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Hillwalking In The Highlands

The Scottish Highlands comprise the uplands north of the Trossachs, and include the rugged and mountainous regions of Scotland north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault.  Exact boundaries are not generally defined, though.  You just know instinctively when you are in the majestic Highlands of Scotland.  Called A' Ghàidhealtachd in Gaelic and the Hielans in Scots, the Scottish Highlands are unlike anywhere else in the world, full of diversity, a unique culture, and plenty of challenges for the outdoors enthusiast.  The Highlands are a perfect spot for those who love the sport of hillwalking. 

The Central Highlands take in the areas around Glencoe, Fort William, Ben Alder, and the Knoydart Peninsula.  Here you will find spectacular steep mountains with narrow ridges, corries, deep ravines, and wild summits.  The Southern Highlands include Loch Lomond, the area around Loch Awe, and the areas around Loch Earn and Loch Lyon.  This region is also very mountainous and offers superb hillwalking opportunities.  The Eastern Highlands include Pitlochry and the Drumochter Hills, all of the Cairngorms, and the Glen Cova / Glen Esk area.  The Cairngorms are under the protection of the National Park system and offer very dramatic vistas and walking challenges.  The Northwest Highlands are extremely rugged and remote, including the areas of Cannich, Torridon, Assynt, and what is generally just referred to as The Far North.  For hillwalking off the beaten path, this is place to be. 

Hillwalking is a bit of an understatement when referring to the Scottish Highlands, but it is absolutely the best way to see the country.  Enjoy getting away from the tourist crush and heading up into the hills and mountains of northern Scotland, and thrill to the spectacular vistas and walking challenges that abound.  Hillwalking tends to be popular year round in the Scottish Highlands.  However, it should be noted that only the very experienced should attempt the higher regions in winter.  In the summer, you should be prepared for an influx of tourists and unfortunately, midges.  Although there are several products on the market that are supposed to help with the midges, true Highlanders know that one has not yet been found.  For these reasons, hillwalkers often prefer to enjoy the Highlands during the spring and autumn seasons.

As with walking trails, the infrastructure in the Highlands for hillwalkers is excellent.  There are many waymarked paths up through the hills and mountains and a plethora of good guidebooks to help you navigate your way round.  Trail maintenance is generally superior, and you will have no trouble finding accommodation in the small Highland villages dotted all throughout.  People are used to hikers, walkers, and hillwalkers, and are happy to provide bed and breakfast accommodation, guesthouses, hostels, campsites, and bunkhouse accommodation year round.  The amazing landscape and opportunities for wildlife watching also entice hillwalkers to the area.  You will find that you are surrounded by peace and tranquility amidst the places of which legends and lore abound.  Imagine walking atop the Highland hills, which are so steeped in history and tradition, and experiencing this remote wilderness for yourself. 

Ideally, hillwalkers should experience the Highlands between the months of April and October.  Weather conditions can be prohibitive outside this window.  It’s worth mentioning, too, that weather conditions change frequently and rapidly in the Scottish Highlands no matter what the season.  Scotland’s mountains are grouped into three main categories:  Munros, Corbetts, and Grahams.  Munros are mountains which are over 3000 feet high.  They take their name from Sir Hugh Munro who surveyed and catalogued these mountains in 1891.  Corbetts are slightly smaller mountains ranging in height from 2500 to 3000 feet.  The challenge is almost as great walking these mountains as it is the Munros.  The Grahams are between 2000 and 2500 feet, and they take their name from Fiona Graham who catalogued these mountains in 1992.  These are the places to start for the less experienced hillwalker.  Although the mountains of the Scottish Highlands are not that high compared with other European mountain ranges, they are easily as challenging because of their rugged nature and unpredictable weather conditions.  Hillwalkers in the Scottish Highlands should be well prepared and not take these walks too lightly.  Caution is always the order of the day when heading out onto the Highland hills.  Good hiking footwear is essential, as is proper equipment including a compass and map, adequate food and drink, and warm, waterproof clothing.

There are many hiking and trekking tours available in the Scottish Highlands, whether for a day or as an entire holiday.  If you want to experience some of the best hillwalking in the world, but would like someone else to make all the arrangements and choose the locations, consider a hillwalking holiday.  Highlands and Islands Walking Adventures runs a six to eight day tour all throughout the Highlands, giving you the chance to experience a wide variety of landscapes and terrains.  Wild-in-Scotland runs short tours throughout the Highlands which include hillwalking as well as other outdoor pursuits.  Worldwalks is an international tour company and they run hillwalking tours throughout the Scottish Highlands which will comprise some of the long-distance trails such as the West Highland Way and the Speyside Way. 

There are many places you can go hillwalking in the Scottish Highlands.  Day treks out of Fort William will take you into some of the better-known areas.  Local guide books will provide suggestions for trails and walks in a small region.  The Forestry Commission will have some hillwalking trails outlined in their regional pamphlets.  And a good Ordinance Survey map of the area you are interested in is indispensible, especially if you are choosing your own excursion.  The Scottish Highlands are full of expert, well-trained guides who can take you up into the hills and mountains for the duration and skill level you choose.  It is a wise idea to consult with people who run guided walks because the Scottish Highlands are rugged and unpredictable, even for those who have lived here all their lives. 

Whatever type of hillwalking adventure you are looking for in the Scottish Highlands, you are bound to find it within reach.  For those who are experienced, veteran hillwalkers, the Scottish Highlands are a coveted destination.  Munro bagging is an activity that many hillwalkers engage in once they have had their first taste of walking the Highland hills.  Be sure you prepare and plan well, consult a guide if necessary, and have proper maps, and you will be all set to enjoy the splendor of the Scottish Highlands.  Get off the beaten path and experience the land of mists and mystery.  Plan your hillwalking adventure today!