Yesterday, listening to a group of 40-somethings chatting excitedly about whitewater rafting, canyoning, ice climbing and dog-sledding, it was reasonable to imagine they were referring to adventure breaks in the French Alps, on the Zambezi River or mushing through Canada’s frozen woodland.
It was a surprise realising that the adventure playground they were referring to is, in fact, right here in Scotland where over the last few years a quiet revolution has taken place transforming the country into an exciting adventure sports destination for adrenalin addicts and thrill-seekers of all abilities.
So today let’s look at Scotland with a different perspective... from an exhilarating, daring and adventurous viewpoint, to discover exactly what alternatives the frothy whitewater burns, dramatic sea lochs, water-filled gorges, vast skies, outstanding coastline and extensive river network can offer the more adventurous visitor.
For lovers of the great outdoors there are myriad activities available to suit every level of adventurer... a choice, in fact, of around 50 exciting pursuits.
The wintersports scene in Scotland has been booming over the last two months having enjoyed substantial snowfalls. Winter skiers and boarders have given the Alps a miss this winter and hit the Scottish slopes instead. Good news, not only for the industry in general, but in particular for the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain which has been able to race dogs over a snowy sled track rather than pulling wheeled carts over regular forest tracks in the Highlands: the four-mile GB Aviemore Sled Dog Rally 2010 in January saw more than 1,000 dogs and 200 ‘mushers’ taking part.
Sled-dog racing is one of the world’s fastest growing winter sports... and Scotland is where it is happening; there are over 150 competitive sled-dog teams in Scotland. Sled-dog experiences on some of the most exciting trails in Europe can be enjoyed in the Cairngorms (eastern Highlands), such as daytime/evening sled-dog trips or three-hour hands-on sled-dog safaris along the best scenic routes in the Cairngorms with panoramic views of breathtaking mountain ranges.
Scotland’s natural landscape with its narrow water-filled gorges, rivers, cliffs, rocks and swirling rapids offers a multitude of opportunities for canyoning and cliff-jumping, which involves walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, crawling, abseiling, swimming and thigh-high river striding.
It’s extreme. There are some great spots in Perthshire, around Aviemore and Lochaber in the Highlands, on the Isle of Arran and in the Scottish Borders.
Magnificent cliffs, gullies and ridges abound in Scotland’s mountains which offer the best opportunities for summer and winter mountaineering in the United Kingdom. Ice climbing courses are an option in the Highlands, and guided mountain winter walking or scrambling (a combination of hill walking and climbing) on some of the most beautiful, challenging, remote and exciting mountains in Scotland can be found in Wester Ross (northwest Highlands).
A high level of fitness and stamina is required plus a good head for heights.
Microlight in Flight
Keeping on a high note... if you long to feel free as a bird, soar for miles on smooth coastal breezes, hover in stable air and circle upwards in thermals, then paragliding is for you. Try a fun-day introduction or tandem flight with an instructor. Head for Lanarkshire (near Biggar); the Nevis range in the east; Hillend near Edinburgh; the Lomond Hills in Fife, or the Angus coast.
As you plummet towards earth at around 120mph you’ll experience a minute of exhilarating freefall, and five minutes of floating earthbound.
Or take a two-hour trial microlight flight with pilot, flying at heights between 1,000ft-2,000ft, for a daring perspective of the landscape below. Go the East Lothian for stunning views of Bass Rock, Lanarkshire, Perth or Kinross. For an instant surge of adrenaline, think about jumping from a plane at around 10,000ft.
Scotland is blessed with a wealth of Scottish locations for open canoeing (lochs, large slow flowing rivers, stretches of canals), and with a large choice of companies offering sea kayaking there are great opportunities to explore Scotland’s world-class coastal environment. The west coast is renowned for sea kayaking, as is East Lothian - near Bass Rock and, further south, Abbs Head.
Best between May and October, although available year-round in many locations, whitewater rafting is an adventure to suit all; it’s a very popular adrenalin sport to do with a group of friends. With an extensive river network there is a wide range of both fast and slower moving rivers as well as meandering gentle waterways.
Try the Tay, Spey, Garry or Beauly rivers. For more thrills, spills and heart-pumping action, brave the Findhorn, Moriston, Tummel or Orchy.
River-bugging is a more unusual and difficult adventure sport tackling whitewater rapids sitting in an inflatable “armchair”, spinning around and bouncing off rocks in single-person “bugs”; adventure tubing is easier though, try it near Pitlochry in Perthshire or Aviemore in the Highlands.
Mountain biking might seem somewhat tame compared to the above but, with 745 miles of way-marked trails through forests and dramatic scenery, it gets glowing accolades - thanks to the Forestry Commission Scotland. From the Scottish Borders in the east, stretching to Dumfries and Galloway in the west, expect rolling hills and mile upon mile of technical single track routes: ride the 7stanes trails, described as Scotland’s biking heaven.
For an exciting weekend with a difference and some hair-raising moments, sign up for an extreme muddy experience... take on the challenge of off-road 4x4 extreme driving in a natural wilderness over wild countryside with an instructor, ten miles south of Perth, 40 minutes from Edinburgh and
one hour from Glasgow. Expect deep water, glutinous mud, steep hill climbs and heart-stopping descents.
With the adrenalin buzz of motor racing, sit inches above the ground, race friends across sands, and launch yourself into land yachting on a 3-wheeled craft with fixed mast and windsurfing sail; hands control sail, feet control steering.
Give it a try at West Sands, St Andrews in Fife, Lunan Bay; in Arbroath in Angus; or at Belhaven Bay, Dunbar, in East Lothian.
Who needs the French Alps, the Zambezi River or Canada’s frozen woodland
when Scotland has it all wrapped up in a very neat bundle of Adventure?