You may have heard of Scotland’s North Coast 500 or NC500. It has become amazingly popular over the past 5 years, despite the fact that really nothing has changed from before. No new roads were created. Someone just came up with a great marketing ploy and it’s worked. Now there are an amazing number of people who want to speed along the roads up north admiring the views from the car. Fortunately though it is still the Empty Quarter of Scotland, including Assynt, and it’s still wild.
It’s said that the Norse Gods practised making mountains here in Assynt. We would agree. It is a stunning area with small but shapely hills. Check out our photos below. All except the first image were taken during our Empty Quarter walking trip, running again in September 2019. You won’t get views quite the same as these from the road.
This first image was taken on a rare night away as a family. We decided to head up to Assynt on an overnight wild camping trip in May. It was breathtaking and refreshing. One night out felt like a week away from home. Highly recommended. The only downside was that there were quite a few ticks around.
It’s no secret that exercise is extraordinarily beneficial to achieving a happy, healthy lifestyle. Extensive research states that exercise not only improves physical health but also works wonders on mental health, and guided hiking health benefits are no different.
Hiking uses some of the body’s biggest muscles resulting in an all-body workout. The legs, doing the grunt work will result in a workout of the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Hiking also strengthens the back and the abdominal improving overall stamina and endurance.
But it goes deeper then improving physical changes. The physical effort required in uphill walking strengthens the performance of the heart and lungs whilst lowering blood pressure. Studies have also shown that hiking and mountain walking reduces the risk of chronic illnesses, asthma and type 2 diabetes.
Mental health is extremely important and hiking is an amazing tool in benefiting this positively. The physical changes from mountain walking are a great incentive to continue exercising. They also work wonders with improving self-esteem and self-awareness. Due to the heightened mental concentration hiking requires it strengthens mental agility, helps sharpen brain activity and is an amazing stress reliever. And hiking can be challenging. But successfully completing such a strenuous activity gives you a great sense of achievement and a positive headspace.
Group hiking is just another point to put on the pro list. Guided hiking with Scot Mountain Holidays gives you have a leader to follow, eliminating the stress of figuring out where you are and allowing you to fully concentrate on the task at hand. The group aspect also builds social bonds and completing challenges together will develop strong friendships and trust.
The truly great thing about hiking is that not only do you get the fantastic physical, mental and social benefits, but everything is enhanced due to the exposure of the elements. Along with burning calories you will profit from vitamin D, fresh air and more.
For more information on guided walking visit Scot Mountain Holidays and Courses.
We are frequently asked what to pack for a day hike in the Highlands, usually by our guests preparing for their guided walking tour with us. People often ponder on whether they should pack shorts, a sun hat, sunscreen. What gloves to bring etc – the list goes on.
Bear in mind, that if you are planning to head out on your own or at least without a guide, then you will also need to pack the following gear and be familiar with how to use it.
map & compass: you will need a good quality, local, walking map such as Harveys or Ordnance Survey (we stock the 1:50,000 OS map for our area). Do not rely on your mobile phone mapping.
You should also always pack some food (even small snacks) and some water. It is possible to refill your water bottle along the route, but take care if you are following a low level popular path. If there is a lot of livestock in the area, it would be best not to refill your bottle unless you have a water purifier with you.
Always tempting if you happen to strike the good weather to whip out the shorts to go for a hike. It is however worth bearing in mind that Scotland is not without its pests. There are ticks in Scotland which hang on the undergrowth, particularly at low levels waiting for someone or something to come past. Ticks are often carried by deer who rub them off on the vegetation. The ticks wait there for the next host to continue their life cycle. They can wait for years.
If you do pick up a tick it is not the end of the world. There is Lymes Disease in the UK which can be treated with antibiotics – but early removal of the tick is key to the prevention of the disease. We have tick removers here at Fraoch Lodge. Make sure you check yourself over at the end of the day. However, you can minimise the risk of picking up a tick by wearing long trousers and gaiters over the top of your boots. Generally speaking dog walkers and golfers are often at more risk than hikers of returning with ticks.
Unless you’re going to be battling through particularly overgrown parts of the countryside, the length of your sleeves is not too vital and the rate at which you get cold will determine whether you think long or short sleeves suitable for the day.
There are not many well graded, smooth paths in the Scottish hills. Most tracks are relatively rough with loose stones and rocks. It is usually sensible to use over the ankle walking boots to protect your ankles from turning and also to keep your feet as dry as possible. Leather boots, though heavier, should provide the best protection and will be generally more waterproof than gortex lined fabric boots.
Waterproof shell jackets are by far the most popular. Most shops stock a wide range of jackets designed with gortex fabric. Andy himself prefers to wear Paramo clothing or Cioch direct waterproofs. Both these companies use the same material. Cioch Direct specialise in made to measure clothing. The advantage that the Nikwax analogue material has over gortex is that it is designed to be reproofed after washing so is likely to last you longer. The jackets can also be returned for repairs at little or no cost. The disadvantage is that the material is heavier and can prove to be too warm in the height of the summer – though at an average year round temperature of 0oC, the Paramo jackets are usually suitable for the Cairngorm plateau.
Always useful to include a warm hat and gloves at the bottom of your pack as it can be cool on the hill tops even in August.
The most sensible attitude to your clothing for hiking is to make sure you have several light layers which will provide maximum flexibility rather than one or 2 choices. Make sure that your layers are not cotton options as you could cool off very rapidly, should your cotton layer become damp whereas synthetic or wool layers will either dry more rapidly or stop you from cooling down too much.
