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5 reasons to go hiking in Scotland

Scotland is an amazing destination renowned for many things: castles, golf, kilts, haggis and it’s amazing scenery. Scotland is also promoted as an adventure destination. However, there are thousands of people who visit Scotland every year but have no idea of the opportunities they can experience. Your experience is greatly enhanced if you invest a wee bit in expert guidance. Many people list our scenery as one of the motivating factors for a visit to Scotland. It also ranks highly as one of the reasons to go hiking.

Choosing a holiday destination is not always easy. There are a lot of considerations which come in to play. How much time do you have available? How much money do you have available? Do you have a short list to choose from? What images are influencing you? And these days, of course, you have your friends images and reviews to peruse via social media. If you’re a keen hiker, you probably already know, that Scotland has amazing scenery. Maybe you’re putting Scotland on your short list. In our experience running accommodation and adventure holidays in Scotland, it’s still got untapped potential and a lot of advantages as an adventure destination which most people don’t know about.

1. Scotland has world beating access rights – top reason to go hiking.

reasons to go hiking in Scotland

Waiting for the cloud to clear to reveal the spectacular view which can’t be seen from the road.

Photo credit: Scot Mountain Holidays

Photo description: A guided hiking vacation in the Cairngorms, Scotland – off the beaten track thanks to our excellent, world-beating access legislation.

Everyone has a right of responsible access in Scotland due to The Outdoor Access. You are legally allowed to walk/bike/canoe anywhere they wish. You do need to avoid the immediate grounds of a building. So you don’t have the right to walk across someone’s manicured garden. You do have the right to roam the hills at will without sticking to what few paths there are.

Do be careful when out on the high ground though because there is not a system of well-maintained way marked paths across the hills, unlike other European countries. In fact, if you have not been out hiking in Scotland before it would be advisable to book a local guide for the first time you go out. You will have a more in-depth appreciation for the countryside you’re walking through with your guide.

The guide would have extensive knowledge of:

which you as a visitor would never be able to glean during your short visit to the area without his/her presence.

 

2. Scotland has some amazing wildlife; but nothing which will kill you – another bonus reason to go hiking in Scotland

Capercaillie - wildlife of Scotland (reasons to go hiking in Scotland)

Photo credit: Jamie MacArthur (www.ornithography.com)

Photo description: A Capercaillie in the Cairngorms

Scotland has celebrated the Year of Natural (2013) and the Year of Adventure (2012). The Golden Eagle was voted Scotland’s most iconic species. The attraction of the wildlife is a growing sector of tourism in Scotland, particularly to the Highlands and Islands. You could expect to see red squirrels, red deer, reindeer, roe deer, eagles, otters and a multitude of other animals throughout the Highlands. Most of these iconic animals are frequently found in the Cairngorms. The Cairngorms feature heavily in all the BBC Spring, Autumn and Winter Watch programmes. However, you don’t need to worry about bear or wolf attacks. There are no large animal predators in the wild. Camping is a relatively safe experience; the main concern being a biting fly known as the midge (which will not trouble you on a windy day and is only around in the main summer months).

reindeer.jpg - wildlife of Scotland - reasons to go hiking in the Cairngorms

Photo credit: Scot Mountain Holidays

Photo description: Part of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd which roam free in the hills during the summer months.

 

3. Scotland has stunning scenery

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Photo credit: David Webster

Photo description: Ridge walking on Liathach, Torridon, Highlands of Scotland with Scot Mountain Holidays

Scotland has ancient mountain scenery full of mystique and history, which draws thousands of tourists every year. Most visitors only experience the views from the road. There are plenty of views to be seen from the roadside, but the best of the landscape can only be experienced by immersing yourself. Exploring the Highlands without a car has its trials but hiking, canoeing, adventure biking etc here in the Highlands is the way to go.

The beauty of Scotland speaks for itself in many images and has formed inspiration for movies and art worldwide:

There are several long distance paths which are waymarked across Scotland, but the high hills are not waymarked. There are paths which crisscross the high mountains but a knowledge of map reading and compass work are necessary to deal with the changeable weather conditions and wild scenery.

 

Two climbers

Happy snaps mid climb

Photo description: Viewpoint obove Loch Aan in the Cairngorms showing the cliffs by shelter stone. Some of the stunning features of the Cairngorms which can’t be seen from the road.

4. There is no need for altitude training and adjustment in Scotland’s hills.

Scotland’s highest peak is Ben Nevis at 1,344m. To many Europeans this seems merely a bump, but when you consider that the route up the mountain starts at sea level, it becomes a decent mountain day. Most people take about 8 hours to complete the route up and down Ben Nevis, even by the regular “tourist” route; but for all that it is not an 8000m peak it should still not be under-estimated.

