Hours of daylight
Scotland extends over high latitudes – higher than most visitors will have experienced. Nearly all of Scotland’s Great Trails are in the range 55° to 58° N (and Scotland extends to 61°N at the north of Shetland, which is similar to Anchorage, Alaska). Be prepared for very wide variations in the hours of daylight from month to month. The range is from as many as 17-19 hours of daylight in late June to as few as 5-7 hours in late December. For specific timings on dates up to 20 years ahead, visit this UK website: scroll down for a list of Scottish locations.
Running short of daylight can take you into real danger if you are unprepared. Between late September and late March, aim to set out at first light and always check the time of sunset before you go. Plan realistically what distance you can expect to cover in a short day, and always carry a headtorch in case for any reason it takes longer.
Weather and waterproofs
The weather in Scotland is unpredictable year-round. It can be cloudy and windy at any time, the sun may shine, rain, hail or sleet may fall – and all of these may happen within half an hour. Be prepared for anything, and often you will get a pleasant surprise. Visit the Met Office for a weather forecast before deciding what to carry with you each day.
It is vital not only to carry a waterproof top layer, but also to know that you can rely on it. Long before a multi-day expedition, test your waterproofs so you have time to reproof or replace. It can be surprisingly difficult to find a suitable shop once you have set off. Be sure to take a waterproof cover for your rucksack.
Mountain weather and avalanche risk
Mountain weather occurs in five main regions of Scotland, and the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) provides specific forecasts (including wind strength, cloud level and rain/snow predictions) for each of them here. Note that wintry conditions can apply at any time between November and March and if your Trail runs across high ground check also on any avalanche risk during those months. Always be aware of short hours of daylight, especially between November and January.
Scottish Outdoor Access Code
Scotland has one of the most enlightened access policies in the world: by law, everyone has the right to be on most land and inland water providing that they act responsibly. Your access rights and responsibility are explained fully in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Click for a short Introduction to the Code or click here to download a leaflet, PDF, ebook or guidance for dog owners.
Many coastal routes include sections that may be passable only with care around high tide, or even that may be unsafe unless you know that the tide is falling. For online tide times well into the future, Tides4fishing is helpful and free, but sadly covers very few of the islands, nor even large peninsulas such as Kintyre or Cowal.
For a more comprehensive set of locations, but with a free service that is restricted to only one week ahead, try Admiralty EasyTide. Remember that tidal predictions are only forecasts: the actual hazard depends also on weather, wind and waves.
In summer months, small biting insects called midges can be a problem. Some people won’t ever be bitten, others find them so maddening that they resort to headnets, especially if camping or wishing to sit still anywhere near water and vegetation. If you walk fast (4 mph/6.4 kph), midges can’t keep up! For more about the midge season, repellants and a five-day midge forecast based on midge traps and mini-weather stations, visit the Smidge website.
Ticks are tiny blood-sucking insects, harmless if removed promptly and effectively. However, if infected a tick bit can occasionally lead to Lyme disease – which can be treated if diagnosed early, but is potentially very serious if allowed to progress. There is an excellent website (outcome of a university research project) that explains how to Check for Ticks.