The Essential Guide to Winter in Scotland 2019Posted on: December 4, 2019
Known for its wild storms and resplendent beauty, winter in Scotland is one of the most rewarding times to visit. Age-old traditions keep a hold on this unique nation, with Burn’s night, Up Helly Aa and the Kirkwall Ba’ to name but a few. Its outdoor wilderness offers exhilarating pursuits, from forest walks and foraging, to stargazing and skiing.
Scotland’s Outdoor Pursuits
Skiing and Snowboarding in Scotland
With 5 major ski resorts to choose from (Cairngorm Mountain, Glencoe Mountain, Glenshee, Nevis Range and the Lecht) we are spoilt for choice when it comes to Scotland’s winter sports. Be sure to check the snow conditions before planning a skiing or snowboarding trip. You’ll want to make sure there is sufficient snow coverage, favourable weather conditions and open roads on your route. You can sign up for Snow Alerts from Visit Scotland and keep an eye on road conditions with Traffic Scotland.
The Northern Lights and Stargazing
Scotland lies on the same latitude as parts of Norway and Alaska, making it the perfect place to enjoy the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. The best time to see this breathtaking natural phenomenon in Scotland is during the darkest months – December through February – on cold nights with clear skies and in areas with low to no light pollution. If you’re looking to do a spot of stargazing, wrap up warm and head for Scotland’s dark sky discovery sites.
The Scottish Art of Coorie
While the new term ‘coorie’ might be the height of contemporary Calendonia, the sentiment is as old as the heather-strewn hills. It represents a slower paced and more relaxed approach to life – something that nature encourages during Scotland’s winters. Coorie is all about quiet activities and learning to live better using what’s around you.
Forest Walks and Foraging
With Scotland’s generous Outdoor Access Code and ‘Freedom to Roam,’ enjoying the great outdoors in Scotland is easier than many other places in Europe. Here it is possible to eat your way closer to nature – while respecting others and the environment. Make sure you are careful while foraging and read up about how to identify species accurately first. If you don’t fancy eating your forest finds, why not search for foliage to make a festive wreath?
Scottish Crafts and Cooking
Aside from foraging, there are many other ways to enjoy the tastes of Scotland through winter. Why not spend a day in the kitchen cooking up some traditional Scottish treats – porridge, stovies or freshly baked bannock? Host a Scottish pot-luck supper with your nearest and dearest and enjoy around the crackling fire. Or whip up some store cupboard staples (jams, pickles and chutneys) to see you through the winter and make the perfect gift for Christmas.
Scotland’s Winter Events
Perhaps because of the long, dark nights, Scotland hosts a number of events and celebrations through its winters. Though not unique to Scotland, these usually commence with Hallowe’en at the end of October and bonfire night on the 5th of November.
St Andrews Day
On 30 November each year Scotland celebrates the feast day of Andrew the Apostle – the patron saint of Scotland. It is the country’s official national day, a bank holiday and is celebrated in traditional Scottish fashion – with food and music.
On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day the lesser known game of ‘Kirkwall Ba’ is played on Orkney’s main island. The mass football game that takes place over the whole island is played by the ‘Uppies’ and the ‘Doonies.’ These rival teams are comprised of the men and boys of Kirkwall. Their teams are decided by their place of birth and family heritage. The game (which lasts for hours) sees locals barricade their windows and doors for fear of damage in pursuit of the goals – a wall at the Southside of the island and the Kirkwall Bay water at the North.
Further South, the new year is welcomed by Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay celebrations. Many people will join the ticketed street party (which stretches from Princes Street and its gardens to the Royal Mile and beyond) however locals will often enjoy Edinburgh Castle’s fireworks display from Blackford Hill, The Meadows or Calton Hill. Rather stay indoors? Why not try a local ceilidh – Edinburgh’s Ghillie Dhu is renowned for them. Or if you’re heading to a house party, be sure to prepare for Scotland’s first footing tradition with shortbread or whisky.
In celebration of its national bard, 25th January sees Scots mark the anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. Marked with a traditional Burns Supper – comprising haggis, neeps and tatties – the annual event started in 1801 on the 5th anniversary of Burns’ death. It continues to this day, featuring the Selkirk Grace, Address to a Haggis and Auld Lang Syne – among other works of spoken word.
Shetland’s Up Helly Aa
Lastly, but perhaps most notably, is Shetland’s Up Helly Aa – Europe’s largest viking fire festival, which takes place on the last Tuesday in January. The 24 hour celebration of Shetland’s viking heritage is marked by a fiery procession of 1,000 torches, culminating in the ritualistic burning of each year’s longship or ‘galley.’ Private parties take place in halls throughout the night, with only a couple selling tickets to the general public. Can’t make the Lerwick Up Helly Aa? Look out for the live stream or visit one of Shetland’s many fire festivals from January to March.