Three or Four Days in Scotland, How to Plan?

Discussion in 'Places & Planning' started by Ralph Ingham, Nov 27, 2018.

  1. Ralph Ingham

    Ralph Ingham Hiker

    My son and I will be spending 3 or 4 days backpacking in Scotland, visiting from the United States, in late May/early June of 2019.

    I’m curious about the logistics of planning for this trip. I’m used to backpacking in the United States, where I typically plan our trip 6 months in advance, (securing transportation, permits, etc.). Can I attempt to do this so early, for a trip in Scotland? I’ve read online where some people suggest waiting almost to the week of their trip to make plans, because the weather could be anywhere from great to horrible. Additionally, I’ve seen posts that say that the weather can be very different in different parts of the country, and therefore I should have several options available to me — and then be prepared to choose the best option when the week arrives. Am I asking for trouble if, this early, I lock ourselves into a trip to Caringorms NP?

    BTW, I've put together a proposed GPX route from Aviemore that would take us from the Cairngorm car park, south through each of the five 4000s, then head East from the Devil's point and then north to Ben Avon, and then finally West back toward the car park. All in all, it is about a 70km (44 mile) loop. We are used to doing around 25 km days, in the United States. What can we expect for snow depths in the park during this time?

    Thoughts on all of this? Is this a good time for the Cairngorm NP? Should we be looking elsewhere in Scotland, instead? Should I be planning two trips at the same time and then pick at the last minute?

  2. Teepee

    Teepee Thru Hiker

    I'm not sure about planning it 7 days in advance....TBH, the night before often isn't late enough to get a handle on what the weather is going to do. :)
    Locking yourselves into the 'Gorms will be no bad thing for Scotland, as the East side is very often the driest mountainous area of Scotland and you'll find stuff to do if it's raining stair rods. If it's bad there, it'll most likely be worse elsewhere. The E'n 'Gorms running down into the Dee Valley are the driest.

    Your route is a cracker and takes in a lot of the best bits. Be warned though, bad weather up there is life threatening...just take a look at the Cairngorm summit windspeed records; they hold a candle to Mt Washington. I would very strongly recommend planning a route B, using the lower paths like the Lairig Ghru/Lairig an Laoigh, and don't rely on being able to cross the fords of Avon. I've been well and truly drowned in these hills, the bothies can come in handy.
    It could be glorious, full on spring melt, or stair rods. If the weather is right, it's the best time of year.

    Snow depths will vary, there will likely be some deep drifts hanging around, but the melt will usually have started well before then and it's generally not a big problem. You'll know nearer the time. Snow tends to blow off Scottish hills. :)
    2019 looks likely to have a similar weather pattern to last year, and as such, a colder than average spring.
    JKM, Mole and craige like this.
  3. dovidola

    dovidola Section Hiker

    May/early June is a good time for the 'Gorms, as the days are long, rainfall is (on average) lower than later in the summer, and the midges, if present, aren't usually that bad yet. There may be snow on the tops, but probably not to the extent that special equipment is required. Usually weather in drier than it is further west. The UK's prevailing weather blows in from the Atlantic, and it will often dump its rain over western uplands before it reaches the eastern side.

    Yes, you are potentially asking for trouble locking yourself into a trip to any part of the UK for any particular dates, as the only constant in our weather is that it's unpredictable, but many of us have little choice so we just plough on anyway. Take decent waterproofs, be prepared for wet and boggy ground and make sure your tent/shelter is good in the wind!

    No permits are required to trek in the UK's National Parks. As far as your planned route is concerned, there's nothing wrong with it, but I would keep it flexible as there's no need to stick to any particular path.

    As well as being unpredictable, UK mountain weather is also changeable, and will seldom be the same for many days in a row, so in all probability you will have at least some nice weather.

    @Teepee 's post has just gone up, and I see a lot of this is duplication, but it gives you a fair idea of what you can expect.
    Mole, craige and Teepee like this.
  4. cathyjc

    cathyjc Thru Hiker

    Hi, and welcome :).

    You do not need permits in Scotland, Thank goodness (puts me off going to the US).

    If you need to book accomodation then you might need to do a little forwards planning but might get away with booking places a few days ahead if you are not fussy.
    May/June is a good time to come - but not "high season" re. lots of other vacationers filling all places up - there are a few exceptions tho'.

    If you are camping then you are much free'er to choose at the last minute. The best policy is to watch the weather and decide where you are going based on that.
    I usually make my decisions about 2-3 days in advance as that is when the forecast will have actually acquired some accuracy. I live in Scotland and don't have far to travel so this works for me.

    Have plans/ideas ready for different parts of the country eg. Cairngorms or NW Highlands or West coast, or Islands - then you can put into action the one with best forecast.

    Your Cairngorms plan looks nice. 25Km a day is 'pushing it' IMHO. Our paths are sometimes "not made" or the ground is rough and that can be a lot slower than a nicely made trail - especially in the west where the ground is very wet. You know your own fitness.

