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Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from England

Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from England


Postby UpAndDownMountains » Sat Jun 29, 2019 5:52 pm

I love the Highlands and their mountains, but after my latest trip up I feel I'm not getting many good mountain days (due to the weather) for the amount of time off work I'm spending. I live in the north of England.

How do those of you living in similar or further locations, manage to get some nice hiking days up in Scotland?

Contrast with how I do the Lake District - weekend or long weekend, with a pretty much 100% success rate of great mountain days in nice weather. Check the weather mid-week, I can book one or two days off work at short notice. Book one of the many b&b/airbnbs in the area for one or two nights, even if those still available are a bit of a drive from the walk's starting point. Drive over in the evening after work, or early following morning.

I haven't been doing that for Scotland mainly due to the travel time/cost involved (6 hour drive just to Fort William). Past few years I've been booking a week off work for mid-late June (good time according to climate statistics), booking b&b/airbnbs early enough before they all get snapped up, and hoping for the best. In the last 3 trips I did (2016, 2017, 2019), I've had 2 great days, 4 good days below 900m clouds, 9 rubbish days due to low cloud and rain, 3 days returned home early from the trip, and 6 days spent driving up/down.

I don't really have any personal constraints other than a full time job, so I'm open to ideas on other approaches to try. Camping can't be part of any solution, as I can't stand midges. The ideal is no cloud, no/not-much rain, somewhere midge-free to stay, and no masses of people due to tourists and school holidays.

I thought maybe trying the short notice long weekend method as I do for the Lakes, using a half-day off work to drive up, and finding places to stay further out from the walk locations - that would give me a full 2 days (Fri & Sat) up there for 12 hours total driving. I don't think I could make the drive after work or a day's walking, even if I had a more comfortable/automatic car. I also thought a camper van might help, but it would have to be my only vehicle, and would be slower for the journeys up and down. More extreme options are giving up, or getting a remote-working job and moving to the Highlands.
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby TillyT » Sun Jun 30, 2019 11:42 am

Well, honestly, your best bet is to buy a really good jacket and a pair of waterproof socks!
The further west you go the wetter it is, I've friends in FW who have a plastic shed becuase it rains so much a wooden one would rot in less than a year.
Try out Arrochar and Tarbet and Crainlarich way. Stunning country and slightly less rain. Stick to the southern highlands.
(Also closer so slightley less driving)
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby SummitStupid » Sun Jun 30, 2019 12:06 pm

You know, a 6/9 ratio of good/bad weather days isn't too bad! But that aside, there's quite a lot to unpack here. My home is in north Wales, so a fair bit further than you, so here are some things I do to make the most of my time:

Going once a year won't help. And planning trips long in advance is sure to end in rain! I just try to go whenever I can. Summer often is a pretty wet time in the mountains - I love September and October - fewer or no midges, less rain (I think), days are still long, and everything is a nicer colour than the lurid greens of July.

Sleeper train. Bit pricey, but you wake up already in the Highlands. This is great for places like the Cairngorms.

You don't want to camp because of midges? Camp outside of midge season, or camp high up (they don't seem to like it above, say, 600 metres). Or use bothies!

Go to places with wet weather options. Again, the Cairngorms is great - the beautiful and expansive Rothiemurchus and Abernethy forests offer plenty to explore. And a long, quiet walk through the Cairngorm glens is a fine way to stay beneath low cloud.

Another obvious solution is to just go when the forecast looks solid. When I have days off coming up, I watch the mountain weather forecasts religiously. Also note that different parts of Scotland get different weather. If it's raining in Lochaber, Sutherland may be enjoying sun and blue skies. The MWS website breaks Scotland up into about 5 areas.

Finally, you mention changing jobs - after changing to a four-on, four-off job I'll never go back to working anything else. Every eight days, you get four off. Use four holidays, you get 12 off. Use eight holidays, get 20 days off. It might be menial factory work but this lifestyle change would guarantee you the freedom to find more good weather days. I've been in China for a while now but when I come home I'll be getting a 4-4 job or similar.

