It’s definitely hats, gloves and scarves weather here in Scotland, but a spot of cold shouldn’t stop you from exploring the great outdoors! Winter walks are one of my favourite things about the chillier months – they’re a nice break from all the festive fun of December, not to mention a good excuse to warm up with a hot chocolate when you get home.
Scotland has hundreds, if not thousands, of well-trodden paths and trails waiting to be explored, and there’s still time to sign up for the special guided walks organised as part of the Year of Natural Scotland 2013, too. Whether you’re a hardcore hiker or more of the relaxed Sunday stroll type, wrap up warm and find your own winter wonderland with the help of our guide to festive walking.
Aberdeen City and Shire: Take a walk around the magnificent grounds of Balmoral Castle, Scottish residence of the Royal Family, with a guided walking tour on Saturday 14 December. Join the Derevon Arts team for weekly walks in Huntly, or take a stroll through Duthie Park in Aberdeen – the David Welch Winter Gardens are a great place to escape the cold.
Argyll & The Isles: Join Dr Sharon Webb from Kilmartin Museum for a guided winter walk celebrating the Solstice on 22 December, followed by a buffet in the museum café. If you fancy bagging a Munro or two over the holidays, Argyll has 19 to choose from – Stob a’Choire Odhair near Bridge of Orchy or Beinn Mhòr on Mull both offer a challenging but invigorating 4-6 hour hike for experienced winter walkers.
Ayrshire & Arran: See the winter landscape that Burns claimed to be “to me more dear than all the pride of May” on the Burns Trail, a 6 km journey inspired by the Bard and his work. Start at the Burns Cottage car park and follow the path past statues, the Burns Birthplace Museum, his National Monument and Brig o’ Doon the 15th-century bridge featured in Tam o’ Shanter.
Dumfries & Galloway: Do you know your pines from your firs? Find out how to tell them apart on a Winter Tree Identification walk around Threave Garden and Estate on December 16, or learn about the birds and wildlife inhabiting RSPB Mersehead near Dumfries on a Walk in the Wild with local rangers on 11 December.
Dundee & Angus: Montrose Basin is something of a birdwatcher’s utopia, with around 60,000 geese and other species wintering in the area each year. Start from Mains of Dun and take a walk around the tidal basin to spot swans, lapwings, redshanks and many more – the path can get very wet, so don’t forget your wellies!
Edinburgh and The Lothians: Edinburgh looks wonderful no matter what the weather, and fortunately many of its walks are suitable for year-round use. Trek up Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags or Blackford Hill for spectacular views of the sparkling city centre, or join botany experts on a guided walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens until December 13. The nearby Pentland Hills also offer a great selection of paths and trails, ranging from gentle hikes to more challenging routes.
Fife: Thick with Sitka and Norway spruce, Blairadam Forest looks quintessentially Christmassy in the snow. Take a wander through the forest, choose your own tree to take home, and warm up with hot drinks and home baking from the refreshment stalls, available on the weekend until 23 December.
Greater Glasgow and The Clyde Valley: Join Falls of Clyde rangers at 1pm on 15 December for a guided Winter Warmer Walk accompanied by mince pies, mulled wine and Christmas folklore before heading back to make children’s crafts with natural materials from the reserve. Over in Lochwinnoch, you can don a Santa hat and take part in the annual 5k Tinsel Walk on December 11.
The Highlands: Being from the Black Isle, I’d pick the Fairy Glen near Rosemarkie for a quiet winter stroll – follow the footpath past two impressive waterfalls and look out for tawny owls, herons, buzzards and roe deer amongst the trees. The region’s mountainous landscape offers ample adventure for all levels; beginners might want to start with one of various Winter Walking Skills course by Cairngorm Adventure Guides from 14 – 21 December, taking place in the Cairngorms National Park near Aviemore.
Loch Lomond, The Trossachs and The Forth Valley: The Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park organise ‘Walk in the Park’, a year-round programme of free guided walks around the region. Join them in Aberfoyle on Thursday 9 December, in Callander on Friday 10, or in Killin on Saturday 11 for a 45-minute stroll followed by a hard-earned Christmas lunch – check the Walk in the Park page for meeting times and locations.
Orkney: Follow in our ancestors’ footsteps with a historic tour of some of Orkney’s Neolithic attractions. Join Historic Scotland rangers for a guided walk around the Standing Stones of Stenness, drop by the nearby Maeshowe Tomb, then take a 20-minute stroll to the Ring of Brodgar. Skara Brae is then just 5.5 miles away, so leave the car and cross the Mainland by foot, Stone-Age style.
Outer Hebrides: Follow the 3-mile waymarked route around the Balranald RSPB nature reserve on North Uist for the chance to spot snow buntings, starlings, whooper swans, and even the occasional golden or white-tailed eagle. The trail leads onto the beach, so you can finish up with an icy dip in the sea if you’re feeling brave/crazy enough!
Perthshire: The Allean Forest Trail near Pitlochry is an ideal walk for winter photographers, leading through mixed forestry and taking in the famous Queen’s View, a fantastic vantage point looking onto Loch Tummel. For a real challenge, try the Tarmachan Ridge near Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve – a good first winter ridge for less experienced hikers, with stunning views from its peak.
Scottish Borders: The Scottish Borders Council’s guided walks programme continues in January with treks around the region led by local rangers – a great way to kick off the New Year and offset the festive excess. Head up Ladhope Moor at 1pm on 5 January for a moderate hillwalk, or tackle a strenuous hike up Yair Forest from 10am on 19 January.
Shetland: The Shetland Isles are a must for walking enthusiasts: Unst was the first island in the UK to gain a ‘Walkers are Welcome’ award, and the region offers a wide range of walks and hikes. Follow the way-marked circular route around Hermaness National Nature Reserve for breathtaking views over Out Stack and Muckle Flugga, the most northerly points of the British Isles – you’ll feel like you’re on the edge of the world.
Most importantly, make sure you have appropriate clothing and equipment and check rain and avalanche forecasts before heading out on difficult treks, as Scottish weather can be rather temperamental this time of year. Feel free to leave us a comment recommending your favourite winter routes, and have a look at our guide to walking in Scotland for more ideas. Happy wandering!
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