As someone who was brought up hiking (since I could carry a backpack), and has lived in Scotland my entire life I love getting out into the hills all year round. It's true that winter walking in the mountains requires special equipment and skill, but it is certainly possible to get out in nature at any time of the year in Scotland as long as you adjust your day's objective to the conditions and stick to low-level routes. Some of the best things about walking in the autumn and winter months are difficult to put into words; twinkling frost on crisp mornings, that rosy-cheeked feeling after a blustery, yet refreshing, day on the trail, and the wonderful light you get at this time of year. Here are some of my favourite things about walking in the Scottish Highlands during the winter months.
1) The trails are quieter. Although it's great meeting fellow hikers along the trail, winter a the time for slowing down, resetting and a little introspection, so take comfort in the lower numbers of visitors braving the elements and enjoy some solitude.
2) The snow-covered mountains. Even if you aren't venturing up onto the snow-dusted peaks the views speak for themselves, and provide the perfect backdrop for your photographs.
3) The wildlife-watching opportunities. Depending on where you are in the country it may actually be easier to spot wildlife in the winter months. Less foliage on the trees makes bird-watching easier, and the lower snow-line brings larger animals like red deer down to the valleys more frequently, increasing your chances of spotting them.
4) Late sunrises and early sunsets. This can be a positive or a negative depending on your take, but again if you adjust your objectives to fit with the low number of daylight hours at this time of year you can make the most of it. Capture the striking colours that usher the day in and out again with your camera, or simply pause for a moment to marvel at nature's spectacular canvas as the sun slips below the horizon.
5) Star-gazing. Perhaps a little niche, if trending towards the enthusiast end of the scale, but who hasn't gazed up at the sky in wonder on a clear starry night? Scotland's Cairngorm National Park is home to the largest, and darkest, Dark Sky designated area in the UK. The shorter hours of daylight mean that you don't need to get up in the middle of the night and shuffle blearily outside to appreciate the constellations, you can simply pop out after dinner for a spot of star-gazing.