Walking holidays in the UK


Walking the Scottish Highlands

Scotland's classic hiking country

Taylor St. John
By Taylor St. John

Scotland’s geological fault line runs from the Isle of Arran in the south-west to Stonehaven in the north-east, delineating the dramatic Highlands from the more gently rolling landscapes to the south.

This vast, sparsely populated area is the closest thing to true wilderness in the UK, making the Highlands a justifiably popular region for serious walking and hiking holidays.

UK Scotland loch lomand

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park


Within Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, 3,196-foot Ben Lomond is a good start to any Munro-bagging mission. Slightly to the east is 3,547-foot Schiehallian, easily-scalable on a fine day and where scientists first attempted to weigh the world. With their proximity to the cities of Scotland’s Central Belt, both of these areas are fairly easy-to-reach making them great for a shorter Highland escape.

In the Cairngorms National Park you’ll find 1,748 square miles of protected heather-covered moorland and mountains cut by meandering burns (small streams). Long-distance walks like the 65-mile Speyside Way and 64-mile Cateran Trail run through the park, and its challenging terrain makes it a popular base for centre-based walking holidays.

Towards the west coast, the wild Knoydart Peninsula is for true backpacking expeditions, largely accessible only by foot or by boat to the village of Inverie. Guided hiking is advisable for all but the most competent navigators. A good challenge for experienced hillwalkers is climbing the three munros of Luinne Bheinn, Meall Buidhe and Ladhar Bheinn.

For maximum reward, finish a long day out in the elements with a pint or a whisky in the nook of a cosy pub. Most villages have at least one local, if you’re lucky you might time your visit for a ceilidh (pronounced ‘kay-lee’, a lively evening of folk music and dance.)

Freedom to roam

Scotland, unlike its more restrictive neighbour to the south, has an ancient tradition of “freedom to roam” which gives recreational access to much of the countryside, including privately-owned land. Access is contingent on visitors acting responsibly and following the basic principles of the Outdoor Access Code, namely to care for the environment and fellow land users, and to take responsibility for their actions. Read more about access rights and responsibilities here: www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot

Need to know

Some of the main Highland walking hubs, such as Fort William, Pitlochry and Aviemore, are connected via the Scotrail train network (https://www.scotrail.co.uk), with yet more accessible by bus (https://www.citylink.co.uk/jou...). If you’re relying on public transport these towns make a good base for day hikes (check out the Pitlochry Path Network of trails) or as departure points for long distance paths; West Highland Way, Great Glen Way, Speyside Way. Be sure to get advice from a walking holiday specialist. Given the region’s topography, a car becomes useful (and sometimes essential) to reach farther-flung areas on the west coast beyond Fort William, and the far north.

The Highlands is a vast region with landscapes that are suitable for hikers of all abilities. Families and inexperienced walkers might enjoy the easy-to-moderate woodland and shore paths of the Trossachs while the northwest Highlands and the wilder reaches of the Cairngorms present a challenge for even experienced multi-day trekkers and hillwalkers.

Where to go walking in the Highlands

At 4,413 feet, Ben Nevis is the UK’s tallest mountain. The peak, accessible from Fort William, attracts over 100,000 summit-seekers each year, though it’s important to keep a close eye on the fast-changing weather if you’re attempting a climb. Further north, the view from the top of the short and steep Stac Pollaidh offers very different Highland views toward the stark beauty of the Assynt region. For another record-breaker, walk Duncansby Head near John-O-Groats, the most north-easterly corner of mainland Britain, where Orkney hovers on the horizon just over the Pentland Firth.

Most of Scotland’s waymarked long-distance paths traverse some part of the Highlands. The 96-mile West Highland Way leads walkers from the outskirts of Glasgow along Loch Lomond, through Glencoe and across Rannoch Moor to Fort William over six to ten days of walking. The easier-going Rob Roy Way crosses paths with the West Highland Way at the southern end of its 79 miles before diverting northeast across the Trossachs and Pertshire to end in Pitlochry. And picking up where the West Highland Way ends, the Great Glen Way stretches along canals, lochside and forested track for 85 miles.


More venturesome hikers might consider a self-supported trek between some of the UK’s ninety bothies; very basic but free-to-use mountain shelters run by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA). Bothies are marked on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and their locations are listed on the MBA website: www.mountainbothies.org.uk/bothies/location-map

About the author

Walking the Scottish Highlands

Taylor St. John

Taylor is a freelance travel journalist based between Glasgow and the east coast of the U.S. She writes for publications like HuffPost UK, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Country Walking, easyJet Traveller and Orkney.com.

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