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Issue 78 - 10 Best Scottish Trails

Scotland Magazine Issue 78
December 2014

 

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10 Best Scottish Trails

Exploring the great outdoors

1 The Southern Upland Way

Running for 212 miles from Portpatrick, on the Galloway coast, to the Scottish Borders village of Cockburnspath, on Scotland’s eastern seaboard, the Southern Upland Way is one of the toughest and, consequently, rewarding long distance walks. As well as the distance there are over 80 summits above 2,000 feet to tackle, crossing a diverse range of terrain, some wild and remote, and through some of southern Scotland’s most scenic countryside. This includes coastline, open moorland and rolling hills, including Benbrack Hill above Sanquhar, which grants a marvellous view of the Galloway Hills. The route generally takes 12-16 days to complete and passes through a number of excellent towns and villages (including Wanlockhead, the highest village in Scotland, many of which offer good, comfortable accommodation and some excellent pubs to refuel and relax – St John’s Town of Dalry, Moffat, Traquair and Melrose just a few examples. Notable landmarks en route include St Mary’s Loch, the River Cree and the Lammermuir Hills, with red kite, buzzard and dipper just a selection of wildlife spotted along the way.

2 The John Muir Trail

Regarded by many as the father of modern conservation John Muir was born in the East Lothian coastal town Dunbar on 21 April 1838 and this fantastic long distance walk begins from his birthplace. Until recently the route finished at Fisherrow, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, but it has now been extended to Helensburgh where Muir sailed with his father and brother for their new life in the USA. It stretches for 134 miles across the Central Belt, running through beautiful countryside (including Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park), the Forth and Clyde Canal, a segment of the East Lothian and Lothian coast and underneath the rolling Campsie Fells. The diverse scenery is marvelous throughout and as it passes through the likes of North Berwick, South Queensferry, Falkirk and Kilsyth, a number of excellent shops, restaurants and accommodation is never far away. Remember that you are always in close proximity to urban conurbations with stop off destinations such as the Falkirk Wheel and the Selkies near at hand.This superb ten day walk is a fitting legacy to one of Scotland’s greatest historical figures.

3 The Borders Abbeys Way

If you enjoy Scottish History and its landscape then the Borders Abbeys Way may be the one for you. A circular route of 64 miles links the great Borders towns of Melrose, Selkirk, Hawick, Jedburgh and Kelso with the historic abbeys of Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh and Dryburgh providing great architectural and historic focal points throughout the walk. four or five days will allow the route to be completed comfortably and the walking is generally simple, taking you along field paths and tracks, gorgeous sections of the River Tweed and Teviot and through wonderful countryside. Roxburgh Castle, Abbotsford House and the Eildon Hills are attractions along the route but it is the four abbeys that really catch the eye and time can be spent wandering around their grounds. Each has their own distinct and fascinating history and stories to tell. In its heyday Kelso Abbey was one of the richest in Scotland; it is thought that the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried in Melrose Abbey while Jedburgh Abbey was established as a priory for Augustinian canons around 1138. However, perhaps the finest is Dryburgh Abbey, near Newtown St Boswells.

4 The Ayrshire Coastal Path

The Ayrshire Coastal Path takes in a portion of Scotland’s wonderful west coast. Beginning from the scattering of houses at Glenapp, a few miles north of Stranraer, it crosses wild, open moorland to Ballantrae before continuing along coastal and countryside paths, passing through the bustling towns of Girvan, Ayr and Troon to reach Ardrossan and then onto the historic town of Largs. The route concludes its 94-mile journey at Skelmorlie. The sea is never far from sight; the air bracing and fresh to inspire your footfall. A big sky dominates the horizon. Given the contrasts between inland fields and the uncompromising coastline, there is an abundance of flora and fauna to be encountered in the surrounding hinterland. Throughout this enormously rewarding walk the views extend across the Kintyre Pensinsula to Northern Ireland while Arran’s serrated profile is a near constant. As journey’s end nears the big mountains of the Southern Highlands form a great barrier on the horizon. The best vantage point is from The Knock, above Largs, where the remains of an Iron Age fort are still visible. Truly amazing.

5 The Speyside Way

Cutting its course through another portion of Scotland’s dramatic landscape The Speyside Way opened in 1981, initially connecting Spey Bay with Ballindalloch. Further extensions to Buckie, on the northeast coast, and Aviemore, in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park, opening in 1999 and 2000 respectively. What now exists is a superb 84 mile trail, again highlighting the wonderful diverse scenery and wildlife of Scotland. If walking the route from south to north the initial miles travel through the incredible landscape of the National Park, where the huge Cairngorm and Monadhliath mountains flank the River Spey. It also visits the Abernethy Nature Reserve (home to its ospreys) and a remnant of the Great Wood of Caledon before heading into Nethy Bridge and then Grantown of Spey. The terrain then leaves the big mountains behind and continues through the beautiful landscape of Speyside. This is Scotch whisky country so plenty to see and do, heading through Aberlour, Craigellachie and Fochabers.

