Walking holidays in the UK


The Best Long Distance Walks In Scotland

Scotland's top long distance walks and trails

Fergal MacErlean
By Fergal MacErlean

For long distance walkers, Scotland is hard to beat. The scenery is outstanding and the trails a joy to follow. One of the aspects that make walking here so appealing is the sense of space.

This ancient land feels much bigger than it is thanks to the amount of wilderness and low population density: Scotland is the most sparsely populated country in the United Kingdom, with only 70 people per square kilometre; England has more than six times that.

A walking holiday here, as in the rest of the UK, offers a great variety of terrain from delightful coastal routes to long trails that traverse a big chunk of the country with character-filled overnight stops. Hearty food will help keep your energy levels up and you will find lots of regional variations in the cuisine and, of course, the whisky. A warm Scottish welcome also makes a trip here extra special and you can be assured the locals will make your holiday a memorable one. The knowledge that you are exploring a part of the UK, perhaps an entire region you have never been to, is one that many domestic visitors relish.

Here's a rundown on some of the best long distance walking that Scotland has to offer.

Easy Ways Scotland Great Glen Way

Great Glen Way, Scotland

There are 29 nationally promoted Great Trails in Scotland which range in length from 24-210 miles. Together, they provide almost 2,000 miles of well-managed paths from the Borders to the Highlands. This guide covers walks in Fife, in the east of the country between Edinburgh and Dundee; Speyside, from Aviemore north to the Moray Coast; the central county of Stirlingshire into Perthshire on the Rob Roy Way and the outskirts of Glasgow into the Highlands on the iconic West Highland Way.

Fife and Speyside offer gentler terrain than the other options, though they are totally distinct with the Speyside Way following a broad, partly wooded, river valley while walking in Fife passes through strings of villages, by quaint old harbours and through rich agricultural land. These areas are best for families and walkers who like to take their time sightseeing en route. A basic level of fitness will suffice for much of the walking here.

The West Highland Way passes through increasingly rugged country as it progresses from south to north. This is a trail that is ideal for younger hikers or seasoned walkers. Less fit walkers will manage but will have to push themselves.
The Highlands of Scotland have few villages and only scattered hotels for long distances. Thorough prior planning is required if you are not going with a guide.

Stirlingshire and Perthshire, on the Rob Roy Way, are filled with smaller hills than the Highlands and the walking is generally a little easier than the more rugged lands to the north. The Rob Roy Way does have one section where experience will help in following the trail. For this reason, we recommend that those with a poor sense of direction engage a guide.

Many attractions and visitor centres are seasonal, opening from Easter to September. And, broadly speaking, that is the best time for outdoor activities. Favoured months are May and September as the weather can be at its most crisp and stable then. In more recent years, heavy rains drop in July and August.

Scotland is a place of many lochs, rivers and moorlands. These are all lovely but (and this quite a big ´but´) they provide ideal conditions for the Scottish midge, which bites walkers from June to late September. Always carry repellent and clothing that will cover your limbs. It is advisable to keep these items accessible along with a head midge net and peaked hat. Warm, sultry, cloudy days are the worst. Dawn and dusk are also when you may be worst hit.

If you are the totally independent type, Scotland is your oyster. Wild camping is enshrined along with access, subject to common sense caveats, through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act (2003) which includes some of the most walker-friendly legislation in Europe.

Scotland's Great Trails

For Scotland specific route-planning, see the Scotland’s Great Trails website.

Scotland's top long distance walks

Popular and lesser-known routes and ways

The following ‘best of Scotland’ offers a range of hugely contrasting walking experiences in terms of location, terrain and difficulty, but each rewards with memorable experiences as you wander across this invigorating land.

The Great Glen Way

The Great Glen fault line bisects the Scottish highlands to create an epic backdrop for this spectacular hike. The largely low-level Great Glen Way has beautiful and varied scenery throughout as you follow canal towpaths, pass forests, moorland and mountains on a well-marked path.

UK Scotland great glen way Fort Augustus loch ness

Fort Augustus overlooking Loch Ness on the Great Glen Way

The Great Glen Way

Distance: 78 miles (125km)

Duration: Five to seven days

Start point: Fort William

End point: Inverness

Difficulty: First half flat, then some very hilly sections

Suitable for: All levels

The loch-strewn Great Glen fault line divides northern Scotland from Fort William in the east to Inverness to the west. Steep hills rise above Loch Linnhe, Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and the famous Loch Ness, all of which lie in a ruler-straight line. The Caledonian Canal links either end via the lochs and 35km of canal.

One should start on the western end at Fort William—which markets itself as ‘the outdoor capital of the UK’—to hike north-east so that prevailing winds are behind you. This also makes for a very gentle introduction following canal towpaths.

Fort William itself is a somewhat underwhelming town but with several good hiking shops it has everything you might need for the trip. The town is well connected by train and bus services, and Inverness, at the other end of the walk, has an airport with regular flights to London Heathrow and Amsterdam.

May and September are the best months for this route when the weather is more stable and drier and there are few biting midges, unlike the summer months.

As with most of the Highlands it is essential to note that services are generally very limited away from the towns. Villages typically only have—at most—a hotel (with bar and restaurant catering for non-residents) and possibly a shop. The suggested day to day planner below ensures an overnight stop at one of the larger settlements where you can enjoy good old-fashioned Scottish hospitality in traditional hotels, comely B&Bs and, at some stops, budget options too such as hostels.

Note, however, that the endpoint on day one, at the hamlet of Gairlochy, has limited accommodation options. The nearest village, Spean Bridge, is four miles (6.5km) off the Way via a single track road and then a pavement by a main road. Be careful of traffic on the minor road: as elsewhere, walk on the right hand side of the road into oncoming traffic so that you are most visible to vehicle drivers. Other road sections are encountered further along the Way at Kilfinnan, Drumnadrochit and Abriachan.

