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

Skye Munros - Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

Mountain peaks

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

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

Guest blog by John McSporran: Glencoe Munros in winter

We’ve scheduled a new trip for winter 2024. We’re going to be based in Glencoe for a week in March bagging some tasty Munros. It’s a new venture for us so we’ve looked for some spectacular images to illustrate the trip. On a search of Flickr, we found John McSporran. John has kindly agreed not only to lend us some of his spectacular Glencoe images, but he’s also written a brief summary of why he personally finds Glencoe such a fascinating area to explore.

GUEST BLOG: Photography in Glencoe by John McSporran

I first began photographing Glencoe about 20 years ago. It is one of those places where the weather is always changing, the light can be fantastic one minute and terrible the next. It can be mean and moody, mystical and magical, but always interesting and frequently awe inspiring. Even on horrible days, that fleeting moment when a beam of light strikes the mountains makes it all worth while.

About 10 years ago I realized that if I wanted the best photos of Glencoe I needed to get high.  That’s when I began climbing its mountains. Then I realized that I needed to be ‘up top’ for sunrise and sunset (the golden hours). That’s when I climbed in the dark using a head torch. Then I began to camp out up top. Then I went ‘full on’ and climbed in the dark in mid winter using an ice axe and crampons – just for that one great photograph. Carrying 25 kilos / 55 lbs of camping and photography gear to the top of a mountain can be hard (particularly when in your late 50’s), but the experience of stunning sunrises and sunsets in Glencoe makes it all worth while.

Why go out in the mountains?

I have met hundreds of people on the Scottish mountains, some I meet many times, some only once, but there is a community spirit amongst those who climb mountains, especially photographers – solitary committed people whose hard shell cracks as soon as we begin to swap stories.

Glencoe Munros

Winter in the Glencoe Munros – the Aonach Eagach

Which are your favourite mountains in Glencoe?

My favourite Glencoe mountains are Beinn a’Chrulaiste and Buachaille Etive Beag. They are not the hardest or the tallest, but they provide the best viewpoints and give sweeping panoramas of the others.

Glencoe Munros

Glencoe Munros by John McSporran
Making good use of light in the Glencoe mountains

What other locations are among your favourite spots in Glencoe?

Other favourite locations are:

Glencoe walking

Glencoe by John MacSporran
The joys of walking in the Glencoe hills

There are so many great locations, you are spoiled for choice.

We have a saying in Scotland – if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes, it will change. I hope you enjoy your visit to Glencoe.

 

For more choices of walking holidays in Scotland, head over to our main holiday page

For more information on walking in the Highlands

 

13 things to do in Aviemore and the Cairngorms when you can’t ski (updated)

1. Mountain biking:

there are trails all round the area plus several centres with purpose-built tracks like Laggan Wolftrax and Glenlivet Bike Trails. Bikes can be hired from Mikes Bikes or Bothy Bikes in Aviemore.

mountain biking in Scotland

Enjoy the wild parts of the UK out on your bike

2. Enjoy the Zip Adventure Park 

with G2 on the Alvie Estate.

3. Go Ice Skating

Aviemore has a community ice skating rink again and you can also use the all weather rink at Loch Insh

4. Walk a section of the Speyside Way:

you could take the public bus to Boat of Garten (5 miles) or Nethybridge (8 miles) and walk back to Aviemore stopping in the Old Bridge Inn for a pint on your return.

5. Hire a Canadian canoe

and paddle the Spey;

canoe with the Moray Firth dolphins or kayak/canoe on Loch Ness.

what to do in Aviemore

Water based options might not be as appealing as you think, but water is surprisingly warm in the winter.

6. Take a tour to Loch Ness.

what to do from Aviemore

a tour to Loch Ness is a popular option for our guests at Fraoch Lodge

7. Head up to Findhorn

and check out the Findhorn Foundation or visit the Kimberley Inn for lunch and walk along the white sands of the beach.

8. Visit the ice rink in Inverness

and try out ice skating.

9. Take a swim at Inverness Aquadome.

unfortunately the Aviemore pool at the Macdonald’s resort is not currently available to the public for swimming.

10. Visit Speyside

and tour a distillery plus visit the Cooperage

what to do in Aviemore - whisky tasting

Always a wet or cold day option – a distillery visit or whisky tasting.

