Choosing a hiking guide for your hiking tour in Scotland
What is it you want from your hiking trip to Scotland?
No doubt if you’re travelling from further afield – Canada, the US, Australia- then you want to see a bit of Scotland; experience the culture; try the iconic foods and meet some genuine Scottish folk. How can you do this within your limited time and budget?
Researching a trip takes time, energy and to make the trip extra special, a wee bit of local knowledge. If you’re lucky you can pick this up from your friends and relatives who may already have visited the area you want to go to. If not, you’re left with the wide morass of the internet and the opinions of strangers. You can cut through the confusion and distraction though by booking an initial introductory trip with a local expert.
What to look for when choosing a guide?
A good indication that your guide has the technical navigation skills and training to lead groups is to make sure that he/she has one of the following qualifications:
- walking group leader
- summer mountain leader
- winter mountain leader
- international mountain leader
- mountain instructor award
- mountain instructor certificate
These are the national governing body certificates which cover the technical skills a group leader needs in the mountain environment. In Scotland, for mountain/hill walking, it is best to check that your guide has a winter mountain leader award as there can be snow on the ground in May/June or on Ben Nevis, most of the year. We have taken clients out in the Cairngorms in July and August and still found patches of snow in shady, north facing areas.
Is your guide local? How good is their local knowledge?
Check carefully to make sure your hiking guide is or has been resident in the local area for some time. If so they are more likely to have intimate knowledge of the best spots to take their clients/guests. It would also be an idea to see if your guide has interests which coincide with your own:
If you are a keen wildlife enthusiast, make sure your hiking guide has a good grounding in the local wildlife. For example, here in the Cairngorms the species to keep an eye out for, along with the iconic red deer, are:
Capercaillie, red grouse, black grouse, ptarmigan, crested tits, Scottish crossbills, red squirrels and golden eagles among many others.
If you have an interest in geology, it’s also worth investigating the depth of your hiking guide’s knowledge. You might find that some hiking guides, especially the younger guides, have only very superficial knowledge of the geology of the area, particularly if they are not resident all year round.
On local history:
If you are interested in local history, it is especially important to make sure your hiking guide has been resident in the area for some time. He or she should also have an interest in the history which has formed his environment. This really is the only thing which is going to improve their knowledge of local history.
On local cuisine:
If you’re interested in local cuisine, it’s again a good idea to book a hiking guide who is local to the area as they will probably have the most up-to-date information about the local cafes and restaurants. You never know one popular local eating venue might have changed hands or lost their chef since they were last listed in a guidebook or reviewed online. Online reviews are usually only snapshots of one person’s experience at that moment, your guide (if local to the area) will probably have accumulated a more rounded impression of the various local establishments.
If you are particularly lucky, you might find a hiking guide who has an interest in wild foraging who can introduce you to the spectacular harvest Scotland’s nature has to offer.
To check out the profile of our own main guide and company director, Andy Bateman, view his profile.