April in Scotland can have very varied weather. ‘April is the cruellest month’ – the poet says – but early spring here can also be superb and it’s worth taking the chance. Hail or heatwave, there’s plenty to see.
Thinking of visiting Scotland in April, or early spring? So, how much of a gambler are you?
Scotland’s weather is quite often hard to call. Certainly, it wasn’t in a Scottish context that the poet TS Eliot described April as ‘…the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead heart’
No, the poet meant something about spring starting to awaken memories and expectations deadened by the winter.
Nevertheless, the phrase is widely associated with the fourth month of the calendar. April in the north is potentially treacherous but can be brilliant.
If your own expectations for your Scottish trip in April include, say, sunshine, gambolling lambs, bursting buds and, uhmm, skylarks with wings a-tremble in the pasture – maybe red grouse wings a-tremble in the heather would be better – you may get all of these.
On the other hand, it could snow when you’re here. Yes, it certainly can be the cruellest month – expectations raised, then dashed…unless you’re a skier perhaps.
I came to this conclusion by looking through all the pics I had taken of April scenes over the years. So, I’m going to share some of these and you can judge for yourself.
Plus, there’s a wee gallery with a few more pics at the end of the page (you lucky thing…)
First of all, here’s a fine scene in upper Deeside (Aberdeenshire), a little way west of the village of Braemar.
Spring-like features obviously include a calm blue sky, snow retreating on the high ground and a kind of purplish haze on the birches as the buds swell.
It’s one of my favourite views in Scotland as well.
But, hang on, there’s more. To prove how warm it is, I also have to show you the picture taken a few minutes earlier in the village of Braemar.
If you look closely, you can see a couple of chiels (or men, in English) in short sleeves (gasp) – though that’s after you observe the sunbathing ducks. In retrospect I think I have over-egged the caption…
Anyway, it’s not even half-way through April. Braemar is at comparatively high level, in the hills, and is often one of the coldest places in Scotland in the winter, statistically speaking.
That day, the ducks had made it to town and were sunbathing on the main street. And I mean several ducks, not just the ones in the pic below.
(Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t they go back to their pond, where it was cooler? I thought so too…)
Now let’s jump forward a decade. It’s still April, later in the month than the sunny pics above.
It’s snowing, east of Inverness and down by the sheltered Moray Firth coast, usually a bit milder than the upland location of Braemar.
It’s a backyard view that won’t make it into a tourist brochure (to be fair, even if the sun had been shining!). The sea is barely visible beyond the snowy line of shingle. Talk about reinforcing Scottish weather stereotypes…
Basically, anything between heatwave and snow may happen during April here in Scotland.
For example, the hottest ever Easter Monday in Scotland was recorded in 2019 – with Kinlochewe at the east end of Glen Torridon in the north-west hitting 24.2°C (75.6°F). (Edinburgh got 23°C the previous day.)
Mind you, I inserted that sentence later in the same week – and it was zipped-up jacket weather by then: still only 9°C on the Moray coast!
But – listen up – and this might be the most important sentence on the page: I can’t ever remember being bitten by midges in April!
The colours of
a Scottish spring
Usually, by April is starting to green up, as the picture below of the Tweed Valley and the wee town of Innerleithen suggests.
I may have whacked up the colour saturation here just a notch though – and note that there are no leaves yet on the trees in the foreground. But the new greens of the season are very pleasing.
The colours of the higher ground towards the horizon are still a reminder that winter only let go a few weeks before. The heather shoots haven’t really got going. It’s still mostly browns and tweedy shades up there on the moorlands.
Higher still, in general, snow cover these days never seems to be the same for two consecutive years. Check out the gallery further down for an indication of just how little snow can be encountered by April.
On the subject of colour in the landscape, April should see the yellow of gorse brightening up great swathes of the country. (It’s even better in May.)
This brings us to spring flowers in Scotland, as another distinctive feature of the season
Some flowers and birds of a Scottish spring
For the casual, wayside – as opposed to high-level – observer it looks like yellow again – daffodils of course, plus primroses and cowslips. Bluebells (ie English ones!) tend to be later, Scots bluebells later still.
There should be blackthorn in bloom on bare twigs, ahead of hawthorn in May. Red campion is brightening up coastal scenes but, taken altogether, April still feels, well, early.
As for birdlife, it’s a strange sort of month hereabouts, with the first swallows arrival overlapping with the last grey geese who have been here for the winter and are drifting off to their northern breeding grounds.
Usually, the local press runs stories about ospreys arriving and returning to their nest sites. These days, I rather have the impressions that lots of our ospreys are prospecting and bickering over their nests by the last days of March though.
I suppose that’s the equivalent of the ‘first cuckoo of spring’ correspondence that used to feature in English newspapers.
Activity at the big seabird colonies is beginning to gather pace, as I see from a St Abb’s Head picture from 2014 – though my pic collection tells me not a puffin was to be seen near Faraid Head in Sutherland around the same point in the month in 2012.
That was just a little too early in that year perhaps – but it’s a point worth noting if you are going to be puffin spotting in Scotland.
If you have definite birdy inclinations, then as well as the arrival of ospreys and the like, the hardiest of the wee birds that visit in summer, for example, wheatears, should be passing northwards along the coasts.
They are real ‘harbingers of spring’ and quite dashing as well (at least I think so).
Photogenic sheep and lambies – and hairy coos
Whatever the weather (or possibly wether), there will also be endless sheep photo opportunities.
That hardly needs saying – as sheep outnumber people in Scotland. (Approximately 6.8 million sheep / 5.3 million people.)
Likewise hardy Highland cattle will be in the fields and moors – none of your inside over-wintering for them. Another photo opportunity ticked…so-o-o…the question is…
Should you visit Scotland in April?
Definitely – though Easter’s movable date complicates any predictions as to how busy it will be in any given year.
The advice to pack flexibly is often given for a Scottish visit. This is especially true of April as I am sure you will have by now worked out.
On an average year – and there is no such thing! – it might be bright, there will be showers and it won’t be very warm. But on the other hand, it is unlikely that weather will get in the way of your trip plans.
Attractions that close for winter will also be open – how early in the month though can depend – again – on when Easter falls.
Weather in general at this time of year in Scotland?
Well, this far down the page you’ve probably got the message. Chances are, you’ll probably get a bit of everything.
Another point to keep in mind is that in some years the east coast can get really cold easterlies blowing across the North Sea. In this case, often the far west enjoys beautiful conditions, though not necessarily warm ones!
If possible you’ll want to avoid the teuchat storm. That’s our phrase for the bad weather in early April associated with the teuchat – in English, lapwing – when this bird of wet pasture lays its eggs.
Mind you, if you miss the teuchat storm, you might catch the gowk storm. That one coincides with the arrival of the first gowk – in English, cuckoo.
And if you miss both of these it’ll probably be time for the gab o Mey. That’s the last of winter – a short period of bad weather right at the beginning (gab here meaning, in the Scots language, mouth) of May.
See, there may be no escape as all these phrases are part of Scottish rural folklore! Hey, they’re a lot more colourful than ‘April showers’ – though that’s a phrase that has real meaning here as well.
Here is a wee gallery of April in Scotland pictures. Take a look.
But when is the best time for your Scottish trip?