There’s plenty to do all over Scotland, but one of the main calling cards of the country will always be the astonishingly beautiful Highlands. Perfect for experienced and novice hikers alike, there are plenty of locations that will enable ramblers to take full advantage of the rugged wilderness on a walking holiday.
Best Places to Hike in Scotland
The Scottish Highlands are positively brimming with scenic and unforgettable spots that hikers and walkers can enjoy, regardless of their experience and skill level.
Perhaps the most popular of them, though by no means suitable for the faint of heart, is the West Highland Way. Lasting for 96 miles, the walk begins in Milngavie (a commuter belt six miles outside of Glasgow) and concludes at the fabled Fort William, home of the celebrated mountain Ben Nevis.
If you’re looking to take in a little monster spotting, consider the 73-mile Great Glen Way. Predominately a coastal path that will allow you to take in the glory of Loch Ness, this route kicks off at Fort William and concludes in Inverness. History buffs, meanwhile, will find plenty to love about the Rob Roy Way. Opening in the village of Drymen and concluding in the tourist mecca of Pitlochry, this 79-mile walk, as the name suggests, allows anybody to step in the footfalls of the legendary Scottish clansman Rob Roy – and offers plenty of opportunities to stop at the many pubs and raise a glass in his memory along the way.
Speaking of which, if it’s whisky that has drawn you to Scotland check out the Speyside Way. 80 miles in length, this path – which runs from the coastal town of Buckie to the rolling greenery of Aviemore, takes in many of the most popular distilleries in the country. You’ll need to imbibe a wee dram if you’re to brave the John Muir Way, a coast-to-cast walk of 134 miles that begins in the northern town of Helensburgh and takes strollers all the way south to Dunbar. The most breathtaking scenery that Scotland has to offer, however, will reward anybody brave enough to tackle such a task.
How to Prepare for a Highland Hike
So, you’re off to the Highlands for a lengthy hike and potential overnight stay in a tent. If you’re an experienced woods-dweller you can skip this segment, but if you’re new to the idea of backpacking and hiking, you may find plenty of advice that’ll come in handy.
You’re going to want to pack light. That may sound obvious, but it really bears repeating. When you slip your backpack over your shoulders, does it feel easy to carry? Not OK, no manageable, but easy? Because as you may have heard, Scotland is the subject of occasional rainfall. A light backpack can become pretty heavy when it – and you – has been soaked to the bone, and which means a manageable dry backpack becomes akin to carrying the weight of the world on your poor spine. Consider using hiking poles of a similar walking aid too, especially if your body isn’t used to the exertions involved with hiking through this unique part of the world.
On a similar note, make sure that your attire is suitably waterproof. Plastic bags are your friend here, and will make that 5p you begrudgingly handed over at the supermarket into the greatest investment you’ll ever make. Drape one over the top of your bag to allow rainwater to slide off rather than soak in. Keep a change of clothes (including socks – trench foot is nobody’s friend) in a plastic bag inside, and use another to protect any important documents such as maps. Suntan lotion is every bit as important as waterproofs, so stay protected – shade may be hard to come by.
You’re going to need to ensure that you have at least one quality light source, be that a strong torch or a lantern – the app on your smartphone really isn’t going to cut the mustard on a hike. Make sure they’re battery-operated and you have spares too, as you may find it tricky to find a charging spot for an AC adaptor.
Finally, remember to eat regularly and stay hydrated. Keep a steady supply of pre-packaged water, but also pack a purifier that you can use should you come across a river or stream – it’s cheaper and fresher in the long term. Eat at least three times per day if you’re out beyond 24 hours too – protein bars are a great way of keeping your strength up without using large swathes of space in your backpack.
If you are new to the hiking experience, there are a number of unwritten rules that you’ll need to be aware of. For example, do you know who has right of way when negotiating a hill? The short answer is that it’s the walkers stepping uphill – if you are heading down, step to one side and allow your new chums to walk past before continuing.
First and foremost, if you’re planning on making this a camping trip, learn where it’s appropriate to pitch your tent – it gets pretty dark out in the Highlands when you’re relying on the moon and a pocket torch for light, and the safety of other walkers is of paramount importance. You’ll want your pegs and guy ropes to be at least 100 feet away from any trails that your fellow hikers will be negotiating (don’t worry of that sounds like a lot – the Highlands are large and spacious).
Despite this, you won’t want to light up your tent like a Christmas tree. As safe as that may appear on paper, you’ll just attract the attentions of curious wildlife. A small lantern should do the trick, or if you’re familiar with the fire regulations of the area, you could even have some strategically placed tea lights.
Yes, fire regulations are a thing – make sure you’re not contravening any laws by firing up a BBQ or sitting beside a campfire while you’re wiling away the evening. Most locations within the Highlands operate a simple ‘Leave No Trace’ policy, which basically means that you should leave your location exactly as you found it. That means no rubbish, no scorched Earth, and ideally no friends and family members that you forgot to take home with you. Use small and disposable appliances, disposing of of them appropriately afterwards, and everybody will be happy.
Stick within these guidelines and you are guaranteed to have an unforgettable experience during your walking holiday – without the souvenir of an expanded waistline that comes with many mini-breaks. Most of them simply revolve around basic good manners, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Now get out into the outdoors, and embrace nature.
Where do you think the best places to hike in Scotland are? or are you planning a hiking trip in Scotland? Let us know in the comments below…