I hope none of this was patronising, just throwing stuff at you off the top of my head!
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby GillSte » Sun Jun 30, 2019 1:19 pm

The best plan is to check the forecasts and, if good, drive up after work, arriving midnight or so. There's less traffic, so the journey is quicker but watch out for deer. Late June is not a great time to come up; it's the beginning of the summer monsoon and it's when the midges and clegs start working themselves into a feeding frenzy. Spring and autumn are often better, drier and no midges anywhere.
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby Ben Nachie » Sun Jun 30, 2019 1:54 pm

I think a camper van would definitely help you, and it wouldn't really take much longer to drive up & down. Even most older ones will happily cruise at 60-70mph, and the newer ones are just as quick as cars.
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby 37201xoIM » Sun Jun 30, 2019 3:48 pm

I'm in a very similar boat, living in West Yorkshire and loving Sutherland. I am lucky enough to have flexi-time and a decent boss, but even then it can be a challenge, and of course planning long in advance doesn't help; last year I planned about a week in advance to do Suilven but the weather essentially shifted backwards by a day so the winds forecast for Friday and Saturday were on Saturday and Sunday - and gale-force, such that at least in narrow terms of the hills I came away from my 2 nights in Lochinver with nothing.

I was a bit naughty when I did Foinaven in that it was well windy on the tops so probably a little risky on such a little-frequented hill, but my guardian angel obliged and the wind dropped just enough for me to take the ridge around to the summit of that stunningly beautiful hill.

Similarly, recent trips to Ben Hope and Ben Klibreck met with the traditional clag-out about 700m altitude - but even so I can't pretend I didn't enjoy the walks, especially the latter (and despite the periodic heavy showers).

For shorter-distance destinations (Wales or Southern Scotland) I've taken to being guided by the weather forecast and where there's late-booking accommodation availability, but other than that it's just a matter of taking it as I find it.

I agree that the "hit rate" you report is pretty good really - slightly better than mine! Otherwise...

- Take it as you find it. Only the most constant and hardest rain or strongest winds are really a show-stopper, I reckon.

- Be as flexible in terms of destination as possible.

- Travel at short-notice when the signs augur well

- (Linked to the above point!) Acquire as decent a boss as possible...

That reminds me, i need a new waterproof. Ideally one that resists water...
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby jmarkb » Sun Jun 30, 2019 5:19 pm

I think you have been on the unlucky side with the weather - just keep coming, and your stats will even out! I reckon on average one-third of days are decent, the second third are worth getting out on (but you might bet a bit wet or have cloudy tops), and the final third are for staying at home/going to the tea shop!
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby denfinella » Sun Jun 30, 2019 5:20 pm

This is an interesting one, and not just relevant to those living in England. For our holidays in the Highlands I've found the following things help:

1. Unless you have to go to a very specific destination with limited accommodation in the middle of peak season, don't book accommodation until just before your trip. Then you can pick an area of the country with the best forecast.

2. Base yourself somewhere that has quick access to different sides of the country / sides of hill ranges depending on which way the wind / weather is coming from. For example, we've just spent a week in Newtonmore. If the weather's coming from the west as it usually is, the Cairngorms usually have better weather and are close at hand. If the winds are from the east, an hour's drive gets you to Fort William and the West Highlands. Northerly winds? The southern side of the Monadhliath might be OK, or drive south along the A9. Storms coming from the south? Head in the direction of Inverness. In the end, we were fairly lucky with the past week's weather (aside from it being extremely hot!), but had it been wetter, Newtonmore was quite a "weatherproof" destination.

3. Don't have a fixed itinerary. I used to plan what I'd be doing each day but invariably ended up getting frustrated when the weather scuppered our plans. Now I just have a list of possible destinations / walks / sights (maybe three times as many as I'd be able to fit into the trip) ideally in different directions from my base (see point 1) and decide what I'm doing each morning, or the night before.

