Winter is a fabulous time to visit Scotland. There are tonnes of attractions for the outdoor enthusiast such as hiking up snowy Munro’s, mountain bike racing and cross country skiing, but for those not quite as sporty there are also a number of intriguing festivals and events. Christmas and New year are the obvious dates to plan your holiday around but here are few more reasons to look forward to holidaying in Scotland this winter.
The first ever Hebridean Dark Skies Festival will take place on the Isle of Lewis from the 8-21st of February. The islands have some of the darkest skies in the whole of the UK so in winter many astronomical sights can be seen by the naked eye including the Orion Nebula (over 1,500 light years away), the Milky Way Galaxy, and the Great Andromeda Galaxy. The festival has a packed programme of stargazing, talks, family activities, film screenings and workshops, with events at An Lanntair, Gallan Head, and the world famous Calanais standing stones. Atlantic Longhouse sits right by Gallan Head and is luxurious and comfortable with a living flame biomass boiler, providing warmth and atmosphere. Winter nights have very little light pollution as well as an all-enveloping silence that can feel eerie to those not accustomed to it. As well as stargazing this means conditions here are also fantastic for seeing the Northern Lights.
The Burning of the Clavie is a tradition dating back hundreds of years. After the introduction of the Julian calendar in the 1750s, Burghead residents decided that they would like to keep their new year celebrations on the old date. Now on the 11th of January each year a ritual harking back to ancient pagan fire festivals takes place whereby a burning barrel of tar is carried through the town. This flaming barrel is mounted on a pole and eventually will make its way to the site of an ancient altar on nearby Doorie Hill where it is allowed to burn itself into a pile of ash and cinders. Superstitious onlookers then rush in to collect the live coals because to light their first fire of the year with them is still considered good luck. Visitors are welcome to watch but only native born locals are allowed to participate in the actual ceremony. The Lookout at Hopeman is just a five minute drive from Burghead, or a lovely walk along the coastal path. It is also a traditional fishing village which has a great beach and a relaxing old-fashioned charm while still having loads for kids to do at any time of year.
The Enchanted Forest will be running this year until the 4th November in Faskally Wood, just outside Pitlochry. This event has grown in recent years to be one of the biggest off-season attractions in the country and despite over 80,000 tickets being made available they are already in short supply for this year. The sound and light extravaganza which has as its theme this year “of the wild” takes about two hours to see in its entirety and features breath-taking visuals, state-of the-art technologies, interactive special effects and a dazzling music score. It is a truly enchanting experience for visitors of all ages. Taigh a Ghobha is right in the middle of Perthshire so it is really convenient for getting to Faskally Wood as well as all the other forests that the area is famous for. This romantic, traditional, stone-built country cottage has a wild meadow flower garden for evenings outside and a woodburning stove for these colder winter months.
The last big festival of the winter season is Burns Night on January 25th. It’s not a national holiday but as next year the date falls on a Friday it is sure to be a massive affair regardless of where about in the country you are. The supper itself can range from an informal gathering of friends to a huge ceilidh including poetry, speeches, bagpipes and of course the serving of the haggis with ‘neeps and tatties’ accompanied by the traditional address. Burns himself was fond of a wee dram and as our national drink tends to feature strongly in many celebrations then whisky country is the best place to go and celebrate. Clashindeugle Farmhouse is a grand countryside retreat that would make a fabulous spot for a grand dinner but it is close to Speyside so visiting some of the most famous distilleries in the world is remarkably easy.