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Hiking in Scotland

Highland mountains, coastal quiraings & step-by-step adventures

I’m a down-to-earth, see-the-world-from-a-different-perspective kinda traveller and find a hike deep into the back-country of a destination an enriching exhilarating experience. Both from the benefit of the awesome geography and scenic beauty to be found right at ground level to a day out of the bustle of crowded tourist hot spots, this breath of fresh air and a chance to stretch my legs re-invigorates me for the next leg of the journey.

trailhead area of Ben NevisClearly fitness is a major partnership with the degree of strenuousness of a hike you wish to undertake, but couples can enjoy non-strenuous adventures on thousands of hikes loch-side or along a seashore trail, girlfriends can join a girls-only trip into wondrous and more remote areas with a dedicated tour guide (Wilderness Scotland offers designated women-only tours throughout the year), or if you are up to a new competitive challenge you and a partner can challenge each other to break a new record together while exploring some profound geography. Either way, there is amazing insight to be gathered from every perspective.

Exerting ourselves to see experience Scotland

There’s so much beauty to see in Scotland – grand Highland valleys both moorish and mountainous contrasting with the stark wild differences of the coastal cliffsides and lowland greenery. Here’s a few of our perspective points that brought Scotland into a special place in our travel hearts!

hiking Edinburgh's Arthur's SeatArthur’s Seat – direct within the heart of Edinburgh and edging the famed Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat sits at the eastern end of the Mile within the grounds of the Royal Palace of Holyrood. Walkable within a few hours, I rate this as Moderate to Hard (depending on the route), climbing the first 150 ft brings you to the Salisbury Crags, another 650 ft higher takes you up to Arthurs Seat and the spectacular views of greater Edinburgh and the Royal Mile. Well trafficked and uber-popular, this will not be a quiet secluded hike, but worth the great city views.

Ben Nevis bottom third below the cloudlineBen Nevis – the tallest mountain in Scotland, our quest and our record-breaking challenge (for us) was to summit Ben Nevis. 100% rain, heavy fog and base temps starting at about 50’F with snow and temps below freezing welcomed us at the summit. We were dressed appropriately thanks to proper planning (shout out thanks to some great gear we picked up – hiking boots from Keen, Lifa Merino base layers from Helly Hansen and Tri-climate jackets and rain pants from North Face) and started early for our 8-hour hike. The trail is a constant steady climb across varying terrain from hard packed trail to inlaid stones, across waterfalls and streams to pure rubble. About midway was the cloud layer. What we thought was foggy conditions below the cloud layer turned to pea soup above the cloud layer with higher winds and pelting rain.

valley streams on Ben NevisDespite the conditions, it was our quest to summit, but as trail conditions deteriorated to rubble and the fog and rain grew more intense, we began to question our quest. With visibility dropping, we picked our way slower from cairn marker to cairn marker and succeeded in summiting Ben Nevis to snow and no view ☹. Mid way stats showed 4.5 hours hiked, 440 floors in elevation, and 6 climbing miles along the trail. We lunched quickly at the emergency shelter so as not to let the cold and wet settle in before beginning our descent. As we descended below the cloud layer, we could see the faint (foggy) awesomeness of the panoramic landscape wishing the day had granted us a view. The real treat to our summiting success is the Ben Nevis Inn where hikers grab a pint of beer and toast their success – we did and enjoyed every ounce!

  • Ben Nevis Hike Stats (Alltrails): Hard, lightly trafficked, 10.5-mile hike with an elevation gain of 4425 ft (Fitbits clocked 31,400 steps, 452 floors climbed, 7 hrs 20 minutes duration)

iconic Old Man of Storr on the Isle of SkyeThe Old Man of Storr – One of the most popular stops and classic hikes along the Isle of Skye coastline is the hike up to the iconic Old Man of Storr. These tall pinnacles of rock along the cliff face look like the face of an old man standing watch over the coastal shoreline. The trail climb was muddy after the rains and a challenge to find sure footing, but as you approach the Old Man pinnacle, the views of the coastal shoreline from this vantage are amazing. Not a very hard hike (except in the mud), but Scotland’s coastal Isle of Skye vistas make the climb worth the effort.

