As winter approaches, the desire to hunker down indoors can be hard to resist. But venture outdoors at this time of year and you’ll find just how magical Scotland can be. What’s more, this season is also the perfect time to turn your perspective inwards and practice a more mindful lifestyle and outlook.
One of the best ways to do this is to step into the winter wonderland right on your doorstep and get active. Breathe in the chill air, get those endorphins flowing and soak in the country’s spellbinding natural beauty while enjoying an array of winter sports and activities. It’s guaranteed to leave you reinvigorated in body, mind, and spirit.
Here are just some activities you can do outdoors this winter to improve your well-being.
Few experiences are more spectacular than mountaineering and hillwalking in Scotland – especially in winter when the Highlands peaks can be at their most dramatic. Mountaineering and hill walking is an activity that requires two tenets of mindfulness: to be completely attuned to your environment and aware of what you are doing. This is essential in winter when Scotland’s hills and mountains can be unforgiving environments. No matter your level of experience or fitness, be sure to climb with an experienced partner or sign up for a training course like those offered by Mountaineering Scotland.
Learn more about Scotland’s mountains and hills.
Entering a more mindful state can be easy as putting one foot in front of the other. Simply wrap up warm, head outside and set off on a winter walk. Take deep breaths of fresh air and consciously immerse yourself in your surroundings. Soak up landscapes transformed by golden winter light, savour the feel of dry leaves, frost or snow crunching underfoot, and listen as the still air is broken by the sound of birds and other creatures. You don’t even have to travel to the countryside to enjoy a sensory winter walk. Scotland’s cities are brimming with parks, gardens and other natural spaces making them among the greenest in the world.
Learn about some of Scotland’s best winter walks.
Mindfulness is all about living in the moment and there can be few activities more life-affirming than wild swimming in winter. While the thought of submerging yourself in the icy waters of a misty loch or salty waves might make you recoil, reconsider. Once your body has adjusted to the temperature, winter wild swimming offers an unparalleled natural high. Not only will you emerge feeling re-energised, but you can also reap an array of health benefits which may include reduced depression, improved sleep quality and boosted immunity. Some studies even suggest that cold water swimming may protect against the development of dementia. For information on how to participate in wild swimming safely, visit the Outdoor Swimming Society and Outdoor Access Scotland. You can find additional information on exploring responsibly in Scotland and from VisitScotland’s outdoor safety guide.
Looking up at the twinkling night sky, you can’t help but feel more mindful. Contemplating the sheer vastness and majesty of space and time places you firmly in the moment and can provide a healthy dose of perspective. Scotland is blessed with some of the largest areas in Europe with low or nearly non-existent levels of light pollution. These include Europe’s second Dark Sky Park and an array of Dark Sky Discovery Sites. Winter is the prime time to go stargazing when temperatures are at their lowest which enhances the clarity of the atmosphere. If you’re very lucky, you might also see the night sky awash with the dazzling colours of the Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights.
Discover more about Dark Sky Parks and stargazing in Scotland.
Kayaking & Canoeing
Maybe it’s the rhythmic act of slicing an oar or paddle into the still surface of a loch on a crisp winter's day, but there can be something highly meditative and even therapeutic about kayaking, canoeing and even paddleboarding. Studies show that immersion in blue space – namely natural aquatic environments such as lochs, rivers, and coastal waters, can instil a sense of calm and wellbeing. What better way to explore Scotland's water world than from the tranquillity of a kayak or canoe? In the winter months, this serenity is enhanced as Scotland’s lochs, rivers and coastlines are at their least crowded. The country’s hugely varied coastline coupled with its vast array of lochs, lochans and rivers makes the country one of Europe’s premier watersport destinations year-round. Just ensure you are confident of your ability and knowledgeable about safety techniques.
Explore more about kayaking and canoeing holidays in Scotland.
Watch the Sunrise and Set
When did you last take the time to watch the sunrise or sunset? For many of us, the hectic pace of daily life offers little respite to practice mindfulness. By getting up early enough or out of the house in time to watch this natural palette unfold is a great way to slow down, reflect and disconnect from the distractions of modern life. In addition to alleviating stress, it can also help combat the negative mental and physical effects of reduced light exposure. In winter Scotland’s sunrises and sunsets are at their most spectacular. At this time of year, sunlight travels a greater distance which filters out blue, green and yellow light, intensifying the red and orange hues which lend the rising and setting sun its fiery quality.
Read 19 stunning places to watch a Scottish sunrise (or sunset).
It’s important to remember to live well and boost your well-being not just in winter but throughout the year in Scotland. One of the best ways you can do this is by taking regular slow travel short breaks and holidays. You can start planning the perfect holiday to leave you rebalanced and rejuvenated with the help of VisitScotland’s 7 Chakras of Scotland map.
Find out more about winter and Christmas breaks in Scotland and plenty of great tips and practical advice for exploring at this time of year with VisitScotland’s winter FAQs.