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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.

Walking in winter

Walking comes in many different guises from dog walking to marathon walking. Perhaps then there’s a reason why “hiking” is becoming much more common usage for wild walking, long-distance and mountain walking. Hiking in summer and walking in winter can almost be classed as 2 different sports.

You might be a keen walker. Alternatively you might have started to develop an interest in walking later in life. You might be walking for health reasons or you might be Munro bagging. Whatever the reason, once you turn to hiking in the mountains, sooner or later you might want to extend your season so you can continue to hike all year round. You’ll want to go walking in winter.

Hiking in winter has its own distinct rewards from unending views in crystal, clear air conditions to solitude and glistening fresh snow, unblemished by evidence of other people. There are however also obvious hazards and also some aspects to winter walking/hiking, which you might not have considered.

walking in winter

Walkers striding across the Cairngorm plateau


Winter hazard 1: snow

In Scotland the winter mountains will almost invariably have snow on them for at least part of the winter. We live in hope that the season will be longer and the snow will remain, but this year, 2017, even the most stubborn of snow patches melted away completely. It’s nearly the end of October already and there’s as yet no sign of the white stuff returning. Still if you are considering some winter hiking, make sure you have received some formal training in the skills you need to remain safe in winter conditions. There is nothing more sapping than cold weather.

Winter hazard 2: avalanches

There are a surprising number of avalanches in Scotland but most of them go un-witnessed and hence unreported. Fortunately we do have a very good avalanche information service, especially in the Cairngorms. Throughout the winter they produce a daily report of the avalanche risk. With formal training and a bit of experience, you can learn to interpret the report so that you pick the safest route for the day.

Winter hazard 3: boots

Making sure you have the proper boots for winter is essential. “Your boot is as much as tool as your crampons and ice axe” is a sentence often repeated by our own Andy Bateman when he is talking to winter novices. You must have stiff boots rated as B2 or above. However, the problem with the boots is that they weigh a lot more than boots you will be used to walking in and they are so much stiffer that they force you to walk in a slightly different gait from usual. Over the course of a couple of days, the difference in the boots can take its toll on you. You legs and feet will feel a lot more tired than they usually do for the same amount of summer walking.

Take care when wearing winter boots. Try to baby your feet a wee bit and if you have the opportunity a little bit of simulation will stand you in good stead, even if people give you funny looks when you clump along the beach promenade or up and down the city streets in monster boots.

Winter hazard 4: additional gear

Your pack, whether for an expedition or a day walk, is inevitably going to be bigger in winter. Not only will you need more in your lunch, but you’ll also need space for the additional gear: your ice axe, your crampons, thicker, warmer gloves etc. You’ll need to be ready for the extra weight.

TOP TIP: always try to pack your crampons within your pack as if you have them tied to the outside of your pack, you run the risk of losing one or both of them quite easily.

Winter hazard 5: cold &/or severe weather

In winter Scotland’s hills become mountains due to the severity of the weather conditions. There are regularly winds over 100 miles an hour in storms and though you might not plan to be out in conditions like that, even experienced mountaineers can get caught out. A friend of ours was once out in the Cairngorms when the weather turned. He and his party ended up almost crawling out as they were getting blown over when they stood up. The wind was even strong enough to take a head torch off one of their heads.

Guided winter walking in Scotland

Wintry conditions on the summit of Cairngorm


Winter benefit 1: burning more calories

It’s not only the colder weather which helps to burn up more calories. You do have to carry more stuff with you when you go out hiking in winter. The additional weight will help to burn more calories at the end of the day. But always remember, if you put more calories in than you consume you won’t be losing weight. Just heading out for a hike is not a guarantee that you will lose weight – if that is your aim. You need to balance out keeping warm with the number of calories you consume. You don’t want to be cold, but neither do you want to overeat.

How many calories are burned by being cold?

Calories burned in cold weather

Winter benefit 2: clear air

Cold air carries less moisture than warm air and therefore produces better visibility. It is warm air streams which bring precipitation. There is some truth to the statement that it is too cold in the arctic to snow.