 

11. Take a detour to Knockando Wool Mill

or Johnston’s wool mill in Elgin if Knockando is closed. Tours are every hour until 3 or 4pm and are free of charge.

where you can experience the whole wool story from shorn fleece to completed material.

what to do in Aviemore

Get crafty if you’d like some time and space to knit, ask Rebecca for recommendations

12. Visit the reindeer centre at Glenmore.

reindeer in the Cairngorms

If you like to see reindeer, you should come to Aviemore, particularly in the winter which is their natural habitat.

 

13. Visit the Highland Wildlife Park

and/or the Highland Folk Museum

what to do in Aviemore

Traditional village which is part of the Newtonmore Highland Folk Museum

 

Useful links:

New website for the Cairngorms National park highlighting selected experiences within the park – cairngormsnationalpark.co.uk

Knoydart or Skye – hard to choose

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

Knoydart or Skye – factors to consider

1. Skye’s reputation

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

Skye Munros

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

2. Accessibility of Skye

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

3. Using Ropes

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

4. No bridge to Knoydart

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

Knoydart

Loch Nevis looking towards the islands of Eigg and Rhum

5. No roped climbing experience needed in Knoydart.

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

6. Views

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

7. Food options

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

Knoydart

 

See our pictorial comparison below:

SKYE

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

isle of skye munros

High in the Cuillin mountains of Skye

 

Skye Munros

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

 

 

Sunset over the Cuillin Munros

Sunset over the Cuillin hills in Skye

 

KNOYDART

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

knoydart

The ridges of the Knoydart peaks

 

Knoydart walking

Eve negotiates the ridge

 

Knoydart hiking

Mick admiring the view in Knoydart

 

VALUABLE RESOURCES FROM AROUND THE WEB

Knoydart:

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

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

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

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

Skye:

Walkhighlands: The Black Cuillin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Expeditions 

1. Southern Cairngorms Winter Odyssey

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

winter in the Cairngorms

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

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

 

Price: £ on application

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

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

 

2. Winter Cairngorms 4000ers

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

winter in Scotland

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

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

Price: £ on application

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

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

 

3. Glen Affric Winter Shangri-La

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

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

winter expedition Scotland

Spotting deer in Glen Affric while on winter expedition in Scotland

Price: £ on application

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

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

 

Or for something slightly different

 

4. Snow Hole Expedition

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

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

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

snowholing expedition

how to build a snowhole in Scotland

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

Check full details on the website 

 

5. Winter Knoydart Expedition

Highlights:

Accommodation: Barrisdale Stable (if available) or heated Tentipi

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

 

6. Winter Loch Nevis Expedition

Highlights:

Accommodation: Barrisdale Stable (if available) or heated Tentipi

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

 

Why book with Scot Mountain Holidays?

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

Scottish Weather – planning your visit.

Scottish weather has it’s own reputation. Everyone who comes to visit seems to be prepared to be cold and wet. Many are pleasantly surprised when they come to stay with us. Scotland has a great many ambassadors who spread the world all over the world but there’s no getting away from the fact that it is a green and beautiful land and that green comes at a price sometimes. However, it is possible to minimise the effect a poor weather day could have on your vacation.

A quick comparison between a relief map of Scotland and the annual rainfall map shows a very close correlation.  The higher you go the higher the annual rainfall. The altitude of the land can change considerably in a single mile and so can the amount of rainfall both on an annual and daily basis depending on the prevailing wind direction.

The point is, the Scottish Highlands are packed with micro climates and by jumping in the car and placing big mountains between you and the prevailing wind direction, you can massively improve the weather you’ll experience for your day.  It can be the difference between frequent heavy down pours and sunshine with the odd very light shower. If active frontal systems are sweeping across the country, well you’re probably going to experience some kind of precipitation at some point wherever you are but if they’ve all passed through and it’s just an air-stream scenario then some judicious planning can pay handsome dividends.

scottish weather - rainfall map

An example of managing the weather

I remember turning up at a house in Glenfeshie one April. I was to guide the group of ladies up from the London area. The forecast for the N. Cairngorms was not good: 70 mph NE winds, blizzards above 800m and torrential rain. I arrived to the gutters overflowing but having studied the weather closely I suggested we jump into the cars for an hour and drive around to Pitlochry on the leeward side of the range to do Ben Vrackie.  The suggestion wasn’t greeted with any enthusiasm and possibly a certain amount of doubt but the thought of an hour in a dry bus was better than an extra hour walking in the heavy rain.