The changeable weather conditions, our maritime climate, in the UK make an ascent of any of the hills challenging, except in the most stable of weather conditions. People do die in our mountains every year. You don’t need to worry about altitude sickness or having to carry oxygen to summit the mountain and most summits can be reached without any need for ropes. All risks in the mountains can be limited by employing a guide with the relevant training and experience.

andy.jpg

 

5. Scotland is accessible

There are international flights to Scotland through Edinburgh and Glasgow with onward flights or good public connections through bus and train onwards to the Highlands. However, to make the most of your time in the Highlands your best transport option is still either to hire a car or to book a suitable tour with a guiding company which will take in the routes at the top of your list or allow them to pick to routes best suited to your ambitions, taking account of the prevailing weather and terrain conditions.

You can reach most of the hills in Scotland on a day walk, within the capabilities of most hikers. There are more extensive routes – which take several days to complete, but you can reach the summit of most individual peaks in a day.

If you do choose to undertake any of the long distance routes you will find that with the exception of the West Highland Way and possibly the Great Glen Way, you are unlikely to see many other people during your walk. So far, Scotland is accessible without being crowded.

The following companies are expert at arranging walking tours and hiking holidays of various kinds:

 

Links for further information:

Hiking is the ideal way to explore the Scottish Highlands

Visit Scotland’s walking information

WalkHighlands: A comprehensive resource for any independent hikers planning to visit Scotland:

Check out the Lairig Ghru mention in the top list of walks in Scotland

Ramblers info about walking in Scotland

12 Trail rules you should know

8 of the best long distance hikes in Scotland

 

 

 

Hiking in Spring:

5 reasons to come hiking in the Cairngorms in Spring

 

How exciting! The approach of the school Easter holidays is always an exciting time here in the Highlands of Scotland, especially in Boat of Garten, as it signifies the start of so many more opportunities to get out and about. Winter can be a bit of a sleepy time, when if you don’t ski, there are far fewer places to go and things to do than during the summer. Many of the castles and other visitor attractions either close or are on such reduced opening hours, you wonder why they bother at all. But once we’re over half way through March, we can look forward to being spoilt for choice

1. The wildlife is all starting to come back to life

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The ospreys should be returning to Boat of Garten in April. The RSPB are poised to open up the visitor centre over the Easter holidays and are closely monitoring the birds on their migration back to Scotland. Unfortunately sometimes the chicks  get lost over in Africa, but hopefully our current pair will make it back safely. It’s been a bit of a soap opera down at Loch Garten in recent seasons so who knows what’s in store this year.

The centre itself has been through quite a revamp though so we now have webcams to see the white tailed (sea) eagle’s nest and a goshawk nest as well as the Ospreys.

Spring in the Cairngorms

Your Natural Adventure in the Cairngorms

RSPB Osprey Blog

2. The days are longer.

knoydart.jpg

Photo Caption: Wild and remote scenery of Knoydart on a visit in May – Wild Knoydart guided walking holiday

If we think about hiking in Spring, the long daylight hours definitely make it more pleasurable – if challenging to get the kids to sleep when camping. At the beginning of March, we already have 10.5 hours of daylight here in the Cairngorms but by the end of March it’s already increased rapidly and we’re up to 13 hours daylight. For example, March 19th 2015 sunrise is around 6.20am and sunset about 6.25pm. Early starts no longer essential to make the most of the daylight.

Scottish sunrises and sunsets – images from Scot Mountain Holidays

Sunrise and sunset times in the Cairngorms

3. Get fit in the outdoors

Don’t kid yourself – it’s hard to keep fit in winter. Even if it’s not snowing, the shorter days and cooler temperatures just bring to mind more images of hibernating than getting outside and hiking or biking.

Of course, there are those (in a large minority) who love winter for the snow, for the skiing etc; but for the rest of us it takes a cattleprod to get out to the gym … but then something magical happens by the middle or February as the days start to lengthen here in the Highlands and all of a sudden it’s not so hard to get up and out. There is certainly a reason why we have the phrase: “The Joys of Spring”. Now we can say goodbye to the inside of a sweaty gym and take the bike out of the shed, dust off the backpack and take the running shoes out in the woods and along the trails.

family hiking activities.

Hiking in to a secret wild camping spot in Assynt

Photo caption: Spring also means that it’s a time the kids can get back outside. You no longer need to wrap them up like Mummies. This photo was taken on a backpack to a wild camp in Assynt in May. If you’d like details of this trip, we can arrange this for small groups and family groups under Andy’s guidance.