The Great Glen Way is well served by various walking holiday companies and services. You can book your own accommodation and baggage transfer, or let a specialist organise your entire trip.

Good to know

If booking a pre-organised self-guided walk, you can take advantage of a transfer service between Gairlochy and Spean Bridge—particularly useful to rejoin the trail the following morning.

The Great Glen Way route

Those who dislike hills will be pleased to know that the route, following towpaths and forest tracks, is flat beyond Gairlochy to Laggan Locks with then small hills on the Invergarry Link section. After a night in leafy Invergarry, continue to the delightful Fort Augustus set on the Caledonian Canal, close to Loch Ness.

From Fort Augustus the path climbs and the route splits with a signed low route through a forest or the slightly longer but much steeper and challenging high route with spectacular views of the Great Glen.

Both the low and high routes give good views over deep Loch Ness; the average depth of the 23-mile loch is more than 600 feet, making it the largest (by volume) of all Britain’s freshwater lakes.

The final long, but straightforward, walk into Inverness is often broken up with an overnight stay at Abriachan, or your walking holiday company can arrange for a transfer if the 20-mile (32km) section is too daunting.

Inverness, the end destination, on the Moray Firth is the capital of the Highlands with a strong Gaelic culture and vibrant arts scene and has good galleries and museums.

If you have more steam in your legs you can extend your trip with some day hikes:

Fort William to Inverlochy Castle (3 miles/ 4.5km return) is a superb short, flat, linear walk along the Great Glen Way with a signed diversion to the dramatic 13th Century towered ruin of Inverlochy Castle. There are stunning views of Ben Nevis – Britain’s highest mountain – as you leave Fort William.

Fort Augustus to Aberchalder (10 miles/ 16km return) follows the Caledonian Canal on a high quality, but unsealed, path to pretty Loch Oich for a peaceful and easy linear walk.

Read more

The Highland Council website details the full ascent of the high route and has a recommended reading section on essential information for the entire way: www.highland.gov.uk/greatglenway

Great Glen Way day by day

Day 1: Fort William to Gairlochy (10.5 miles/ 17km) Or Spean Bridge an extra 2.5-4 miles, depending on B&B locations, off the Great Glen Way.

Day 2: Gairlochy to Invergarry (17.5 miles/ 28km) The Invergarry Link splits from the main Great Glen Way just above Laggan Locks.

Day 3: Invergarry to Fort Augustus (9 miles/ 14km) The Invergarry Link rejoins the main Great Glen Way after Loch Oich.

Day 4: Fort Augustus to Invermoriston (9 miles/ 14.8km)

Day 5: Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit (14 miles/ 23km)

Day 6: Drumnadrochit to Inverness (20 miles/ 32km)

The Great Glen Fault

This major geological fault line stretches right across the country, from Fort William to Inverness. It is the best example of a tear fault in the UK and operates in the same way as California’s San Andreas Fault. Still seismically active minor earth tremors are recorded regularly.

The West Highland Way

Scotland's oldest and most popular long-distance walking route – the West Highland Way – appeals to serious walkers, strolling day trippers and even runners who race the 96 miles in under 35 hours! Walkers take around a week to complete the distance, travelling from the outskirts of Glasgow, past Loch Lomond’s wooded banks, via Tyndrum and across the wilds of Rannoch Moor before a final stretch to finish in the Highland town of Fort William.

Scotland West Highland Way 2

West Highland Way, Scotland

West Highland Way

Distance: 96 miles (154km)

Duration: Eight days

Start point: Milngavie

End point: Fort William

Difficulty: Moderate with harder northern sections – well-marked route; some remote and hilly parts

Suitable for: Any reasonably fit walker, family-friendly sections highlighted below

The full undertaking is a long and fairly challenging trail but the majority of those who hike it only have an average level of fitness. As with all long-distance walks, it’s a very good idea to get some multi-day training in first if you can to harden up your legs and feet.

Then, all going well, you can relish in the experience as you trek ever northwards. Wildlife that may be seen includes hardy feral goats, red deer and golden eagles, but it's the Highland scenery that offers stunning views year-round. Filmmakers have long been drawn to sights you will see en route.

Sections of Braveheart with Mel Gibson as the Scottish legend, William Wallace, were shot around Loch Leven, Glencoe and in the Mamores mountains near Fort William, all of which are along the West Highland Way trail.

The West Highland Way route

A really satisfying aspect of this long-distance walk is the sense of progression. The change in landscape from the lowlands of the start to the finish near the foot of Britain´s highest mountain Ben Nevis (1,345m) is memorable.

The West Highland Way begins as you step off the high street in Milngavie (pronounced Mullguy!). You’ll be following in good company: around 85,000 people walk parts of the Way every year. Indeed the West Highland Way has been well tramped over the centuries as much of it follows ancient drove roads, military roads from Jacobean times, old coaching roads and disused railway lines.

You enter Mugdock Country Park, pass the Carbeth Huts built by Glaswegians during the thirties, cross a stile and suddenly the scenery becomes wilder. Straight ahead stands wooded Dumgoyach Hill, to the right an ancient volcano – Dumgoyne and, in the distance, bigger hills, including Ben Lomond can be seen. In the foreground, a rocky path can be seen weaving its way across this more open landscape.

The first night, spent in Drymen, will give an inkling of the camaraderie that walkers of this epic route share. You´ll probably recognise fellow hikers the following day as you edge up the stunning eastern shore of Loch Lomond, part of a national park, passing oak-wooded islands that drip with natural beauty. Families will love the sections north of Rowardennan and by Inversnaid which give unrivalled views of the loch.