As soon as we passed over Drumochter Pass the weather started to improve (as is often the case) and by the time we got around to Pitlochry we were in sunshine to the comment of “Andy, haven’t you done well”.  We had clear views from the summit, albeit in a strong bitter wind. On passing back over the pass we drove back into the bad weather. ‘Had it been wet and horrible all day’ I asked Rebecca, my partner. “Yes’ was the answer.

scottish weather map

 

4 tips to get the most out of your visit to the Highlands:

 

Closely follow the weather forecasts

The prevailing weather/wind direction makes a big difference. If there’s bad weather on the way make sure you’re on the sheltered lee side of big mountain ranges. One of the most common comments made by visitors is how changeable the weather is.Don’t judge the days’ weather by what’s happening at breakfast.

 

Remain flexible

So when it comes to planning your tour, if you can remain flexible and not book things too far in advance it can often make a big difference. Avoiding the high season from the middle ofJuly until the end of August can be a big help in this regard. April & May can produce some of the best weather.

 

Base yourself in the North East

The vast majority of Scotland’s bad weather comes in from the south and west. You will notice the east side of the country is considerably drier than the west. In fact the west coast ofScotlandcan receive up to 3 times the annual rainfall of the east. So by basing yourself, for example, in Strathspey or in the North East side of the Cairngorms National Park you can often greatly increase your chances of experiencing better weather. Also, with easy access to the main road routes to Ullapool in the North West Highlands and Fort William in the West Highlands are only 1hr 40mins and 1hr 30mins away respectively from Aviemore it’s easy to make a foray into these areas.

 

Book an Adventure Guide

This is you buying into in-depth local knowledge of suitable locations with regards to the weather conditions. Adventure activities also provide you with the opportunity to immerse yourself in the beautiful landscapes and amazing wildlife of the Scottish Highlands.

Adventure Tour Operators in Scotland

Scot Mountain Holidays

Wilderness Scotland

Highlands and Islands Adventures (mountain biking specialists)

WOW Scotland

 

Walking holiday providers in Scotland

Scot Mountain Holidays

CnDoScotland

About Argyll

Walkabout Scotland

 

Snow-holing in Scotland Best Practice

Snow-holing in Scotland has a long established history in both our own winter mountains and further afield. Over the last 10 years, snow-holing has grabbed the attention of the media and the viewing public. This exposure has introduced and encouraged people happy enough to pay for the experience. Andy Bateman* of Scot Mountain Holidays asks, should we assume what works in other mountains will work well in our own?

 Likely Ambient Temperature

With the seasonal minimum in some recent Scottish winters approaching -20oC and an official record of –27.3oC, you would be forgiven for assuming you’d might be sleeping in temperatures approaching those of Arctic Norway.

Yet Cairngorm (1245m) has only ever recorded around half of this at –16.5oC (12th Jan 1987). Supporting this, Coire Cais Ski Base Station (630m) has a low of -9.2oC.  The residents of nearby Nethybridge (210m) though, claimed the mercury dropped to -31.3oC on 10th January 1982. Satellite evidence suggests they were right!

The vital bit of information on these -30-ish lows are that they were all recorded during temperature inversions. The cold air flowed off the mountains and pooled in the valley bottoms where it cooled further whilst the mountain summits remained appreciably warmer. These record minima are in no way a reflection of the likely temperature you would find on our mountains. It’s not surprising when we’re never that far from a relatively warm sea in the UK!

So what temperature is likely when snow-holing in Scotland, let’s say, in the Cairngorms at around 1100m? The seasonal minimum for 900 m is usually around -8oC. At 1100 m this could translate to -10oC. Far more frequently winter temperatures at this height are around -5 and above. Our mountains simply don’t experience anything like the temperatures you might get in e.g. Arctic Norway.

 

Avoiding roof collapse or sagging

Considering the warmer temperatures when snow-holing in Scotland, do we really need snow-hole features designed to capture warm air? Are sleeping platforms and cold air drains really necessary or should our aim be to lose the warm air?

Snow is a great insulator. A meter thickness in your roof and front wall is of vital importance in this regard. That is 20 cm of insulating snow both on the exterior and interior surfaces with 60 cm of well insulated structurally sound snow. Light penetrates to a depth of around 75 cm so if you see daylight, they’re getting too thin. It should also be borne in mind that a 1 m thick roof represents a considerable weight. It’s vital the front wall is adequately thick and strong enough to support the roof.