Winter benefit 3: less people

Fewer people enjoy going out in the cold weather despite the fact that we have amazing gear now which can keep us warm in virtually any conditions. However, this means that those of us who do go out can enjoy a real sense of solitude and space.

Winter benefit 4: camaraderie

There’s nothing better than sharing the story of the day. The warmth of a fire and a cup of tea at the end of the day will be appreciated so much more after being out in cold conditions.

When people come back after a day out in the snow, they almost always have a novel story to share. The risks are greater than in the summer, but then this enhances the benefits too.

Winter benefit 5: stay fit

If you stop going out in the colder weather, it may be more difficult to get back to your regular hiking than before. The risk of losing your fitness over the winter is greater as you get older. Walking on the treadmill isn’t really an adequate substitute, but if there’s no other choice …

Winter benefit 6: glorious views

I don’t know why the mountains seem so much more spectacular when covered in snow, but they do. Maybe it’s because they look more pristine. Maybe it’s because if gives them more shape. Whatever the reason, a little snow seems to add some “je ne sais quoi” to the mountain scene.

Winter benefit 7: stunning photos

winter munros

Typical Cairngorm scenery in the snow

when to come to the cairngorms

Winter scenery in the Ryvoan valley, taken by Thomas Barrat on a course with Scot Mountain Holidays

We specialise in guided walking holidays and walking skills here in Scotland.

If you’d like to leap in to winter at the deep end, why not think about a snow hole expedition: not an igloo, a snow hole; not an emergency shelter but a deliberate night out in a purpose built shelter. Check it out:

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


Turning hills into mountains – the effects of winter

Winter has descended upon the Scottish Highlands, the familiar hills evolve into awe-inspiring mountains, blanketed in a pristine coat of snow, setting the stage for a winter hiking experience like no other. The landscape, now a picturesque haven, invites adventurers to traverse its snow-laden trails, discovering a unique blend of tranquility and adventure. However, one must always keep an eye on the ever present dangers inherent in winter.

Winter hiking in contrast to summer

Winter hiking in the Highlands offers a striking contrast to other seasons. The once-green paths are now transformed into a pristine canvas of white, waiting to be explored. Intrepid hikers, armed with waterproof gear and insulated boots, embark on journeys that unveil the Highlands’ winter charm.

Traversing the snow-covered trails is a sensory delight. The crunch of snow beneath each step echoes through the valleys, and the brisk winter air invigorates the senses. The hills, now adorned with a glistening layer of frost, create a visual spectacle that adds an extra layer of magic to the hiking experience.

Never forget though that you need to be extra prepared before you head out into the winter hills. Our top tips include:

  1. make sure you have undergone specialised training in winter skills from a qualified expert
  2. always carry a headtorch
  3. always have a paper copy of the relevant map as the cold drastically affects the performance of your phone (at least 80% of mountain rescue callouts stem from navigational errors).
  4. carry a flask (never underestimate how much of an improvement to morale a hot drink will give you)
  5. make sure you have a powerpack to keep your phone charged (the effects of cold on a mobile phone are quite incredible).
New Year Winter Walking

Cairngorm plateau, New Year Winter Walking 2022 – 2023

Preparing to go hiking in winter

Preparation is key for those eager to embrace the winter landscape. Layered clothing, including waterproof jackets and insulated gloves, become essential companions (see our blog). As the landscape transitions from hills to mountains, the weather can be unpredictable, and hikers must be equipped to face the challenges that come with the season.

winter wildlife Cairngorms

A ptarmigan makes walking across the snow look easy

Popular winter hiking routes in the Highlands include the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way and the Speyside Way; which transform into a winter wonderland, offering panoramic views of snow-capped peaks and frozen lochs. The Cairngorms National Park, with its diverse trails, provides opportunities to witness the Highland wildlife amidst the winter spectacle; and for the intrepid this area can become a wilderness for the most intrepid to explore and indulge in winter sports and adventures like snow holing.

