Last year I fell in love with long-distance hiking. I have been hiking all my life and always try to incorporate day hikes and shorter trails into my journeys, no matter where I go. But something about walking for several days on end, carrying everything you need on your back and being completely immersed in nature makes me happy. So happy, that I have decided to make 2018 my ultimate trekking year – or at least the first of hopefully many trekking years to come! To get started I added these 5 long-distance walks in Scotland to my bucket list!
When I moved to Scotland four years ago, I knew barely anything about this country. I had always been fascinated by the idea of the almost evergreen hills of the Highlands, but I had never actually visited myself. I simply applied for a couple of postgraduate courses and got lucky enough to be accepted at Glasgow Uni. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would still be here, four years later…
You would think, given that I thought I’d only be in Scotland for 12 months, I would have researched loads about the most beautiful and off the beaten track spots of the country – after all, I was never one to follow the crowds on my travels. Yet, that was absolutely not the case. I bought a Lonely Planet guide book, read it back to front about a million times, and stuck to the suggested itineraries. In my first year in Scotland, I traveled as much as possible, but only to fairly standard (thought breathtaking) destinations. Several weekends in Edinburgh and two road trips to Loch Ness and Skye later, I still didn’t know how much Scotland had to offer beyond these classics.
Flash forward a few years and you might have guessed that things have changed quite a bit. I made the decision to stay in Scotland after finishing my postgraduate degree and make Glasgow my new permanent home. This gave me the freedom to read and learn about Scotland’s diverse regions, plan new journeys and travel further off the beaten track. My list of Scottish travel goals is ever growing and I’m starting to feel like I will never be able to see it all… With every destination I tick off, I add another 3-5 to my list.
You might also like: My Off-Beat Scotland Bucket List
And while there are many countries in the world I’d like to visit, I decided to make 2018 my best Scotland travel year yet. It is my final year in the PhD programme, and I want to make sure I take advantage of the freedom that being a student gives me. On the top of my list are 5 long-distance walks in the Scottish Highlands, islands, the Speyside and Perthshire.
I fell helplessly in love with trekking last year, after 4 days on the West Highland Way and another 5 on the King’s Trail in Sweden. Was is physically and mentally challenging to walk for days on end with everything I needed on my back? Of course! But these trips were also some of the most rewarding journeys I have ever done, and I can’t wait to hit the trail again this year!
My 2018 Travel Goals: 5 long-distance walks in Scotland
West Island Way, Isle of Bute
I first heard about the West Island Way, when my #blogscot pal Gemma from Two Scots Abroad wrote about her own trekking experience. The trail covers most of the Isle of Bute and is made up of two loop trails in the north and the south of the island and a trail connecting the two loops.
I have never been to the Isle of Bute (despite my other #blogscot pal Susanne from Adventures Around Scotland being from there and regularly dropping the most beautiful photos on her Instagram) and I could not think of a better way to see the diversity of the island, than by walking across it. Additionally, the West Island Way is a short but sweet walk, easily done in a (long) weekend, which makes it the ideal warm-up for the other trekking adventures on my list.
West Island Way Quick Facts: 45km, 1-3 days; Isle of Bute
When? In March or April
image by Gemma Armit, Two Scots Abroad
Speyside Way, Moray
After three years in Scotland, I finally started to get into whisky – and at the Scottish Whisky Experience in Edinburgh I learnt that Speyside whiskies are right down my alley. Needless to say, that I’d wanted to visit the Speyside ever since.
My plans really solidified when I read an article about hiking the Speyside way in the latest edition of the German Schottland magazine. The Speyside Way starts in Buckie on the Moray coastline and follows the River Spey all the way to Aviemore and further to Kincraig in he Cairngorms mountains. I love the idea of walking all the way from the ocean to the mountains, passing beautiful forests and isolated moors.
But, who am I kidding – of course the most intriguing aspect of the Speyside Way is the opportunity to taste all the whisky at the many pubs and distilleries along the trail!
Additionally, the trail’s length is another great training opportunity for the biggest adventures still ahead of me! It is 116km long and takes around a week to complete.
Speyside Way Quick Facts: 116km, 5-7 days; Buckie to Kincraig, Moray
When? Ideally in late May (my favourite time to visit Scotland!)
Image by Graeme Churchard via flickr.
You might also like: An Essential Guide to Trying Scottish Whisky
Hebridean Way, Outer Hebrides
I’ve dreamt about visiting the Outer Hebrides for some time, but like with the Isle of Bute, I want to travel them slowly in order to take it all in. Only that the Hebrides are obviously quite a bit bigger than Bute and therefore need a lot more time and prep.
Walking the Hebridean Way sounds like the perfect way to experience every corner of the Outer Hebrides and get hands-on experience with the variety of different landscapes on the islands. It is no doubt the biggest challenge I have ever set myself – covering 247km across 10 islands, from Vatersay in the south to Stornoway in the north, it takes 8-14 days to hike the Hebridean Way.
