Which season is best for your ancestral journey?
When ancestral voices call you, the desire to visit Scotland is impossible to ignore. The trickiest part is deciding what time of year to visit. It’s no secret that Scotland looks marvellous year-round, but read on to find out about the natural spectacles, activities and exciting events each has in store and choose the perfect season for your holiday.
The air is still cool but the countryside is starting to come to life amid sprouting greenery and brighter days. As the frost bitten landscape begins to thaw, a rejuvenating burst of colour arrives in the form of blooming snowdrops and rhododendrons, while the remarkably punctual return of migratory birds signifies spring is finally here. The lighter days beckon the walkers, cyclists and hikers among you to forest trails, hillsides and quiet country roads, while once trickling rivers swell again with the deluge of melted mountain snow and ice, spring showers and Atlantic salmon to the delight of anglers and canoers, and golf courses welcome the return of the golf season.
It’s not just the natural world that has a 'spring' in its step at this time of year. The towns and cities can be hives of activity playing host to all kind of events. The Glasgow International Comedy Festival kicks off in March, followed swiftly by the pagan spectacle of the Beltane Fire Festival in April, while the entire month of May is dedicated to Whisky Month.
Bonnie Scotland really comes into its own during the warmer months. Occasional inclement weather aside, the endless summer days are a time for you to get out and really explore.
In midsummer it barely gets dark save for a brief, other-worldly period of semi-darkness between dawn and dusk; the 'gloaming' as it is known or in Shetland, where the sun barely dips below the horizon, the 'Simmer dim'. This is also when life in the animal kingdom is at its most restless as creatures great and small, from pine martens to golden eagles, battle against the elements to raise future generations, and vast colonies of nesting seabirds congregate on coastal cliffs. Embrace all those hours of daylight and roam for miles of country road and coastline, whether in the car or on a leisurely tour by bike or foot, taking in dramatic glens, wonderfully secluded beaches, shimmering lochs and rivers along the way.
This is also the time of the Highland Games. From small village events to the grand Braemar Gathering presided over by the Royal Family, this sweeping spectacle of Scottish tradition is enough to make your heart burst with pride. In August, head to Edinburgh as the season reaches a crescendo as the city transforms into the world's summer arts capital. Experience six incredible festivals including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh International Festival and Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Autumn is when Scotland is at its most colourful. Unsurprising for a country blessed with no fewer than six forest parks - nearly one fifth of the land is tree covered - and an abundance of leafy gardens and estates. Now is the prime time for leaf spotting, or 'leaf peeping' as it is commonly known in the United States. Witness the countryside dramatically transition from summertime greenery to a riot of reds, oranges and golds, setting the stage for some of Scotland's greatest wildlife sights. From huge flocks of migratory birds to the grey seal pupping season, from red stags rutting to leaping Atlantic salmon, the natural world is as thriving as ever!
It also serves as a beguiling backdrop for all kinds of outdoor pursuits and sports. Long-distance trails and lofty Munros summon walkers, climbers and pony-trekkers with crisp country air, snug bothies, and stunning scenery, while golfers can enjoy a more peaceful round at this time of year.
There are plenty of events to fill chilly days and brighten dark nights, from drinking festivals ranging from Oktoberfest in Edinburgh and Aberdeen to the Drambusters Whisky Festival, to traditional Scottish music festivals such as the Perthshire Amber Festival, the Royal National Mod and Shetland and Accordion Fiddle Festival. Party like a pagan at the Samhuinn Fire Festival and enjoy all manner of ghoulish frivolity in the land that gave birth to Halloween. On the cusp of winter, the season draws to a close with magical light festivals. The Botanic Lights, the Enchanted Forest and Woodland Light Experience are to name but a few.
There is something enchanting about Scotland in winter. Against a frost-bitten backdrop of snowy mountains, glens, forests and steel-grey lochs, a winter wonderland awaits. Head north for some winter sport action at Scotland's five ski resorts and some truly dazzling scenery. From the towering peaks of Ben Nevis to the majestic beauty of Glencoe and the Great Glen, the sight of these iconic landscapes dusted in snow is spellbinding. This is also when some extraordinary creatures emerge in their pristine winter plumage and fur coats. Close-up encounters with mountain hares, ptarmigans, red grouse and red deer are all possible in and around the Cairngorms National Park.
The night sky is also at its most spectacular and stargazers can enjoy crystal-clear visibility thanks to low temperatures. Pay a visit to Galloway Forest Park - Britain's first Dark Sky Park, Tay Forest Park and Rannoch Moor to see an unforgettable starry spectacle. Scotland is also the best place in the UK to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis. The best spots to see the Northern Lights are the Caithness coast and Shetland and Orkney from November to January.
Christmas is an extravagant affair, with cities hosting week-long festivals throughout December, culminating in Hogmanay where the whole country welcomes in the New Year with whisky, fireworks and ceilidh dancing long into the wee hours. Edinburgh is the biggest of the Hogmanay celebrations, but the Comrie Flambeaux and Stonehaven Fireballs Festival also kick-off January in spectacular style. The party spirit carries on with the Viking fire festival of Up Helly Aa in Shetland and Burns Night, when the entire nation raises a dram to our National Bard on his birthday.