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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!

How do you measure wilderness?

Are there wolves in Knoydart? No – but then there aren’t any wolves in Britain so we can’t really use this as a measure of wilderness in this instance.

Are there bears in Knoydart? No – but again we don’t have bears in Britain.

So – no bears, no wolves, is it wilderness?

Knoydart is wilderness as soon as you leave the village of Inverie. There are no roads for 19 miles; you can’t take a car there; there’s no train station, no buses but courtesy of hydro-electricity there is electricity and there is a running water supply for the residents of Inverie.

Check out the video below made by the Guardian and Wilderness Scotland – then you can make your own decision.


Wild Knoydart

We’re returning to Knoydart on Saturday 9th May 2015 with a group of hikers. We haven’t been back for 2 years so it will be interesting to see what if anything has changed. When we first stated to visit Knoydart in 2008 there was no Wi-Fi access freely available. Now you can pick up a network at the pub (The Old Forge) and at the pottery/cafe across the road. Most self-catering properties also offer internet access. Seems like no one can be without their electronic entertainment these days and the thought of being unconnected with the wider world gives us the heebie-jeebies.

However, it is still not possible to drive on to the Knoydart peninsula. (Some of the locals in Inverie have motorised vehicles, but once you leave the hamlet, you won’t really see another vehicle until you return to Mallaig.

Knoydart definitely retains it’s sense of being a special place apart from the rest of mainland Scotland, because it has to be reached by ferry or on foot.

Knoydart blog

Remote = survival?

Knoydart might be remote and take a lot of time to reach (though not as remote as trying to reach Everst base camp), but this doesn’t mean that you need to feel in any way deprived or on survival rations.

The advantage of being in a smaller community, less easily accessed by the rest of the world, is that it is a safe environment for children to grow up in and one where security of your own assets does not need to dominate your daily life. Locking up is not essential as it is downtown.

The natural larder

Access to the internet and social media, does not provide any of the basics of life such as food. However living by the sea means that you need not go hungry. Seafood is amazing at Knoydart as you will have seen on the video and the platter at the Old Bridge Inn has to be seen to be believed, as below.

Seafood platter, Knoydart


We hope you will consider joining us on one of our visits to Knoydart. We usually go in May and spend the majority of the time exploring the stunning surroundings and sampling some of nature’s larder. If we’re lucky we also get to have up close and personal encounters with some of the local wildlife – we have seen a pine marten fom the kitchen window of our accommodation.



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