6 reasons to visit Scotland in autumn

For our indie travel journal, A Year in the UK & Ireland, we ventured to Scotland for two months over September and October 2015 – and we were blown away. Counter to popular belief about Scotland’s weather, we were met with blue skies and sunshine almost throughout, plus landscapes so golden it was as if they’d been brushed by King Midas himself.

For that reason, we think there’s no better time to visit Scotland than autumn. If you need further convincing, here are six strong incentives.

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1. Golden hues

The leaves start changing colour around mid-September in Scotland. Greens turn to yellows, golds, burnt oranges and fiery reds, transforming its national parks and rural areas into spectacular autumnal sights. As there is so much wilderness in Scotland, it makes it a particularly apt place to take in these seasonal colours.
We fell for Cairngorms, in particular around Glen Clova (the front cover shot of our journal) and further north around Aviemore. Head to Loch an Eilein, a freshwater loch that is mesmerising in autumn when the trees start to turn and colours reflect in the still waters.

2. Indian summers

In the last five years or so, the weather in Scotland has seemed more pleasant over the months of September and October – we can certainly vouch for that in 2015. Recent reports predict that these months in 2016 are also set to be warmer than usual, with temperatures reaching around 25°C through September and into October.
While not all of Scotland will enjoy these Indian summer spells, select your destination wisely and you could be enjoying a balmier side to Scotland this year, and for years to come.

3. Fewer crowds

Despite these changing climactic conditions, it’s undeniable that July and August will always be busier months for tourism. School holidays dictate these peak periods, and as post-Brexit blues have forced more people to holiday in the UK, more Brits are choosing to travel around their own country, making it busier than ever. The crowds – and the peak season prices that come with them – can be easily avoided by choosing to visit Scotland in autumn.

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4. See the red deer rut

In autumn each year, the red deer across the UK go through the rut – a period of mating whereby stags have to round up a suitable female. Their penetrating roar can be heard across the landscape during this time, and there are often fights between rival males trying to lay claim to the same female.
This magnificent display of nature at work can be seen across Scotland, and is often made even more stirring because of the country’s isolation. There are few things more rousing that being alone on a glen and hearing a roar far off into the distance. Head to the windswept isles of Jura or Rum in the Inner Hebrides for sure-fire rut sightings.

 

5. Perfect pub evenings

Although the weather might be warmer, this is still the UK and the evenings cool down drastically – but the Scottish are prepared. With cosy pubs across the land, there’s ample opportunity to hunker down in a local tavern, a traditional made all-the-more inviting by the imminent threat of cold evenings and winter drawing close.
Not only are there plenty of watering holes, there’s lots of local firewater to go round too – Scotch. Settle down in a pub on a chilly autumnal evening in Scotland with your hands curled around a glass of Islay’s finest single malt.

 

6. No midges!

The midges that descend upon Scotland in the summer months have been ruining holidays for countless years. You can be bitten by these little pests hundreds of times over the course of a weekend away, leading to the most infuriating evenings and so-called ‘midge misery’. Even though you can find midges all over the globe, the local species – known as the Highland midge – is recognised as particularly ferocious. In autumn, the midges have long-since departed. Sayonara, suckers.

Would you visit Scotland in autumn?

 

 

 

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Scotland: Take the high road

A home-spun take on Route 66, the scenic new North Coast 500 Highland route boasts everything from salmon rivers and soaring cliffs to sea caves and secluded, sandy bays

Ardvreck-Castle-CROPPED

I remember a friend from Edinburgh laughing once when I enquired about Scottish weather in the spring. “You guys in London have the ice bucket challenge,” she explained, with a twinkle in her eye. “Up north, we just call it ‘going outside.’”
Waking up in the village of Gairloch, on the northwest coast of Scotland, I’m therefore mildly surprised by the view of golden sand and a cloudless sky from my bedroom window. Just below the hotel, a pair of seals frolic in the surf, while the horizon is edged by the distant mountains of Skye. So much for the dismal weather.
Perhaps because of Hollywood and Jack Kerouac, the phrase ‘road trip’ typically conjures up images of convertibles, flat-topped mesas and lonely desert highways. But today I’m continuing a road trip of a very different kind. The North Coast 500 — a new, home-spun take on Route 66 — is a journey as Scottish as Rabbie Burns or Nessie. No roadside diners or bumper stickers here.