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Glencoe, Scotland

By day five you will be in the shadow of Beinn Dorain, a magnificent mountain that rises from the foot of the trail to a pleasing conical top. Then, after Bridge of Orchy, the route bursts through trees onto the open hillside. Below is Loch Tulla and beyond the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor. On a sunny day, its many lochans glisten like a jewelled rug. Lochan na h-Achlaise, beyond Loch Tulla, is backed by the Black Mount to your left. They include Stob Coir an Albannaich – the Highlandman's peak.

Descend to the Inveroran Hotel, one of Scotland’s oldest inns which retains a charm of yesteryear. Wake the next morning to the fresh Highland air and set off to join a Thomas Telford designed cobbled road which was in use until 1933.

Further on, Bá Bridge over the tumbling river makes a good half-way spot for a break. As you progress the views over the expanse of Rannoch Moor open out and you’ll realise this is no place to be in bad weather.

Round a corner to see the track drop ahead with Buachaille Etive Mór – Glencoe’s guardian – on your left and the Kingshouse Hotel below. The Kingshouse has a famous climbers’ bar complete with classic photos and you can camp by the river for free.

The final two days are the hardest. First, you ascend the Devil’s Staircase to reach the highest point of the West Highland Way at 550m, with breathtaking views back to The Buachaille and north to the Mamores mountain range before dropping down to overnight in Kinlochleven.

After a good night´s rest, another big climb is tackled to gain superb views down tidal Loch Leven. Then the Way takes the Lairigmor (the great pass) for easier walking between towering mountains and then views of might Ben Nevis.

The last leg follows Glen Nevis into the heart of the seagull filled town of Fort William where you can eat to your heart´s content.

West Highland Way day by day

Given the popularity of this trail, there’s a great range of accommodation and support services available. Choose from a mix of accommodation, combining camping experiences with a night in a comfortable B&B or well-appointed hostel.

There are plenty of character-filled old inns to stay in too. These will always be filled with other tired but contented walkers where the smell of malt whiskey hangs pungent in the air. The vast majority of hikers, excepting perhaps day-walkers, go south to north which helps build your strength for the harder hillier sections near Fort William.

Around East Loch Lomond, be aware that camping restrictions are in place between 1 March and 31 October.

Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)

Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan (15 miles)

Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan (14 miles)

Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum (12 miles)

Day 5: Tyndrum to Inveroran (9 miles)

Day 6: Inveroran to Kingshouse (10 miles)

Day 7: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles)

Day 8: Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles)

Rob Roy Way

Named in honour of the 17th-century folk hero, the Rob Roy Way passes through rugged country closely associated with the irrepressible Scot and follows tracks he would have taken on his many adventures.

While Rob Roy was no saint, he was a man who captured the popular imagination. Variously described as a folk hero and Robin Hood type figure, he was wont to help the less fortunate with random acts of kindness.

Scotland Rob Roy Way Loch Tay

Loch Tay, Rob Roy Way, Scotland

Rob Roy Way

Distance: 79 miles (127km)

Duration: Six days

Start point: Drymen

End point: Pitlochry

Difficulty: Moderate to hard – partly way-marked route, ill-defined path in places; hilly sections

Suitable for: Any reasonably fit walker, family-friendly sections highlighted below.

Rob Roy was a hugely effective and talented leader of a section of his clan, the MacGregors, and proved himself to be a very persistent thorn in the side of the government and its local supporters.

His life story, from successful cattle dealer to outlaw, has become the stuff of legend, helped in no small part by several audacious escapes. On one occasion, a troop of dragoons surprised him at his Balquhidder farm and, hopelessly outnumbered, he succumbed. The troops rode down Strathyre with a dejected-looking Rob Roy in the saddle. It seemed certain he would be sentenced and imprisoned like his father. MacGregor, however, timed his escape to perfection at a narrow point by Loch Lubnaig, disappearing up a heathery slope as the horses below danced in confusion.

The great thing about the Way is that it passes through all these places. So, as you walk through this beautiful landscape, you are literally walking through history.

The Rob Roy Way route

Expect quiet pine forests, scenic lochshores, and wilder upland sections where the adventure is tangible. The first four days lead northwards through the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – a gem among Scotland’s landscapes.

Set off from Drymen where the Clachan Inn dates from Rob Roy’s time. The route meets and follows the West Highland Way for a short distance before ascending a minor moorland road. Forest tracks and a quiet road leads to Aberfoyle. The variety of terrain and underfoot surfaces followed are typical of the Way.

Scotland’s most notorious outlaw was born north-west of Aberfoyle, at the far end of Loch Katrine in 1671, and named Raibert Ruadh MacGregor – red-headed Robert. By his thirties, he had prospered as a cattle dealer. But when his chief cattle hand, or drover, absconded with a large sum of borrowed money MacGregor was accused of embezzlement, evicted and outlawed.

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Loch Lomond, Scotland

Next, the quiet Way leads by the wooded shores of Loch Venachar and Loch Lubnaig. Families will enjoy the flat section from Loch Venachar to the southern end of Loch Lubnaig, just before which is a particularly pretty woodland trail by the Falls of Leny.

Beyond Loch Lubnaig, divert off the Way for Balquhidder where one can see Rob Roy’s grave at the churchyard where he was buried in 1734.

After overnighting at Lochearnhead, walk up Glen Ogle on an old rail line, crossing a viaduct. At the crest look left to spy a beautiful hidden lochan, or small loch, before reaching the village of Killin at the head of Loch Tay. There´s a wilder aspect to the landscape here and great panoramic mountain views once you have climbed stiffly to the dammed Loch Breaclaich. This is wild country where you need to be prepared for the elements. The going can be tough and wet underfoot.
By the time you drop back down to Loch Tay at Ardeonaig you will be glad to follow the gently undulating lochshore road which gives magnificent views to lofty Ben Lawers opposite. The official way leaves the road at the hamlet of Acharn. However, it is recommended that you keep straight to visit the fantastic Crannog Centre – with its reconstruction of the ancient stilt dwelling – and overnight in Kenmore.

