Choosing a walk: where to go in the Highlands?
Choosing a walk in the Highlands of Scotland is not that easy to do. If you’re not familiar with Scotland to begin with, you’ll struggle to pick out the best options. There’s almost too much choice when you’re trying to pick where to go in the Highlands.
You can use your guide book. The Lonely Planet and Rough Guide in English or the Guide du Routard for French visitors have some suggestions. Unfortunately the guide books generally pick out the most popular well-trodden walks. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but you do have to accept that you will likely see quite a few other people as you hike through the countryside.
You could use a website like WalkHighlands. The Walk Highlands database of walks is constantly expanding and is an invaluable resource. The main problem though is that it assumes that you know a bit about Scotland’s geography and that you may already have chosen where you want to go.
During the year, we visit quite a few different areas of the Highlands to run our scheduled walking holidays. We’ve picked out some of our favourites to explain why we think they’re worth visiting.
Where to go in the Highlands – Aviemore and The Cairngorms
We’re a wee bit biased here – after all this is where our home base is, but there are good reasons for that one of which means that I’m looking at blue sky at the moment and Gregor seems to think he doesn’t need to take a coat to school as “it hardly ever rains”!
For the most part, in the Cairngorms there are fewer midges than the west coast and you stand a much better chance of going for a dry walk. You only have to study a rainfall map to understand why. Most of our prevailing weather comes from the west, dumping the rain there before fizzling out and leaving a dry, clear day here.
We’re also ideally placed for access from Edinburgh and to head out into whisky country, up to the Moray coast or over to the west, if the forecast is good.
There’s the largest area of wild country in the UK here and a great variety of habitats for all kinds of beasties which is why the area is so popular with wildlife photographers and documentary makers.
Where to go in the Highlands – Assynt
Home to a geopark and stunning mini-mountain formations, Assynt is an area which really should be higher up on the radar for hikers, but there isn’t much in the way of accommodation and facilities – which is why we like it. They say this is where the norse Gods practised making mountains before they went to Norway.
Where to go in the Highlands (and islands) – Mull
We love going to Mull. It has sandy beaches, cliffs, caves, sea eagles and a few wee hills plus a Munro. There are also a few wee islands to explore just off the coast, like Iona and Ulva, which are both cultural gems in the own right. The seafood is to die for and it’s also a haven for artists. It really is a rival to Skye, but for some reason doesn’t receive anywhere close to the same coverage in promotional scenic photography. Perhaps this is a good thing.
Lewis and Harris
There’s something inspiring about the Outer Hebrides. It seems to be a different world where life still goes on at a completely different pace from the rest of the world. Very restful and also truly stunning with white sand beaches and thatched houses and sheep which seem to outnumber the crofters. Miles of single track roads and hardly a tree to be seen. Still the hills of Harris are a wee wilderness where you’re unlikely to bump into many other hikers and will have the stunning vistas to yourself.
Scotland in miniature. The climate on Arran is unexpectedly balmy with palm trees growing along some shores. Arran has it’s own dairy, it’s own brewery, it’s own soap company and it’s own distillery. You really want for nothing and to top it off Goat Fell and the surrounding hills are very interesting walks enhanced by the island setting.
What can we say that it original about Skye. The landscape continues to attract visitors in their droves all wanting to emulate the stunning images they see of the Old Man of Storr and the Cuillin ridge. Skye has been the setting for some amazing video and film footage, which has attracted a huge number of visitors in the height of the season but if you can visit in April, May or September/October you’ll probably get the appreciate the stunning nature of the landscape without having to deal with the logistics of traffic and lack of accommodation.
The mountains dwarf us here in Torridon. They provide a really special stunning setting which is now matched by some real gems to explore for culinary delights and artistic souvenirs. One of our favourite pictures is the work of an artist based in a studio in Torridon Community Hall. During the day the Hall operates as a cafe and art gallery – definitely work a stop if you’re not planning a huge hike. Liathach in Torridon is one of those ridge walks which should be on any hillwalker’s hit list. Nothing like a wee bit of exposure and a couple of scrambling steps to liven up the route.
Braemar and the Southern Cairngorms
The southern side of the Cairngorms (Royal Deeside) has a lot of unexpected delights to explore. If Queen Victoria was drawn back to the area again and again, there must be something here for us lesser mortals to appreciate.
Choosing where to go in the Highlands – the research