Take in some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole of Scotland on a mixture of fabulous hill passes. Come to the ancient glens and hills of the Highlands and enjoy some of the finest walking country in the world. You’ll find it’s a fantastic place for a holiday where the dramatic scenery imbues the Highlands with an endless sense of excitement. Towering crags and rushing burns will get the pulse racing whether you’re on a day long mountain hike or a short ramble. One thing you can be sure of in the Highlands is the diversity of walking on offer; there are enough way-marked trails, coastal wanders, forest forays, and hill and mountain hikes to last a lifetime. The Highlanders have long understood the beauty of their land and will be delighted to share their knowledge with you to make the most of your stay.
This route gives a flavour of the woodland and mountain scenery that makes up the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve. From the car park an all abilities trail winds, partly on boardwalk, through native woodland. This has all regenerated naturally as the result of a successful deer control policy. Continue to veer to the west for stunning and uninterrupted views of the crags in Coire Adair. These 400m cliffs are particularly impressive in winter when huge cornices can form at their tops. From here retrace your steps (1). Experienced hill walker with navigational competency, can continue to the foot of the corrie before heading up to the col known as ‘Tt Window’ and on to the plateau and summit of Creag Meagaidh (2). Option 2 gives an outing of 16km (10 miles) with 900 metres of ascent.
Distance: 4 miles. Time: 2.5 hours
Loch an Nostarie
Explore Mallaig’s hinterland on this way-marked circular walk, which will take you through some very quiet and tranquil terrain. From the Circular Walk signpost at the west end of the parking area, follow the path to the viewpoint at the top of the hill. From here there is a finger post reading ‘Loch an Nostarie and Loch Eireagoraidh’ and it is possible to follow the red and green way-markers through the gully, over the hill. and down towards Loch an Nostarie. At the loch side another finger post will direct you along the shore towards ‘Glascnacardoch’ and way-markers now bear the colours red, green and white. Continue for 1km to pass Glascnacardoch House and join an old road, which winds past the swimming pool and secondary school back to the centre of Mallaig.
Distance: 4.5 miles Time: 2.5 hours
Achvarasdal Woodland has been left to regenerate for the last 50 years and is a wildlife haven. There are 3! tree species, 19 of which are native. Dead trees have been left in situ and provide the perfect conditions fo: fungi, mosses and lichens as well as many insects. Park in a lay-by near the entrance and follow the way-marked walk. The walk consists of a shallow loop: as you enter the wood you can choose to either skirt the west flank of Achvarasdal Wood or head east to explore the wetland area. At the furthest point the walk opens into a clearing where you will find Achvarasdal House and an ancient Broch. There are various other small loops that bring you back to the clearing and allow you to further investigate the wood.
Distance: 1.5 miles Time: 1 hour
Dun Deardail, Glen Nevis
This walk, in Glen Nevis, leads up the hillside to arrive at the ruins of an iron-age fort, Dun Deardail. Turn left on leaving the visitor centre car park. Cross the road and walk to the end of the field to join the West Highland Way. Continue for 200m to meet a forest road; turn left to follow it. Red squirrels are plentiful in the woods here. Further on, at a fork, choose the upper road. After 3km you’ll reach a stile. Cross over and follow a path to the left to reach the fort. Thousands of years ago it was vitrified by fires to fuse its stones and increase its strength. You’ll notice some of the stones have a glass-like appearance. Enjoy the views down into the glen and across to mighty Ben Nevis.
Distance: 6 miles. Time: 3.5 hours
Cnoc Fyrish, The Black Isle
This signed walk leads to Cnoc Fyrish where there are extensive views and an unusual monument. Hike up through forestry to pass a small loch and the start of the views. The summit monument is a replica of the gates of the Indian city Negapatam and was built in 1783 by the local estate owner, Sir Hector Munro of Novar, one time Commander of the British Forces in India. For variety and a quieter return, continue over the summit and descend west to the forest edge. Turn right on to a track and descend for 2km. When the track flattens out and a large bend is reached. take the right fork at the bend to rejoin the outward route near the car park. If you miss this, keep straight on to reach the road.
Distance: 4 miles. Time: 2.5 hours.
Inverfarigaig & The Fall of Foyers
Enjoy a fine quiet walk on the southern side of Loch Ness, which takes in the spectacular waterfall at Foyers. From the Information Centre at the Inverfarigaig car park the route rises steeply through the forest to a view point overlooking the loch.
This offers an excellent perspective on the Great Glen, which was formed by a transform fault similar to California’s San Andreas Fault. From here you can also look for that elusive creature ’Nessiteras Rhombopteryx’ – more commonly known as Nessie. She was given the Latin moniker by Sir Peter Scott of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau in 1975. In Foyers you can enjoy a drink and the spectacle of the 45m Fall of Foyers, which drops dramatically into a gorge before reaching the loch itself.
This walk is a combination of two walks (Inverfarigaig Foyers and Falls of Foyers)
Distance:7 miles. Time: 3.5 hours
The Quiraing on Skye
The Quiraing is a unique rock formation — an ancien landslip below the volcanic and intriguing Trotternis Escarpment at the northern end of Skye. It is composed of all manner of rock spires and there is labyrinthine feel to the area. Cross the road from the car park to follow an obvious track along the base o the cliffs, where rock formations emerge from the hillside. The path continues along the base until below the largest pinnacle — ‘The Needle’. From her on the terrain is trickier. Experienced walkers can ascend a steep path past ‘The Needle’ and through a gap in the rocks to reach ‘The Prison’, which is almost enclosed within the cliffs. The path then climbs further up a small hill to ‘The Table’ — a large and completely flat grassy area, again surrounded by cliffs.
