Scotland’s always held a special place in my heart ever since Mum and Dad first took my sister and I there for our school holidays. Distant memories of wind, rain and midges have long since faded, leaving the majesty and magnificence of the the landscapes and people permanently etched on my mind.
If you visit the country in the depths of winter, stepping outside the door can require several layers of warm, waterproof clothing but if you’re made of the tough stuff and like your adventures with a frosty coating then there’s no better place to #GetOutdoors and soak up everything the northern tip of the UK has to offer.
Our Best Life adventure left the south of England after Christmas and we drove north to Edinburgh, on to Inverness, across to the Isle of Skye and down to Glasgow. Enroute we found at least five ridiculously good, adventurous reasons to commence your own Scottish winter escapade.
On a crystal clear, frosty morning most people descend below their duvet in an attempt to stay warm and dry but with only two weeks left of our Best Life adventure there was no way I was going to waste a second!
Exploring the coastline of the Isle of Skye in the thick of winter is usually something you’d do from the comfort of a car or private helicopter. But instead, why not experience it first-hand and really get the heart racing and blood pumping by wrapping yourself in a uber-thick wetsuit, donning some neoprene gloves, booties and hood then throwing yourself headfirst into some saltwater action.
I ventured out with the team from Skye Adventure for a morning of coasteering; a mad, manic mix of cliff jumps, cave swimming and the rather more leisurely activity of swimming around and through some beautiful kelp forests.
Home to otters, seals and a multitude of sea life the fertile, frigid waters surrounding Scotland’s most famous island are a sheltered, safe place to try this exciting adventure sport for the first time.
I’ve never really loved being up high, hanging on the edge of a precipice. The longer I stay there, focused on the floor far below, the less chance there is of stepping, jumping or throwing myself off. It doesn’t matter if there’s a parachute, bungee or climbing rope attached to me, the feeling doesn’t change. My only solution is to just get on with it. Don’t think, don’t look, just throw myself into the abyss below. It’s with this theory in mind, I set my own ‘Highest Cliff Jump’ record and came away having had my best adventure day in Scotland.
Visit the Skye Adventure website to check when their next trip is, they offer half and full days and include all equipment required.
Where: Based at Portree on the Isle of Skye
When: All year round
Cost: ½ day around £50 per person
While we were in the UK I stumbled upon a book entitled Wild Swimming. It was the midst of winter but I still couldn’t resist flicking through it’s pages, gazing at the summer-inspired water holes, longing for a day warm enough to head to the countryside, and jump right in.
But I’m not someone to let a little bit of frost and frigid water get in the way of having a good time so decided to give one a go! With over 300 potential locations scattered across the UK, the final fortnight of our Best Life adventure was bound to take us at least one perfect plunge pool.
After five days of driving through wind and rain, the clouds finally parted for our drive along the shore of Loch Ness, the infamous home of the Loch Ness monster.
What better place can there be for an icy dip?
Where: Choose from hundreds of locations around the UK
When: All year round of course…just not for too long!
Cost: £1.50 for a cup of tea afterwards to warm up
WHITE WATER RAFTING
If only it hadn’t rained as hard as it did in the 48 hours leading up to my rafting adventure I’d be able to tell you first hand how mind-blowingly brilliant a rafting trip on a Scottish river can be. But apparently there’s a cut off point when white water becomes floodwater, and it’s at that level that all rafting activities have to stop. Bugger.
Fear not avid adventurer. Even in the wettest of Scottish winters (and if you know Scotland, you know how wet it gets) very few trips with Splash Rafting are ever cancelled. Their base in Aberfeldy is one of the best places to start your downstream torrent ride on the picturesque River Tay.
Their half day trip covers nearly 10 kilometres and finishes up at a riverside pub so you can warm up, refuel and talk through that epic wipeout!
Splash Rafting offer trips on a number of Scottish rivers. Check out their website for all the details
When: Throughout the winter months, check the river levels though!
Cost: Between £45 and £95 depending on half or full day
DRIVE THE BEALACH NA BA OR THE ‘PASS OF THE CATTLE’
Not everyone’s up for numb fingers and brain freeze so if you prefer to have an adventure from inside the controlled climate of your car, then this one’s for you and there’s great pub lunch at the end.
On the west coast of Scotland, a stone’s throw from the Kyle of Lochalsh, lies the picturesque town of Lochcarron, your starting point for a spectacular 30 kilometre scenic drive over the Applecross Pass.
The road is a serious contender as one of the country’s finest drives, and the views from the top are enough to label it a must-visit destination. Add to that a series of switchback turns spearing the single-track road to a height of 626 metres in a little over 10 kilometres, and you’ve got the makings of a true alpine pass in midst of the Scottish Highlands.
In summer the road is packed fuller than a fat lady’s shoe but in winter it’s not unusual to cover the entire drive from end to end without seeing another soul. Take extra care during the winter months as snow and ice are ever present and it’s worth taking heed of the information boards as you start the drive for up to date advice on the road conditions.
Once you’ve reached the summit and taken some amazing photos the descent to Applecross village is equally spectacular. When you arrive spend an hour wandering around the foreshore and through the village before dropping in for lunch at the Applecross Inn – their venison burger is divine!
How: Jump in the car and set off. No need for a 4WD unless there’s snow up top
Where: Between Lochcarron and Applecross in the Scottish Highlands
When: The road is open for the majority of the year but check the road closure signs at the foot of the pass
Cost: Whatever you decide to spend on a meal at the pub!
BEN NEVIS ASCENT – HIKE OR RUN
The highest mountain in the UK towers over the sleepy lochside town of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands and is home to many a wintry adventure.
For much of the winter the old boy’s top is covered in snow and ice, a testament to it’s 1344 metres of elevation, but you don’t have to be a skier or snowboarder to take full advantage of the wintry conditions. You can trail run or hike to the summit if a) conditions allow b) you’re equipped with the correct gear and c) you travel with the right people.
Getting up and down in a little over 5 hours is possible but you’ll need to be fit, have the perfect weather window and carry everything you need in case the weather takes a turn for the worst. It’s worth bearing in mind the summer race record is 1 hour 25 minutes!
There are a number of mountaineering companies based in Fort William who’ll happily put you through a day’s training prior to the hike so you can understand the basics of using an ice axe and crampons.
If you decide you want to do it quicker, trail running is a possibility but carries a much higher risk. Ensure you travel with a local, experienced runner who knows the route and has made the ascent before, that you carry a pack with enough food, water and clothing to survive should the weather close in, and definitely invest in a good pair of running crampons.
How: Find a reputable company or local guide and head off into the hills
Where: The starting point for all ascents is Glen Nevis Visitor Centre car park, 3 kilometres from Fort William
When: Any time throughout the winter months but closed in extreme conditions
Time required: 7-8 hours if you’re hiking, 5 hours if you decide to trail run. Don’t forget that daylight hours are only 9am to 4pm during December and January
Cost: Somewhere in the region of £185 per person for a day on the mountain
There are some spectacular drives around Scotland. For some of our trip we followed the North Coast 500, a ridiculously good-looking scenic road that loops around the northern tip of the country. Check out the website to start planning your own Scottish trip.