The temperature is dropping, the days seem so brutally short, the news is gloomier than ever… As winter hits, you might be forgiven for going into hibernation; simply drawing the curtains and hunkering down with a flagon of cocoa under a mountain of blankets until March. But don’t! There are so many ways to enjoy – really enjoy – the UK’s darker, chillier climes.
There are active adventures that will warm you up nicely (no costly central heating required). There are escapades that are actually more fun when there’s frost and snow on the ground. And there are seasonal spectacles that are so astonishing they’ll make you forget it’s a bit nippy out.
Plus, with fewer people daring to go out and about, the experiences will feel all the more exclusive, all the more edgy. And you’ll fully deserve that flagon of cocoa at the end. See below for some adventurous ideas to get you started.
Hit the surf in Caithness
The beaches in this part of Scotland are some of the country’s cleanest, wildest, emptiest and most invigorating. They’re also slapped by the UK’s most northerly surf break, which is best from autumn to spring. North Coast Watersports offers lessons at Dunnet Beach, near world-class surf-hub Thurso, and at Strathy Beach, Farr Beach and Durness, on request. Group lessons from £40pp, private lessons from £120 (07982 649635; northcoastwatersports.com).
Ice climb in the Highlands
If you’re going to give something as extreme as ice climbing a go, you definitely want an expert on hand to show you the literal ropes. Highland Ascents’ experienced mountaineers offer private guiding from Glencoe, Fort William and in the Cairngorms. They can help the brave tick off classics like Ben Nevis’s Tower Ridge (the UK’s only true alpine ridge) and infamous Point Five Gully. One-day guided ice and winter climbing from £260pp for one, £145pp for two (07702 942980; highlandascents.co.uk).
Build a snow hole in the Cairngorms
Scot Mountain Holidays claims its tours are “non-restricted by season or weather”. Which isn’t entirely true of its snow hole expedition, which requires not only a spirit of adventure but a dump of the white stuff. Thankfully, that’s not a problem in the mighty Cairngorms. So join outdoors expert Andy Scot to hike in the icy wilderness, learn mountain skills and dig your own shelter. Four-night snow hole expedition from £635pp, including meals and accommodation (01479 831331; scotmountainholidays.com).
Mountain bike in the Peak District
Come winter, mountain-bikers will want well-drained trails, places with natural shelter and routes that avoid trashing the soil too much. The Peak District has plenty of options. But if you’re unsure, join Pure Outdoor on a mountain-biking taster day. Groups are small, and as well as learning bike control and skills, you’ll head off-road in the national park, seeking the best trails for the conditions. One-day mountain-biking taster day from £89pp (01433 424164; pureoutdoor.co.uk).
Stargaze in North Yorkshire
Contemplate the mind-blowing nature of your own insignificance by staring up into the North York Moors’ officially-lauded dark skies. Astro Dog runs regular astronomy events at its cosy stargazing hub in Dalby Forest, using a large-aperture telescope to view the planets, galaxies and nebulae. For maximum astronomical action, visit during the Dark Skies Festival (February; darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk). Dalby Forest stargazing evenings £25 adult/£20 child (07540 131077; astro‑dog.co.uk).
Learn bushcraft in the Chilterns
Spending time among trees is good for the soul, no matter what the weather. David Willis runs courses on bushcraft and wilderness living year-round, helping people pick up useful skills and connect with nature. His day courses in the Chilterns include spoon-whittling and campfire bread baking. Or book his bushcraft 101 weekend to learn the basics and then put them to the test with a night in the woods. Bushcraft 101 weekend from £185pp; day courses from £95pp (07956 650404; davidwillis.info).
Hike the Cotswolds
Multi-day hikes don’t have to be off the cards in winter. Contours Holidays suggests its 48-mile Cotswold Round. The southern climate is rarely extreme, while the hills and villages look magical in frost or snow. Contours also offers the circuit over four, six or eight days – the longest version, covering five-10 miles a day, means you won’t be out in any bad weather for long. Four/eight-day self-guided Cotswold Round from £630pp/£1,110pp, including B&B accommodation (01629 821900; contours.co.uk).
Watch birds in Somerset
As most of the country tends towards hibernation mode, the mystical Somerset Levels burst into life. Naturetrek’s winter short breaks here seek out specific species, such as bitterns and marsh harriers, and masses of overwintering waders and wildfowl. They also put you in prime position for witnessing millions-strong starling murmurations, one of the country’s greatest natural sights. Three-day guided Somerset Levels trip from £475pp, including half-board accommodation; from December-February (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk).
Master mountains in Snowdonia
Wales’s highest peaks are still tantalising in winter, but you’ll need more nous to tackle them. The Play Y Brenin National Outdoor Centre runs courses in Snowdonia, including a two-day Welsh Winter Skills course that covers everything from selecting the right winter equipment to reading conditions, using crampons, basic navigation and avalanche awareness. Two-day course from £280pp non-resident, £382pp including full-board accommodation (01690 720214; mountain-hill-courses.co.uk).
Whitewater SUP in North Wales
The River Dee burbles happily away through the winter months, which means, with the right thickness of wetsuit and a bit of expert tuition, there’s no reason not to have fun on it, whatever the weather. Stand Up Paddle Board UK specialises in whitewater SUPing. On an intro course, you’ll work on posture, paddle technique and running rapids safely, all within the dramatic surrounds of the Dee Valley and Clwydian hills. Intro to whitewater SUP from £59pp (07722 833667; standuppaddleboarduk.com).