The next leg begins with a sharp road climb before rejoining the Way to continue east above the River Tay. The conical peak of Schiehallion draws the eye. Its Anglicised name translates from the Gaelic Fairy Hill of the Caledonians. Stroll on to reach the enchanting birch-clad Birks of Aberfeldy.

Nearing the end of the journey you will reach Strathtay close to a prison from which Rob Roy escaped in June 1717.

The final uphill leg of the Way offers rewarding views over Strathtay before a welcome descent through woods with bustling Pitlochry down below your feet.

Rob Roy Way day by day

Accommodation is generally plentiful along the route (except on the south shore of Loch Tay on Day 5), with options that include campsites, hostels, B&Bs and hotels. The seven-day schedule outlined below is a popular one, with a stay each night in the main villages or town en route. Very fit walkers could complete the Way in four or five days. Note there is an additional optional 17-mile loop through remote glens to the hamlet of Amulree from Loch Tay. For wild country lovers, this is well worth considering.

Either way, it is best to complete the trip from south to north to benefit from the prevailing wind and to soak up the atmosphere of the Rob Roy country at the beginning.

Day 1: Drymen to Aberfoyle (11 miles)

Day 2: Aberfoyle to Callander (9 miles)

Day 3: Callander to Lochearnhead (16 miles)

Day 4: Lochearnhead to Killin (7.5 miles)

Day 5: Killin to Kenmore (18 miles)

Day 6: Kenmore to Aberfeldy (8 miles)

Day 7: Aberfeldy to Pitlochry (10 miles)

The Speyside Way

The Speyside Way is one of four official Long Distance Routes in Scotland (the others are the West Highland Way, the Southern Upland Way and the Great Glen Way). It largely follows the course of the majestic River Spey from the Moray coast to the Cairngorms National Park gateway town of Aviemore. Along the route one passes myriad whisky distilleries and stands of ancient pine and birch woods.

The route principally follows the wide and peaceful Spey Valley and passes through some of Scotland's most beautiful landscapes. Alongside, the river – the fastest flowing in Scotland – is glimpsed regularly and walked next to, though not continuously.

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Pack horse bridge, Carrbridge

Speyside Way

Distance: 65 miles (105km)

Duration: Five to eight days

Start point: Buckie

End point: Aviemore

Difficulty: Easy to moderate – well-marked route; few steep gradients; some stiles to negotiate

Suitable for: Most walkers, family friendly sections

It springs from the Cairngorm mountains, a vast subarctic plateau where reintroduced reindeer thrive. Not surprisingly, the Spey has shaped the landscape and character of the lands through which it passes. The pure waters have given rise to a staggering number of malt whisky producers across Speyside, more than half of the total distilleries in Scotland. You’ll literally smell them before you see them from the trail!

In the 1600s pine logs felled in the ancient forests under the Cairngorms were transported downriver in rafts. The timber was used for railway construction, and later for shipbuilding where the river meets the sea at Kingston and Garmouth, from where more than 500 vessels were launched.

The Speyside Way route

Lace up your boots to leave Buckie, formed from a string of villages during the 19th-century herring boom years, to walk pleasantly to the mouth of the Spey. This is a fine walk from all the family and leads to the Scottish Dolphin Centre. The nutrient-rich Spey waters mean fish flourish here which in turn provides a haven for wildlife including bottlenose dolphins, ospreys, grey and common seals, the occasional otter and many coastal birds. The free-to-enter centre is located in an 18th Century salmon fishing station.

A further easy five miles leads inland with stretches of riverside path that are flower-lined in the warmer months. Take your time, bring a picnic, and soak up the atmosphere on a lazy summer´s day. Afterwards, in the village of Fochabers, you can eat well as there is a good range of excellent local produce from the surrounding fertile lands.

Heading south Day 3 is considerably longer (at 13 miles) and harder (graded moderate) as the Way negotiates hillier ground on woodland paths, roads and forestry tracks. A highlight is the view from the steep wooded slopes of Ben Aigan, which looks down over Speyside. From there a descent leads back down to the river before the mighty Spey is crossed on a road bridge by charming Craigellachie. A must-see is the Craigellachie Hotel, where the unique Quaich bar stocks some 900 single malts!

Scotland Speyside whisky

Speyside whisky, Scotland

The next day´s stretch is very pretty. Note that the narrow riverside path with views to famed fishing spots can get muddy here.

Stroll through woods and tunnels before reaching a park by Aberlour, or Charlestown of Aberlour, as it is known in full. The linear town is home to the famous Walkers shortbread factory, and, of course, the Aberlour distillery. If you’re feeling peckish, the butcher shop sells a superb steak pie.

The Speyside Way visitor centre (open April-September) is located in the old Aberlour railway station and has displays on the natural and local history, including archive footage of the former railway.

Carry on, rising gradually, to follow the river bank downstream through mixed woodland and cross the river below. Knockando distillery is passed in a couple of miles. Close by are the distilleries of Tamdhu and Cardhu. The latter runs tours which will proudly tell you how it was the first distillery in Scotland to have been set up by a woman. Further on, you will recross the Spey on a lattice girder bridge to reach the old Ballindalloch station building, near the Cragganmore distillery (tours).

Continuing south to Grantown is the hardest section of the route (graded moderate/hard). It´s hilly and rough and wet underfoot with two burns (streams) to cross on stepping stones; these may be difficult to cross in flood conditions.

Once completed, the remaining three days to Aviemore are a breeze and nice and flat. The villages passed through all have good facilities with lots of home cooking in the cafes. Ancient pine woods are walked through by Nethy Bridge and the final leg gives superb views across the Spey Valley to the Cairngorms´ mighty northern faces.

