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All things hiking

August in the Cairngorms (views and flowers)

Get off the Beaten Track in the Highlands of Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Red Squirrels in the woods.

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

 

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

 

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

 

Pricing scheme:

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Optional alternatives:

3 days, 4 nights

including all accommodation, transport and meals

 

1 guided day, 2 self-guided days:

2 guided days, 1 self-guided day:

3 guided days:

 

Useful links for planning your trip to Scotland

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

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

 

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

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

Day 1: Arrival and Welcome Dinner

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

Day 2: Guided Hike with Andy

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

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

Day 3: Self-Guided Adventure

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

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

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

Departure: Refreshed and Rejuvenated

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

Pricing and Options

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

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

Plan Your Trip

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

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

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.

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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

Highlands of Scotland: summary of a month of walking tours during a pandemic

In Scotland, there are plenty of walking tours.  However, when you join Scot Mountain Holidays –  it’s more than just a walk. It’s more of a complete adventure which will hopefully give you a sense of place and belonging. Not only do we feast on stunning mountain views, but we’re also treated to some spectacular, colourful and sometimes dainty looking wild flowers; and unexpected wildlife encounters.

Always bear in mind that September is also harvest month. In normal, times no doubt there would be church services to give thanks. Though we can’t do that this year, we have still been treated to some of the best of nature’s bounty (see images in slideshow).

This year we’ve picked loads of chanterelles and boletus mushrooms plus we’ve been able to find not 1 but 3 cauliflower fungi. It’s also a spectacular year for plums (from the garden) – and apples but they need a wee bit more time on the tree. Berries have been good too. Andy had brought back wild blueberries (blaeberries), wild cranberries (linganberries), juniper berries and cloudberries (highly prized in Scandinavia)

Though wildlife is not the focus of the walks Andy has led this month, he has some close encounters including 2 capercaillie and 2 black grouse down Glenfeshie. Unfortunately no pictures though to back up reports of the sightings.

Of course the dinners we’ve had this month have also been a highlight for everyone, but we’re usually too busy enjoying them to take pictures. We’ll try to add some in next month so you get a more complete picture of the trips and what makes them so special to the people who join us.

Here’s a sample from just this month of all the delights Andy has come across while out in the hills.

With thanks to Mala, Joanne, Valerie, David and Gareth for the excellent company this month.

  • walking holidays Scotland

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:

Are you planning to visit Scotland for self guided walking holidays? There are some important factors which should influence your planning.

  1. Treat the hills with respect

Just because you don’t consider the hills in Scotland to be mountains by the standards of your country, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat the routes with respect. Remember when you do your planning that a lot of routes are not way marked. Our experience of hiking in Europe is that most of the routes are signposted and marked with paint on the rocks and/or trees. Don’t expect this to be the case in Scotland, unless you are following an official long distance path like the West Highland Way.

ben macdui summit walk

Deep in the Cairngorms National park. What a view!

2. Listen to the advice of the locals –

The locals are the ones who will know if bridges have been washed away; if the streams are running high and you need to be careful with the river crossings; when there is tree felling going on; if the paths have been diverted; or in winter, particular avalanche hazards

self guided hiking holidays

The river in Glen Feshie has undergone some serious flooding causing parts of the path to collapse and the river to change its path

3. Make sure your map reading skills are good

– if not, then be sure to take a refresher before you head into the higher level terrain.

Our maps are very good but you will need a proper map for hill/mountain hiking. Look for either Ordnance survey or Harvey’s maps. You can use Viewranger to plan your routes but do not expect to navigate by digital maps in the hills. Your battery could die and the screen is not big enough. Don’t worry though – if you’re based at Fraoch Lodge and haven’t had time to pick up a local map, we do stock them. We also have mountain bike specialised maps for select routes around the Cairngorms.

If you’re not sure of your navigational skills

mountain navigation course, Highlands of Scotland

A female walker seen sitting down resting and studying her map, wearing her boots and waterproof clothing, with her rusksack and walking poles, Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland.
Model Release
Photograph by David Mansell 07831 559901 mobile

4. Pay attention to the weather forecast

There is a reason why Scottish people talk about the weather so much and if you hear someone talk about 3 or 4 seasons in one day – that means that the weather will be changeable on a daily/minute-by-minute basis.

When we say you should have a water/wind proof jacket, we don’t mean a cape. In our windy conditions you need a jacket which fits your body and won’t catch in the wind. If you’re looking for a new jacket or waterproof pants/trousers, we highly recommend the following Scottish companies: Cioch direct – for made to measure nikwax analog outer layers or Findra – for quality, eco-friendly outdoor clothing

 

Advice from our in-house guide

– which is also shared with our guests on the organised self-guided walks

walking guide

  1. Take care of your feet

It is really important to make sure that your feet are comfortable. The smallest blister or hotspot can ruin your hiking plans. You’ve probably brought over your normal comfortable hiking shoes/boots but haven’t made allowances for the rough terrain you could be walking through. Just make sure you keep an eye on your feet. Pamper them if necessary. There are now plenty of excellent artisan soaps and hand/body creams available throughout Scotland. We highly recommend Highland Soaps, Arran aromatics or the Soap Bothy. Highland Soaps do a bog mrytle scented lotion/soap which has the added bonus of being repellent to midges!