4. Having a reasonable understanding of how and why weather "moves" and evolves the way it does and how it's affected by topography is really useful for me - though I'm certainly no expert! Keep up to date weather forecasts (MWIS + Met Office for me), but at short range (i.e. hours) see if they actually tally with the live rainfall radar. For example, we had half a day left in Newtonmore on Saturday before heading home. On Saturday morning the Met Office app forecast sunshine all day in Fort William, with thundery showers further east. But looking at the live rainfall map, you could see the showers were all set up in bands heading right up the Great Glen (i.e. further west than forecast), so we scrapped plans to head to Fort William. Instead, we had a fully dry day with a reasonable amount of sunshine in Strathspey until we left after lunch, while (I believe) it rained for most of the morning further west. The showers slowly migrated eastwards through the day, but the main focus of them was never going to reach Newtonmore until after we'd left. This has been very useful for us in the past too - for example, a very wet week on the Isle of Mull was "saved" by heading to parts of the island which looked like they were going to be drier than the rest - we mostly had days of sunshine and occasional showers rather rain and occasional sunshine!

6. In summer, daylight hours are long! It very rarely rains all day - sunrise could be at 4am and sunset at 11pm. Even if it rains for 8 hours right up to lunchtime (or from lunchtime onwards) that leaves 8+ hours in the other parts of the day, which is long enough for a decent walk. OK, we don't (ever!) start walking at 4am, but getting up a few hours earlier (or later, with a later finish) can make a big difference.

7. Yes, invest in good waterproofs etc. if hill bagging is your priority. But if you don't like walking in the rain / clouds - I certainly include myself in this category - have plenty of backup options: riverside walks, lower hills, museums, castles, mountain biking...
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby davekeiller » Sun Jun 30, 2019 5:31 pm

I think that May and September might be better months to go than June. This also makes camping more of an option, as it's outside the peak of midge season (May is generally before it starts, by September they're tailing off before winter).
The best strategy is to try and have flexibility in your plans and go where the weather is best. This is easiest if you're camping but might also be possible with B&B's etc. outside of July and August.
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby Giant Stoneater » Sun Jun 30, 2019 5:40 pm

"The ideal is no cloud, no/not-much rain, somewhere midge-free to stay, and no masses of people due to tourists and school holidays." your asking for the impossible plus I think you answered your own question "More extreme options are giving up, or getting a remote-working job and moving to the Highlands".
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby malrobb » Sun Jun 30, 2019 7:40 pm

Despite living in Scotland for 23 years I never started "doing" the hills until I moved down South. I am near Reading so generally fly up to Inverness and hire a car. Again I am in the same quandary as to get the cheap flights you have to book in advance and same with the accommodation. You can get some really good deals eg I even got a 3 day car rental for £20.

I tend to have 2 trips in May (start and end) and generally fly up on Thursday and walk Fri, Sat and Sunday. I then bookend with a trip in late Aug/early September. Anything else is a bonus. May has been good to me since I started doing this and no midges and September usually good also. I am ticking off the Munros so I tend to target an area that has several options. In late May this year I had planned to do the Fisherfield 6 and An Teallach but the weather was looking really bad but managed to get some accommodation at short notice and still managed to get a couple of singleton Munros that cannot be done with anything else, as well as the 4 Eastern Fannichs. I will also tend to look for bigger and harder routes to get them out the way when I am relatively young as Munro Bagging is a long game with an average of 21 years for compleation! You may have different goals of course.

My advice would be to perhaps let the train take the strain and rent a car and then head for somewhere like Inverness which has a wealth of accommodation and then a lot of the hill ranges are in within fairly easy reach and you wont feel as though you will have spent the whole trip driving if you have to travel a bit further to get better weather.

I often find the forecasts that I use (MWIS) are often pessimistic as well and often you might start off in poor weather and get a little clearance where views open up and it makes it worthwhile.

Good Luck with your planning.
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby Mal Grey » Sun Jun 30, 2019 7:45 pm

Long weekend booked late will work fine, especially if you only choose the destination based on the forecast. You live in the north, that's well within long weekend range, though I get that fuel costs can mount up.