Scotland's Mealt Falls and Kilt RockNote: On our circuit of the magical Isle of Skye, an essential quick stop between The Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing Circuit hikes is to see the plunging Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock - epic to the iconic magic of Scotland’s Isle of Skye.

Quiraing Circuit (Isle of Skye) – well up on the northern tip of the Isle of Skye sits what’s called the Quiraing – a land slip along the northern tip of the Trotternish Range dating back to the Jurassic period. Amazing panoramic views walking along the top of the range and magical crevices and stone formations along the mid-level return trail within the quiraing. the extraordinary Quiraing Circuit hikeThis trail is a circuit loop and we chose to climb first and explore the lower trail upon our return. A challenge to climb the ascent of the quiraing face from the car park as water runs just under the moss level making unplanned steps wet and soppy, right through to the top of the Quairang trail. From this high vantage, the second half of the trail and the descending return trail, the conditions were much drier and being below the cliff face the trail effects of sound and light were quite mystical. I seem to sound like a broken record, but as part of the reason we went to Scotland was for the extraordinary landscapes and the view of the coastal Highlands, these hikes did not fail to impress at every turn, corner and vantage.

  • Quiraing Hike Stats (Alltrails): Moderate, well-trafficked, 4-mile hike with an elevation gain of 1380 ft

UK's crazy Three Peaks Challenge (courtesy thehaven.org)National Three Peaks Challenge – Ben Nevis was challenge enough for us, but there exists a popular National Three Peaks Challenge that involves climbing the highest peaks in each of Scotland, England and Wales … in 24 hours! Total driving distance is 462 miles between the peaks and a solid accelerated pace to walk 23 miles up and downhill, climbing a total elevation of 10,052 ft (Scotland’s Ben Nevis is the tallest at 4400 ft, Wales’ Snowdon Peak clocks in at 3550 ft and Britain’s Scafell Pike comes in at 3200 ft). This is a serious climbers challenge worthy of recognition when completed. I can’t see myself completing this challenge anytime soon … but maybe!!!!

Some Scotland hiking tips:

  • Alltrails.com – know where you are going and have a solid map resource to help guide you through some of these remote areas that have no cell connections.
  • GoGirlfriend hiking duoEnjoy seeing the country from another perspective – from the coastal to the lowlands to the Highlands, the geography changes dramatically with an impressive beauty.
  • Pick a base hotel or Airbnb – depending on the severity or isolation of your hike, have a base to return to and make sure they know where you are heading. For our epic Ben Nevis hike, we were staying at a B&B base in Fort William (Ashburn House) and the owner Willie had some great advice that morning given the conditions … AND given our B&B was located close to our hike, we knew a warm shower was close by given how wet we were.
  • Dress according to the conditions – Scotland and rain are synonymous, so dressing for the day’s conditions are very important. A huge thank-you shout out to Keen, Helly Hansen and North Face for making some great gear that helped keep us warm, dry (mostly) and safe especially for our epic rainy Ben Nevis hike! It was amazing to see unprepared hikers attempting some of these routes without the proper gear – crazy!

Wilderness Scotland’s Women Only Adventures

One of Scotland’s premiere Adventure Travel Companies has recently added a series of Women Only adventures to encourage more women to explore the wilds of off-the-beaten-path Scotland. With fully-guided women-only departures offering characterful accommodations, unique experiences and inspirational itineraries, these opportunities allow your adventure women to get out and explore the wilds of Scotland. Girlfriends, mother-daughters or solo-to-meet-other-women adventurers, consider a few of their upcoming scheduled series:

Wilderness Walking (courtesy Wilderness Scotland)Check out the awesome opportunities to explore Scotland on a Women’s Only travel itinerary with the award-winning Wilderness Scotland. Scroll through their standard and women’s-only tour offerings and connect with them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

We have hiked in a number of countries around the world and experienced some amazing places that are unseen by 98% of visiting tourists. For the vistas and stunning geological formations that have been imprinted on my travel perspective, I am grateful I have stretched and headed off the beaten path to experience these unforgettable places.

Visit Scotland through our photos in our #ScotSpirit Facebook album!

Where have your travel adventures taken you off the beaten path? What impactful sights have you seen that has enriched your travel perspective? We’d love to know. Drop a comment below and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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