    Being able to navigate by map and compass is essential as you won't find any trail markers. (-Sorry if you already know this:oops:)

    PS. the replies above are right re. the Cairngorms getting the driest climate. BUT this last season we had several patches of weather that came in from the east and gave the NW Highlands the best. If that happens then grab the opportunity to go explore some of the very best scenery :D. Watch what the experts have to say about the antics of the Jet Stream can sometimes :unsure: give indications of longer term weather predictions.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2018
    Mole likes this.
  5. craige

    craige Thru Hiker

    ^^ all of this.

    In terms of mileage, the cairngorms has a pretty decent network of nice paths compared to other mountain areas in Scotland. They do dissapear though and improve and degrade seemingly randomly. If you stick to them then you should manage decent mileage. What kind of trips are you used to doing? PCT style, wide manicured trails or gnarly unpredictable trails that aren't really maintained with a lot of up and downs, river crossings etc. @cathyjc says it's too much but for me I'd be happy with more. Something also to note is that a lot if our "trails" don't have switchbacks... they just go straight up steep hills so slow you down more.
    Mole likes this.
  6. Baldy

    Baldy Thru Hiker

    Cairngorms is best, simply as it's probably the easiest to get to from any major airport.
    Mole likes this.
  7. Ralph Ingham

    Ralph Ingham Hiker

    Thanks all for the helpful replies! For the most part, each of your comments about the Cairngorms seems reassuring. I appreciate the suggestion of good waterproofs. Also, appreciate the point about there not being switchbacks, I hadn't realized that. I've hiked all over the US. Southern California, Appalachian Trail, New Mexico, Alaska, New Hampshire, etc. I've been on everything from nicely groomed trails to even hiking in areas with no trails at all. I will make some adjustments to our planned loop to include some options for shortening the loop, so that we can cut some mileage out, if we feel it necessary.

    My biggest problem is the logistics of it all. This trip will be part of a larger family trip to the UK. My wife will be off doing other things in England while we are in Scotland. Tentative plans are to take a sleeper train from London to Aviemore, and back. I can buy refundable tickets, so am less concerned about that. And I may even purchase refundable tickets to two different places, so that I can watch the weather. @cathyjc mentions a couple of options. If you could only plan two possible trips simultaneously, with one being the Cairngorms . . . what would you suggest for the alternative trip destination, that might have relatively easy access from public transportation?

    Thanks again!
    Mole likes this.
  8. gixer

    gixer Thru Hiker

    No advice on Scotland, but with regard the weather and planning, it's tough

    It makes sense to wait and see, but holidays need to be taken off work, flights need to be booked and transport needs to be arranged.
    I usually arrange my trips back to the UK 4 or 5 months before, so you can't always pick and choose the best weather

    My advice is to commit to your ideal route, but have a lower foul weather fall back route, just in case
    You can often have the same start/stop points, so logistics like transport and hotels can be the same

    For me this hiking is a holiday and i want to enjoy it, so i tend to book a hotel every 3 days or so
    With the weather i usually see when i'm back over, it's good to dry out (or repair) your kit
  9. cathyjc

    cathyjc Thru Hiker

    Cairngorms - planning 'bail out'/shorter routes is a good idea and quite easy to do :thumbsup:.

    If you are travelling up from the south of England - fly to Inverness - It really is the "Gateway to the Highlands" there are several large outdoors shops will sell you gas canisters or alcohol fuel (ask for Meths)
    From there you can :-
    -Train or bus to Aviemore for Cairngorms (less than 1hr)
    or bus to Ullapool for the NW (~ 1.5hrs)
    or bus to Fort William for Lochaber area.
    or train to Lochalsh for Skye

    PS. my daughter is based in Inverness ATM and she's like a kid in a candy store - which hill to do next ??? :biggrin:
  10. Shewie

    Shewie Administrator Staff Member

    It would be worthwhile getting some UK OS maps and familiarising yourself with the format once you have an idea of location, very few trails over here are marked so you’ll be relying on nav skills
    Mole likes this.
  11. Mole

    Mole Thru Hiker

    Teepee says it all weatherwise, though I don't recall late spring 2018 being particularly cold in the Cairngorms this year? Lower slopes it was often mid to high 20s degrees C in the daytime the last week in May when we were there.

    As Shewie says, OS maps good to use (or Harvey's). I use both.

    Be prepared for sections of Talus on the tops and some valleys.

    We've done 2 planned Cairngorms trips at the exact same time of year, and been fairly lucky with weather. Rough ideas formed, maps studied, but played by ear each day. I am a reasonably able navigator, and happy to make decisions on the day/moment rather than planning a fixed itinerary.

    Think maybe you are the person on BPL I replied to?

