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...
What superb advice! - could be the topic for a Walkhighlands article?
The approach described in para 4 is especially valuable, I think. I live a long way from the hills (Birmingham) but I'm usually pleased with the weather I get in Scotland as long as I plan carefully and keep flexible. On a recent week in March-April based in Crianlarich, I managed to see some superb scenery, enhanced by dramatic cloud formations, even though the overall forecast for most days was totally dire. Eg by looking at the weather map (combined with some lucky guessing) I got a clear day on Sgiath Chuil, but for most of the day I could see a storm centred on Ben More that looked like a special effect from a movie. For me, that was far better than a cloudless but hazy day in June.
Another thought, as well as the southern/eastern Highlands, might be the far north eg Coigach/Assynt? The lower hills mean that even on claggy days more of the hills are visible. The weather moves fast up there, a morning of torrential rain might be followed by a beautiful afternoon, and there are some stunning effects of light on the otherworldly scenery when the clouds break open to reveal the hills and coast. I have been in a snowstorm one minute and had 50-mile views ten minutes later!