Snow-holing in Scotland

How high is that roof? Look at the apex centre.

Avoiding Avalanches

Snow-hole sites by virtue of their high snow accumulation and steep slopes can be prone to avalanches. To be safe, you may need to pick a slope with a more gentle gradient and spend more time digging out the entrance. The majority of avalanches occur on slopes at or above 30 degrees. To maintain a 1 m thick roof, on a slope less than this, you’ll have to dig in a minimum 2+ horizontal meters from the top of the doorway before you start widening out the living area.

 

An Apex Ceiling

Avoid large areas of unsupported roof by keeping your snow-hole narrow. Aim for a depth of 2 body widths between the internal surfaces of the front and back walls.

This means you can create a relatively steep-angled apex ceiling which helps to avoid any drip points. Warm air can then be channelled towards the ventilation holes at the apex high points. In addition with it running the length of the snow-hole it increases the height with minimal snow removal giving everyone the opportunity to straighten their weary backs!

Importantly it also removes the unsupported dead weight from the ceiling. This is one of the most important aspects of snow-holing in Scotland. Although not mutually exclusive, removing the ceiling dead weight is of more importance to ceiling stability than temperature! Very few, experienced and inexperience alike, pay attention to removing the dead weight. I’ve managed to snow-hole once at +5 Deg C without any roof deformation! The roof of a snow-hole I constructed for the BBC Travel Show lasted through until around the 25th June!! The ceiling at that point was only a foot off the floor, but it hadn’t collapsed!! Every other snow-hole at that point was merely a hollow in the snow. As you create the apex be careful not to make the roof too thin. The strength of the roof is in it’s thickness.

Snow-holing in Scotland

Here you can see quite clearly the shape of the apex centre for our snowhole.

 

The all Important Ventilation

Make sure there is good ventilation. My test is to regularly watch my breath. If it drifts off to one side it’s a good indication that ventilation is adequate. Cooking with pressure stoves in a poorly ventilated snow-hole is extremely dangerous due to the formation of toxic Carbon Monoxide. All pressure stoves work by first oxidising the fuel to Carbon Monoxide (CO) and then to Carbon Dioxide (CO2). The different colours in the flame indicate this. Irrespective of good ventilation a pan of icy water can have a severe quenching effect on the flame preventing combustion of the CO. Research for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)** showed in heating a pan of icy water CO production could be significantly reduced by raising the pan supports higher above the flame. Snow-holers should acquaint themselves with the symptoms of CO poisoning.

To put this into perspective, I’m unaware of anyone in the last 25 years dying from CO poisoning whilst snow-holing in Scotland. I do know though, instructors who’ve attributed head aches to possible CO poisoning. It’s worth considering taking a small portable CO detector with you. In a snow-hole with a single entrance and no through air movement, ventilation may well be inadequate. Extinguish candles before you go to sleep as they also produce small amounts of CO.

Although the temperature may remain around 0oC you may well still be “injecting” appreciable heat energy into the snow pack. It takes considerable heat energy to turn snow at 0oC into water at 0oC so it will not be reflected in a temperature rise. It’s far more desirable that this heat energy drifts out of the doorways than being absorbed by the snow pack.

Further ways to improve ventilation

Make it large enough to stand up in. Large communal snow-holes are less prone to an abrupt temperature rise as they have better ventilation characteristics by virtue of having several entrances, etc. An entrance walled up with blocks in combination with an open doorway will often still allow plenty of ventilation.

Putting aside the dangerous scenario of cooking in a poorly ventilated snow-hole, I’ve never got up in the middle of the night to purely unblock a doorway for ventilation reasons. All the medical research I have seen (references below) doesn’t suggest there is any potential of becoming severely hypoxic in your sleep. Studies suggest sleep will become agitated, you will awake and in doing so get up and ventilate a stuffy snow-hole.

 

Make them big

One potential hazard of digging a small snow-hole is you don’t have enough space to put the snow as you attempt to extricate yourself after a night of severe drifting. On one occasion I did have to tunnel out 1 ½ m before I hit the surface!

 

Snow-holing in Scotland: tools of the trade

When it comes Scottish snow conditions, don’t underestimate how hard the snow can get. You will need a snow shovel with a metal scoop and a good snow saw. The sintering effects of strong sunlight and hard frosts of high pressure can make wind-slab snow astonishingly hard to dig. A good snow saw is often the only effective way to deal with this type of snow.

