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Issue 30 - Open all seasons

Scotland Magazine Issue 30
December 2006

 

This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Open all seasons

Sally Toms suggests Scotland's summer visitors are missing out

The majority of Scotland’s visitors arrive between May and September. They experience the country’s mildest weather and possibly 50 different kinds of rain, but what about the rest of the year? Are the hotels and visitor attractions boarded up and borders closed?

Most winter visitors make a beeline for Edinburgh or Glasgow for a spot of retail therapy, or for Hogmanay, Scotland’s end of year celebrations that begin on December 29 and end with a hangover at some point in January.

Edinburgh’s celebrations are world renowned. There are torchlight processions, music, big-name concerts, fireworks, street parties, a few drinks and of course the celebratory kissing of strangers. But it’s a crowded, busy affair and city visitors, elbowing each other to get to the sale at Harvey Nic’s, are missing out on something special.

Winter in rural Scotland is wild and beautiful. When the trees are stripped bare and their skeletons stand dark against the grey skies, and when a fine dusting of snow highlights the curves and gradients of the hill tops, the landscape presents itself in an entirely new way.

Yes, it’s cold. Scotland’s latitude is the same as Anchorage, Alaska. But whereas the wind off the cold North Sea can rattle your teeth, winds from the Atlantic which buffet the west are warmed by the Gulf Stream, and temperatures on the coast rarely drop below 0ºC.

It’s dark, too – the antithesis of Scotland’s long summer days. In midwinter it gets dark early, depending on how far north you are; in Edinburgh it’s dark by about 4pm, whereas Shetlanders suffer almost total darkness – 17.5 hours each day.

But it’s a misconception that all Scotland’s tourist attractions close their doors in winter; many of the most popular are open to the public all year round. What’s more, you can wander around at your lesiure without jostling for space as you would do in mid summer – and there are definitely less marauding midgies.

Winter sports are proving increasingly popular in Scotland, and much money has been poured in to the development of five ski resorts at Nevisrange, Glencoe Mountain, Glenshee, The Lecht and Cairn Gorm Mountain.

There is usually snow on the ground somewhere between November and April, especially in the north east of the country. Serious difficulties with roads blocked by snow are, fortunately, not common on low ground, but some higher roads in Scotland are regularly affected each year. So you might want to take that in to account when picking somewhere to stay.

Camping at this time of year is only popular with polar explorers, and many bed and breakfasts are closed for the season. Hotels are good at any time of the year, but one of the best ways to enjoy winter in Scotland is to go self catering.

There are more than 3,000 options to choose, from budget to luxury, from country cottages and converted lighthouses to modern chalets. Some can house 20 people or more, others are just big enough for two.

Weather is a major talking point in Britain, ironically because we rarely experience such extremes of it, even in Scotland. What could be better than waking up to a foot of fresh snow, or spending a long romantic evening in front of a log fire, with a few drams to keep out the chill.