Hiking in the Highlands during winter is not just a physical adventure but also a journey into solitude and reflection. The silent majesty of the snow-covered landscape imparts a sense of serenity, inviting hikers to connect with nature on a deeper level.

Braemar winter munros

Cosy winter retreats to return to at the end of the day

Cozy hostels nestled along the trails and in the villages close by offer refuge after a day of winter exploration. Hostels provide a welcoming retreat where hikers can share stories and relish in the hearty warmth of local hospitality.

Winter hiking in the Highlands of Scotland is a testament to the enduring spirit of nature. It is an invitation to witness the marriage of untamed beauty and the thrill of adventure. So, lace up your boots, embrace the chill, and discover the enchanting transformation that occurs when the hills become mountains in the heart of a Highland winter.

Check out our range of guided winter walking holidays

at Fraoch Lodge

Everyone loves an open fire, almost as much entertainment as the TV

Why come to Scotland in winter?

10 reasons in pictures

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


Photo Credit: Paul Tomkins/VisitScotland

1. A Snow Hole Expedition:

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


Build a snowhole in Scotland

Build your own snow hole in the Cairngorms


kintail in winter

2. Winter mountaineering and ridge walking:

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


Photo credit: Dave Downing

3. Cross country skiing:

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


winter skills in the Cairngorms

4. A winter skills course:

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



5. Winter photography:

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


Winter in the Cairngorms

6. Reindeer:

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


7. Ptarmigan:

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


8. Burns Night:

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

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



9. Colours of winter:

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


10. Snow is fun:

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


Useful links:

Have fun in the snow: 

Snow related activities for kids:

Free mountain weather service:

Met Office forecast for the hills:

Scottish Avalanche Information service:



Winter’s here – rejoice! It’s not all doom and gloom.

There’s a lot to love about winter in Scotland – especially if you love the outdoors. The approach of winter just means that you can switch your “toys” (I mean gear) around and get some old friends out of the garage/cupboard. It’s nearly time to dust off the crampons and get the jumpers out so we thought it was time to remind you of the joys of winter.


Who doesn’t love a fresh coating of snow? It makes everything look clean and sparkly. Many of us (not just the kids) see snow and want to rush outside and make footprints. The arrival of snow brings out the inner child in all of us.


You can now legitimately light the fire and enjoy the warmth as well as the aesthetics.

Top tip though: make sure you have lodes your plenty of fuel inside before you begin, because the last thing you want to do is to leave the cosy warmth indoors to head outside for more fuel.


Need I say more – snowball fights are fun with the right kind of snow and can really be multi-generational.

Snow ball fun


Bring out your creative streak but if you’re going to go large you’ll find it quite a workout. What’s your preference to make his/her features. We’ve had to sacrifice several carrots.

Snow falling

It’s much more mesmerising than watching the rain and far less wet so it can even be enjoyable to watch the snow fall when you’re out in it so long as it’s not a blizzard and you’re not attempting to drive.

Ice climbing

Not something everyone will be looking forward to but those who are in root will be looking forward to taking their sharp, pointy toys out of the cupboard and checking them over ready for the forthcoming season.

Snow in the landscape

Why does snow make the landscape so much more attractive? I think it’s because the white of the snow brings out more contrasts and also makes everything look clean and neat. It’s also because the light is magical for taking pictures.

why we like winter


Time to break out all those lovely woolly jumpers.

No flies or midges

One of the best things about winter is the lack of bugs, flies and midges.

Frost on grass and hoar frost

Frost crystals are quite stunning when you look at them closely.

Look at the image below. Can you believe that all of this is accumulated frost built into the wind from the original structure? This is what the weather station on the top of Cairngorm.


We are so lucky to be living on the edge of ski country. It still surprises us how many people, even those within the UK, who don’t know there is skiing available in Scotland. Yes, we might be suffering from the effects of global warming, but when the weather’s right – a ski day in Scotland is just about paradise.


Winter Skills –

Ice axe & crampons legitimate adult playing in the snow with sharp, shiny things during winter in Scotland.