The most useful size of packpack to bring with you is a 35 litre pack. This will be large enough to take all excess clothing, camera, packed lunch etc. Smaller than this may mean that you have to limit what you take on the hill, particularly in winter.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any queries about the clothing/gear you are intending to bring with you for your Scottish vacation.
If you’d like to book a guide for your day hike, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Andy is extremely knowledgeable about the Highlands of Scotland from history to nature and everything in between. A hike with him is an introduction to everything you wanted to know.
Email: info at scotmountainholidays.com
Tel: +44 1479 831 331
The challenge of hiking in Scotland can be underestimated. Below we’ve given our top tips for hiking in the Highlands of Scotland. The mountains here are not the giants of Everest or the 4000m peaks of the alps but they are mountains nonetheless. Only the roots remain of what were 7000m peaks in geological history; but they are still a challenge to conquer and offer rewarding vistas to rival those abroad.
Scotland’s highest peak,Ben Nevis is a mere 1309m above sea level, but the route starts from sea level and ascends all the way to the summit. A climb/hike of 1000m ascent is a good long day out in most people’s estimation and should not be attempted unless you are fully prepared for a mountain day with over the ankle walking boots, extra layers of clothing, waterproofs, food, water, map and compass.
Mountain days in Scotland can involve long routes taking 8 or more hours to accomplish. The Cairngorm 4000ers trip which is run by Scot Mountain Holidays involves one day out whereby the bottom of the mountain is accessed by mountain bike to give at least a small chance of returning to base before dinner. Therefore to make the most of your time during you challenge, you’ll need to prepare beforehand by stepping up your fitness regime to build your stamina. Most challenges will last for more than one day, hence your fitness regime will need to take place more than one day of the week.
Travelling up to Scotland is not always a cheap option. To get train budget train tickets you either need to know you’re planning to travel 12 weeks in advance; be in the right place at the right time to see a special offer or win a competition; or have a railcard. Booking rail tickets close to your time of travel can add significantly to the cost of your trip.
Flights to Scotland are available from budget airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair, but again the price can vary considerably as there is less choice for flights directly intoInverness- though you could always try linking with flights into Edinburgh.
A guide will know the local terrain like the back of his or her hand. They’ll be able to keep the pace on track, regulate breaks etc so that the day does not extend too late into the evening, it’s their responsibility to manage the group and they’ll have all the necessary emergency equipment and contacts.
The best sites to monitor are:
The Mountain Weather Information service: the best resource for mountain weather information
The Met Office: go to the specialist forecasts section and check the mountain forecast.
If you also monitor the web cams in the week leading up to your trip it’ll give you an idea of what to expect on the ground.
For the Cairngorms the web cams are:
The weather in the UK, and particularly in the Highlands, is maritime and not continental i.e. it is constantly changing. When people say we can have 4 seasons in one day, they’re not joking – particularly in the spring one minute it can rain, the next snow, the next glorious sunshine … just don’t expect weeks of glorious sunshine; if we did, then Scotland would not be so beautifully green and lush. Always a good idea to have a warm hat and gloves at the bottom of your bag.
You can top up your water bottle from the streams on most of the hills in the Highlands as the water is potable. Dehydration is one of the most insidious hazards dangers in the hills.
In Scotland there are no alpine style mountain huts where you can stop and pick up provisions. There used to be a lot more emergency huts but they have never had wardens or been stocked with provisions. Hiking in the hills here in the UK means that you need to be self-sufficient and be prepared for any emergency. This is a philosophy we Brits take abroad when we hike so you can always spot us in the Alps. We’re the ones with the huge rucksacks with all our emergency supplies as opposed to many of the European hikers with their tiny packs relying on the huts for supplies.
May and September are when we have the longest days and most reliable weather in the Highlands of Scotland. Mid summer has it’s own hazards even if summer thunder storms are less common than in the Alps. We have midges and ticks to contend with in the summer particularly if the weather is still and you are on the west coast (Glen Coe and Skye are hot spots.)
You’ll be able to fit your route on to one side of the map and not have to readjust the map part way in to your route.
Not only do we climb Ben Nevis on this challenge but we do it by the most spectacular and challenging route including the Carn Mor Dearg Arete with stunning views of the cliffs which make up Ben Nevis’ north face. We also ascend Cairngorm via the overlooked north ridge and visit the popular winter climbing venue of Craig Meagaidh also known for it’s long cliff-face. The final route is on Ben a’Ghlo.
All routes are strenuous on their own so fitness is a priority for this trip
Climb across Scotland’s rooftop, the highest, most extensive area of mountain plateau with an average annual temperature of zero degrees. This is a challenge you can build into as the longest day is generally the last day of the trip but is bi-modal due to the length of the route. Only the fittest of people attempt this challenge. You must be capable on a mountain bike.
Ascend the classic mountains in the Torridon range. An area of the Highlands which is greatly under-rated, perhaps by it’s proximity to Skye, Torridon has really to be seen to be amazed. Glen Coe, with its dramatic history, and Skye, by reputation and movie fame, receive a far higher number of visitors, but the scenery in Torridon can certainly hold its own in this company
Please enquire for details. Current top destination is Knoydart. Perfect for a sleeper weekend – long weekend would be best to make the most of the opportunity. Hot shower facilities also supplied.