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I'm trying to plan a trip to Scotland & I don't want to wait >6 months for a number of reasons. It looks like there are a lot of winter festivals all over Scotland, and what I'm reading about sounds really great.

Question is, I'd like to do the Jacobite train, some whiskey tours, visit Skara Brae, and also I'd like to do some outdoor stuff. Looks like Glencoe would be great for snow sports, but I'd also like to do some light (4-6mi round trip) hiking and see some of the landscape. I love the snow, very tolerant of cold, so unless it's miserably rainy/windy I don't mind the weather. Are these things possible/advisable in midwinter? Seems like winter travel around Scotland, esp. the highlands, would be amazingly gorgeous. I'm open for alternative suggestions that achieve similar results.

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    Hmm. You say you "love the snow, very tolerant of cold" - but!- you don't like wind and rain? Really, I think you'd be fine. Scotland is not a place of "massive, deep, snowdrifts" you know: it's more just, well, Aberdeen is A BIT NORTH OF MOSCOW, remember. It's a tricky question to answer because, since you're from SF, it's unclear if you "actually know what winter is" (as a dour scotsman would say to you, probably). I'd be inclined to GO FOR IT. At worst for a few dollars/pounds (or euros if they breakway next week :) ) you can hop a plane to spain. – Fattie Aug 30 '14 at 3:56
  • recall too that (like california) in scotland you need a car. to see the "whisky trail" is just a matter of driving around. everything you mention is just a matter of "driving around" (it would be like "visiting napa" or something). – Fattie Aug 30 '14 at 3:57
  • I don't know how much hiking you've done in windy, rainy conditions, but it's miserable, you can't see much. If there is snow on the ground, and it's cold and clear (or even light flurries), that is far more pleasant. I've done both for extended periods. – Shannon E. Wells Sep 3 '14 at 21:27
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If you know something about the history of Glencoe a "dreich" day may be the most suitable for a visit there.

Note that the topography makes the climate relatively changeable (specially on the East coast, where four seasons in one day is not unusual). It snowed in Aberdeen quite heavily in July (mid summer!) yet within 48 hours Aberdeen was showing as the hottest city in Europe – with a higher average temperature that day greater than Nicosia.

Your tastes seem eclectic so it should not take much juggling to plan to be indoors (say a distillery) during the worst weather and outdoors during the best. It is possible you will face travel delays due to bad weather but you’d have to be extremely unlucky for that to last throughout the length of stay you seem to have in mind. Though miserably rainy I’m afraid could blight you trip – the Scots themselves are so used to that they barely notice but I admit it could be depressing for a visitor used to continuous sunshine.

There are though advantages for you. Others do avoid the winter months, so you won’t be tripping over so many other tourists – and if visiting to West Coast you would be past the season for “wee biting beasties”. The astounding beauty, of which solitude seems to form part, of the glens is tarnished (in my view!) when tour buses of noisy visitors are in earshot!

On the other hand I fear you will be out of luck with the Jacobite Train “It has been operating under various names and with different operators every summer since 1984.” (though ‘Summer’ this year stretches through to October 24th). There are however other steam engine services, for example Strathspey Steam Railway and that does run in December.

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    a huge point here is that, indeed Shannon you CANNOT GO to Scotland in summer because of midges. (although they only affect some parts: recall too that east V. west scotland are hugely different in every way) so, nothing wrong with going in winter. – Fattie Aug 30 '14 at 3:59
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In Scotland in the winter, you can get all sorts of weather. It might be mild and damp, or freezing cold, or blizzards, or some mixture of these. But if the weather is nice, the highlands can be beautiful, with snow on the hills and ice on the lochs.

So it can be very nice for walking, or other outdoor activities. There are plenty of scenic easy walks around much of Scotland, so you can find something the distance you like. You could check Walk Highlands to get an idea of routes. You could find routes ending near a pub, so you can get food and warm up afterwards. Remember it gets dark much earlier in midwinter, especially in northern Scotland. So set off early, and allow plenty of time to get back.

Climbing mountains in the winter can be much harder. For that you need to be prepared for all sorts of weather - ensure you have proper clothing and footwear, plus equipment as required. Some mountains may be covered with ice and snow, so you need crampons and an ice axe, plus experience of how to use these. And if the weather changes, you could have to navigate through a blizzard. So stick to lower level walks if you want to avoid this.

In parts of the highlands, many tourist attractions will be closed for the season. The Jacobite steam train only runs between May and October. You can still take a regular ScotRail passenger train along the same route, which lets you see the great scenery, and is cheaper. Many whisky distillery tours will be closed for the winter, but you should be able to find a few which are open.

So I would say it is worth travelling to Scotland in the winter. You may be lucky, and get great weather for walking. But it is a good idea to plan some bad weather options just in case, eg easier walks, or indoor attractions to visit.

  • Climbing mountains in the winter can be much harder I would never suggest to do that. Because of Scotland's ever changing weather even experienced mountaineers get caught out and have died on mountains. – DumbCoder Aug 30 '14 at 16:55

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