When you’re not a kid any more, people tend to frown if you play in the snow. When you’re on a winter skills course, it’s encouraged learn about the snow and ice. You’ll have to slide down a slope with an ice axe, as you’ll need to learn how to stop a sliding fall.

You’ll have to cut holes in the snow, as you’ll need to know how to make emergency shelters – and so much more besides.

Crisp, clear air & views for miles

Views which stretch for miles are really a thing of winter. The air in summer is warmer and therefore hazier than winter.

Andy has had the privilege of being able to see from Cairngorm to Ben Nevis (55 miles) and has even picked up mountains well to the north all because the cold air is much clearer.

winter in the Cairngorms

Striding out to conquer the winter Cairngorms

In short:

Winter is one of our favourite times of year. We try to keep it to ourselves. It’s not all that hard as so many people seem to be afraid of being cold.

The thing about being out in the winter in Scotland is all it takes is the right level of exercise and the right clothing and you’re sorted.

If you’re worried about it, why not let us be your guides.

How about an active way to bring in the New Year?

We run our New Year Winter Walking trip every year on the same dates. It’s always a great trip and an ideal way to spend that period between Christmas and over the New Year; which can be lonely for some. It’s not always a sell out but it’s always great fun and includes the local street party in Grantown to bring in the New Year with a bang.

The New Year trip doesn’t include an overnight snow hole (all your nights are spent comfortably in the warmth at Fraoch Lodge). It’s a wee bit early in the snow season to be able to guarantee enough snow depth to safely build a snow hole. You will cover all the essential winter walking safety skills: how to use your ice axe, cramponing techniques, how to stop a sliding fall etc. No previous winter walking experience is required.

If you need any more persuading, check out the trip slideshow below:


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  • New Year Winter Walking
    Striding out across the plateau, Cairngorms (New Year Winter Walking 2022 - 2023)
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New itinerary for Glencoe Winter Munros 2024

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

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

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

Possible private itineraries in the Glencoe area

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

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

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

Winter navigation & water features: 3 lochs, 3km and 3 different responses to winter!! – the perils of navigating to water features in winter

winter navigation

Photo Andrew Bateman, Spot Lochan Buidhe! Looking across the Cairngorm-Ben Macdui plateau towards Cairn Toul.

Come the winter months, one might be forgiven for thinking that lochs, lochans, tarns, lakes, etc would at least indicate their presence by a flat surface. Some do but don’t bank on it! High in the Cairngorms there are 3 lochs, all within 3 km of each other and all behave differently in winter. 

Lochan Buidhe – winter navigating and water features

Starting with the highest, Lochan Buidhe. It is perched on a broad shallow saddle at 1125m on the Cairngorm – Ben Macdui plateau close to where the Curran Hut once sat. Its high elevation and shallow nature mean it can pretty much freeze solid! Its bed is of raised granite blocks set in gravel. The blocks support the ice whilst allowing the ground water to drain out and so it can support no end of drifted snow thereby losing its dead flat surface.

Pools of Coire and t-Sneachda

At around 920m we have the pools on the floor of Coire an t-Sneachda. Again these are fed by ground water and drain out through the blocks and moraine to the north. Their water levels can vary considerably over time depending on the recent rain/melt. Frequently they will freeze over and then the water drains out from underneath the ice. The remaining ice sags under its own weight and the boulders punch through, again losing the flat surface. Any evidence of the pool can then be obscured by further snowfall.

Loch A’an – winter navigation & water features

Loch A’an (Avon) on the other hand self-levels since it’s much deeper. Remember water’s density is greatest at 4 Deg C so the warmest part of a loch is the bottom. Any snow drift on top of the surface ice will push it down into contact with slightly warmer water and melt it. The buoyancy is lost and over time the drift simply levels with the rest of the surface ice thereby maintaining a flat surface.

These tips and plenty more insights are covered on our 2 day winter navigation course

Further reading

30 winter navigation tips

Understanding navigation


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