With uncertainty surrounding international travel this year, you might be wondering how to replace your annual winter getaway to sunnier climes – but there are plenty of picturesque UK destinations that are more than worth your time, and some of them are only a short drive away.
With lockdown restrictions expected to be lifted over the coming weeks, now is the perfect time to start planning a winter road trip. Our top pick for your destination? The Scottish Highlands.
Scotland is an often overlooked, yet breath-takingly beautiful, part of the UK that can be easily reached by car, so there’s no need to worry about Covid tests, travel restrictions, or any of the other stressful issues that are currently hindering air travel to countries abroad.
And, while it might not have the same hours of daily sunshine and five-star waiter service to offer that your favourite luxury Caribbean destination does, it has plenty of other things instead, from snow-capped mountains and cosy log cabins to epic lakes and forests that outdoor types won’t be able to get enough of.
The average temperatures in Scotland in winter are somewhere between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius – although on particularly cold days, the mercury can drop as low as minus 5 – so it pays to be prepared in order to get the most out of your road trip. The weather here is unpredictable, so it’s essential to pack for all eventualities, from cool, crisp and sunny days to rain, snowfall and ice.
Tips for before you go
Safety-check your vehicle
Scotland can often be snowy, but this is mostly limited to the peaks up in the Highlands. Roads are usually gritted and kept in safe conditions for drivers, which means road closures and diversions are minimal. Even so, it’s advisable to expect the unexpected, and ensuring that your vehicle is road safe and well prepared for adverse conditions will give you the confidence you need to enjoy your trip to the full.
It’s important to make sure your oil and water are suitably topped up for the journey, and that your tyre tread is up to scratch before you set off. If you’re travelling a long distance then make sure you know where your nearest garage or tyre centre is so that, should you have an issue such as a slow puncture on the way, you’ll know where to head. You can also save the contact details for garages in Stirling or nearby areas like Fife Autocentre that will help you provide reliable tyres.
Get your car serviced
Before heading out for a trip with your family. You need to make sure that you avoid any kind of mishaps or car mechanical issues during your journey, so can get your car serviced from a reliable garage near your area. For many motorists, it might look like a tiresome job, however it is better that you keep your car roadworthy by making sure important parts of your vehicle are fit to drive and won’t cause any trouble later. Car components like brakes, oil checks, and fuel and emissions will be checked to ensure they are performing efficiently and topped up.
Keep your daily drives short
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to taking a road trip to Scotland in the winter is the darkness. The shortest day of the year begins as the sun rises at 8.45am and ends with sunset at 3.30pm, but the average number of daily daylight hours at this time of year is around 8.5.
Driving in darkness in the Scottish Highlands is best avoided. Roads can be narrow and winding, and weather can be treacherous, so it’s best to get up early and make the most of the daylight hours before settling in at a luxurious hotel or a cosy lodge for the night and setting off again the following day.
Things to do
If you’ve ever fancied a romantic night of drinking champagne beneath the stars, then Scotland is the place to do so – although you may wish to swap the bubbles for a bottle of local whisky, for a traditional Scottish experience that is certain to warm the cockles.
There are a number of dark discovery spots in the Highlands where you can enjoy breath-taking night-time skies. Far away from the light-pollution of the cities, ‘Orion’ sites offer the chance to see at least the seven stars of the Orion constellation, while if you head to the ‘Milky way’ sites instead then you’ll actually be able to see the milky way with the naked eye!
Scotland is the perfect place to try out snowshoeing – a type of hiking that involves walking while wearing a special kind of footwear that displaces weight over a larger area. If it doesn’t sound all that fun, then hear us out – because this sport goes back almost 6,000 years and allows you to access regions of the wilderness you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get to.
Be sure to have a log fire and a hot drink waiting for you back at your accommodation though, because after a day up near the peaks, you’re going to need them.
On the topic of snowy weather activities, why not pack your skis and indulge in a little on-slope action at one of Scotland’s five ski resorts? Granted, it’s not quite Val D’Isere or Chamonix, but the Glencoe Mountain Resort and the Nevis Range Mountain Resort are excellent alternatives, offering up challenging terrain, dramatic scenery and opulent accommodation with five-star service.
Visit a whisky distillery or a museum
When all of that outdoor action gets a little too much and you’re ready for a day indoors in the warm, head to one of the area’s many whisky distilleries or museums. Giving you a chance to learn about the history of this quintessentially Scottish tipple, see it being made and, of course, sample the goods yourself, it’s a great way to while away a relaxed few hours, and an even better way to round off a memorable trip.