Whisky a go go …

We like to think they are medicinal. But let's face it, few folk really need much of an excuse to make a hot toddy when it starts getting chilly outside.

After all, drinking this warming nectar in front of an open fire, wrapped in a tartan rug, breathing in the spicy vapours and sipping the hot yellow "medicine" is surely one of winter's great pleasures.

An array of nations lay claim to the drink, but since multiple legends agree the drink was named after Edinburgh's Tod's Well, we Scots are more than happy to take responsibility for the intoxicating – in all senses – winter warmer. For obvious reasons whisky tends to be the liquor used here, but rum, Sambuca and bourbon all make good toddies. As with all good cocktails, every ingredient is crucial to the overall flavour, and although some recipes say any type of whisky will do, for me the ultimate toddy will always contain an Islay malt. As for the provenance of the hot water, honey, lemon and cinnamon sticks, I'm not quite so fussy.

Set the ambience

The clocks have just gone back and as we draw closer to midwinter – when the amount of daylight will dip below seven hours across the central belt of Scotland (and even less the further north you go) – it can feel like we live in a perpetual state of darkness.

The gentle, flickering low light and living flame of a candle feels instantly cosy and welcoming. Add a roaring fire, blankets, a mug of hot chocolate and a good book (see our suggestions below) and you will be couch-coorie ready.


It's no coincidence that soup and soul share the same first three letters. Think back to Sunday afternoons visiting your granny when the delicious smell of her homemade broth would waft temptingly from the kitchen. Good soup feels like a hug.

The big soup pot should be in constant use at this time of year, whether it is making a hearty barley and root vegetables-packed offering, using seasonal squash or a batch of creamy Cullen skink.

Don't be afraid to experiment. Some of our all-time favourite soups have been whipped up from whatever leftovers needed to be used up in the fridge.

Brace yourself

Cosying up indoors is one of the best things about winter but so too is getting outside. Scotland is arguably as stunning in winter as it is in summer and there are endless possibilities when it comes to bracing walks. Few can match the West Sands in St Andrews, however, especially on a cold, sunny day. The beach stretches for more than two miles of uninterrupted sand and dunes, from the backdrop of the world-renowned Old Course in the south, towards Leuchars and Tentsmuir in the north. Even in winter this beautiful beach is populated with dogwalkers, runners and kite surfers, keen to blow away the cobwebs – it's nearly always windy – and soak up the views, which are still remembered by many for their starring role in the closing credits to the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire.

After a bracing walk on the sands, you'll likely be ready for a cuppa, or indeed something stronger. The bar of the historic Rusacks Hotel, with its unbeatable views over the Old Course's famous 18th hole and beyond, provides the perfect finish.

Warming airwaves

Many people believe radio is the most intimate form of broadcasting, since the voices seem to beam straight into your consciousness. I always think radio is the perfect entertainment for winter, often gentler but more thought- provoking than the telly, a uniquely personal and imaginative experience. Listening on your own brings you instant company, but sharing with friends and family can be a fun and bonding experience. The Shipping Forecast, with its wonderfully evocative constancy – Viking, Dogger, Fisher – is a particular favourite in my house for sheer comfort value, while Bryan Burnett's long-running BBC Scotland music request show Get It On, has particular cross-generational tea-time appeal. For many of us, video will never succeed in killing radio's star.

Revisit the classics

Short days and long nights inevitably means more time spent indoors. Box sets may be the obvious modern winter go-to, but why not use the time to tackle those classic novels you've always meant read, or rediscover old favourites? Make sure you're properly set up with a comfy chair or sofa and appropriate lighting (it may be worth investing in a proper reading lamp), write a list of books and you're off. Some may already be on your shelves, others will need to be bought or borrowed from the library, but the exercise itself provides the perfect opportunity to recharge and rejuvenate your relationship with reading. Setting yourself a schedule of Scottish classics – let's say Treasure Island, Sunset Song and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - will send you to three very different worlds, all of which are bound to keep your imagination from freezing over winter.

Cosy woollens

Be it cashmere, lambswool, merino or our particular favourites Shetland and Aran, a jumper is a must when it comes to the perfect coorie apparel. Hats, scarves and socks don't go amiss either.

Knit your own or buy Scottish from the likes of Orkney-based knitwear designer Hilary Grant (hilarygrant.co.uk) or Rosie Sugden (rosiesugden.com) who works from her studio in Edinburgh.

There are plenty of homegrown designers to be found on Etsy (etsy.co.uk) or check out the Country Living Magazine Christmas Fair (countrylivingfair.com) at the SEC in Glasgow from November 23-26.

Enjoy the Scottish nightlife

Relax. We're not going to make you spend an evening paying through the nose for an overpriced G&T as you shout above the hubbub in some hipster watering hole.

Speyside Wildlife (speysidewildlife.co.uk) runs Dusk Watches from a state-of-the-art hide just outside Aviemore where pine martens and badgers are among the regular visitors, often coming right up to the windows.

Nocturnal Wildlife Experience (dumfriesandgallowaywildlife.co.uk) in Dumfries and Galloway uses cutting-edge thermal imaging and night vision equipment to view deer, foxes, owls and mice. Tours are led by former countryside ranger-turned-wildlife and natural history photographer Keith Kirk.

Stoke some feel-good endorphins with an Outdoor Explore (outdoorexplore.co.uk) night kayaking tour on Loch of Clunie or Loch Faskally in Perthshire.

The dark encourages us to use different senses to experience the indigenous wildlife. Enjoy some stargazing and maybe even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights if you're lucky.

Photography fans can see cityscapes and countryside alike in a new light with a Photo Walk Scotland (photowalkscotland.com) night tour around Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Kelpies and Falkirk Wheel.

Then round off the evening with a wee dram or hot toddy (see above).

Enjoy some gogglebox wanderlust

What better way to coorie-in than to gather the family and watch some classic Scottish telly fare? We recommend Weir's Way (or David Hayman's more recent On Weir's Way), Wild Walks With Cameron McNeish and Paul Murton's Grand Tours of Scotland. Available on STV player and DVD.

Skill yourself up

Learning a new skill is always a positive thing, but never more so than during winter, when it can be all too easy to let the body and the brain seize up. So, whether you've always wanted to learn how to ballroom dance, cook, or speak another language, the prospect of long dark nights should provide the impetus to get out and try something new. Many of Scotland's universities and colleges provide evening and weekend classes in an unbelievably wide array of subjects, from Arabic to Zoology. Libraries, meanwhile, often offer sessions in improving IT skills and tracing your family tree. You don't have to leave the house to learn a new skill or take up a hobby, of course. Many arts and crafts can be learned at home, while internet-based courses offer a different type of learning experience. Go on, give that beginners Japanese a try.