4. Warmer weather – an end to the dangers of snow & ice

In winter, we spend a lot of time instructing about the dangers involved in going out on the snow and ice. Andy runs multiple courses showing clients how to use ice axe and crampons and how to assess the risk of avalanches. All these are things which put the multitude of hikers off. Most people perceive the Highlands as being far too dangerous in winter. You’d almost be taking your life in your own hands to even consider it. Of course, reality is nothing like that and for the number of people who do go out in the hills. The number who have accidents or need to call on mountain rescue is a minute proportion. Accidents are always reported in the media which exaggerates the frequency with which they occur.

Nevertheless, Spring means that these worries can retreat once more and the hiking boots can be dusted off and the maps taken down once more to plan for some high level hikes across the hills. There’s a reason why events such as the TGO Challenge take place in the Spring.

Do bear in mind though – that winter is never far away in Spring here in the mountains and due to our latitude, snow can return with unexpected force in April and May.

spring hiking

Perfect spring weather for hiking

5. No midges

Hiking in Spring means that you can enjoy long blue sky days, without the ever-present midge. To be honest, in the Cairngorms the midge question is not as great a threat as on the west coast. Despite the relative proximity of the west coast (in Australian or American terms) the weather is very different. In the Cairngorms, the weather is drier and the winters on average colder. Cold winters greatly reduce the presence of midges in the summer.

You can tell our local climatic zone is drier more often than the west coat by the colour of our hills. The hills in the Cairngorms in summer are purple as the bell heather flowers. Bell heather likes dry conditions to flourish. The wetter west coast hills are generally green and grass covered.

heather in bloom

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

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.

 

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:

Winter walking holidays and courses in the Highlands of Scotland

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

New Year Winter Walking

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

New Year Winter walking

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

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

wilderness glamping

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

5 Day Winter Skills

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

Winter skills in the Cairngorms

Winter Skills group hamming it up for the camera

Winter skills course

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

Winter skills in the Cairngorms

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

Winter skills in the Cairngorms National park

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

winter in the Cairngorms

January snow cover in the Cairngorms (2018)

winter walking skills

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

winter skills course

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

winter in the Cairngorms

Head first ice axe arrest – what fun!

mountain navigation course

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

winter in the mountains

Work or pleasure? Heading up into the mountains.

 

Classic Winter Cairngorms

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

Cairngorms winter walking January 2018

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

Guided winter walking (Cairngorms)

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

Winter walking January 2018

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

Guided winter walking in the Cairngorms

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

Winter in Scotland

A winter wonderland here in the Cairngorms

walking in the Cairngorms

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

guided winter walking

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

guided winter walking in Scotland

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

Winter walking holiday and courses in the Highlands of Scotland

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

Snowhole Expedition

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

Snow Hole Expedition

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

Winter in Scotland

Snow mascara! Who would have guessed?

Winter in the Cairngorms

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

Winter in Scotland

Dinner in the snow hole – carrot soup and vegetarian bolognese

 

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

Plenty of choice of walking holiday or skills course

One of the most frequently asked questions for those joining our winter courses is what if there is no snow. Although we can’t control the weather we can almost guarantee there will be snow. Especially on the high peaks during winter and early spring. But for those of you that still have concerns, let us put your worries to rest.

Snow Hole Expedition

Digging in for the night in the Cairngorms

What if there is no snow?

If for some reason the winter is mild and the snowfall doesn’t stick; fortunately for you, it’s not the end of the world. If you are joining Scot Mountain Holidays on a Winter Skill course, snow is actually only one of three factors in the course going ahead. Arguably the two most important factors to consider are in fact wind (for drifting) and the huge Cairngorm plateau (for snow capture) on the windward side of our chosen sites.

Keep in mind that the Cairngorms are home to Britain’s most permanent snow-beds. And the snow (if at all) will generally only melt in July and early August. Plus, though there might not be enough snow cover for skiing, for the winter walker/climber, complete snow cover is fabulous but not essential. Thick deep snow can make our day out more strenuous than necessary.

Summer snow patches in Scotland

Guests enjoying a patch of snow in the Cairngorms in July

This means that, in the fifteen winter seasons that Scot Mountain Holidays have been running winter skill courses and hiking holidays, a course has never been cancelled due to lack of snow.

Man in snow-hole

Enjoying some light reading in a self made snow-hole

Scot Mountain Holidays winter courses teach many skills to deal with a variety of snow conditions. The hard icy snow that develops after a thaw and subsequent refreeze is ideal for teaching the crampon skills. Often a new blanket of snow won’t add any additional benefits to our winter skill courses.

