We often think of the winter as something we need to ‘get through’; dreary months to endure before we can get back to our proper outdoors business in spring, summer and a kind autumn. Are we taking the wrong approach though? Cold weather is an inescapable fact of British life, so shouldn’t we embrace the chill rather than waiting out a full quarter of the year?
The British winter has a beauty all of its own. Hills iced with snow, the dark shadow of evergreen trees, skies shining blue or overwhelmed with clouds: it’s a landscape filled with unique inspirations and challenges.
At Blacks we are all about adventure 365 days a year. We don’t want you to miss out. So, we’ve put together a short list of alternative British winter activities to turn the colder days from a punishment to a prize.
Centuries after the last wild wolves roamed Britain, you once more have the chance to run with the pack and howl at the moon. Deep in the Cumbrian countryside, Predator Experience offer the chance to walk foot by paw with Misha and Kajika, wolf-hybrids with just a sprinkle of doggy-DNA. Be in no doubt though, these are the closest thing to true wolves you will see this side of Siberia. The Walking with Wolves experience allows you to interact with these creatures on a walk through the Lake District. You will be trek alongside some of nature’s most well-designed predators and learn all about their evolution, social structure, and the role in complex eco-systems. It’s a meeting that is at once both educational and emotional.
Walking with Wolves is only for those aged 16 and up. However, Dee and Daniel, the directors of Predator Experience, have decades of experience in animal management and offer plenty of alternative encounters suitable for the whole family. These include ‘Hawk Walks’, falconry and, for the creepily-inclined, up-close-and-personal sessions with tarantulas and snakes.
These activities are available all-year round, but there is something about meeting such ancient predators that is especially epic in the winter. Running through the frozen woods in pursuit of a wolf-pack, you’ll feel like a true Viking. Watch out though, Kajika is a Native American name that means “one who walks silently”.
From wolves to something a little tamer, but no less thrilling. We often think of dog-sledding as belonging to the Arctic Circle; a good way of getting around where there are no roads and too much snow. These days, though, it’s possible to try out the sport without travelling to Lapland or Alaska.
Arctic Quest gives you the opportunity to ‘mush’ with sled dogs in the heart of England. Based in Tewkesbury, it is operated by Vickie Pullin, a member of the Team GB Sled-dog team who competes internationally. Vickie has put together a hands-on experience in which you will be trained to take charge of the dogs to pull the ‘rig’ - a metal frame that takes the place of the traditional sled and which can even work in non-snowy conditions.
That said, running with the huskies is best experienced in the depths of winter. Britain isn’t a natural habitat for dogs and, though they love to run whenever they can, to get the most authentic sense of this age-old form of transport - and for maximum enjoyment for both you and the dogs - snow is the ideal playing field.
There’s nothing like spending a full day hiking out on a frigid Scottish mountainside and then returning to the warmth and comfort of your . . . ice cave!
Snow-holing was once a technique for desperate survival. When lost in the icy wastes, wayward travellers could dig a cavity in the snow to keep temporarily warm. Now snow-holing has become a winter adventure that you can willingly participate in, a way to see the beauty of the mountains in winter, spend time with family or friends, and enjoy one of the most unique overnight stays imaginable.
Ice Factor offer two-day snow-holing courses in the Scottish Highlands. In an action-packed weekend you will summit Munros and learn winter survival skills from an expert instructor. At the end of the day you will first excavate and then sleep in your snow-hole,
This is a remote and adventurous expedition that demands a good level of fitness and confidence in hillwalking. When you wake up in the perfect silence of a mountain morning though, all your hard work will have been worth it.
Perhaps the most adrenaline-fuelled winter activity you can try in the UK, ice climbing is also one of the most widely accessible. After all, we aren’t short of ice at this time of year.
For experienced ice-climbers, British rockfaces become a playground in the winter. Cwm Idwal in Snowdonia is an iconic ice-climbing valley, filled with vertiginous routes made even more imposing by the sheen of frozen waterfalls. In Scotland the Cairngorms and the Glen Coe area offer a variety of icy ascents, with Stob Coire nan Lochan posing a renowned challenge. Those familiar with crampons and the right end of an ice-axe may feel confident enough to take on such frosty behemoths.
For beginners, though, ice-climbing is an intimidating prospect. Thankfully, the growing popularity of the sport has resulted in centres popping up around the country. A growing number of indoor ice walls may feel more reassuring for novices, whilst still giving a great introduction to important technique.
Ice Factor (yep, the same people who took you snow holing) boasts one of the largest indoor ice climbing walls in the world. Their climbing centre in the Scottish Highlands will give you a comprehensive entry into the sport. The Glasgow branch of the same company, Snow Factor, offers a more easily-accessible urban wall. Further south, Manchester’s Vertical Chill, offer lessons or more advanced supervision in the heart of the city.
For those who want to take the experience to the next level, though, there are several courses that will get you out onto natural icefalls. Snowdonia Adventures offer a full day of instruction for those with some belaying experience. Climb365 will teach brand-new beginners the rudiments of winter mountaineering and ice-climbing. Over two days in the West Highlands you’ll learn all about axe-placement, crampon-use and how to survive a Scottish mountain in the freeze.
With all this and more on offer throughout the colder months, why would you sit in? With the right mindset, winter can be a wonderland. So, dust off the gloves, get yourself some thermals, brace yourself and meet the cold on your own terms.
If you need a little insulating boost, make sure to check out our amazing range of winter gear first.