I plan to walk the Hebridean Way it in 14 days, possibly allowing a few additional days for walking breaks and detours to see more of the islands. High on my wish list is also a trip to St Kilda, the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides. I will mostly wild camp along the trail to keep my journey as flexible as possible, as I’ve never walked for this long or far. Stay tuned for more!
Hebridean Way Quick Facts: 247km, 8-14 days; Vatersay to Stornoway, Outer Hebrides
When? In July
Image by Chris Combe via flickr.
Rob Roy Way, Trossachs & Perthshire
Rob Roy Way starts in Drymen, which lies on the West Highland Way and leads through the mountains of the Trossachs and the forests of Perthshire to Pitlochry. Like all the other trails I’ve mentioned so far, it leads through diverse Scottish landscapes, particularly as it crosses the Highland Fault Line, the geographical border between the Lowlands and the Highlands.
The trail is 128km long and can be completed in about a week. What I find most intriguing about walking the Rob Roy Way however, is not necessarily the terrain it covers or the challenge it presents, but rather the time of the year I intend to do this. Autumn is an incredible time to visit Scotland – and hardly any region is as pretty during this time of the year as forest Perthshire!
Every year I think about doing a trip to see the autumn colours in Perthshire, but thanks to yet another #blogscot pal, Nicola from Funky Ellas Travel, inspired me with her article about hiking trails in Perthshire. Depending on how my thesis is doing after the summer, I hope to spend 7 days on the trail in September or October.
Rob Roy Way Quick Facts: 128km, 5-8 days; Drymen to Pitlochry, Trossachs & Perthshire
When? In autumn, possibly September or October
Image by James Laing via flickr.
Southern part of West Highland Way
Finally, there is one long-distance trail in Scotland, that I’m not done with yet – the West Highland Way. Last year I hiked from Crianlarich to For William, completing the northern half of the trail. This year, I will of my best to squeeze in a trek along the southern part of the route, walking from Milngavie to Crianlarich in four days, possibly adding a day to climb Ben Lomond, while I’m there.
West Highland Way Quick Facts: 151km, 5-8 days; southern part: Milngavie to Crianlarich (~75km), Trossachs & Highlands
When? Also in autumn, possibly in November
You might also like: Guide to Hiking the West Highland Way
More Long-distance walks in Scotland
Of course there are many more long-distance walks in Scotland varying in length, infrastructure and required level of experience. I’ve listed them all below and to make it easier to you to find what you’re looking for, I sorted them after length and average number of days it takes do finish the trails. To find out more about the trails and for detailed descriptions, check out walkhighlands.co.uk.
I promise that even if you only have a week to travel around Scotland, you can easily manage to squeeze in a shorter long-distance walk and on many of them you don’t even have to camp!
Weekend / Long Weekend
- Berwickshire Coastal Path, 48km, 2-4days
- Clyde Walkway, 63km, 2-5 days
- Dava Way, 38km, 1-3 days
- Mull of Galloway Trail, 72km, 3 days
- River Ayr Way, 65km, 2-4 days
- South Loch Ness Trail, 50km, 2-3 days
- Three Lochs Way, 53km, 3-4 days
- West Island Way, 45km, 1-3 days
Under a Week
- Affric Kintail Way, 71km, 4 days
- Annandale Way, 88km, 3-5 days
- Borders Abbeys Way, 107km, 5-6 days
- Cateran Trail, 104km, 4-6 days
- Cowal Way, 90km, 4-7 days
- East Highland Way, 128km, 4-7 days
- Formartine and Buchan Way, 86km, 3-5 days
- Forth & Clyde and Union Canals, 101km, 3-4 days
- Great Glen Way, 117km, 5-6 days
- Moray Coast Trail, 72km, 3-5 days
- St Cuthbert’s Way, 11km, 4-5 days
Roughly One Week
- Arran Coastal Way, 109km, 7 days
- Ayrshire Coastal Path, 148km, 6-8 days
- Fife Coastal Path, 183km, 6-9 days
- Kintyre Way, 161 km, 6-7 days
- Rob Roy Way, 128km, 5-8 days
- Skye Trail, 128km, 7 days
- Speyside Way, 116km, 5-7 days
- West Highland Way, 151km, 5-8 days
Over One Week
- Cape Wrath Trail, 378km, 14-18 days
- Hebridean Way, 247km, 8-14 days
- John Muir Way, 212km, 9-10 days
- John o’Groats Trail, 235km, 14 days
- Southern Upland Way, 338km, 12-15 days
- Scottish National Trail, 864km, 35 days
I hope that my story and this list of long-distance walks in Scotland will inspire you to plan a trip to Scotland that is leading you far off the beaten track – and onto a trail through the beautiful Scottish landscape!
Have you ever hiked a long-distance trail in Scotland ore elsewhere? I would love to hear your stories – and your top tips for surviving on the trail!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.