TAKE a look at some of the wonderful things to do over the Christmas and New Year period for for 2013/14 in Scotland, from skiing on the slopes of the Cairngorms to swimming in the Forth on New Year’s Day.
Few places in Europe are better for skiing and winter sports than Scotland. Aviemore, Scotland’s ski capital, opens its doors in December and usually remains open until April, weather permitting.
The Cairngorm Mountain offers some of the best terrain for skiing while the views from its peaks are simply breathtaking. The Cairngorm national park offer courses for beginners, intermediate and those at expert level, while also maintaining a full snowboard park.
If you don’t fancy hitting the piste then the Ptarmigan restaurant, Britain’s highest, offers great locally produced food and drink to enjoy while viewing the great panoramic views down to Loch Morlich and across to Ben Nevis and Ben Hope. The restaurant is easily accessed all through the year from the funicular mountain railway, but that’s only if you can be pulled away from the Cas bar at the base station with its roaring log fire and great atmosphere.
There are some great holiday package offers from companies such as Skinorwest including a pre-Christmas special with 2 nights in a bed and breakfast, equipment and lift passes for only £190. A Christmas ski holiday from the 23rd December including 4 nights stay, Christmas day lunch and 2 days equipment and lift passes. Courses are also available from The Ski School and Non-stop Ski.
Aviemore is not the only place in Scotland to offer great slopes and scenery. Here are some of Scotland’s other top ski resorts:
• Glen Shee - Considered to be the most extensive Ski range in the UK, Glen Shee has 22 lifts and over 36 runs over 2,000 acres, perfect for any level of skiing.
• The Lecht - Scotland’s fun snow area has something for everyone: expert tuition for adults and children, a Snowboard fun park, and the Lecht 2090, a timed raceway for pros. For everyone else, there’s snowtubing, devil karting and quad bikes with plenty more to come. The Centre has invested over £1 million in facilities for year-round visitors.
• Glen Tress is a mountain biking Mecca deep in the heart of the stunning Tweed valley, with green, blue, red and black trails for any level of mountain biker. Stay in the brand new Glen Tress Wigwams before taking to the trails. Forestry Commission Scotland has invested massively in the site ensuring great trails, signage and information plaques.
• The Ben Nevis range, rated as one of the top 10 biking sites in the UK, is the biggest downhill trail in Britain and offers great trails at all experience levels.
• The Ice Factor near Glencoe is Britain’s premier indoor climbing centre. It features the biggest indoor ice climbing facility in the world, where you can master any climbing experience or just have a bit of fun. Afterwards you can relax in the sauna, steam room, plunge pool or hot tub.
• Further south, The Edinburgh International Climbing Arena is located in a spectacular quarry setting. It boasts an impressive range of world-class facilities, including the world’s largest indoor climbing arena, a 122 metre-long Sky Ride, state-of-the-art adventure sports gym, national judo academy, scuba diving school and Urban Sports Park complete with BMX and mountain bike trails and dual bike slalom.
Food and drink
• WEST Brewery in Glasgow kicks December off in style with their Opera Wintry Show, designed to highlight both opera and beer. With several stars of Scottish opera showcasing their talents while you sit back and enjoy some of WEST’s own German beer what could be more fun? The show runs on Wed 4 and Thu 5 December, with tickets available for £15 from WEST Brewery.
• If baking is more your thing, why not spend some time in the company of a Great British Bake Off finalist? James Morton, who has just released a brand new book, will be offering advice and stories on baking at The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh on Sat 7 December, and at its sister venue in Glasgow’s west end on Sun 8 December. Tickets are £12per person.
• Held at the Royal Scots club on Thu 19 and Fri 20 December, the Winter Wonderland Dinner promises to be a magical night with organisers claiming to add a little bit of magic to your Christmas with a night of illusions, comedy, music and cabaret – and the promise of ‘at least six impossible things before dessert’. The event includes a three course meal, a glass of champagne and the aforementioned live entertainment. Tickets are £60 each.
• If you need to stock up on festive fare, the Banchory Farmers Market on December 19 will offer a wide range of festive favours from cheeses and chocolates. pork pies and preserves. The Market runs from 9am until 1pm in Scott Skinner Square in Banchory.