2. Take regular breaks and use them to refuel and drink

This is particularly important if you are attempting a long hike like the Lairig Ghru

If you take long, undisciplined breaks then the end of the day is just going to keep disappearing into the distance. If you don’t take enough breaks, then you’ll become more tired than you should be and might find the walk very disheartening.

Our recommendation is to walk for about 80 minutes before taking a 10 minute break when you make sure to eat some of your picnic/snacks and take a healthy drink. Be disciplined with your breaks on longer hikes. At the end of the day it will make for a much more enjoyable experience.

3. Many thin layers are better than one thick one

This relates to the 4 seasons in one day weather we have here in the Highlands. You never quite know what you’re going to encounter during the day, even if you have religiously checked the forecast. Andy recommends: in summer, dress cool (relatively – light trousers/pants rather than shorts) on the legs), and warmer on top, as it is easier to regulate your temperature by putting on or taking off a fleece/jacket than removing long johns when you get too hot. In winter, dress warm on the legs.

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

distillery whisky

Typical pagoda structures which seem so incongruous on a distillery

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

minibus tours of Scotland

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

Option 1: Minibus tours

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

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

Option 2: Self-drive tours

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

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

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

loch an eilein

Classic short walk in the Cairngorms visits Loch an Eilean.

 

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

Off the beaten track:

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

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

 

Why choose a guide to hike in Scotland?

Nature’s bounty: handpicked chanterelles mushrooms

 

Guided and self-guided hiking adventures

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

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

hiking in Assynt

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

 

walking holiday

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

Conclusion

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

Further Reading

Walking holidays in Scotland

Walking route options and choices

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

Where to walk in the Highlands

When to come to Scotland

 

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

 

Why go on a walking holiday?

A walking holiday can mean any kind of walking. It doesn’t have to include mountains – it could be along canal paths, across moorland, along beaches, but what the majority of walking holidays have in common is that they take place in the countryside. You can get your fix of fresh air, exercise and views of trees and greenery. You will probably find it  is much easier to exercise when you are enjoying some fabulous scenery. In fact, there are now movements in the gym industry to try and replicate the outdoor experience with virtual reality, but they’re not quite there yet.

 

hiking in Scotland

What a panorama! Skye eat your heart out.

What motivates you to go hiking or walking in the first place?

scenery/views

– you’re spoilt for choice here in Scotland – from gorgeous sandy beaches, to towering mountain peaks – there’s plenty to record on your camera

images of the Outer Hebrides

One of the local residents observes the tourists disdainfully from his/her comfy abode.

 

walking holiday

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

exercise

– We are being constantly encouraged to burn the calories and combat obesity and age. Walking is touted as one of the best ways to lose weight. It outranks both running and gym visits by a long way.

walking holiday

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

company

– there are many opportunities for joining groups from rambling clubs to organised hiking companies. Alternatively you can take the opportunity to enjoy communing with nature and your own company. There are more than enough trails in Scotland to explore. Often you’ll rarely see another hiker, if you are prepared to get away from the honeypots. If you want to tick off the sights you have seen publicised on social media, you might find you’re joining a queue of other visitors. Certain spots are inundated with tourists particularly in the peak summer season. It is often difficult to park by the Old Man of Storr on Skye these days. Try joining a specialist hiking company who know all the secret highlights and can safely take you away from the crowds.

Hiking on the isle of Skye

The Trotternish ridge on the isle of Skye

wildlife

– You don’t have to hike up mountains to see wildlife. There’s plenty to see in the forests, on the moorlands, around the lochs.  However, if you’re wanting to spot some of the more elusive species it could well be useful to book a guide familiar with the local area. They will probably know a lot about the best spots to see all the local wildlife highlights.

discover the Cairngorms

Discover the Cairngorms in all their natural glory.

outdoors

– There’s a fascination to the outdoors that draws a huge number of people to explore their natural surroundings. We can be inspired by all sorts of things from TV (David Attenborough, Steve Backshall or Dr Iain Stewart) to movies to flower shows. Nature is endlessly fascinating and when you go walking you get to be up close and personal with it. You can study all kinds of wierd and wonderful plants and landscapes. You’ll constantly wonder how they came to be shaped the way they are – there’s usually a logical reason.

Harris hiking

Colours of the machair sand dunes in the Hebrides

doctor

– We’re probably all hoping that this one doesn’t apply to us, but there are cases where doctors actually recommend that their clients take up walking for the benefit of their health.

