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Credit: Emma Phillips

The Highlands – Where to find the Winter Wonderland of dreams

Whilst procrastinating my dissertation by reading a BuzzFeed article on the UK’s best locations, it dawned on me: I needed to go to the Scottish Highlands. Feeling impulsive and knowing I had some money saved (which has to be the most dangerous combination of factors in existence), I asked my boyfriend if he wanted to go with me, and that same day we booked a hotel for the week term finished for Christmas. December arrived and off we went. The rather daunting 9-hour journey had encouraged us to book another hotel on the way up which split the driving into one day of 3.5-4ish hours and another of 5-6ish, depending on traffic and weather.

We finally made it to Boat of Garten where our hotel, The Boat Inn, was. We were greeted with the most quaint, snowy winter wonderland. The hotel was a strange mix of gorgeous 5-star touches, mixed with a few run down 2-star elements. For example, we turned up and had no hot water from the shower, which was fixed within an hour of arriving, and there were a few areas where the paint needed touching up. However, we had a massive room, with gorgeous views, a TV, lovely bathroom with two sinks and a huge bath, which somewhat strangely was in the middle of the room, but no complaints from me as I could take in the wonderful landscape view and watch TV, all whilst warming up from the day’s adventures.

Having recovered from the drive there, we woke up to heavy snow. We decided to drive to the local town, Aviemore, that had a little bit more going on than Boat of Garten. There were some stunning walks starting half an hour away from Aviemore, so having stocked up on snacks, off we went on a hike. Our goal was Loch Eiliein in the Rothiemurchus forest. Whether or not we found that exact loch we were not sure, but what we did find was utterly incredible.

It was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my whole life and for relatively little effort, we hiked for about an hour to get there, the terrain was easy going and I enjoyed every second.

We then visited Blair Atholl and Blair castle. Whilst it was not quite the image that comes to mind when you hear castle, it was still absolutely gorgeous. We went on a tour of the castle which was well worth doing. It was really interesting and full of fun titbits about the area. It is worth noting that if you want to visit over the winter season, check whether the castle is open as it is normally shut over winter. If you visit the Highlands, do not limit yourself to visiting things that are in the immediate area. Blair Atholl was about an hour away from where we stayed and the drive there and back let us take in the beautiful scenery, find a nice place for lunch that we would otherwise have not gone to, and see what other activities the Highlands had to offer further afield.

To sum up the trip here is a cheeky little table of the information you probably want to know better.  

Pros  Cons 
Cheap holiday, about £90 on fuel and £200 on accommodation per person.  Eating out was occasionally expensive depending on location. 
Relatively easy to get to with experienced drivers and good weather.  Need to be able to drive in extreme conditions. My boyfriend got stuck with a lot of the driving in the snow because he is more experienced, and did not scream at every patch of ice! 
Plenty to do in terms of activities, from hikes to whiskey and gin distilleries to dog sledding.  Need to have some idea of what you would like to do when and what is close, whilst maintaining flexibility to do what you want when you are there. Also associated costs of activities. 

 

About Emma Phillips

E.phillips@student.reading.ac.uk'

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