Speyside Way day by day

The official Speyside Way website describes the Way from the sea inland to Aviemore, but notes that this is a matter of preference. With this walk, one can just as easily hike downstream. It´s up to you. On the whole, there is a lot of accommodation choice for hotel, B&Bs with a more restricted choice for hostels and campsites.

You may struggle to get accommodation for one night in Ballindalloch. If you are doing the Way independently a simple workaround is to arrange for a taxi to pick you up from Aberlour.

There is also a hard 15-mile spur to Tomintoul from Ballindalloch. This mainly uses rough hill tracks.

Day 1: Buckie to Spey Bay (5 miles; family friendly)

Day 2: Spey Bay to Fochabers (5 miles; family friendly)

Day 3: Fochabers to Craigellachie (13 miles)

Day 4: Craigellachie to Ballindalloch (12 miles; family friendly)

Day 5: Ballindalloch to Grantown (13 miles)

Day 6: Grantown to Nethy Bridge (6 miles)

Day 7: Nethy Bridge to Boat of Garten (5 miles; family friendly)

Day 8: Boat of Garten to Aviemore (6 miles; family friendly)

The Fife Coastal Path

Tamer than the above trails, this 188km well-signed route passes through picturesque seaside villages, old smuggling caves, and fabulous beaches. In summer it is very beautiful. There are many historical castles and sites too in addition to the stunning sea views; Fife is bounded by the Firths (estuaries) of the Forth and Tay, to the south and north respectively, and juts east into the North Sea. You can even take a boat trip to one of the islands.

The route really lends itself to walking in multiple sections if that takes your fancy rather than one big undertaking. Its character changes a lot from the low-lying easy first half to include some rougher but straightforward parts on the easternmost section, the East Neuk.

Scotland Fife East Neuk of F Ife fishing village of Pittenweem

Pittenweem fishing village, Fife

Fife Coastal Path

Distance: 117 miles (188km)

Duration: Eight days

Start point: Kincardine

End point: Aviemore

Difficulty: Easy first half, easy to moderate thereafter – well-marked route; few steep gradients; rough ground and slippy steps in places; some sections only suitable at low tide

Suitable for: Most walkers, family friendly sections

Fifers are proud of their historical importance – Dunfermline was Scotland’s ancient capital – and they stoutly defend the popular county title ‘the Kingdom of Fife’.

There´s more wildlife along the route than you might expect, even where it passes busy urban areas at Kirkcaldy and adjacent former steelworks and old colliery sites. Further east there are several wildlife reserves and a seal colony. The mouth of the Tay estuary is also where hundreds of sea ducks and wildfowl come to roost. And the dunes are full of fluttering butterflies during the summer months.

Fife Coastal Path route

Starting from the western extremity of Fife at the village of Kincardine on the River Forth the path entices you east. Bridges span the Firth of Forth and for the remainder of this section, you can clearly see the far side. The walking is easy and delightful on a calm day when the water can appear like a mirror.

Soon the excellent path runs to Culross by the prominent chimney stack of the last coal-powered station in Scotland, Longannet, which closed in 2016 marking the end of an era as the Fife Coalfield was one of the principal coalfields in Scotland until the late 80s.

Allow plenty of time to see the ancient burgh town, which is very attractive and is packed with colourful, Old Dutch style stone buildings which attest to the strong trade links that the Forthside town had with Veere in the Netherlands. During the 16th century, the town had a thriving community, developed under the laird, Sir George Bruce, and for whom the striking red-tiled Culross Palace was built.

Torry Bay Local Nature Reserve is passed before a steep climb above the firth. The historic villages of Charleston and Limekilns are reached after. Day one gives a good taste of the variety of the Fife Coastal Path for the next sections

Scotland Fife Ruins of St Andrews Castle in St Andrews

Ruins of St Andrew's Castle, Fife

Day four follows sandy beaches during low tides, with alternatives at other times. Beyond Largo Bay the path climbs to Shell Bay where there are two options – one goes up over the cliffs, the second the Ellie Chainwalk hugs the rocks with chains for handholds. Elie is a beautiful harbour village like many to follow.

Day five can´t be beaten though for its string of picturesque harbours. Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail are all linked by the coastal path which is easy to follow and ideal for families. From Anstruther, there are daily boat trips during the summer months to the puffin-filled Isle of May nature reserve.

Beyond Crail the terrain becomes rough. The path narrows by Fife Ness with more low tide only sections beyond a golf course.

Day six also needs to be planned in advance due to sea levels. The rewards are the sense of remoteness and views of a pink sea stack, the Buddo Rock, and the Rock and Spindle, the weathered remains of a volcanic plug. The path leads to the East Sands by St Andrews – the famous golf centre and university town – where you should visit the centre to see the beautiful but ruined 12th-century cathedral.

Heading on from Leuchars the following day is an easy family-friendly section as far as Tayport. It passes through Tentsmuir Point National Nature Reserve. Located at the mouth of the Tay Estuary this forms an important roosting and feeding area for huge gatherings of seaduck, waders and wildfowl. It is also a haul-out area for more than 2000 common and grey seals. Butterflies are a feature of the grassland and dunes too.

Further on you will see Broughty Ferry on the far side of the Tay and then Dundee. It´s fun to realise you have rounded Fife!

One last day of the Fife Coastal Path is all that remains. It takes in the sizeable Normans Law and leads through some nice woodlands. It leads to a suitably pleasing end in the charming town of Newburgh at the coastal path arch.

Fife Coastal Path day by day

Accommodation is plentiful in all locations, though you should book early, and is largely B&Bs or hotels.

The exception is the final day section from Balmerino to Newburgh, though Newburgh itself has plenty of options.

The entire route from Kincardine as far as Newport-on-Tay is well served by public transport, and the section between Kincardine and Kirkcaldy is served by the mainline railway.

