Scotland is unique, not only because it offers some of the most inspiring scenery in the Western world, but also because access to its open space is freer than in any other part of the UK. Whether you’re visiting to hike, cycle, camp, backpack or explore the sights at your leisure, you’ll enjoy greater freedom and easier access to the wild landscapes, giving you an in-depth appreciation of everything the country has to offer.

However, with this freedom comes responsibilities: to look after the environment, to respect the rights of other people and to take ownership for your actions during your stay. The Outdoor Access Code outlines the steps that all travellers should take to ensure the long-term sustainability of the environment so that generations can continue to enjoy the magnificent scenery that Scotland has to offer.

Photograph by Andrew Alexander

Photograph by Andrew Alexander


Undoubtedly Scotland’s greatest strength is its undeniable beauty, whatever the weather or season, and visiting it is a must-do for everyone. But enjoying the landscape brings important responsibilities and it is well-worth familiarising yourself with these before setting off on your travels.

The right to access the countryside is enshrined in Scottish Law but with a caveat: respectful behaviour is expected! When hiking across open land, ensure you follow these simple rules:

  • Keep to designated footpaths and rights of way, where they are provided.
  • Stay clear of houses or other buildings to ensure residents have their privacy.
  • Where work on the land is taking place, such as farming, stay clear to avoid hindering it and keep a watchful eye for hazards such as farm machinery, felled logs or crop-spraying.
  • Only light campfires in open areas where this is permitted and never leave a fire unattended, especially in dry weather.

As a rule of thumb, after you have left, the land that you have visited should be exactly the same as when you arrived. Anything that you have brought, such as food packaging, should leave with you and anything that was present, such as plants, should still be there. Bear in mind, in common with many countries, that it is illegal to deliberately remove any plant species from the Scottish countryside.

Photograph by Andrew Alexander


Incredibly, Scotland is home to over 90,000 species of animals, some of which are rare, so it is a perfect destination for wildlife spotters. While many of the animals will be accustomed to visitors passing-by, respectful behaviour will ensure that they continue to live peacefully in their natural habitats.

  • When observing wild animals, do so from a comfortable distance. If you see their behaviour change in any way or if they notice your presence then you are too close. Slowly move away with as little noise as possible. Be patient and view them with binoculars instead of attempting to get as close as possible. Watch for signs that animals might be feeling uncomfortable about your presence. In this situation, move away quietly.
  • Watch for signs that animals might be feeling uncomfortable about your presence. In this situation, move away quietly.
  • Never feed animals in the wild, not only because human food can be harmful, but also because an animal that becomes acquainted with humans will find it challenging to survive independently in the wild.
  • When driving, be on the alert for animals on the road, especially at night when they may appear suddenly. If you approach animals ahead, slow down, be patient and wait for them to move.

A walking holiday in Scotland is perfect for dogs but they should not be allowed into fields where animals are present. Some birds nest at low levels in late spring, so dogs should be kept on leads in grasslands, forests, around lochs and along the seashore.

Bird flying in scotland

Photograph by Chris Houston


Photograph by Connor McEwan


While good old-fashioned equipment – sturdy walking boots, a windproof raincoat and a pair of hiking poles – are essential when exploring Scotland’s countryside, modern technology has helped the intrepid explorer venture further than ever before. Drones, in particular, offer an unrivalled view of the landscape that simply isn’t possible with two feet on the ground and you’ll be guaranteed some mesmerising footage to enjoy for years.

However, operating a drone comes with significant legal and moral responsibilities to protect the safety of people and animals and to preserve the tranquillity of the countryside:

  • By law, you must be able to see your drone at all times, usually within 500 metres horizontally and 400 feet vertically.
  • Your drone should not fly too close to other people, typically within 50 metres. Judging distances in the open countryside can be challenging so it is worth practising in advance in an open space near home. Also, drones should not be flown directly above people at any height.
  • Drones emit an unavoidable level of noise so consider how this may impact on the enjoyment of others. It might be feasible to fly your drone early in the morning when walking routes are quiet.
  • Any images or film footage you acquire when flying your drone should only be for personal enjoyment. If you intend to sell it, you should obtain permission from the Civil Aviation Authority.
At all times, keep other people’s enjoyment of the countryside at the forefront of your mind. Regulations regarding the use of drones may alter in future – Scotland’s laws differ from those in England and Wales – so make it your responsibility to keep up to date with changes.
Drone shot of scotland
Photograph by Chris Houston
applecross scotland
Photograph by Chris Houston


Scotland boasts a variety of accommodation options but for a closer experience with nature, wild camping or sleeping in a bothy is a perfect solution.

If you’re wild camping, Scottish Law means you can set up in most open areas of land but steer clear of other campers to avoid overcrowding. Whether you’re wild camping or using a bothy you should still follow the outdoor access code and be respectful of the landowner and other travellers by leaving the site clean and tidy, not damaging trees, burying human waste away from water sources and clearing all litter before you leave. It is especially important not to leave food waste behind to avoid attracting vermin.


Driving in Scotland, either in your own car or a rental vehicle from one of the many hire companies you’ll find at airports and ports, is a perfect way to explore the countryside at your leisure. Wherever you live, bear in mind that driving laws may differ and Scotland’s road network, particularly in mountainous regions, may be more hair-raising than you are used to!

  • In common with the rest of the UK, driving is on the left and the minimum age is 17 (18 for overseas drivers).
  • Drink-driving laws are strictly enforced and punishments are severe; the minimum concentration of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood is lower than in England and Wales.
  • In rural areas, refilling stations may be sparse so always ensure you have a plentiful fuel supply.
  • Speed limits vary according to the type of road, so obey signage accordingly. In hilly regions, roads may have unexpected twists, dips and rises, so allow extra time for every journey and exercise caution at all times.
  • Remember that weather conditions can change suddenly, with rain, snow and wind all posing hazards to drivers. In winter, ensure that you are properly kitted-out and that you modify your driving style to accommodate the weather conditions.

Photograph by Simon Hird

Rannoch Moor
Photograph by Simon Hird
If you would prefer to reduce your carbon footprint during your visit, take advantage of the many environmentally-friendly options, including train and bus services, that operate across the country and can provide you with a cost-effective alternative to enjoying Scotland’s breath-taking scenery. In short, Scotland is for all and the greater enjoyment is to be had when everyone takes responsibility for their own actions, acting positively to help to preserve the countryside for generations.