The weather at this time of year means that it can be difficult to persuade younger members of the family out for a walk. There are, however, lots of events outside the tourist season in Scotland which might just get everyone to don wellies and hats and venture into the cold.
The Woodland Trust runs events throughout the year at numerous sites across the country. Sunday 1 December sees a world record tree hug attempt which needs volunteers; organisers are hoping to get 1,000 people to simultaneously hug trees at 11 sites in Scotland, including the Glasgow and Edinburgh Botanics. The day also sees the launch of Tree Trails Scotland, inviting members of the public to “bag” 16 iconic Scottish trees with a tree passport and stamps available on the day (www.treetrailscotland.com).
The Woodland Trust also has some brilliant spotting sheets for younger walkers (downloadable from www.naturedetectives.org.uk) which encourage children to tick off their finds. The winter one includes such delights as squirrel dreys, mistletoe, fungus and red deer poo, perfect for keeping the little ones interested in a woodland walk, as long as they aren’t too hands on.
The Forestry Commission has special events throughout the winter at its sites too; next month its visitor centres will be selling Christmas trees and there are activities planned to help the family have a day out. Venues such as Achray Forest Park near Pitlochry and Galloway Forest Park have festive trail quizzes and there are wildlife hides to give you a better chance of spotting the locals (www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland).
There are also some big arts events on the go. Faskally Wood in Perthshire has just finished its annual transformation into The Enchanted Forest, a light and music show which illuminates the trees with beautiful bright colours each autumn. More than 40,000 visitors attended this year’s event which was named Best Cultural Event at the 2013 Scottish Event Awards. As well as a stunning pathway to follow through the woods, there is a story-telling yurt and catering tents supplying barbecues, hot chocolate and mulled wine. The event for 2014 is at the planning stage but you can register interest in tickets (www.enchantedforest.org.uk) although the wood is worth a visit at any time.
From the beginning of February to the middle of March, you can view the national collection of 350 different snowdrops at the Cambo Estate near St Andrews, where there are also plenty of events throughout the year. A walk in the woods here can involve feeding piglets, storytelling or discovering the environmental sculptures on the trails which lead to a beautiful beach. The estate is open every day throughout the winter with free entry for children and there is a gift shop and cafe. From 11-16 February, however, it becomes extra special when the wood is illuminated in the Snowdrops by Starlight night time event (www.camboestate.com).
The Walking Theatre Company performs all over Scotland and will hold an audience’s attention with plays or historical turns while surreptitiously exercising them, whether they are children or adults. This year it is bravely debuting an outdoor winter pantomime, Snow White, which will see performers leading their audience around a variety of trails in character and in costume for an hour and a half, open to the elements. It is a lot of fun for all, particularly when exit stage left sees an actor disappear into a bush (see www.thewalkingtheatrecompany.com for details or to book your own).
It may be true that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong sort of clothes, but for truly inclement days, there are ways of getting some exposure to nature without necessary getting exposure.
The Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh is a great option for a rainy day and there are plenty of events and guided walks going on throughout the winter, plus a simple wander through the warm glasshouses is educational, interesting, and most importantly, indoors. For younger children the Botanics is hosting a Santa’s Grotto from 13 December, but all year round there is plenty to do. The Edible Growing Team is out and about throughout the winter so even if your garden at home is somewhat dormant, there is a lot for children to see and do here and an umbrella, thermals and a set of waterproof clothing isn’t necessary (www.rbge.org.uk).