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Long Distance Hiking

The Scottish Highlands are a dream for walkers, hikers, and backpackers.  Varied terrain, stunning scenery, and well-kept trails mean that your Highland hiking vacation will be all you hope for and more.  Imagine meandering through woodland trails and fertile pastureland.  Experience the beauty of shoreline walks, both coastal and lochside.  Challenge yourself with mountain trails, Munros, and ridges.  See why the Scottish Highlands are one of the most popular hiking destinations in the world. 

There are four official long-distance hiking trails in Scotland, three of which are in the Highlands.  First, there is the West Highland Way.  This 95-mile trail runs from Milngavie to Fort William.  It is the first official hiking route in Scotland, taking you from just outside Glasgow to the very foot of Ben Nevis.  It passes along the shores of Loch Lomond, through Glen Falloch, and even across the Rannoch Moor.  You will see parts of Glencoe, climb the Devil’s Staircase, and progress along Loch Leven until you reach Fort William and Ben Nevis.  This walk is spectacular for taking in a wide variety of terrain including everything from lowland moors to dense woodland, rolling hills and challenging mountain trails.  As you can imagine, the scenery is magnificent and you will undoubtedly see a wide variety of flora and fauna.  If you decide to walk this route, be sure to plan well and remember that the weather in the Scottish Highlands is highly variable, likely to change at a moment’s notice, and that you should be prepared for wind and wet weather.  However, this route is highly-travelled and you should have no problem at all planning your journey.  Accommodation can be found all along the route, and there are many bed and breakfasts, guesthouses, small hotels, and pubs which cater for West Highland Way walkers. 

As with any long-distance hiking adventures, be sure to plan and seek a balance when you are deciding what to take and how much you can carry.  There are transport services available which will transport luggage and backpacks for you from destination to destination along the route.  Of course, try to carry as little as possible, and yet be prepared for all eventualities.  A first aid kit, small spade, and weatherproof gear are essential.  In the summer, the midges can be fierce, so pack insect repellant.  Sunscreen is a good idea, as well, all year round.  Even if you are not feeling the heat, the sun is strong, especially the higher up you are.  Other essentials include a map, compass, whistle, and plastic bags for trash. 

There are many ways to tackle these long-distance hiking routes.  All of these routes have their own informative websites, and they will suggest ways of planning and management for the trails.  Usually, the routes are broken down into about six segments.  However, it is not required that hikers follow these segments—they are suggested as guidelines.  These walks are do-able in a week if you do break them down like this.  As well, accommodation should be readily available at all of the stopping points.  Because the walks are so well mapped and documented, first time hikers will know what to expect all along the way.  It is a good idea to get out and do some shorter day walks before you attempt the long-distance hiking trails.  Not only will this help you get fit and ready for your long trek, but it will also give you a chance to experience hiking through the Highlands and understand what the terrain is like.

The Great Glen Way is 73 miles, and it runs from Fort William to Inverness.  Many people who enjoy long-distance hiking plan to walk both the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way.  These walks are generally undertaking from south to north, as well.  The Great Glen Way formally opened in 2002, so it is a relatively new trail, although seasoned hikers have been making their way along it for years. 

The Speyside Way runs 65 miles from Aviemore to Buckie on the east coast of Scotland.  This route was opened in 1981 and extended to the coast in 2000.  It links the Moray Coast with the Grampian Mountains and generally follows the River Spey valley.  This is a well-managed route, handled by the Highland Council, the Moray Council, and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  There are many trail networks which interlace with the Speyside Way, so you can plan both day walks and walk the whole route.  There are spurs off this route, as well, allowing for a little extra sightseeing into nearby locations such as Tomintoul.  The online guide for this long distance hiking trail outlines exactly by section what kind of walking you can expect.

Many other long-distance trails have been devised by experienced hikers and hiking centres.  Long-distance hiking holidays are highly popular in the Scottish Highlands, and you will generally have the opportunity to experience other parts of the Highlands off the traditional trails.  Holidays organized by tour companies often provide baggage transport and will arrange for all your accommodation.  Whatever type of long distance hiking holiday you desire, you can find it here in the Highlands of Scotland.  If you prefer to rough it, camp out, and carry your own packs, there are myriad opportunities.  Head up into the Northern Highlands and see some of the most spectacular natural scenery in all of Scotland.  There are many long distance hiking opportunities north of Inverness.  Perhaps you would prefer a comfy bed and a hot meal at the end of your hiking day.  Then you can arrange a holiday with a company that will provide bed and breakfast or hotel accommodation along the route as well as meals and baggage transport.  There is no “right” way to venture out on a long distance hike.  If you are wary of heading out on your own with just your pack, your map, and your compass, then book with a hiking holiday and enjoy the confidence of knowing that safety and route planning have been taken care of for you.

Long distance hiking is a fantastic way to experience the breathtaking Scottish Highlands.  Nothing gives you a better opportunity to immerse yourself in Highland history, legend, and lore, as well as see for yourself the beautiful and rugged landscape that makes up the Highlands of Scotland.  Get yourself a map, plan well, be prepared, and enjoy an experience like no other when you set off on a long distance hiking adventure in the Scottish Highlands.  Book your accommodation, your hiking holiday, or just your transport to the trailhead and get started on a memorable, exciting Highland experience!