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Enjoying the weather in Scotland. An Eriskay pony on Eriskay, towards the south end of the Outer Hebrides, looks happy in the sunshine. When it's fine here, the colours are matchless. We spent a glorious week one June in that (self-catering) house, right of centre in this pic.
The best thing about the weather in Scotland is that whatever you write about it will probably be true at some point in the year. And it’s all because of where Scotland is – sticking out into the North Atlantic.
You could think of the skies above Scotland it as a battlefield, where the prevailing south-westerlies with their mild airs meet the more stable air of the continental land mass. The resultant mix means the weather in Scotland never gets very warm or very cold. It’s just a cool temperate climate. Ho-hum.
Best pack a light waterproof, just in case. Especially if you are heading to the West Highlands. Oh, unless the forecast is for an east wind, in spring. In this case, the west will be dry. You see what I mean? Even explaining the weather in Scotland can be very complicated.
How my heart used to sink when I had to write those earnest descriptions of Scotland weather for promotional area guidebooks. I used to catch myself writing the word ‘moisture’ instead of ‘rain’ because it somehow sounded, well, drier. But you can't blame Scotland's tourism industry for not wanting to dwell on the weather in Scotland because – and there’s no way I can say this gently – it definitely rains a lot in some parts of Scotland, especially in the west. Time it wrong and an Atlantic weather front will slice the tops of those soaring mountains, and a grey wet curtain and a wind off the sea may make you seek recreation indoors.
The upbeat part is that if you expect the worst, then, when the weather in Scotland shows signs of improving, you can relax and enjoy the glorious interplay of cloud and light, and the mist rising on the crags, and all that stuff. Oops. I knew I would break out in brochure-speak at some point.
You can’t. The oft-quoted description of ‘four seasons in one day’ is an exaggeration – but there are certainly plenty of statistical differences in rainfall, sunshine hours and so on, to be noted even within comparatively short distances, because of the varied landscape of hill and glen. Be optimistic – the Scots usually are about their weather.
This is the only explanation for why Fort William, the West Highland route centre and bustling town in the shadow of rain-catching Ben Nevis, successfully brands itself as ‘Scotland’s Outdoor Capital' - in spite of being one of the wettest places in Scotland. Ooh, there, I've gone and said it now. (Actually, it’s a really cool place for mountain biking and all kinds of muddy stuff. And, of course, skiing at Nevis Range in winter.)
Finally, there is one exception to this cool-ish temperate flavour, if you believe what you read in guidebooks. This climatic freak in Scotland’s weather (apparently), happens specifically at Inverewe Gardens in the north-west Highlands. Most guidebooks describe the beautiful gardens there as ‘semi-tropical’. It’s all to do with the Gulf Stream – strictly speaking, the North Atlantic Drift - bathing the coast with its beneficial warmth. OK, so it’s on the same latitude as Labrador, but just because it doesn’t freeze up in winter does not make it semi-tropical. Get it right, you guys: technically, it's still cool temperate. And all of Scotland benefits, not just Inverewe. Grrr. I’ve wanted to say that for years…..
With the unpredictable climate in mind, when deciding what clothes to bring on holiday, pack for maximum flexibility. Remember that Charles Macintosh, a Scottish chemist (1766-1843), gave his name to the original waterproof overcoat. He did not, however, design Glasgow School of Art. That was another Mackintosh entirely.
Read even more on Scottish Highlands weather here - and don't worry. It'll be fine. Think about it as a little adventure.
So, now you know about the weather in Scotland, here are some more facts about Scotland.
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Scotland in Three Days