Billy Connolly famously said that “there are two seasons in Scotland: June and winter”. Yet anyone who loves walking in this hauntingly beautiful country knows that even the weather can’t spoil the bleak majesty of its ancient landscape. It’s the rain, wind, sleet, snow, sun and constantly changing light bursting from vast, shifting northern skies that make walking in Scotland so magical. And you don’t have to bag a single munro to reap its rewards either…
10 great places to go walking in Scotland
Glen Tilt, Blair Atholl
One of Scotland’s lesser-known glens, this magnificent walk begins at the Old Bridge of Tilt, a hint of many ancient stone bridges hunkered in widescreen landscapes to come. This is Big Tree Country, populated by the tallest trees in Britain. Stay in a Scandinavian-esque woodland lodge on the Atholl Estates, which has been visited over centuries by everyone from Mary Queen of Scots to Queen Victoria.
Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
Bleak and lunar-like, this bracing hike is punctuated by glimpses of the lighthouse at Cape Wrath on the horizon. Here, at the exposed north-western tip of Scotland, the rewards are great and hard-won. Sandwood Bay is one of Britain’s most inaccessible beaches, flanked by a skyscraping sea stack – a ruin said to be haunted by the ghost of a shipwrecked seaman – and sand dunes the size of houses. It’s perfect for wild camping, if you can face carrying your gear in and out of the boggiest of moorland. Make sure you go for a pint and plate of langoustines.
Castle Tioram, Ardnamurchan
Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of Britain, is a slender calloused finger of a peninsula pointing outward to wild seas. For a varied walk through coastline, heathland, moorland and woodland, begin on the banks of Loch Moidart where Castle Tioram, a ruin raised on a rocky tidal island, presides. Meander along sections of one of the Highlands’ most beautiful paths, the Silver Walk, then head into the heather-clad hills, passing lochs, reservoirs and pretty much every marvel of nature that the the area has to offer.
Glen Etive, Glen Coe
The most dramatic of Scotland’s glens, featured in Skyfall, is just as powerfully experienced by walking through its valleys rather than up the giant backs of its mountains. In one day you’ll encounter snow, hail, sleet, rain, the brightest of blue skies and a white-out on this long, consistently jaw-dropping hike. The deer on the steep flanks of the surrounding mountains were so far away they looked like ants on a hill. A walk to end all walks, in all weathers. Stay at the Red Squirrel campsite, make a fire and pour a whisky.
Kyle of Durness, Sutherland
Stand on the tip of Faraid Head, surrounded by nothing but the squall of seabirds and wide open seas, and you’ll feel you’ve found the very edge of the island of Britain. As long as you don’t mind sharing it with an MOD training facility. A remote, surprisingly gentle walk, criss-crossing vast dunes and grassy headlands, happening upon some of the most stunning white-sand beaches you’re likely to encounter anywhere in the UK. Don’t bother seeking paths. This is about dawdling, stopping to pick up shells, and paddling in the coldest and clearest of waters.
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
Robert Louis Stevenson described the extinct volcano forming Holyrood Park as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design”. The views back across Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament, Leith, the Firth of Forth and out to the Bass Rock are fabulous. There’s no need to climb Arthur’s Seat either. Circle the crags, wander the paths, and take refuge with the dog walkers in Hunter’s Bog. It’s extraordinary enough to find hillwalking like this in a capital city. Afterwards, go for a pint at Swedish hipster bar Hemma.
East of Glasgow‘s old cathedral lies one of the great Victorian cemeteries, a reminder written in 3500 stone monuments, many of them crumbling away, that this was once the second city of the empire. Explore the city on a dark day under low skies, the way many would say is best to enjoy the cheek-by-jowl views of the Tennents brewery, high rises, grand civic buildings, and all that gives Glasgow its burnished beauty. Finish up at Glasgow Green’s West brewery, located in an ostentatious Victorian carpet factory, with a beer brewed on site.
Luskentyre Sands, Harris
Luskentyre may just be Scotland’s most beautiful beach. The silver sands and aquamarine seas with views out to the North Harris mountains make you feel as though you’ve swapped the Outer Hebrides for the Maldives, freezing temperatures aside. It’s a park your car and stroll through the dunes affair but arriving on the vast stretch of sands, often empty save the odd wild pony, you feel like you’ve stumbled upon one of nature’s great secrets. The journey lives up to the destination: narrow winding roads passing crofts, cottages and one of the most beautifully situated graveyards you’re likely to come across. If one must die, this is the place to wind up. Stay at the Neolithic-inspired Blue Reef cottages.
Mull Head, Deerness, Orkney
This is the furthest point of Deerness, on the eastern tip of mainland Orkney, and it feels it. It’s all coastal grassland, boggy heath, vertiginous sea cliffs, and bird calls carried by raging winds. Begin at the brilliantly named Gloup, from the old Norse ‘gluppa’ meaning blowhole: a great chasm of a collapsed sea cave that will make you dizzy. Pick your way around the headland and seek out the ruins of a Norse chapel reached by steps cut into sandstone with only a rusty chainlink rail to guide you.
Rothiemurchus Forest, Cairngorms
One of the greatest short walks in the Highlands. Rothiemurchus is a remnant of the original Caledonian forest stretching from the Spey river to the Cairngorm plateau. It’s also home to Loch an Eilein, one of Scotland’s most beautiful bodies of water, an enchanted mirror reflecting slender, ancient pines. Stay at the off-grid Inshriach bothy, complete with a reclaimed library ladder and a shower delivered by a bucket on a string.
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