Conclusion:

There are many reasons to go on a walking holiday, not least of which is that it is fun! A walking break of any kind can be completely rejuvenating. It will send you back to work feeling like you have had twice as much holiday time as you actually had.

Top 21 images of the Hebrides

I’ve selected images of the Hebrides taken during our Western Isles Wilderness guided walking holidays since 2014. I’ve not put these photos in any particular order of favouritism. They are just the best shots I’ve seen from 3 trips to Harris and Lewis. If you’d like to nominate different images, please just let me know and I’ll either add them or replace my selections with yours.

Typical Hebridean beach views with their Caribbean colour schemeimages of the Outer Hebrides

    1. Beautiful beaches at Seilbost and Luskentyre on Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
images of the Hebrides

2. The hills of Harris (which we explore on our Western Isles Wilderness itinerary) offer stunning aerial views of the beaches

 

images of the Hebrides

3. With colours like these it’s no wonder numerous artists seem to have moved to the Hebrides and produce artwork inspired by the seascapes surrounding them.

 

images of the Hebrides

4. What a view this beach has to offer. The hills in the distance make this beach so much more attractive to the eye.

 

images of the Hebrides

5. Where are all the people? Exploring the beaches of Harris in Spring is still a joy when you have it to yourself.

 

images of the Hebrides

6. When visiting the Hebrides, you’ll probably come across a lot of ruins (though there are also some very new eco-friendly buildings being put in place as well). It’s a shame to see the houses in ruins, but it is a visible reminder of the history of the clearances and the hardship of life in the islands.

 

images of the Hebrides

7. Sun, sea and sand combine to give us the peaceful shoreline by the beach on Harris.

 

images of the Hebrides

8. Glorious stretches of sandy beaches in Caribbean colours but without the crowds.

 

images of the Hebrides

9. The wisps of cloud and the intense turquoise colour of the sea with the rocks in the foreground make this a very attractively composed image. Makes you think more of the tropics than the Hebrides!

 

Other aspects of the Hebrides

images of the Hebrides

10. The most famous stone circle in the Outer Hebrides – the Callanish Stones on Lewis.

 

images of the Hebrides

11. There’s a lot more to the Hebrides than just beaches, birds and Caribbean colours. Most people know about tweed but did you also know that there used to be a whaling industry on Harris? This is the old whaling station

 

images of the Hebrides

12. A driving tour of the Outer Hebrides won’t give you any views like these. The hills of Harris are a stunning wilderness playground to explore.

 

13. Exploring the hills of Harris. Watch out though there are few if any way marked paths which might come as a shock to some of our continental visitors.

 

images of the Hebrides

14. It’s views like these of the hills of Harris which are far less common in the promotional material of the Hebrides, which tends to concentrate on the beaches and seascapes.

Local residents

images of the Hebrides

15. Of course no set of images of the Hebrides would be complete without one of sheep. Sheep are everywhere in the Hebrides but at least they are somewhat profitable in the wool which can be used to make tweed

 

images of the Outer Hebrides

16. One of the local residents observes the tourists disdainfully from his/her comfy abode.

 

images of the Hebrides

17. The traditional thatched cottages of the Hebrides; the Blackhouses cause many a tourist to sigh romantically – but these were genuinely home to many islanders a relatively short time ago.

 

images of the Hebrides

18. A weaver’s cottage on Lewis where the world famous Harris tweed is still made on the traditional peddle loom. The tweed can not be called Harris tweed unless it is made in the Hebrides on a manually powered loom.

 

images of the Hebrides

19. It’s the cloud wisping across the sky which makes this image of Macleod’s Stone so evocative. I’m sure there are plenty of images associated with it.

 

images of the Hebrides

20. Weaving in progress on Lewis. The majority of Harris tweed is now made on Lewis and though has been prized by fashion designers the physical process of producing Harris tweed is not attracting as many artisans as its popularity would indicate.

 

images of the Hebrides

21. Heading for the tops of the hills on Harris. There;s much more to the Hebrides than just the beaches. Though much or the Hebridean islands are flat and denuded of trees, there are also a surprising number of hills to explore of selected islands.

 

 

 

SHARING YOUR TRIP PHOTOS

We have set up a Google album for our Hebrides photos into which we’ve gathered this year’s photos (which have been shared with us along with our own). We’d be delighted if you wanted to add any of your photos here.

THANKS AND CREDITS

Sincere thanks to all who have joined us in the Hebrides and particularly those who have shared photos with us, some of which are highlighted above. Credits include: Looi Oon, Mick Wansborough and Tina Duren along side our own images.

For further information about our walking holidays in Scotland (which always include photographic opportunities) please return to our home page

All content © Copyright Scot Mountain Holidays 2024

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