I was asked to write up an article about Scotland and I thought to myself ‘Easy! It’s my home, so no bother.’ I don’t live there anymore, so when I go home I enjoy being a tourist in my own country. Like others, I had the misfortune of not appreciating my surroundings when I was there, only learning the beauty of growing up on the banks of the Isle of Skye after leaving it far behind.
I recently went back with my Maltese girlfriend and spent a few days hiking and a few nights in a tent. Everything we encountered was different to the Maltese landscape and I found myself giving blunt advice to her, which I am now sharing with you.
So if you’re planning a hiking trip to Scotland, here are some things you need to know.
Scotland is famous for its less-than-ideal weather. It’s a beautiful green country, but it’s only green because of the climate. Take some waterproof clothes, even if you don’t need them. Don’t even consider for a moment going out into the hills without them.
TIP: If you’re planning to go hiking in summer, you don’t have to carry a heavy winter jacket with you. Pack a lightweight rain jacket, as well as a fleece jacket or hoodie to wear underneath the raincoat in case it gets a bit chilly.
2. ROUTES & PATHS
There are hundreds of walking routes throughout the country, most of which are paved…in a sense. Let’s be honest, when rambling through the countryside we don’t expect (or even want) to see anything remnant of a cityscape, so don’t expect all the paths to be maintained to the highest of standards. Having said that, a high number of them are.
If you were to stray from the path, you should take a map (I recommend Harvey’s maps) and compass to help you with the landscape’s unforgiving nature, but on your first trip I wouldn’t bother. Stick to the paths for your first experience, it’ll wet your whistle enough to make you want to come back and venture as far from the beaten track as you can.
Throughout Scotland are these mythical little buildings dotted all over the country for no apparent reason. There is no electricity, (possibly) no running water, and no person in the nearby vicinity…and yet there’ll be a big sign saying ‘Welcome! Come and stay the night!’ These are bothies. These buildings offer shelter to travellers looking for something more solid than a canvas sheet above their heads.
Go in, relax, make yourself at home – maybe even build a fire, but make sure you leave it as you found it for the next guest.
Mosquitoes? Easy. Hornets? For amateurs.
In Scotland we have a delightful little inhabitant. It flies with the grace of a stoned moth and serves a purpose of… well, I don’t really know to tell you the truth. These little insects are evil and can make or break an outdoor adventure in Scotland. They are called ‘midges’…and they bite.
They’re harmless though. Unless you are unfortunate to have an allergy to them, to most they are just an irritation. A constant bleeding irritation. And if you kill one? Ye Gods, that’s a rookie mistake. If you kill one then the rest will all flock towards you to celebrate the funeral of their dearly departed brother with a feast.
5. ANIMAL ETIQUETTE
Don’t talk to the animals. Seriously, you look silly. And somewhere in the nearby hills will be the shepherd… facepalming.
6. TELL SOMEONE YOUR ROUTE
It is amazing just how many people don’t do this. Just because you’re taking a path doesn’t mean that no one should know how to find you. This is basic knowledge, but bears repeating because of the sheer number of people out there that fail to see the dangers of walking.
BEST GUIDEBOOKS FOR HIKING IN SCOTLAND
Yeah, this one may seem obvious, but it’s not. I recently walked up Ben Nevis, 1344m, the highest mountain in the UK. The walk begins from about 10m above sea level and it is an unforgiving trail all the way to the top.
Yet it is labelled as ‘Child-Friendly’. To be completely fair, it is. The path is clearly marked all the way from top to bottom, and there are no dangerous sections to scramble over. But that ‘Child Friendly’ label can make you think that anyone can do it. If a kid can do it, so can I dammit! Unfortunately not.
Train yourself based on the numbers -1334m of uphill walking with a rucksack. That needs some prep time.
I’m going to say something here that many people will disagree with. In fact, it could even be bad advice, but this is what I do.
I don’t take a lot of water with me when I go hiking in Scotland. Simply because the number of streams is really high, and the water they produce is astronomical. I don’t want the excess weight of 2 litres in my rucksack, and in Scotland (assuming that I’ve planned my route well enough) I know that I’ll come across running water sooner or later.
The tide comes in and out in six-hour rotations. There are some parts of the coast which are inaccessible at high tide, and some parts that can leave you trapped – or worse – if you don’t know when the tide changes.
Scotland is one of the most diverse countries around. There is literally so much to experience here that a lifetime isn’t enough.
So enjoy it. Don’t just view it through the lens of your cameras, but absorb everything through all of your senses.
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