More detailed information on sections affected by tides can be found from the official path website.

Day 1: Kincardine to Limekilns (11 miles)

Day 2: Limekilns to Burntisland (17 miles)

Day 3: Burntisland to Buckhaven (14 miles)

Day 4: Buckhaven to Elie (13 miles)

Day 5: Elie to Cambo Sands (16 miles)

Day 6: Cambo Sands to Leuchars (14 miles)

Day 7: Leuchars to Wormit Bay (16 miles)

Day 8: Wormit Bay to Newburgh (15 miles)

St Ninian's Way (Carlisle to Whithorn section)

The Carlisle to Whithorn section is the most scenic stretch of the Way, a second leg (adding a further ten days' walking and 124 miles/ 198km) continues through Ayrshire and across densely-populated central Scotland and ends on the east coast at South Queensferry, by Edinburgh.

There is a marvellous sense of progression throughout, and you overnight at many pretty villages. The best time to do this walk is in high summer when you can appreciate the long evenings with skies staying light until well after 11pm. It's a delight to enjoy the villages with a gentle stroll after a good feed at your hotel or an old pub. But even in summer be prepared for rain and wind!

Accommodation is plentiful at the overnight stops though it is advisable to pre-book. The main choices are hotels and B&Bs with some campsites en route.

The start point of Carlisle is well connected with bus and rail links. The end point of Whithorn is connected by bus to the town of Newton Stewart with onward connections to the Dumfries train station.

St Ninian’s Way isn’t widely offered as an organised walking holiday, although you might find a specialist operator who can help. Most walkers book their accommodation independently, and you might find B&Bs who can arrange luggage transfer on an ad-hoc basis.

UK Scotland St Ninian Way Whithorn in Dumfires and Galloway

The historic town of Whithorn, calling point for pilgrims on St Ninian's Way

St Ninian's Way

Distance: 126 miles (202km)

Duration: 10 to 12 days

Start point: Carlisle

End point: Whithorn (for Part 1)

Difficulty: A largely flat or undulating route with some hilly farmland and moorland sections

Suitable for: All levels

The walk begins at Carlisle Cathedral which traces its roots to 1122 as a monastic church. Allow time to see this, the second smallest of England's ancient cathedrals, before walking through flat farmland and over the estuary of the Esk and Eden with great views onto the Solway Firth before crossing into Scotland. The day ends shortly after in Gretna, a village with a long history. Thousands of couples say “I do” here every year, following the tradition of young English elopers who since 1753 flitted over the border to marry under Scots law.

From there the waymarked path broadly runs parallel to the firth. Highlights include sections of lovely walking through farmland, especially from Castle Douglas to the attractive village of Gatehouse of Fleet. Look for the distinctive local black and white banded Beltie cows and enjoy the song of the swooping lapwings.

From Gatehouse the route meanders through hill and moorland to drop down to Creetown. Then the Way passes through the town of Newton Stewart before heading south to the quaint booktown of Wigtown. This marks the head of the Whithorn Peninsula where there is a fine coastal track from Garlieston to Whithorn. Here there is the finest collection of early Christian carved stones in Scotland. The intricately engraved stones include towering crosses and the Latinus Stone, Scotland’s earliest Christian monument which dates from around 450 AD.

If you’ve got longer you can extend your walk with the rest of the full pilgrimage route onward to South Queensferry or, for a shorter extension, the Whithorn Circuit is an interesting 8 mile/ 13km walk (5 hours) beginning in the centre of Whithorn and following a road to the pretty causeway-linked Isle of Whithorn and visits St Ninian's Chapel. From here it goes along a rough coastal path to St Ninian's Cave – a shallow depression in the rocks. Enjoy views from the remote beach to the Isle of Man. A track and road completes the return.

Watch out!

Midges are less of a problem in this part of Scotland though you should be aware of sheep ticks. These match head-sized biting insects thrive in grasslands where sheep, cattle and deer graze and can attach themselves to walkers’ ankles and legs, or other body parts if you rest on the ground. They can transmit the serious Lyme disease. Check your body carefully at least once at the end of each day and remove any parasites with a dedicated tick-removal tool, washing the area with antiseptic.

St Ninian’s Way day by day

Day 1: Carlisle to Gretna (11 miles/ 18km)

Day 2: Gretna to Annan (11 miles/ 18km)

Day 3: Annan to Bankhead (13 miles/ 21km)

Day 4: Bankhead to Dumfries (10.5 miles/ 17km)

Day 5: Dumfries to Castle Douglas (17 miles/ 28km)

Day 6: Castle Douglas to Kirkcudbright (10.5 miles/ 17km)

Day 7: Kirkcudbright to Gatehouse of Fleet (14 miles/ 22km)

Day 8: Gatehouse of Fleet to Creetown (12 miles/ 19km)

Day 9: Creetown to Newton Stewart (7.5 miles/ 12km)

Day 10: Newtown Stewart to Wigtown (8 miles/ 13km)

Day 11: Wigtown to Garlieston (9 miles/ 14km)

Day 12: Garlieston to Whithorn (7.5 miles/ 12km)

Don't miss

One of the earliest Christian sites in Scotland, Whithorn is said to have been founded by Saint Ninian who died there in 432 AD. But there is much uncertainty around Ninian's identity. There is a lot of information in the town at the Whithorn Priory & Museum about the saint and the area’s claims to be the cradle of Christianity in Scotland.

Arran Coastal Way

This challenging trail gives a rewarding circuit around the beautiful, accessible, Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, west of Glasgow. The route leads around the coastal fringe of Arran’s mountainous north down its west coast to the sandy beaches, rocky shores and gentler landscapes of the south. The return leg up the east coast leads through forests and woodland, passing Iron Age hill forts and burial cairns.

