young grandson (under 10 years old) is a keen birdwatcher, so it was something he could share with him.

We spotted golden eagle and mountain hare in the white winter plumage.

winter wildlife Cairngorms

A ptarmigan makes walking across the snow look easy

Guided winter walking in Scotland: weather highlights

Many a hiker would love to be treated to a broken spectre. It adds a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the day and provides a talking point. Everyone wanted to see the pics (and it certainly proved popular on our social media.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPhU-QVhzFg/?taken-by=scotmountainholidays

Guided winter walking in Scotland: Scenic highlights

Panoramic photos courtesy of Claire Grogan

Guided winter walking in Scotland

Stunning winter views in the Cairngorms highlighted by a slight wisp of cloud to add character to the picture

Guided winter walking in the Cairngorms

Loch A’an sparkling in the sunlight peeping through the drifting cloud

Guided winter walking in Scotland

Clear dry air in winter makes for views which stretch for miles across the Cairngorms and beyond

Guided winter walking in Scotland

Not so wintry in the Cairngorms but still enjoying the company and repartee as the group ascends the ridges in the Cairngorms

 

Check out our Facebook album for a fuller collection of the photos taken during our trip.

Guided winter walking in Scotland: Recipe requests

Lentil loaf – a great vegetarian recipe to have up your sleeve for parties/dinners with friends.

Other food: Recipes going live shortly:

Beetroot brownies

Banana and fruit loaf pudding

Grasmere gingerbread

Raspberry and pine nut bars

Tear and share tomato and cheese bread

Summary:

A great group who enjoyed the variety of walking options during the week and did perhaps feel that they accomplished more in the week than they would have done without Andy’s guidance.

Hiking in the Cairngorms with a family

Ascending Meall a’Bhucaille with 2 x 7 year olds and 1 x 4 year old.

Hiking in the Cairngorms

Many of our guests want to go hiking in the Cairngorms National Park. It is their primary reason for coming to stay with us. The most popular hike in the area is one lasting about 4 hours and preferably ascending a wee bit of a hill. This is the hike we usually recommend.

Be aware though – that this hike will not get you off the beaten track (as far as we are concerned) which is what Scot Mountain Holidays specialises in offering to our clients. You will see other hikers, particularly on the approach to the hill i.e. on the path up to Ryvoan Bothy.

Hiking in the Cairngorms

Ryvoan bothy, at the start of the climb up Meall a’Bhucaille

Name:

Meall a’Bhucaille (Shepherd’s hill)

A popular “hill” hike suitable for almost anyone wanting to go hiking in the Cairngorms

Length:

3 – 4 hours

Maximum height:

810m

Views:

Glenmore, Loch Morlich, Cairngorm, the Lairig Ghru, Boat of Garten, Abernethy Forest

Parking:

in Glenmore either at the Visitor information centre or at the end of the road by Glenmore Lodge.

We would recommend starting the hike by passing in front of Glenmore Lodge but perhaps the better place to park would be the Forestry Commission visitor information centre, even though it is pay and display and the parking on the roadside outside Glenmore Lodge is free.

Hiking in the Cairngorms National Park

The path up Meall a’Bhucaille is steep but manageable for most people

The route:

Start by heading out from the Visitor Information Centre at Glenmore along the footpath which passes in front of the reindeer centre and then on towards Glenmore Lodge.

Continue on the footpath with takes over from the end of the road, heading towards the Green Lochan.

The path is wide and well-maintained. Before you reach Ryvoan Bothy, you’ll pass the Green Lochan, which is a pretty spot to take a breather.

You’ll turn at the bothy to head up the hill but you may want to make it your lunch spot as it will provide a shelter.

The path is obvious at the bothy. It heads up the hill towards the summit.

You’ll know when you reach the main summit as there is a large stone built shelter at the top with a magnificent view of Loch Morlich and the Cairngorms behind.

Instead of returning along the path you came up, head down to the saddle between Meall a’Bhucaille and Craigowrie and down the path from here back to Glenmore (this is a shorter return route).

Other options:

If you would prefer to get further away from the “crowds”, try joining a guided or self-guided trip with Scot Mountain Holidays. We specialise in exposing hidden gems for our guests to explore under the guidance of our expert and experienced local leaders.

Walking in the Cairngorms

Beautiful views and a clear path on the ascent of Meall a’Bhucaille

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