    Here is my partner's (@Fair Weather Camper) blog report of a similar high level trip over a week in the same time slot ( May into June) 2016.
    Don't think we exceeded 20km a day.

    Spoiler alert - it's long and pictureful.

    This year when we were there same time, was warmer and less snow than 2016.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2018
  12. dovidola

    dovidola Section Hiker

    Just another 'nugget of wisdom' not previously mentioned; ignore if it's unnecessary: upland UK areas are largely devoid of forests, so if you were planning on using 'wild' fuel, you will probably need to consider an alternative.
  13. edh

    edh Thru Hiker

    Whereabouts have you hiked in the US?
    Just to see if you've experienced similar trail conditions.
  14. Ralph Ingham

    Ralph Ingham Hiker

    Thanks @cathyjc. That recommendation of flying into Inverness and then connecting to the next point seems very promising. Also appreciate the location suggestions! As for maps, I have a Harvey map of the Cairngorms already on the way. Wherever we go, I will have both map and compass with me, as well as GPS. If we take a stove, it will probably be a solid fuel stove. I've typically used Esbit fuel, historically. @Mole thanks for the links. Looks beautiful. I can only hope our weather is like yours! @edh I've been all over the US: Southern California, Appalachian Trail, New Mexico, Alaska, New Hampshire, North Woods, etc. I've been on everything from nicely groomed trails to even hiking in areas with no trails at all.
  15. cathyjc

    cathyjc Thru Hiker

    sea Alaska is probably most like Scotland but "without the steroids" - and a much smaller space with a lot more 'civilisation'. No bears :D - but we do have ticks and Lymes but not as bad as some places in the US.

    If you want to experience something a bit unique, compared to the places you quote above, then it is the west of Scotland where you experience the mountains next to the sea :inlove:.
    Fingers crossed for a patch of decent weather.

    April 2018, and Easter in particular, was cold - we had strong easterly winds for days - even at sea level on the west coast it was :cold:. A few weeks later we were into the start of a lovely early summer.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2018
    Fair Weather Camper likes this.
  16. Diddi

    Diddi Thru Hiker

    If the weather is crap or you want a plan B witb loads to walk/see/do then for me it would be the Isle of Skye.
    But how easy to get to from London i am not sure :thumbsup:
    Fair Weather Camper and Jon jons like this.
  17. Fair Weather Camper

    Fair Weather Camper Thru Hiker

    It was flippin very hot in the Gorms this last spring, to the point that certain lower level stretches of the walk had to be undertaken in an extreme state of deshabille :shy:

    Same a few days later over on the west coast around Torridon too - so dry that there had been extensive wildfires :frown:

    Made for nice sea, and river swimming though :) Must finish that trip report, soon.

    But recon we've messed up the weather, to the point where extreme unpredictability is the new normal.

    And i believe that will makes midge forecasting harder too ??
  18. Fair Weather Camper

    Fair Weather Camper Thru Hiker

    Take the train - pretty quick (and much nicerer than flying :angelic: ) from London - it snakes around western edge of Cairngorms - you could even hop off at one station and walk to another via the tops.

    Once you're up there - all the train rides out to west coast are ace too :)
  19. PhilHo

    PhilHo Section Hiker

    There's also a bus to Skye, from Inverness that stops at various places on the way. Including Shiel Bridge which gives you various Glen Shiel options or go all the way to Portree and do part of the North end of the Skye Trail. See pic below.

    If you want to hedge your bets for good weather, I'd be tempted to head to Inverness and have a plan A East side, and plan B West side trip planned. Then make my decision using the short range weather forecast. If the weather is going to be bad for a few days out west it is often good in the east on those days. Then travel to the start of your walk using local public transport based on a last minute decision.

    Fair Weather Camper and cathyjc like this.
  20. Fair Weather Camper

    Fair Weather Camper Thru Hiker


    Or - train to Oban then ferry to Mull ( very cheap as a foot passenger)

    Mull has some pretty good walking

    :rolleyes: And can be quite sunny too :)
  21. Baldy

    Baldy Thru Hiker

    I think far too much emphasise is being put on what the weather 'might' be.
    A 3 season bag, decent waterproofs and warm jacket should cover any eventuality outside of winter in Scotland.
    Diddi, Mole, cathyjc and 1 other person like this.
  22. PhilHo

    PhilHo Section Hiker

    You sound like Billy Connolly. "There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing". :D
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  23. Fair Weather Camper

    Fair Weather Camper Thru Hiker

    And not forgetting a sun hat / bonnet too :angelic:

    Edit... Such as this fabulous number - courtesy of a secret admirer :inlove:


    I think it was someones (or possibly everyones) Nan, who said that -
    long before Bill trotted it out. :geek:
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2018
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  24. Diddi

    Diddi Thru Hiker

    Says the man who stops in Hotels if the wind so much as says hello :biggrin::whistling:
  25. Baldy

    Baldy Thru Hiker

    It's called boosting the local economy

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