Distance 2.5 miles. Time: 3 hours.
Nethy Bridge, Grantown on Spey
This is a lovely. straightforward, signed, flat walk, which follows a section of the long distance Speyside Way along the track of a dismantled railway. Near Nethy Bridge is Broomhill Station, which doubles as Glenbogle Station in the BBC TV drama Monarch of the Glen (steam trains run from here to Aviemore). Follow the thistle way-markers to pass through arable farmland. Looking to the south-east there are good views of the Cairngorms and the deep Northern Lorries. Approximately halfway through the walk the River Spey flanks you on the left side. In times gone by loose logs would have been transported down the river Canadian-style. Shortly before you enter Grantown. Craggan golf course and trout ponds will be visible on the far side of the river. There are plenty of options for refreshments in Grantown.
Distance: 6 miles. Time: 2.5 hours.
Stac Pollaidh lies within the North West Highlands Geopark. Scotland’s first, which recognises the geological importance and beauty of the area. Many of the science’s founding theories were formulated from a study of this extraordinary landscape: you can learn more about the Geopark at the nearby Knockan Visitor Centre. From the car park, follow the path to quickly gain height and views of Loch Lurgainn. At a fork, go right to walk around the eastern edge of the hill with views of Cul Mor and Cul Beag. The ridge of Stac Pollaidh is soon gained and offers marvellous and dramatic views of the mountainous landscape. Height can be gained by scrambling east though the summit, and harder ground, lies west. To reach the summit a head for heights and scrambling experience is required.
Distance: 4 miles. Time: 3 hours.
For those with an interest in history, archaeology, and natural history, there is an abundance of interesting sites to visit. A tiny sample of what is on offer is detailed here. The walk to Dun Deardail in Glen Nevis brings you face-to-face with an Iron-Age fort and views of the formidable looking Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. You may see beautiful red squirrel if you’re lucky. Or go to the shores of Loch Ness for a stimulating walk from Inverfarigaig to the dramatic Falls of Foyers. There’s always the chance you’ll spot the elusive Loch Ness Monster or catch a sighting of pinemarten, badgers and even wildcats. Birdlife includes the greater spotted woodpecker, sparrowhawk, red kites, peregrines and ospreys too. You’ll be amazed at the variety of wildlife to be seen in the Highlands.
There are also many famous, and long established, hill passes one can follow, which give a strong flavour of the Highlands’ wild character. The Gaick Pass is one such classic. It provides a relatively low level passage, through a series of hidden flat-bottomed valleys, between Atholl and Speyside but is a long and serious undertaking.
For a relatively short but dramatic introduction to the Highlands a two-hour trip to Glencoe’s Lost Valley is recommended. This walk leads up into the mountains but is straightforward and suitable for all ages. The drama is palpable as you arrive at the Lost Valley, which is out of sight until the very last minute. At the far end, the Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000ft-914m) of Stob Coire Sgreamhach and Bidean nam Bian rise sharply to their high-peaked summits. Three great ridges run down from these mountains ending as the huge blunt rocky faces, known as the Three Sisters, which line Glencoe. You can learn about the rich culture and history of this famous area at the glen’s popular National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre.
The Highlands are blessed with many such awe-inspiring places. Some are less fierce and brooding like the views across Loch Maree to the bulky mountain of Slioch (in gaelic The Spear’). Loch Maree, in the north-west Highlands, is the finest of all the lochs in Scotland. This long, narrow, loch extends from near Kinlochewe for 20kms, widening at its northern end where there is a patchwork of wooded islands. Parts of the loch shore and hillsides are cloaked in dark green Scots Pine and the whole area exudes an aura of calm. This, no doubt, attracted the Irish monk Maol Rudha who inhabited one of the islands and after whom the loch — Loch Ma-Ruibhe, in Gaelic — is named. At the southern end of the loch there are way-marked walks of varying lengths through the woods with excellent viewpoints.
One of the factors that make the Highlands so special is the ancient and complex geology, which manifests itself in many wonderful forms such as the Trotternish Ridge on Skye and the deeply weathered Stac Pollaidh (see walk 15); both also make a fine walk. The international importance of the Highlands’ geological environments is now recognised with Geoparks in Lochaber and the North West Highlands. You can get to grips with the Lochaber Geopark through a series of Geotrail leaflets (available from local Tourist Information Centres) that detail short walks to geological features. In the North West Highlands Geopark there are dozens of excellent walks to unusual rock features and a Visitor Centre at Knockan Crag, north of Ullapool.
Hill walkers will, of course, be in their element in the Highlands, which has many great, and varied, mountain ranges such as the Torridon Mountains, the Fannaichs, and the Cairngorms to name but a few. But you don’t have to go high to experience the drama or romance of the Highlands.
Try a warm summer’s day when the glens are a fuzz of purple and sweet aromas and just laze and listen to the drone of a honey bee. Or go for a romp on an autumn day when the deer-grass blazes golden bronze.
Stop and have a picnic under a bright red-berried rowan tree and enjoy the Highlands in all their autumnal glory. Spring has its own merits too: the cuckoo calls, the grass is lush, and the land speaks of new beginnings.
Wherever you go in the Highlands you can be sure of experiencing its excitement and majestic beauty. Here are 9 walks to help you enjoy the outdoors and the great Scottish countryside.