Walking in Scotland

From the West Highland Way to Weir’s Way, and with enlightened legislation giving everyone the right to roam the countryside, Scotland has long had a fine reputation as a nation of walks and walkers

Feature by Peter Ballantine | 26 Jan 2015
  • Loch Katrine / Ben A'an

Packed within its short borders is such a range of landscapes that the visiting walker can often be stumped as to where they should begin exploring. Dig out the Berghaus (you’ll need it) and fill the Thermos as we run through some of Scotland’s finest spots for a saunter.

Situated on Edinburgh’s doorstep, the gentle grassy contours of the Pentland Hills Regional Park form a suitably impressive backdrop to the city’s more famous landmarks. The park welcomes half a million visitors every year, but the network of paths crossing the sprawling moorland ensures that solitude is possible.

From the famous Flotterstone Inn, it’s easy to reach the highest tops in the range, which peaks at the 579m summit of Scald Law. Despite the height attained, the walking is relatively easy on clear, well-maintained paths. The panorama of views that opens up all around is well worth the huff and puff.

If you prefer to avoid the ridges, there’s plenty scope for low-level walking in the park too. Glencorse winds deep into the heart of the hills without gaining too much height and the waters of the two pine-fringed reservoirs it contains provide a great spot for fishing and wildlife watching with a picnic. From Balerno a plethora of beautiful trails head deep into the park without excessive climbing.

Just an hour’s drive south of Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders town of Melrose is at the heart of Sir Walter Scott country. One of Scotland’s favourite authors and poets, Scott was inspired by the rolling, romantic landscapes of the Borders and built his grand estate at Abbotsford by the river Tweed. The manicured grounds of Scott’s home offer a magnificent setting to promenade.

  • Eildon Hills

Rising directly above Melrose, the three peaks of the Eildon Hills are conspicuous landmarks in the Borders, visible from many miles distant. Despite their prominence, the highpoint is only 422m, making for gentle walking through deciduous woodland that is rewarded with impressive views of the surrounding countryside.

For those seeking a tougher challenge, the long distance path of the Saint Cuthbert’s Way skirts below the summits of the Eildons. The Way traces the route of the medieval prior Saint Cuthbert’s wanderings. It offers 100 kilometres of walking, from the impressive Melrose Abbey past beautiful farmland and forests, through rolling hills to Yetholm on the English border, before continuing onwards to the holy island of Lindisfarne.

  • Fife Coastal Path

Visitors to the Kingdom of Fife rarely venture beyond the medieval walls and windswept links of golf mecca Saint Andrews, but the establishment of the Fife Coastal Path has opened up the often-spectacular shoreline for further exploration.

Jutting into the North Sea, between the Firths of Forth and Tay, Fife has an extensive and diverse coastline landscape. The 190 kilometres of the Coastal Path can be divided into more manageable chunks, allowing ramblers to take in some of its miscellaneous attractions without wearing out the soles of their walking boots.

The East Neuk forms the prime stretch of Fife’s seaboard. Here, the path takes walkers on a tour of Fife’s fishing past and present. The beautiful village harbours of Crail, Anstruther, Pittenweem and Elie are linked by a path that meanders amongst the detritus of the high tidemark; taking in picturesque coves, deserted beaches and, of course, Fife’s renowned links golf courses. Seabirds, seals and even dolphins can be spied from the foreshore and the rocky coastline offers a myriad of pools below the tideline to explore.

Even in the low-lying central belt of Scotland, you are never far from a spectacular mountain setting. The Trossachs form a large chunk of Scotland’s first national park, and have that perfect combination of mountain, loch and forest in abundance. The volume of traffic passing through local villages Callander and Aberfoyle demonstrates the popularity of the area for outdoors enthusiasts from Glasgow (just one hour away), Edinburgh and beyond.

This is the land that was at the forefront of the glamorisation of Scotland’s landscape, as espoused by Sir Walter Scott and Queen Victoria. The Queen had a holiday home built by the shores of Loch Katrine and Sir Walter still plies the water that inspired his great poem The Lady of the Loch, but now in the guise of the paddle steamer that spirits visitors to and fro.

It’s also the land of romantic Scots hero and sometime marauding cow thief Rob Roy McGregor, who was born by the shores of Katrine and buried at nearby Balquidder. Walkers can follow in his footsteps (without the banditry) by strolling the Rob Roy Way that crosses the picturesque wooded slopes and shores of the Trossachs region.

  • Assynt

The region of Assynt in the far northwest of Scotland may be far off the established tourist track but the incredible setting is well worth the drive. The region showcases Scotland’s beauty at its most ethereal: a patchwork of countless shimmering, lily-covered lochans, reflecting the ramparts of the towering, fortress-like mountains that rise preposterously from the landscape. Beaches of pure white sand or rounded stone, backing onto rocky escarpments and the gnarled remnants of Caledonian pine forest. It’s a truly prehistoric landscape: the mountains here consist of some of the oldest rocks on the planet.

  • Suilven

Picture-postcard fishing village Lochinver is the ideal base from which to explore the area. Above towers the improbable rock pedestal of Suilven. A climb to be avoided by the inexperienced walker, for whom a multitude of pathways snake around the mountain’s moss covered cliffs, offering new, evermore spectacular angles of the panorama.

Such is the array of potential spots for a stroll that this brief guide only offers a wee warm up to the walker. With that in mind, it’s time to get those boots muddy and discover why Scotland is one of the world’s greatest walking destinations.