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29 Nov 2021

Winter highlights

Written by Rich Rowe
A robin perches on a snow-capped wooden fence post, with the snow-covered mountains of Glencoe in the background.
Glencoe in winter | Image: Emily Bryce
Bracing but full of wonder, winter’s seasonal splendour can be enjoyed at a host of Trust places. Just remember to wrap up warm!

Snowy mountains

It’s amazing how snow can completely change the character of mountains. While some appear soft and inviting when enveloped in pillowy folds of white, others look intimidating and unclimbable. All somehow become grander, particularly when distinguished from lower-lying areas by a clear snowline. For experienced walkers, these high places exert a magnetic pull, while others find awe and wonder in simply gazing at them from glen level. There is excellent winter walking available at a range of Trust places, but it’s hard to beat the mountain views from the visitor centre at Glencoe!

Also at: Ben Lomond, Torridon, Ben Lawers and Mar Lodge Estate

A picnic bench covered with a thick layer of snow stands in the foreground, with the dramatic snow-covered mountains of Glencoe rising in the background. The sun is low and gleams through a gap between the hills.
Snowy mountains form a magnificent backdrop at Glencoe visitor centre | Image: Emily Bryce

Hair ice

An otherworldly formation that looks like a hairy cloud or frozen candyfloss, hair ice occurs on winter nights just below 0°C when ice crystals form on moist, rotting wood. Scientists have only recently discovered that it’s caused by the presence of a particular type of fungus that pushes water out of the pores of the wood, which then freezes into thin strands of ice. Although rare, hair ice has been spotted at Trust places in Highland Perthshire such as Killiecrankie and Linn of Tummel, and in the woodlands at Crathes Castle.

Also at: The Hermitage and Dunkeld

Hair ice clusters around a lichen-covered thin branch.
Hair ice | Image: Mick Atkins, Shutterstock

Winter waterfalls

It needs to be exceptionally cold for waterfalls to freeze for any length of time, but when conditions are right the results can be spectacular. Grey Mare’s Tail near Moffat often partially freezes in winter, sometimes even completely, with the falls and plumes of billowing spray transformed into bulbous ledges and steps that attract ice climbers. Waterfalls at lower levels are less likely to freeze but have their own drama when in spate following heavy rainfall.

Also at: Linn of Tummel, Corrieshalloch Gorge and Falls of Glomach

Two ice climbers use ropes to make their way up a frozen waterfall.
The frozen waterfall at Grey Mare’s Tail

Seas of cloud

Winter is the prime time for cloud inversions – when banks of mist and cloud sit low enough for a hillwalker to climb through and gaze down upon them. The ethereal result of a reversal in the usual temperature distribution of air, cloud inversions occur when a layer of cold air is trapped at ground level and a layer of warm air lies above. Climbing through a cloud inversion to emerge into bright blue sky is a curious sensory moment – as is looking down at a sea of billowing white, where the surrounding peaks poke out like islands. The Trust cares for many mountainous areas where cloud inversions can occur, including Mar Lodge Estate, Torridon and Kintail.

Also at: Glencoe, Ben Lawers and Ben Lomond

A mountain ridge with snowy patches peeks out from a blanket of thick cloud. The sky overhead is a clear blue.
A cloud inversion at Torridon | Image: Another Viewpoint, Shutterstock

Snowdrops and a smile

The emergence of snowdrops rarely fails to cheer the soul. Blooming between January and March, they offer a hint of spring and the promise of warmer days to come. Dainty but tough, snowdrops thrive in damp soil along riverbanks and in woodland, each bowed white bloom supported by a single stem. Snowdrop lovers (or Galanthophiles, after the flower’s Latin name Galanthus nivalis) will delight at the named varieties grown at Branklyn Garden near Perth. Many Trust sites also participate in the annual Scottish Snowdrop Festival.

Also at: Crathes Castle, Culzean Castle, Fyvie Castle, House of Dun, Newhailes and Threave Garden

A close-up image of a dense cluster of snowdrops.
Snowdrops

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