UK Scotland view of Brodick from Goatfell

The view of Arran's coastline from Goatfell, the island's highest peak

Arran Coastal Way

Distance: 66 miles (107km)

Duration: Seven to eight days

Start point: Brodick

End point: Brodick

Difficulty: Challenging and rugged

Suitable for: Experienced trekkers

Note that the Arran Coastal Way has several sections that involve rough going along the shoreline and some pathless boggy sections. Other sections (including those on minor roads) are suitable for all levels (such as the Machrie Moor walk highlighted below). Yellow waymarkers denote the main route while alternative, harder, legs are signed in red.

Arran is easily reached from Glasgow by a 50-minute train from the city's Central Station to Ardrossan where the ferry departs for Arran's main village of Brodick located mid-way on the island's east coast. Tickets can be bought for the hour long sailing at the terminal. If travelling by car to Arran in peak season (Easter-end of August), book your outward and return ferry journeys in advance from the operator Calmac: www.calmac.co.uk.

Arran Coastal Way route

The Arran Coastal Way monument by the ferry terminal marks the beginning of your walk. While in Brodick it's a good idea to stock up on provisions, particularly on Sundays or out of season when few eateries are open along the way.

Brodick has by far the largest choice of accommodation on the island with several hotels and lots of B&Bs. There's also a wonderful, basic, campsite out of town at wild Glen Rosa which is open all year as is the campsite near Blackwaterfoot on the west of the island. Other sites, at Lochranza in the north and Kildonan in the south are seasonal (there is also a bunkhouse in the south at Kilmory). For non-camping Arran Coastal Way walkers the main options are B&Bs with hotels in the larger villages. It is highly advisable to book your accommodation in advance.

As with most of Scotland one should be prepared for rain and winds anytime. The best months for this walk, with more predictable weather and fewer biting midges are May, early June and September. Early October can be a good time too albeit colder.

The main route as a whole could be completed in seven days by completing days seven and eight in one go. However one should, if possible, spend a night in Lamlash to relish the peaceful setting that looks out to Holy Island.

There are a few excellent alternative routes and additional day hikes, if you’ve got the time. The magnificent climb from Brodick up Arran’s highest mountain, Goatfell, is suitable for fit walkers with competent navigation skills. There are no Coastal Way route markers on large sections of this walk. This 9.75 miles/ 15.5km option takes 6-8 hours.

The walk to Machrie Moor stone circles (2.75 miles/ 4.25km return) is a flat hike to a series of Bronze Age standing stones in a magnificent setting at the heart of an open valley. The walk starts just south of Machrie, from Machrie Moor Standing Stones Car Park.

One should consult the official Way website – www.coastalway.co.uk – if you are considering taking other alternative sections, especially the southern Lagg to Whiting Bay which is impassable at high tide.

A number of companies offer support services ranging from baggage transfer, to full-service packages.

Arran Coastal Way day by day

Day 1: Brodick to Sannox (7.5 miles/ 12km)

Day 2: Sannox to Lochranza (9.5 miles/ 15.5km)

Day 3: Lochranza to Imachar (9 miles/ 14.5km)

Day 4: Imachar to Blackwaterfoot (10 miles/ 16km)

Day 5: Blackwaterfoot to Lagg (7 miles/ 11km)

Day 6: Lagg to Whiting Bay (9.5 miles/ 15km)

Day 7: Whiting Bay to Lamlash (5.5 miles/ 9km)

Day 8: Lamlash to Brodick (5 miles/ 8km)

Arran's mountains

Goatfell, which is composed of a red coarse-grained granite weathered into bizarre pinnacles and gullies, draws the eye on the opening day. At 874-metres high (2,866 ft) it stands at the southeastern end of two back-to-back horseshoe ridges which include the peaks of Cir Mhór and Caisteal Abhail.

West Island Way (Isle of Bute)

This delightful long distance walk takes in many of the finest sights on the Isle of Bute in the Firth of Clyde. This lesser-known trail boasts secluded beaches, a range of wildlife, and a generally flat profile.

UK Scotland Ettrick Bay Bute with the island of Arran in the background

Bute's Ettrick Bay with the Isle of Arran in the background

West Island Way

Distance: 30 miles (48km)

Duration: 2 to 4 days

Start point: Kilchattan Bay, Bute

End point: Port Bannatyne, Bute

Difficulty: Generally suitable for inexperienced walkers, although some sections are strenuous and rough

Suitable for: All levels

Early settlers were drawn to the small, relatively sheltered and productive land on the island of Bute where there are more Neolithic chambered cairns per area than anywhere else in Scotland. Christian missionaries also came, using the island as a gateway to the mainland.

The mainly off-road, well signposted, West Island Way can be completed by the fitter walker in two days, though it is recommended to allow four shortish days for the best experience. As it is a linear walk, with a north and south loop, the local bus service is ideal for the return to the main ferry town of Rothesay.

The principal connection to the island is by car and passenger ferry from Wemyss Bay which is served by direct train from Glasgow's Central Station. If you are flying into Glasgow Airport you can also take the train from Paisley station. The ferry crossing takes half an hour with very regular sailings. Tickets can be bought at the ferry terminal.

West Island Way route

The route crosses diverse landscapes from rocky headlands, seashore and sandy beaches to moorland, farmland and forest. Most of it is level though there is a high moorland section on Day three between Rhubodach to Port Bannatyne which can be boggy, especially in the winter and after long periods of heavy rain. For that reason, as for all west Scotland walks, the optimum months are May, early June and September when the days are warmer, the climate more stable and also when the biting midges are scarcer than in the main summer period.

Accommodation on Bute is limited away from Rothesay and one is strongly advised to pre-book the available hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs. An alternative to finding accommodation away from Rothesay is to base oneself there and stick to day hikes, returning at the end of your day's walk by bus or taxi.