After a hearty breakfast (“Would you like some white pudding with your black pudding, sir?”), it’s time to get behind the wheel. First stop: the Isle of Ewe Smokehouse, where I’m promised some of the finest smoked salmon in western Scotland.

Passing through a succession of gorgeous whitewashed villages, I skirt the shores of Loch Maree and Loch Ewe, their wind-ruffled waters overlooked by mountains with tongue-tangling Gaelic names. Highland cattle and tumbledown crofters’ cottages dot the iconic landscape.
Paula and Alistair Gordon, the husband-and-wife team who run the smokehouse, turn out to be utterly charming. Situated in Ormiscaig, on the northern shore of Loch Ewe, their home and garden boast magnificent views of the Torridon Hills, still dusted with snow in late March, and the more low-lying Outer Hebrides.
“Our products are imbued slowly with aromatic wood smoke and a west coast breeze,” explains Alistair in a lilting Scottish brogue, as he passes over a freshly smoked scallop for sampling. I make sure to pick up a gift box containing more of these divine creations on my way out.
Conceived by the North Highland Initiative — a project that aims to highlight the varied attractions of northern Scotland — the NC500 was launched in 2015, and has already won rave reviews. The 500-mile loop, which starts and finishes in Inverness, boasts everything from salmon rivers and soaring cliffs to sea caves and secluded, sandy bays. After a day-and-a-half’s driving, I’m already smitten.

Less than 15 minutes after leaving Ormiscaig, a short drive down a single-track road reveals one of the most idyllic stretches of British coastline I’ve ever seen. Lapped by a turquoise sea, the beach at Mellon Udrigle turns out to be a deserted arc of sand bisected by a meandering burn. To the north east, the mountains of Coigach provide a stunning backdrop, while a gentle breeze carries the plaintive cries of oystercatchers and curlews patrolling nearby Gruinard Bay.
Driving onward to Ullapool, I pass the sheer-sided spectacle that is Corrieshalloch Gorge, which, rather inappropriately, turns out to mean ‘ugly hollow’ in Gaelic. Then it’s on into an even wilder, more imposing landscape, as peaks such as the table-shaped Ben Mor Coigach and the colossal nunatak Suilven rear up from the rolling moorland.

I stop briefly beside Loch Assynt to admire the marvellously atmospheric Ardvreck Castle. Constructed in the late 15th century, this ruined fortress sits below the brooding bulk of Quinag, a reminder of man’s fleeting presence in this rugged, timeless environment.

The day ends in Lochinver, where I’m just in time to sample the wares of Lochinver Larder, northern Scotland’s most famous pie shop, before closing time. Gobbling down hunks of succulent venison, I look out over the local harbour as the engine cools. Geographically, I’m in the middle of nowhere. But if the next 300 miles are anywhere as good as the last 200, I’m in for a real treat.
northcoast500.com

 

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Scotland: One of the World’s Top Countries to Visit

Scotland has been named one of the top countries in the world to visit in 2014 by travel guide Lonely Planet. It was voted third best country to head to, behind Brazil which took the top spot and Antarctica which came second. Lonely Planet said Scotland’s “jam-packed schedule of world-class events” made it “the place to be” in 2014. The Commonwealth Games take place in Glasgow next summer. The Ryder Cup will be held at Gleneagles and next year is also Scotland’s Year of Homecoming. The book also cited Highland Games and the Edinburgh festivals as events that will draw travellers to Scotland next year, and it said the country’s cities were well worth a visit. The guide described Edinburgh as “the most gothic city outside Transylvania” and encouraged travellers to “take the high road to Loch Lomond, Loch Ness and Cairngorms National Park and fall in love with the landscape that inspired poet Robert Burns”