Snow-holing in Scotland

Check out the size of the saw. It’s old fashioned but really does the job.

 

“Pack it in & pack it out”

Many of the snow-hole sites are immediately adjacent to water courses. In addition, the snow pack often lasts well into the summer meaning there’s little opportunity for biological breakdown of human waste. If you do have to go you should do your business well away from the snow-hole site and far more preferably have some system to carry it out. Cairngorm Mountain’s Snow White Project has greatly improved the situation at the Cairngorm sites. All snow-holers coming to the Cairngorms are encouraged to use it.

 

Conclusion

The safety of a snow-holing in Scotland is often a reflected by the time it has taken to dig. I’m cautious about suggesting how long digging should take as it depends on a number of factors, not least the condition of the snow. From a “duty of care” perspective I feel a large communal snow-hole is much better than several separate small ones. I normally anticipate spending 4 to 5 hrs digging a 4 plus person snow-hole. I accept in soft snow conditions that this can possibly be shorter for a fit party of 2 each digging their own entrance.

With the vagaries of the winter weather, if done correctly Snow-holing is often the far safer option compared to a tented high camp in Scotland’s Winter Mountains.

 

* Andy holds the WML and IML awards and has over 20 years Mountain Leading experience. He has guided well over 30 commercial snow-holing trips in this time and although none of the mountaineering qualifications have a remit that covers snow-holing, he is one of the few guides deemed competent by HSE criteria of “relevant experience” to run snow-holing trips.

** British Antartic Survey helped in a BSc thesis. Available on request from andrew@scotmountainholidays.com

  

Medical references:

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/18665947

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/9340627

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/8355417

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/15265339

 

Glenlivet Mountain Bike Centre

A visit to Glenlivet Mountain Bike Centre will take at least half a day, especially if you treat yourself to a bite to eat at the Coffee Still. Let the kids loose on the practice track while you wait for your food as then you can relax and they’ll be happy whizzing round and round.

Distance from Fraoch Lodge: 30 minutes drive

Routes: Red (22km) and Blue (9km)

Cafe: Yes

Toilets: Yes

Showers: No

Bike Wash: Free

Bike hire available: yes

MTB Glenlivet

 

MTB Glenlivet

Blue route is ideal for families and even has the unusual feature of starting on a downhill section, followed by a zig-zag climb which is not too difficult to manage before more free flowing downhill track which seems to go on forever. There is one wee steep climbing section in the middle, but you know you’ll be rewarded with even more great cross country downhill track afterwards.

MTB Glenlivet

Photo caption: Blue trail, Glenlivet: free flowing downhill on very well made tracks area  delight for younger riders. Very few roots to negotiate and few if any areas prone to sticky mud.

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 Photo caption: The uphill section on the zig zag section of the blue route which offers spectacular views over the wider Glenlivet area.

 

MTB Glenlivet

Photo caption: the Coffee Still is a purpose built cafe and wee store supplying a small selection of emergency biking products. You can purchase coffee, cake and a small selection of very good hot food snacks and light meals from chicken fillet buns to pizzas. The menu is not hugely extensive but what is on offer is extremely well-done and very high quality, using as much local produce as possible.

Practice track

A trail map is available to download or you can purchase an A3 foldable version from the cafe when you are on site.

Afterwards:

Treat yourself to a stop in Tomintoul which is a stone’s throw from the bridge where you turn to head over to the bike tracks.

In Tomintoul you can:

 

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

Couple pose for photo during climb

Celebrating mid climb during a guided walking tour.

Guided Hiking Health Benefits

Physical Health

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

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

Mental Health

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

Further benefits of guided hiking

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

hiking in Assynt

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

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

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

hiking health benefits

walking holiday

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

Useful links:

Top 50 Long Distance Hiking Trails In The USA

Authorized Boots

19 Physical and Mental benefits of spending time outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

Long or short pants (trousers)

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

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

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Long or short sleeves

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

 

Boots or approach shoes

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

Cairngorms - LGL options

 

Gortex or Nikwax Analogue/Paramo waterproofs

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

Hat and gloves

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

Base/Mid layers

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

Rucksack/Backpack

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

what to pack for a day hike

Wandering into the Cairngorms

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

Want to get more out of your hike?

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

Email: info at scotmountainholidays.com

Tel: +44 1479 831 331

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