6 The Fife Coastal Path

Scotland’s east coast has always been popular for walking and the Fife Coastal Path highlights all that is good about walking along this attractive and historic stretch of coastline. It extends for 117 miles between the Forth and Tay Estuaries and runs through some of the most beautiful villages in Scotland, such as Elie, Pittenweem, Crail and Anstruther as well as the wonderful town of St Andrews. Not only was Scotland's oldest university created here, but St Andrews served as the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland until the Scottish Reformation. Away from the East Neuk and North Queensferry, Burntisland and Newburgh all add to the appeal of the route, as does its history including heavy industry, prehistoric rock carvings and golf. In between the necklace of towns and villages are miles of beautiful sandy beaches, attractive woodland and nature reserves while the magnificent scenery runs throughout, taking in much of the Fife, Lothian and Angus coast and the countryside of the Central Lowlands.

7 The West Highland Way

Opened in 1980 the West Highland Way has gone on to become the most popular of Scotland’s Great Trails, in no small part due to the incredible scenery it passes through. It is thought that 85,000 people walk a section of the route each year with 30,000 walking the full 96-miles (and a mammoth 15,000 feet of ascent) between Milngavie, on the outskirts of Glasgow, and Fort William. Many of the paths utilise ancient routes, droves and military roads with high points including Conic Hill and the Devil’s Staircase above Glencoe. The landscape is as diverse as it is incredible, from the woodland of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, to the shores of Loch Lomond, the flat, wild plains of Rannoch Moor to the iconic mountain scenery of Glencoe and Glen Nevis – Buachaille and Ben Nevis are just some of the magnificent peaks that are on show. The West Highland Way can be broken down into several sections, with the likes of Tyndrum, Kinlochleven and the Kingshouse Hotel providing popular pit stops.

8 The Skye Trail

Along with the West Highland Way the Skye Trail is the most dramatic of all the Great Scottish Trails. It runs along the spine of Skye for 80 miles, from the island’s northern tip at Rubha Hunish to Broadford on its east coast. In between it travels along the stunning and unique landscape of the Trotternish Ridge, beneath the serrated and iconic contours of the Red and Black Cuillin and through historic cleared villages. It also visits some of Skye’s remarkable coastline and renowned places such as Portree, Glen Sligachan and Elgol. In the spring and summer, the pathways are sprinkled with vivid wild flowers, while the sighting of an eagle is commonplace. The route is not waymarked and some sections are pathless so good navigation and map-reading skills would be required. However, for anyone walking the trail it is a breathtaking experience, where the scenery on Skye is astonishing – beyond the island boundaries are views of Knoydart, much of the Northwest Highlands and the likes of Rum and Eigg.

9 The Great Glen Way

Carrying on from Fort William, the Great Glen Way heads through the dramatic scenery of the Great Glen for 79 miles to Inverness. Opened in 2002 the Great Glen Way makes for a great introduction to long distance walking as it generally follows low level paths along the Caledonian Canal, drove roads and woodland tracks although there are a few sections of tougher terrain. All in all, the Great Glen Way is a terrific route, one of great beauty and stunning scenery, with an exceptional array of wildlife, including golden eagle. The origins of the Great Glen Way stretch back many millions of years when the two continents of Laurentia (which now forms much of Canada) and the Avelonia (carrying England and part of Northern Europe) collided to form the Great Glen fault. Its legacy is a landscape of the beautiful freshwater lochs of Lochy, Oich and Ness while the likes of Corpach, Fort Augustus, Drumnadrochit and Invermoriston providing ideal places for a break or an overnight stop.

10 The Moray Coast Trail

The dazzling Moray coast is as good a place as any to walk. The region has a micro-climate, often distinctly milder and more sheltered than you are likely to encounter elsewhere on the east coast. The Moray Coast Trail is only 50 miles in length and can be comfortably walked in four days, making it a gentle but beguiling route. Beginning a little inland at Forres the coastline is soon reached at Findhorn, a beautiful village with great beaches and a fantastic selection of wildlife – the dune system stretching from here to Burghead is the largest in Britain. Beyond Roseisle Forest dramatic sandstone cliffs, some over 250 million years old, then line the route between Burghead and Lossiemouth, known for its sandy beach and dunes and often called the Jewel of the Moray Firth. Similar to the Fife Coastal Path, the Moray Coast Trail then proceeds through a string of attractive villages such as Kingston on Spey and Portknockie and around Spey Bay, where dolphin and osprey may be spotted.