However, attempting to only explore the Scottish hills in near perfect conditions is potentially missing out on some brilliant days out. Some of my best mountain days have been ones in atmospheric changing conditions, when a sudden window in the clouds opens a view of an incredible corrie or glittering lochs. Yes, try to chose the weather as well as you can, but don't automatically bin everything that is less then perfect, you'll be waiting forever.

For what its worth, I always say that our annual weeks in the North West Highlands (always in Feb or March), which are booked well in advance as we have 3 people's work requirements to juggle, have broken down into the following over the 25 or so times we've done it. 5 have been amazing, wonderful weather, 5 have been rubbish dreadful weather but still got a few things done. Only one has been a virtual right off from a summits perspective, but we found some interesting lower walks and the waterfalls were spectacular in the rubbish weather! The rest have been somewhere in the middle, but nearly always there's been at least one really good day.
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby SummitStupid » Sun Jun 30, 2019 7:48 pm

Giant Stoneater wrote:"The ideal is no cloud, no/not-much rain, somewhere midge-free to stay, and no masses of people due to tourists and school holidays." your asking for the impossible plus I think you answered your own question "More extreme options are giving up, or getting a remote-working job and moving to the Highlands".


It seems like there always has to be someone bringing rain and gloom to these advice threads. Everyone else managed to offer some good advice, rather than vague, unfriendly dismissal.
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby UpAndDownMountains » Sun Jun 30, 2019 10:28 pm

Well thank you all, really interesting to hear what works for you and things I could try myself.

TillyT wrote:Well, honestly, your best bet is to buy a really good jacket and a pair of waterproof socks!
The further west you go the wetter it is, I've friends in FW who have a plastic shed becuase it rains so much a wooden one would rot in less than a year.
Try out Arrochar and Tarbet and Crainlarich way. Stunning country and slightly less rain. Stick to the southern highlands.
(Also closer so slightley less driving)

I don't mind walking in the rain/cloud, but for me most of the enjoyment is in the scenery. I've recently started a Google Map with markers for walks I'd like to do all over the place. Quite a few are in the areas you mention, but the majority perhaps unsurprisingly are on the west coast.

SummitStupid wrote:You know, a 6/9 ratio of good/bad weather days isn't too bad! But that aside, there's quite a lot to unpack here. My home is in north Wales, so a fair bit further than you, so here are some things I do to make the most of my time:

Going once a year won't help. And planning trips long in advance is sure to end in rain! I just try to go whenever I can. Summer often is a pretty wet time in the mountains - I love September and October - fewer or no midges, less rain (I think), days are still long, and everything is a nicer colour than the lurid greens of July.

Sleeper train. Bit pricey, but you wake up already in the Highlands. This is great for places like the Cairngorms.

You don't want to camp because of midges? Camp outside of midge season, or camp high up (they don't seem to like it above, say, 600 metres). Or use bothies!

Go to places with wet weather options. Again, the Cairngorms is great - the beautiful and expansive Rothiemurchus and Abernethy forests offer plenty to explore. And a long, quiet walk through the Cairngorm glens is a fine way to stay beneath low cloud.

Another obvious solution is to just go when the forecast looks solid. When I have days off coming up, I watch the mountain weather forecasts religiously. Also note that different parts of Scotland get different weather. If it's raining in Lochaber, Sutherland may be enjoying sun and blue skies. The MWS website breaks Scotland up into about 5 areas.

Finally, you mention changing jobs - after changing to a four-on, four-off job I'll never go back to working anything else. Every eight days, you get four off. Use four holidays, you get 12 off. Use eight holidays, get 20 days off. It might be menial factory work but this lifestyle change would guarantee you the freedom to find more good weather days. I've been in China for a while now but when I come home I'll be getting a 4-4 job or similar.

I hope none of this was patronising, just throwing stuff at you off the top of my head!

