Understanding the Seasons – A Year in the Life of the Highlands
Out here in Glenloy, we don’t have much in the way of flashing lights and sirens, but the nature around us does just as good a job at alerting us to imminent change.
Looking out across a sea of trees each morning we can detect more and more pockets of colours, the yellows, and ambers disrupting the blanket of immaculate green that blossomed only months ago to announce all systems go for the summer.
But as we fall deeper into autumn and the verdant tones fade, don’t take those emerging shades of red as a sign to halt your Highlands adventure! There is so much to be discovered here all year round and, if you know the right time to look, there’s a fair chance you can savour the delights all by yourself without tripping over every man and his dog on their way to find it.
Let’s set out for a quick journey through the seasons to see what each has to offer…
Arguably the best time to explore the great outdoors, autumn serves up the perfect equation for active adventurers: gorgeous colours + dwindling crowds + a Goldilocks temperature that’s rarely too hot or too cold = fetch your hiking boots!
You don’t need to go as crazy as the competitors of the Ben Nevis Race (unless you want to of course!). Without straying far you encounter an abundance of options for walkers, climbers, bikers, and horse riders of all levels, from the breath-taking autumnal scenes at Loch Arkaig and the pine forests of Glen Affric to the woodland trails of Farigaig where the rare red squirrel roams free! Legions of other furry friends come out to play as well, as flocks of migratory birds soar overhead and seal pupping season gets into full flow, making this the perfect season for wildlife lovers.
While there’s no shortage of national Scottish festivals to celebrate, those eager to find out more about Highlands culture specifically might want to pencil in a trip in this part of the calendar. In September, Kingussie provides musical performances alongside the Camanachd Cup Final, where the two finest teams contest the Highlands sport of shinty, while the Royal National Mòd in Inverness and the Blas Festival in Portree celebrate Gaelic language and music with cèilidhs and concerts in October and November.
Towns and cities transmit a romantic atmosphere over the winter months, illuminated with Christmas decorations and glazed with the sparkling frost that stretches out into the country.
Unlike elsewhere in the UK, December 25th doesn’t really see celebrations here slow down all that much. First comes Hogmanay, which is certainly more than your average party and, though Edinburgh clearly knows how to put on a spectacle, towns and villages across the country have their own fun – midnight drams help the Dufftown ceilidh extend into the small hours before the pipers keep things ticking over the next morning.
And it’s not until Burns Night a month later that things settle down again (after a month of partying and some sizeable helpings of haggis, neeps and tatties a rest is much needed!)
Those left standing have all kinds of snowsports at their feet through – the Cairngorms is the UK’s winter sports capital with 30km of ski and snowboard trails across three resorts (those still struggling will be pleased to know there are almost as many sledging runs!), while Ice Factor, just around the corner from us, Glenloy, near Glencoe, offers a climbing challenge to those who dare to take on an ice wall.
In February you can sit back and watch some of the winter’s highlights, as Fort William hosts a showcase of films (maybe you’ll recognise some of the settings?) and activities at the Mountain Festival. Then there’s just the small matter of the Aurora Borealis – the cold, clear nights and lack of pollution create the perfect conditions for the mesmerising Northern Lights, with Rannoch Moor and the Cairngorms both offering good chances to witness the jaw-dropping spectacle of light nearby.
No doubt you’ll be left a wee bit chilly despite any winter partying, so we’ve got just the thing to warm you up as we move into spring!
As the home of whisky, it wouldn’t be right to do things half-hearted and the whole of May is therefore labelled World Whisky Month. With so much variety across the country, each region celebrates its whisky in its own way, and the Highland Whisky Festival showcases half a dozen of our favourite local distilleries (check out our whisky guide to help decide where to try a tour and tasting).
If you’re still frozen on the outside, the Beltane Fire Festival should provide the final spark you need. A night-time procession of torches is a dramatic way to honour the pagan traditions of welcoming springtime, in a similar fashion to the better-known Up Helly Aa parades in the Shetlands.
Now you’re fully thawed out you can appreciate what this season has to offer – a bed of snowdrops shares the landscape with flowering rhododendrons and crocuses in an outburst of life. And the swell of meltwater makes April peak season for salmon fishing, while canoeists and kayakers can enjoy the rushing rapids longer into the evening as the days grow longer…
Those longer days are just the right cue for everyone to come out and make the most of the sunshine. Famously, Edinburgh lures thousands to its streets in August for world-renowned events like the Fringe Festival and the Royal Military Tattoo. But further north we also take advantage of the summer to welcome visitors to the Highland Games!
The ultimate celebration of Highlands culture, there are actually several different gatherings, starting with Dundonald in early August and continuing into September when the hugely popular Braemar Gathering attracts thousands, royals and commoners alike! Those lucky enough to get a ticket can expect an atmosphere of warm hospitability with music and dancing accompanying the main sporting event, where kilted athletes aim to prove nobody can match their caber tossing feats.
At the same time, the more sedate game of golf returns to its spiritual birthplace on the other side of the country, as 2022 sees the St Andrews Old Course hosts the 150th Open. With over 500 to choose from, Scotland has arguably the greatest selection of golf courses in the world – the beautiful Fort William Golf Club is a scenic venue to tee off from beneath the shadow of Ben Nevis, while Newtonmore and Kingussie both provide local options not too far up the road.