When British people meet, it is curious – one of the first subjects that invariably comes into the conversation is the weather. Perhaps this is because our maritime climate brings such variation to the weather that we enjoy from day to day and hour to hour. The weather in April 2015 has been no exception. For example, on Friday 10th I was helping to set out markers for an ultra-marathon along the gorgeous Loch Katrine; it was like a perfect summer day, with hoards of tourists dressed in summer mode, exposing acres of flesh. The following day the event was held – runners and marshals had to compete with high winds, rain, sleet and snow.
We often have late snow falls. On the low ground, it seldom lasts very long, but in the mountains the snow can linger on for weeks, adding a great photogenic element to the landscape.
Most people are affected by the weather, but possibly the people most affected are the sheep farmers. The critical period of a lamb’s life is the first 48 hours; during this period it can handle cold, and it can tolerate wet, but it really does not like cold and wet. The poor lambs have had a really rotten time of it in the last days of April this year. After having a wonderful false spring, the last few days have been bitterly cold and very wet – bad for tourism and bad for the poor lambs.
The other farming change that you see towards the end of April is the time when the cattle go out to grass. Some breeds of cattle, in particular the hardy Highlanders, stay out all winter; most other breeds (both beef and dairy breeds) are generally housed throughout the winter. It is an exciting time for farmers and cattle alike the day that the cattle are turned out. Generally the cattle will chase each other around the boundaries of the field, kicking their heels and showing evident joy.
In the mountains, though, spring weather is even less secure than on the low ground. It is the busiest time of year for the mountain rescue teams. What happens is that people are tempted on a warm spring day to try a bit of hill walking, particularly since the snow on the hills makes them appear sharp, close and attractive. All too often they take to the hills with no proper clothing, no map, no compass, they get up above the tree line at two or three thousand feet, and the weather changes. Suddenly these folk find themselves in an unfamiliar mountain environment with severe weather and no protective clothing. It is not just the visitors to these shores who get caught out like this, all too often local residents ignore all the warnings that appear in the press and on TV, and they go up into the hills putting themselves and others at risk. It is a fabulous experience to spend time up in the mountains in Scotland, but knowledge, respect and responsibility must come into the planning of the trip. It is particularly the changeable weather that catches people out, and which makes the mountains potentially dangerous.
Fortunately, in recent years we have seen great technical advances in the manufacture of outdoor clothing, and the clothing retail industry has expanded rapidly. I live in the small town of Callander, with a population of just over 3,000 people. Callander lies in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, sometimes described as ‘Scotland in miniature’. In the town there are four or five shops stocking a good range of outdoor clothing, walking boots, maps, and so on. There is every opportunity to be properly equipped before heading up into the hills and before experiencing the weather changes that are part of our climate.
Alasdair and Barbara are originally from the west coast of Scotland and have wide-ranging hospitality experience. They recently returned to Scotland after living full-time in France for 10 years and hosting tours on a converted barge in the Garonne Valley. They are now sharing their love and knowledge of the Scottish Highlands through Highland Host, offering personalized tours in this beautiful region.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France, the UK, and other European countries.