Remember, if there’s no snow on the lower lands this shouldn’t affect any winter skill course you are participating in. While snow is a very strong likelihood on the peaks and where our courses take place, there are many other factors that will make your experience very memorable.

Narrowing down the destination for your yearly holiday can be difficult. Trying to decide between relaxation and adventure often leaves you straddling the fence. And factoring in whether you’re approach should be take it as it comes or plan ahead so you have a full day of activities can often be exhausting. So that leaves the question, what is a winning holiday formula?

Liathach, Torridon

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

Here at Scot Mountain Holidays we think adding a little of everything creates the perfect recipe. The best of both worlds, if you will. Our perfect formula incorporates relaxation time and adventure. Amazing food, but cooked in the homely style that makes you feel like you’re home away from home. And finally, the kind of holiday where you have plenty to do, but don’t have to plan or think about any of it.

And the solution? Simply book a holiday with Scot Mountain Holidays.

Our fully catered walking, hiking or cycling holidays means there is no stress on you. Not only does it allow you to experience parts of Scotland not often seen and get really under the skin both culturally and historically. But you’ll also have the perfect balance of adventurous activity and down time. Based from the Cairngorms National Park, Fraoch Lodge, run by Scot Mountain Holidays, is the perfect base for your holiday. The national park will give you opportunity for serene country strolls, stunning views and quiet afternoons by the fire. And the guided tours will satisfy all your adventure needs with the added bonus of activity (hiking and/or mountain biking for the most part, though other options are available) and breathtaking scenery. Incorporate restaurant quality food served in a homely style we all love and you’ve got yourself the perfect holiday.

Relax by the fire (whisky optional)

Relax by the fire (whisky optional)

So take away the stress of planning and booking your holiday. Scotland no matter what the season is an incredible destination. And if you book with Scot Mountain Holidays, you really will have a winning holiday formula.

 

Autumn in Assynt

2016 heralded the return of our Empty Quarter hiking vacation, this year based from Ullapool. It was also our second visit to the area in 2 months (September was our month for Torridon). If you were ever in any doubt for reasons to head north of Inverness, check these out as inspiration for 2017 and beyond. Perhaps the North Coast 500 is beckoning you or would you rather explore on foot…

It’s easy for us to take this kind of scenery and the opportunity to get out and explore it for granted. One of the advantages of living where we do, only 30 minutes south of Inverness, is that it is possible for us to pop up north for a weekend and feast our eyes on such refreshing vistas as these. If you’re coming from further afield you probably want to consider spending longer in the area, in which case the Empty Quarter trip could be better suited to you. (If you don’t want to take our word for it, read our reviews.)

Top 20 images from a trip full of amazing views and fabulous people:

Grey seal

1. Grey seal watching us in hope of scraps

mountains of scotland

2. Stac Pollaidh, Assynt, Scotland – north of Inverness

mountains of Scotland

3. Who said Scotland didn’t really have mountains?

 

Scottish coastline

4. Stunning scenery from the Scottish coastline

autumn colours

5. The colours of autumn in the north of Scotland

Autumn in Scotland

6. Autumn reflections in Assynt (Northern Scotland)

HIking in Scotland (Assynt)

7. Heading up the ridge, Assynt (Scotland)

lochs and mountains Scotland

8. Spectacular Scottish coastline, Assynt (Scotland)

your guide

9. Your guide showing off his balance skills

autumn light

10. Stunning light and cloud formations, October 2016 (Assynt, Scotland)

Assynt

11. Autumn light and hills in Assynt

autumn in Scotland

12. Stunning scenery, perfect light and amazing clouds (Assynt, Scotland)

sunset in Scotland

13. Sunset over the west coast of Scotland

hiking in Assynt

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

lonely hiker

15. Standing proud on the ridge while walking in Assynt

autumn sunset, Assynt (Scotland)

16. Perfect autumn sunset scenery and light while walking in Assynt, Scotland

autumn in Scotland

17. Stunning panorama taken while walking in Assynt

assynt-panorama2

18. Striding across the stunning landscape in Assynt (Scotland)

assynt-panorama4

19. There’s something very soothing and spectacular to the eye in the combination of coast and mountain in the same shot, taken while walking in Assynt

assynt-panorama

20. Moody mountains in Assynt (Scotland) – who would believe that most of them are less than 1000m high?

The Empty Quarter 2017 – walking in Assynt

(currently a group only itinerary)

If you’ve been inspired by the photos, why not join us next year all you need is a couple of other friends (min. group of 4) then give us a call to settle on dates. The sooner you can get organised, the sooner we can get something set for you. We will guarantee the price on our website for your group, except for dates in high summer (mid July to end August).

 

 

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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