So the build-up to Christmas has to be all about endless trips to the shops and trawling the internet for presents? Think again – as the mercury drops there is no need to let your adrenaline levels dip too, not when a winter wonderland of adventures tempt around Scotland. And the good news is that you won’t need to have your own ski gear as this quintet of activities are open to anyone without a piste in sight.


It is fair to say that some Scottish islands nigh hibernate in winter. Not so Mull. This Hebridean charmer really comes into its own in winter when the red deer descend from the high hills and can be much more easily spotted – as can myriad wildlife on land, in the waters and in the skies. Easily spotted too are otters, even in Tobermory Bay. Did you realise you can book Tobermory Hostel with Hostelling Scotland’s ‘Rentahostel’ scheme and enjoy your own exclusive wildlife weekend with friends and family?

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Peer out the window and you may well see porpoises or dolphins. Head out the front door and a coastal walk may even bring the reward of a whale in the Sound of Mull. For more otters, sea eagles and migratory birds hook up with Nature Scotland, a wildlife operator that still offer tours during winter – they know it’s a brilliant time for wildlife safaris too and they’ll kit you out with binoculars. If you’ve a car or two wheels exploring on your own is great fun as well.

Mull is alive with wildlife and if you sit still around the coast it will start to come to you. There is nothing quite like seeing an otter splash around the shore feasting on a crab or the sheer elegance of that flying barn door of the Scottish ornithological scene, the sea eagle, cutting wide loops in the sky above.



Deep in Highland Perthshire, Bowland Trails set imaginations and pulses racing no matter your age with their 39 Husky dogs. Since 1994 John and Mary Carter have been introducing people to their sled dogs – prepare to meet the likes of ‘Atomic, ‘Bat’ and ‘Bear’.

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You are not here to just meet and learn about the dogs – though that is a sheer delight too. You will be getting stuck in, donning a helmet and goggles to go ‘mushing’ on an adrenaline-pumping sled dog ride. You get the chance to get stuck in on a Husky dog experience spread over one or two days with their British, European and World Championship Sprint Racing Team Siberian Huskies. It’s a spirit-soaring experience whooshing through the Perthshire countrywide with these graceful dogs leading the way. There is plenty of opportunity for a Husky selfie and to fuss over these loveable animals. For kids this is the stuff of Disney films come alive.



What could be more Christmassy than reindeer? Rudolph comes alive in the Highlands. The Cairngorms are home to the UK’s only free-ranging herd of wild reindeer. The herd is around 150 reindeer strong. They meander across the Cairngorm Mountains and the Glenlivet Estate in an area of about 30 miles.

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Throughout December and then again in February there are daily weather-dependent guided ‘Hill Trip’ tours into the wilds to see them. Or you can just meet a few of the reindeer at the ‘Paddocks’ at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and pick up a wee Christmas present at their shop. Afterwards a hike through the woodlands and around the waters of nearby Loch Morlich awaits. Circling the loch with the snow-capped mountains glistening back is guaranteed to get both the endorphins going as well as the festive vibe. You can get around in two to three hours, but you may just want to slow down and take it all in.



Interested in ice climbing but don’t want to risk tackling the Cairngorm Plateau in winter? Well then, it’s the Ice Factor for you. This is no poor substitute for the outdoors as the site boasts the world’s largest indoor ice climbing walls. There is more traditional rock climbing to try out as well as the ice climbing.

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The scale of the operation is impressive – we’re talking 500 tonnes of real snow and ice that stretches to a height of 12m. It is graded from beginner to expert, easy angled snow slopes through to more testing ice and rock mixed climbing.

The Ice Factor then works very well for beginners looking to learn the literal ropes with tuition that quickly takes away the fear factor and lets you enjoy yourself. And then it works equally well for skilled ice climbers looking to brush up their skills for the outdoor season ahead. The excellent café awaits to reward your efforts.



Did you even know you can snowshoe in Scotland? I said we weren’t heading into the high mountains in these festive activities – you can, just you won’t be wandering alone.

The expert guides of Tarmachan are on hand to take off through the lower slopes with the aim of reaching a high top, weather and avalanche forecast dependent. Forget the old anachronisms of tennis racquets on your feet – the snowshoes you pick up in Aviemore are high tech friends who work wonders in the powdery stuff.

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It’s quite a feeling being led into a white world that you may have considered strictly off limits to anyone without an ice axe and crampons, or a pair of skis. And with snowshoeing you get far more chance to actually appreciate those views that just fly by when you are skiing. By now you won’t be missing skiing one bit.