Thanks, not patronising at all! Yes, yearly trips planned far in advance are definitely off. And I'll try autumn. The sleeper train routes don't work out for my location, plus it must be a pain not having a car up there. Might try camping outside of midge season (but might have greater b&b availability at those times anyway). I'm not fit enough for carrying stuff up high to camp unfortunately. I do have a few walks I'd like to do in the Cairngorms, but the place doesn't appeal to me nearly as much as the west does. Yes, going on short notice based on the forecast is the biggest thing. Your work arrangements sound ideally suited for you, I however don't want this enough to give up career and a good wage for.

GillSte wrote:The best plan is to check the forecasts and, if good, drive up after work, arriving midnight or so. There's less traffic, so the journey is quicker but watch out for deer. Late June is not a great time to come up; it's the beginning of the summer monsoon and it's when the midges and clegs start working themselves into a feeding frenzy. Spring and autumn are often better, drier and no midges anywhere.

Sounds good, exactly what I do for the lakes. Perhaps an early night the night before, ready for the long drive after work the following day. What do you do for accommodation if arriving at midnight - I wouldn't want to be putting up a tent at that time, and I can't imagine many b&bs taking arrivals at such a late hour? Spring, another one I might try.

Ben Nachie wrote:I think a camper van would definitely help you, and it wouldn't really take much longer to drive up & down. Even most older ones will happily cruise at 60-70mph, and the newer ones are just as quick as cars.

I've had a look and am shocked by how expensive they are! The idea is brewing in my mind, though it'd be a big/costly change to my only vehicle for the sake of a few trips a year. The journey is a cruise up to say Glasgow so that would be fine, on the roads beyond there though even a basic car would leave even a modern 2 tonne camper some way behind.

denfinella wrote:This is an interesting one, and not just relevant to those living in England. For our holidays in the Highlands I've found the following things help:

1. Unless you have to go to a very specific destination with limited accommodation in the middle of peak season, don't book accommodation until just before your trip. Then you can pick an area of the country with the best forecast.

2. Base yourself somewhere that has quick access to different sides of the country / sides of hill ranges depending on which way the wind / weather is coming from. For example, we've just spent a week in Newtonmore. If the weather's coming from the west as it usually is, the Cairngorms usually have better weather and are close at hand. If the winds are from the east, an hour's drive gets you to Fort William and the West Highlands. Northerly winds? The southern side of the Monadhliath might be OK, or drive south along the A9. Storms coming from the south? Head in the direction of Inverness. In the end, we were fairly lucky with the past week's weather (aside from it being extremely hot!), but had it been wetter, Newtonmore was quite a "weatherproof" destination.

3. Don't have a fixed itinerary. I used to plan what I'd be doing each day but invariably ended up getting frustrated when the weather scuppered our plans. Now I just have a list of possible destinations / walks / sights (maybe three times as many as I'd be able to fit into the trip) ideally in different directions from my base (see point 1) and decide what I'm doing each morning, or the night before.

4. Having a reasonable understanding of how and why weather "moves" and evolves the way it does and how it's affected by topography is really useful for me - though I'm certainly no expert! Keep up to date weather forecasts (MWIS + Met Office for me), but at short range (i.e. hours) see if they actually tally with the live rainfall radar. For example, we had half a day left in Newtonmore on Saturday before heading home. On Saturday morning the Met Office app forecast sunshine all day in Fort William, with thundery showers further east. But looking at the live rainfall map, you could see the showers were all set up in bands heading right up the Great Glen (i.e. further west than forecast), so we scrapped plans to head to Fort William. Instead, we had a fully dry day with a reasonable amount of sunshine in Strathspey until we left after lunch, while (I believe) it rained for most of the morning further west. The showers slowly migrated eastwards through the day, but the main focus of them was never going to reach Newtonmore until after we'd left. This has been very useful for us in the past too - for example, a very wet week on the Isle of Mull was "saved" by heading to parts of the island which looked like they were going to be drier than the rest - we mostly had days of sunshine and occasional showers rather rain and occasional sunshine!

