The five best walks in mainland Scotland
Saturday 08 March 2008
The West Highland Way
Scotland's most celebrated long distance route, spanning the 95 miles from Milngavie (pronounced Mul-guy) on the outskirts of Glasgow to the foot of Ben Nevis, looks impossibly daunting on the map, as it forges its tortuous path through forest, wilderness and mountain pass. To make matters worse, overhead conditions are likely to change by the hour. Yet every year more than 10,000 hardy souls complete the journey, attracted by the unsurpassed scenery around Loch Lomond and the magisterial peaks further north. The route uses ancient cattle droving roads and military roads, and you are never more than half a day from food and overnight accommodation. The toughest challenge is the Devil's Staircase, ascending out of brooding, spooky Glen Coe to a height of 1,850ft.
The densely wooded southern Highlands, which turn to vivid orange and deep red in autumn, can be seen at their best on this spectacular but undemanding circular route (eight miles) between Killiecrankie and Pitlochry, easily accessible from the arterial Highland road, the A9. Heading south through thick woodland above a dramatic gorge, the route follows the River Garry to a viewpoint where a Redcoat leapt 18 feet to escape the marauding Scots following the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689. From there the route passes a dizzying roadbridge, a pool beneath the Falls of Tummel and an outstandingly beautiful forest, before skirting both sides of Loch Faskally and returning to Killiecrankie.
Loch Trool Trail
Rare beauty and momentous history go hand in hand on this picturesque five-and-a-half-mile circuit of a serenely beautiful loch in the heart of the Galloway Forest Park. Part of the trail shares the terrain with the coast-to-coast Southern Uplands Way. Take the A714 from Newton Stewart to the starting point at the western end of Loch Trool, from where you pass through undulating woodland to the site of the Battle of Glen Trool, where Robert the Bruce and his 300 men routed a superior English force in 1307. The commemorative Bruce Stone on the northern shore is the original symbol of Scottish independence. On view are the rolling, empty Galloway Hills, and – with luck – red deer and wild goats.
East Lothian Coastal Walk
The sandy, low-lying stretch of coast running east of Edinburgh along the southern shore of the Firth of Forth is renowned for its fine golf courses, but has much to offer the nature-loving walker. The string of beaches, low cliffs, woodland and nature reserves attracts a phenomenal amount of birdlife, and a scattering of offshore islands enhance the view. A gently undulating six-mile footpath runs from Gullane Bay to North Berwick, crossing grassy heathland interspersed by sheltered bays and rocky headlands. Approaching North Berwick, the white escarpment of the Bass Rock, home to one of Britain's largest colonies of gannets, appears on the horizon. The local bus will run you back to Gullane.
St Cuthbert's Way
A 7th century saint was the inspiration for this 62-mile walk from Melrose Abbey, where Cuthbert earned his bishophood, to Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coast, where he spent his final years. The route opened in 1996. Its great virtue is its scenic variation: from the wooded banks alongside the River Tweed near Melrose, through the heather-clad Eildon Hills with panoramic views to the east, to the raw, unspoilt coastline over the English border. The final stretch, over a causeway to Holy Island marked by a line of poles, can be negotiated only at low tide. The walk can be divided into five one-day sections, with plenty of inns and guesthouses along the way.
St Cuthbert's Way
A 7th-century saint was the inspiration for this 62-mile walk from Melrose Abbey, where Cuthbert earned his bishophood, to Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coast, where he spent his final years. The route opened in 1996. Its great virtue is its scenic variation: from the wooded banks alongside the River Tweed near Melrose, through the heather-clad Eildon Hills with panoramic views to the east, to the raw, unspoilt coastline over the English border. The final stretch, over a causeway to Holy Island marked by a line of poles, can be negotiated only at low tide. The walk can be divided into five one-day sections, with plenty of inns and guesthouses along the way.
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