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All things hiking Explaining Scotland Suggested things to do Wildlife and nature

It’s daunting trying to decide where to hike in Scotland

fifty plus

Researching where to hike in Scotland is not necessarily an easy task You probably have access to such sites as WalkHighlands. We’ve recently come back from New Zealand. While there we toured the North Island (but not the south, despite frequent recommendations to go there). We didn’t take a campervan (despite recommendations) but we did hike the Tongariro Crossing. However, even though we speak English, we found it much more difficult to get an idea of where to go to hike on the North Island and what to expect when we got there.

What you have to bear in mind when you’re planning your trip, is who is giving you recommendations. Are their priorities are similar to yours or not? Just because someone else thought it was great to isolate themselves in a campervan, doesn’t mean that it will be your thing – nor that it will be within your budget. Equally when someone recommends a hike to you – this doesn’t always mean that it is the best the area has to offer.

family hiking activities.

Hiking in to a secret wild camping spot in Assynt

The first step

What are your priorities?

Is time going to be an issue? Can you afford to be relatively spontaneous? Remember sometimes it’s the experiences you haven’t planned which end up being some of the most memorable parts of your trip. For example, before we went to New Zealand we knew we would spend most of our time on the North Island. We knew we’d be spending the first week in Taranaki, visiting family. We thought we’d like to go on through Taupo, Rotorua and the Coromandel peninsula including the Tongariro Crossing along the way.

In the end, we only passed through Rotorua and diverted to Lake Waikaremoana. This is one of the North Island’s few “Great Walks” (as designated by the Department of Conservation). The walk was stunning and not popular at all. Around 90% of visitors are Kiwis. We loved the whole experience because it was remote. The few people we met were extremely friendly, the views were amazing and we were surrounded by nature. We saw more wildlife on this hike than on all the others put together.

Next consider …

Are you using images on social media to influence your choice?

The problem with using social media to help you decide where to go is that 1000s of other people are seeing the same images. When you get there you might be disappointed when the reality doesn’t match up with the (probably) enhanced image you’ve seen. You will also probably find that the place is much more popular than you anticipated. If you, as a first time visitor to the area, have found information about this place, and seen it more than once, the likelihood is that many other travellers have too.

When making your choice of where to hike in Scotland, bear in mind that you are likely to meet many other people on the shorter hikes on Skye, but many of the other Hebridean islands will be just as beautiful and much less crowded (except during HebFest).

If you choice where to hike in Scotland includes the West Highland Way, this is the most popular long distance hike in Scotland – try to go off season if you can. It will be much less crowded in October than July. NB High season on the West Highland Way also co-incides with high season for midges.

midges in scotland

How to mitigate the effects of “over-tourism”?

Speak to local people about alternative options. Ask experts for advice or take a knowledgeable, local guide. Most hiking guides will avoid popular hotspots. They endeavour to take you to places you wouldn’t otherwise reach.

images of the Hebrides

Exploring the hills of Harris. Watch out though there are few if any way marked paths which might come as a shock to some of our continental visitors.

Is the chance to see wildlife high on your list?

Sometimes the highlight of a hike in Scotland is a chance encounter with reindeer, red deer, red squirrels, ptarmigan, … there’s quite an extensive list. Your chances of seeing wildlife during your hike in Scotland are greatly reduced if you choose a popular route. Wildlife in almost all circumstances will avoid areas where there are a lot of people.

Top tips for wildlife sightings

red deer

All the best when it comes round to your turn to choose a hike in Scotland. There are some great books, but if you can afford it we would highly recommend booking a guide for your first walk. You’d get a much better feel for the country and probably learn some unexpected trivia!

Guided private hiking in the Highlands of Scotland – a pub, a castle, a hike:

Hit the Hotspots in the Highlands of Scotland

If you’re in the Highlands on a business trip, and have a few days to spare here’s an idea for a personalised tour we could put together for you and your group.

Mary Jane Shankel and her son, Josh, were over in Aberdeen with her husband, who was unfortunately working so he couldn’t enjoy the same freedom to explore as them. They contacted us and we put together the following tour for them which Mary Jane has reviewed on TripAdvisor.

This trip took place at the end of April 2015 so don’t be surprised to see snow on the ground for the hikes – it wasn’t too much of a shock for the Shankels as they had come over from Canada.