• Hopetoun House is one of Scotland’s best known Stately homes and this December it’s opening its doors with loads of events happening over December and January including Farm Shop tasting events and Christmas craft fairs. There’s even a Christmas shopping event.
Walks and outdoor events
• If you’re a fan of nature you can’t go wrong with the charity Scotland’s Gardens, founded in 1931, the charity raises funds by opening a range of gardens which are normally private to the public. There are over 200 major gardens and grounds available which are great from a winter walk this December. The 2014 guidebook available for £5.50 on the website gives you access to the many wonderful examples of the gardens available and where to find them this winter and all year round.
• On Sun 15 December the Falls of Clyde park ranger will be hosting a winter warmer walk with chances for wildlife spotting and stories of Christmas folklore all finished of with mince pie and mulled wine over looking the Cora Linn water fall. Great fun for the whole family with Christmas crafts being offered for children after the walk.
• Wrap up warm and head to Blairadam Forest, near Kelty to enjoy a winter walk on one of the popular forest trails and pick out a real Christmas tree on the way back. Forestry Commission Scotland’s Christmas Tree Sales Centre will be open every day from 9am to 4pm where you can choose from a wide range of fir, pine and spruce trees. You can take part in wood artist Alan Kain’s master class on how to make simple Christmas decorations and check out the jewellery stall to pick out a special gift.
Winter festivals in the cities
• The west side of Princes Street in Edinburgh is transformed over December and January as it becomes a winter wonderland, with a fair ground, ice rink and Ferris wheel all beside a German winter market, with amazing food and Christmas themed gift ideas and crafts. This year also sees the introduction of the 60m-high Star Flyer.
• Not to be outdone, Perth has decided this year to create its biggest ever winter festival running from late November right through to January.
Highlights include an enormous advent calendar in the city centre, with a new window opened each day of December, a range of markets including a craft market, the Perth’s farmers market and a traditional Christmas market, and an open air theatre production of the Snow Queen on 7 and 8 December.
• Perhaps you’d prefer more grandiose scenery? Well, Christmas at Stirling Castle might just be for you. On 15 December, the Castle are offering the chance to enjoy festive fun at the historic site - sing along with the Swinging Santas or laugh along with the Christmas puppet show, take part in a workshop on Christmas traditions and see traditional Christmas foods served at court.
• Looking to see Santa’s little helpers up close? Well the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is the best place to go this December. A guide will take you amongst one of Scotland’s only wild roaming herds, where you will have the chance to meet them, stroke them and feed them by hand. Great fun and magical for kids and grown ups who’d love to get closer to a real life Rudolph and friends.
• Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to Santa’s Grotto and there are some great ones around Scotland this winter. At Finlaystone country estate follow the nature trail to Santa’s grotto at the country estate (£9.50 with one free adult). At Toytown at Threave, Dumfries and Galloway there will be choirs, arts and crafts, a festive trail around the gardens, and of course, an encounter with the big guy himself (Adults £5 kids £2.50). Blair Castle, Blair Atholl brings Santa’s magical woodland grotto inside the castle, with Victorian decoration and great food (Family ticket £20), while the Christmas fair and foal show at the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride offers Pantomime, donkeys and Shetland foals as well as a trip to see Santa (Family ticket £22).
• A 5,000 year old cairn on Orkney is the perfect place to take in the winter Solstice, where the setting sun shines directly down the passage of Maeshowe, illuminating the back wall and passage in dramatic fashion. The sun sets directly over the Barnhouse stone on December 22, the shortest day of the year.
• December is also a chance to flex your cerebral muscles as the Scottish Winter Chess Festival runs throughout December in Edinburgh. Multiple venues and dates give you the chance to see if you can match up with Scotland’s finest players.
• In Pamplona, Spanish revelers drink all night before attempting to outrun death and a great big bull. In Scotland the closest we have is the Loony Dook - jumping into the freezing Firth of Forth from the boathouse steps in South Queensferry on New Year’s Day.
For your goose-pimpling efforts you get a towel, a t-shirt and a pipe band parade through the town, and also the chance of a bout of hypothermia.
It is, of course, all for charity (raising more than £100,000 since its inception in 1987) and is for a great cause so there really is no excuse for not joining in.