To get to the start point at Kilchattan Bay one can use the hourly bus service which leaves from Rothesay's main square opposite the ferry terminal. This excellent 5-mile (8km) loop has fantastic views across the Firth of Clyde to the island of Arran and the unmistakable domed mound of Ailsa Craig in the distance. Basking sharks may be seen, as from other parts of the Bute coastline too.

Throughout the West Island Way the common wildlife you may see includes foxes and roe deer with peregrines, buzzard and raven overhead.

A good diversion on day three is the walk from Ettrick Bay to St Michael's Chapel (8 miles/ 13km return). The road passes sweeping sands and a lovely tea-room for approx. 2 miles, past a collapsed chambered cairn called Saint Michael’s Grave with an uninterrupted view down the Kyles of Bute to Arran. It’s a fine place to relax and perhaps hear a cuckoo call. Continuing, the path leads to the remains of medieval St Michael's Chapel, where a stone altar and aumbry recess survives.

The West Island Way isn’t widely offered by walking holiday companies, but a good specialist should be able to put together an itinerary for you. In the absence of dedicated baggage transfer companies you may be able to organise luggage transport through your B&Bs or via a local taxi company. Alternatively, base yourself in Rothesay and just walk each section as a day hike.

West Island Way day by day

Day 1: Kilchattan Bay Circular (5 miles/ 8km)

Day 2: Kilchattan Bay to Port Bannatyne (11.5 miles/ 18.5km)

Day 3: Port Bannatyne to Rhubodach (8.5 miles/ 14km)

Day 4: Rhubodach to Port Bannatyne (5 miles/ 8km)

The Kintyre Way

Less well known than the West Highland Way, this 100-mile (161km) trail zig-zags down through the peaceful and energising Kintyre Peninsula. Along the way you'll pass numerous historical sites on this largely unspoilt landmass ending by the spectacular Machrihanish Bay.

UK Scotland Tarbet Kintyre

Fishing boats in Tarbert, on Kintyre's north-east coast

The Kintyre Way

Distance: 100 miles (160km)

Duration: 7 days

Start point: Tarbert

End point: Machrihanish

Difficulty: Easy road and forest track sections to difficult foreshore and remote hill walks

Suitable for: Experienced hikers

The well-marked Kintyre Way has something for all nature lovers with, on the whole, straightforward walking.

Although the route is generally considered as starting in Tarbert in the north to Machrihanish in the south, the route can also be walked south to north and is fully waymarked in both directions.

Be aware that there are remote and exposed stretches such as on day two between Claonaig and Clachan. And the final stage between Southend and Machrihanish is purely for experienced hillwalkers, having steep ground, bog, and difficult navigation if misty. If tackling the full trail, carry waterproofs and a first aid kit as a minimum. Note that mobile phone signal is non-existent on parts of the route.

Low cloud and inclement weather can be expected in any season which can obscure the blue waymarkers on higher ground. The sweet spot for reasonable weather and fewer midges is usually May, early June, September and early October.

Kintyre can be reached from the south via the island of Arran, the north via Loch Lomond, or via a short ferry from Gouroch to Dunoon followed by a drive through the Cowal Peninsula and Lochgilphead. The latter, although not the shortest option, is recommended for the scenery and for arrival into Tarbert – a car journey of 108 miles (174km) from Glasgow. As the walk is a linear one it is recommended to return by bus to Tarbert from Machrihanish (via Campbeltown).

Accommodation-wise it is advisable, especially in Easter and the summer months, to book in advance. Although the majority of the recommended overnight stops have plentiful accommodation that is not the case for Claonaig, Tayinloan or Southend. An alternative option in these cases, for non wild campers, is to arrange transport to your booking. A self-guided walking company can be very useful in this respect or one could use the local bus service or taxis.

The Kintyre Way is offered as an organised self-guided trip by many Scotland walking holiday companies who will tailor an itinerary to your preferences, organise your accommodation, baggage transfer and other logistics. Alternatively you can book your B&Bs yourself and use ad-hoc baggage transfer.

UK Scotland Campbeltown Kintyre

Campbeltown on Kintyre's south-east coast

The Kintyre Way route

An endearing feature of the Kintyre Way is that it skirts both the east and west coasts of this long, protruding, landmass. One day for example you can enjoy walking with views out over the Atlantic on the day three leg from Clachan to Tayinloan right by the sea while gazing out to the islands of Islay, Jura and Gigha. Then the next day you are rewarded with an extensive view of much of the east coast of Kintyre as well as the Arran mountains and Ailsa Craig.

This is a trail which is really worth doing in full. The sense of completion as you stand by the gorgeous sandy beach of Machrihanish is magical.

Kintyre Way day by day

Day 1: Tarbert to Claonaig (11 miles/ 18km)

Day 2: Claonaig to Clachan (10 miles/ 16km)

Day 3: Clachan to Tayinloan (9 miles/ 14km)

Day 4: Tayinloan to Carradale (14 miles/ 22km)

Day 5: Carradale to Campbeltown (22 miles/ 35km)

Day 6: Campbeltown to Southend (16 miles/ 26km)

Day 7: Southend to Machrihanish (16 miles/ 26km)

Ancient Argyll

Kintryre is part of the ancient area of Argyll, which meets the Atlantic with a massively indented coastline. The region takes its name from the anglicised form of Earra Gaidheal, meaning ‘way of the Gaels’. This refers to the early Irish tribe, the Dal Riada of Antrim, who settled here from the third century AD onwards.

About the author

The Best Long Distance Walks In Scotland

Fergal MacErlean

Dublin-born Fergal fell in love with Scotland as a student, settling there to become a journalist and cycle guidebook writer. In addition to his guides covering Scotland, he has written for the BBC, New Scientist, BBC Countryfile Magazine and many travel publications. Andalusia is a second home.

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