The timing of Mary Jane’s trip was tight so their first day started late (around 11am – due to the travel time from Aberdeen)

Day 1: Hiking in the Aviemore area: arrive at Fraoch Lodge on the train from Aberdeen, via Inverness to Aviemore station, where Mary Jane and her son were met by Andy in our VW Caravelle. Andy brought the 2 Canadians back to Fraoch Lodge where they changed into hiking gear and chatted to him about the route for the day, the gear they needed and then they made up a lunch packet and set out for a half-day hike in the Cairngorms.

Ascent of Meall a’Bhucaille.


Mary Jane and Josh enjoying some predator free hiking in Scotland. In Canada, there are bears, wolves etc – serious predators to worry about. Here in Scotland we just need to worry about the wee predators (midges and ticks). On a day like this in the Spring, even they are not around, so hassle free hiking.

Day 2: A pub, a castle and a hill walk: Mary Jane had proposed in her first email to us that ideally she would like to include a pub and a castle in with the hiking as it was to be her son’s first experience of Scotland. By including this visit to Perthshire (a short drive from Fraoch Lodge – less than 2 hours) Andy hit all these highlights.


Mary Jane and Josh outside Blair Castle, Perthshire. The Duke of Athol is the only person entitled to retain his own private army.



On top of the world – an ascent of Ben Vraikie, Perthshire. A prominent viewpoint above Pitlochry.


The final tick – a pub complete with own brew and a log fire. What more could you ask for at the end of a busy day of culture (castle) and hiking (Ben Vraikie). The whole bucket list in a nutshell courtesy of Scot Mountain Holdays.

Day 3: a sad farewell – heading back to Aberdeen.

Here’s what Mary Jane had to say in her 5 star review of the trip:

“Andy and Rebecca are the most fabulous hosts, they made us feel like we were old friends on a short visit. We packed in really, really full days of hiking and sight-seeing. Being short of time, Andy skillfully managed our wish list of 2 half day hikes, a tour of a Scottish Castle and a trip to a traditional pub. Andy’s breadth of knowledge seems unbounded; Scottish history, geology and ecology kept us tuned in to the beautiful landscape and people of Scotland. Topping off the day with Rebecca’s wonderful cooking and wandering through their organic garden made the trip a seem like we had found a little piece of heaven. Weeks later we are still talking about it and planning a return trip…a longer one this time!”

Mary Jane and Josh enjoyed a private guiding package with Scot Mountain Holidays. They had no transport themselves so were able to benefit from our transport as well as Andy’s local knowledge. On their own and on their first tour, they would not have been able to complete their tick list. It’s only a shame that Mary Jane’s husband was not able to join them. Perhaps on a future trip they can tempt him to explore more widely when he is not as busy with work issues.

If you are short of time and want to pack in as much as you can on your visit to the Highlands, please contact us for a quote. Our trips are most frequently based from our own home in the Cairngorms National Park, but we can work further afield. Based with us you can access a wide variety of top attractions: a distillery, Loch Ness, beautiful scenery, castles galore, historic sites and boundless hiking opportunities as well as wildlife spotting.


Hiking Vacations across the Highlands of Scotland

Adventure vacation in Scotland for all the family

Mountain Biking in Scotland

Private guiding


Private Guiding:

a review of our holiday at Fraoch Lodge and private guiding with Andy Bateman by Carole Parsons

We had a lovely time and hope you find the comments below useful in terms of creating more great holidays in the future!

What was the most memorable or exciting part of your trip?

We loved the delicious breakfasts and the cosy evenings by the open fire.  Andy was a great guide who used his experience and knowledge of the area plus his reading of the day’s weather to provide a great day’s walking exactly suited to our needs and experience – and even managed to pull out some blue skies for us!

How would you describe your Scot Mountain Holidays experience?

Overall a lovely experience. We found the welcome with tea and cake lovely, and everyone was friendly especially wee Gregor with his gift for us!  The food was lovely, wholesome and tasty, and we had good firm beds.  We did however miss the opportunity to soak tired legs in a hot bath!  We appreciated the thorough briefing we had from Andy our first evening
We also valued the advice and weather readings we got from Andy on the days we were going it alone.  

What tips would you give someone else thinking about booking this trip?

Ask what you might need in advance; don’t be worried if you’re not an experienced mountaineer as there will still be lots available to do; go for it!

Scot Mountain Holidays is a member of the Green Tourism Business Scheme. We have a gold award. What is your understanding of the significance of this award?

We had never heard of this award before our stay with yourselves but really appreciated the obvious hard work on many levels over the years that have gone into providing such an environmentally friendly place to stay. We admire the lifestyle choices you have made 

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