6. In summer, daylight hours are long! It very rarely rains all day - sunrise could be at 4am and sunset at 11pm. Even if it rains for 8 hours right up to lunchtime (or from lunchtime onwards) that leaves 8+ hours in the other parts of the day, which is long enough for a decent walk. OK, we don't (ever!) start walking at 4am, but getting up a few hours earlier (or later, with a later finish) can make a big difference.

7. Yes, invest in good waterproofs etc. if hill bagging is your priority. But if you don't like walking in the rain / clouds - I certainly include myself in this category - have plenty of backup options: riverside walks, lower hills, museums, castles, mountain biking...

All great points, I'll be trying most of those. I'm the same and would also need backup options, I take no enjoyment from bagging a hill to tick it off a list while not seeing anything on the way.

davekeiller wrote:I think that May and September might be better months to go than June. This also makes camping more of an option, as it's outside the peak of midge season (May is generally before it starts, by September they're tailing off before winter).
The best strategy is to try and have flexibility in your plans and go where the weather is best. This is easiest if you're camping but might also be possible with B&B's etc. outside of July and August.

Spring/autumn, and flexible plans again - seems to work for a few people.

Giant Stoneater wrote:"The ideal is no cloud, no/not-much rain, somewhere midge-free to stay, and no masses of people due to tourists and school holidays." your asking for the impossible plus I think you answered your own question "More extreme options are giving up, or getting a remote-working job and moving to the Highlands".

The ideal is just that, what I was asking for was what works for other people. Some great answers so far, certainly more than I had myself and also not extreme.

Mal Grey wrote:Long weekend booked late will work fine, especially if you only choose the destination based on the forecast. You live in the north, that's well within long weekend range, though I get that fuel costs can mount up.

However, attempting to only explore the Scottish hills in near perfect conditions is potentially missing out on some brilliant days out. Some of my best mountain days have been ones in atmospheric changing conditions, when a sudden window in the clouds opens a view of an incredible corrie or glittering lochs. Yes, try to chose the weather as well as you can, but don't automatically bin everything that is less then perfect, you'll be waiting forever.

For what its worth, I always say that our annual weeks in the North West Highlands (always in Feb or March), which are booked well in advance as we have 3 people's work requirements to juggle, have broken down into the following over the 25 or so times we've done it. 5 have been amazing, wonderful weather, 5 have been rubbish dreadful weather but still got a few things done. Only one has been a virtual right off from a summits perspective, but we found some interesting lower walks and the waterfalls were spectacular in the rubbish weather! The rest have been somewhere in the middle, but nearly always there's been at least one really good day.

Long weekends sound like the way to go. Fuel is fortunately fine, my own driving/hiking endurance and a place to stay might be more limiting! I'll bear that in mind about waiting for near-perfect conditions, I'm generally cautious about getting caught up mountains in cloud.
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Re: Strategy for getting good weather, coming up from Englan

Postby al78 » Sun Jun 30, 2019 10:32 pm

I try to go to Scotland in May/June, which are climatologically the driest and sunniest months of the year, although you can still get poor weather, like when I went earlier this month and got three days with decent sunshine out of 13. If you can go for a fortnight, ytou should get at least a couple of nice days unless you cop the great British summer killer, the stalled low pressure.

Living an hour's train ride from London, I have the option of making use of the sleeper train for a weekend trip to the highlands, so I could keep an eye on the forecast, and book a last minute sleeper ticket if the weather looks settled. I didn't do this last year when I walked the Minigaig but I got lucky as I started off in light rain/drizzle and the weather gradually improved towards warm and sunny. If you live in NW England it is not easy for you to make use of the sleeper, since it would be expensive to get a train to London and a sleeper ticket.

Other than that, there is no way to guarentee good weather in Scotland, as with anywhere in the UK it is a gamble, and if you go there on holiday you have to accept that it is likely you will get poor weather at some point. There is a reason why Scotland has a lot of lochs and vegetation.
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