These are the top adventure holidays in Scotland
Take your mind away from the inbox and let it reset with the beauty and thrills of Alba
With the current month feeling as though it’s lasted a lifetime, and with the in-tray bursting under the weight of work, it’s probably around now that many of us are hallucinating on dreams of escape. Though jetting across the seas and the oceans in hope of solace may seem like the default choice, we’ve long championed Scotland as the perfect otherworldly getaway – there are the isolated hills, the vastness of the lochs, the country’s untainted, clear beauty that bleeds into a bewitching ruggedness. It is the kingdom of kings, and a land in which the dramatic crags and large swathes of greens seem to beam into eternity.
For our selection of the finest places to clear the mind, we’ve taken to bucolic coastlines, mountains that lure in flocks of skiers, and islands that appear as though they’re from a fictional realm, all tinged with a sense of adventure. So, to take your mind well away from the inbox and let it reset with the beauty and thrills of Alba, these are some of the very finest places to head to.
For end-of-the-world thrills: Staffa
Long the muse for creatives who’ve sought out its jagged, hexagonal basalt columns, Staffa appears like a rough-cut jewel that pierces through the waters off Scotland’s west coast, its rawness only enhanced by its lack of human settlement. When spring and summer arrive, the island’s grassy tops and steep cliffs act as nesting sites for myriad seabirds, from puffins to razorbills.
Going into Fingal’s Cave, the island’s 60-million-year-old headline site, feels like journeying to the earth’s core, with an appearance that looks as if it’s been lifted from an Olafur Eliasson exhibition – such is its track-stopping quality that composer Felix Mendelssohn used a visit here as an influence for his Hebrides Overture. It is best seen at morning, when the early light captures the ethereality of it all.
How to get here: Tour boats operate from Mull
For adrenaline-fuelled slopes: Cairngorm Mountain Resort
Image: Cairngorm Mountain
Image: Cairngorms National Park
Image: Cairngorm Mountain Resort Facebook
Though Courchevel, Val d’Isere and Chamonix may be the default destinations to hit the slopes, take a break from the normal circuit by making a beeline for Cairngorm Mountain Resort, located westwards of Aberdeen. From December into April, it’s a destination for skiers and snowboarders, and a welcoming setting for both experienced knees and less-seasoned novices. There is a freestyle area and over 30km of pistes, and riding in any one of the 12 surface lifts feels like a highway to heaven.
The run map may appear like a convoluted mess of coloured strings, but we’d nudge you towards White Lady, the renowned signature route. Whooshing down prime powder aside, the centre also reaches into Cairngorms National Park, a landscape defined by its splashes of rusty hues and one which is twice the size of the Lake District.
How to get here: It is a 10-mile drive from Aviemore
Cairngorm Mountain Resort
For stately water rides: Inverlochy Castle Hotel
Images: Inverlochy Castle Hotel
“I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot,” once said Queen Victoria, of this 19th-century castle that’s ensconced in a highland embrace. Though the plump seating, technicolour of bright hues, and dining options, overseen by Michel Roux Jr., all speak of creature comforts, Inverlochy acts as a fine launchpad from which to engage in more blood-pumping pursuits: take to Loch Oich for whitewater rafting, windsurfing and bumpers; there’s a world-standard downhill track for those keen on mountain biking; Kinlochleven’s terrain welcomes off-road driving; and yacht charters are available – we recommend heading eastwards to Moray Firth Coast, where you can sail alongside a pod of dolphins.
Though, of course, such activities can be par for the course in these lands, few will lead you back to such stately boltholes; to recoup from the day, we suggest you plump for the walled garden suite, which has vistas of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor.
How to get here: Head to Fort William on the West Highland Line. (Just make sure to book the hotel’s Roll-Royce Phantom from there.)
Inverlochy Castle Hotel
For optical explosion: Shetland
A sub-arctic archipelago that seems as though it wants to drift towards the shores of Norway (local accents are flecked with Scandi cadences, and the Norse once ruled here until the late 15th century), Shetland is the UK’s most northern point, with over 100 islands that make its slender form.
Bypass the fairisle twee and the native ponies, and instead seek out the wild miracles – beautiful glens, topography that looks as though it’s been lifted from a Turner canvas, orca and seal sightings, and waves that aggressively batter the string of sea cliffs. In winter, Shetland is a fine spot from which to gawk at the celestial green-purple twinkle of Aurora Borealis; in summer, the whole island is essentially draped in sunlight around the clock, making it appear as though darkness can’t touch these lands.
How to get here: There are up to three daily flights from Edinburgh to Sumburgh Airport
For a bird's-eye view: Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions Helicopter Tours
Image: Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions Facebook
If, however, you feel like your escape has to break beyond the confines of terrain, perhaps consider taking to the skies. Sandgrouse, one of the more premium aircraft services available in Scotland, has access to a bevvy of high-class vehicles, including bijou single-engine choppers ideal for two, and twin-engine Sikorskys and Airbuses that can accommodate 10 to 12 riders and are suited for island-hopping.
Itineraries are bespoke, and the panoramas are nearly as jaw-dropping as the swoops and sweeps in the air – fly to the Grampian Mountains, which occupy almost half of the country’s land, then settle into dinner in a baron’s lodge; soar above the Outer Hebrides and land for a lunch of scallops that have just been caught; or drop into a handful of the finest distilleries in Scotland, including those on Islay, the famed whisky-making island – just don’t push the boat out too far, as you’ll need a stern stomach for the whooshing ride back.
Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions Helicopter Tours
Need an even more regal holiday past the border? Here’s our guide on how to do Scotland like a royal…
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