Walking in the Highlands

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  • Looking across Loch Linnhe from near Inversanda, Ardgour, to the snowcapped summit of Ben Nevis beyond, Highlands
    Loch Linnhe from near Inversanda, Ardgour, Highlands
  • An eldery couple stand at a viewpoint looking down to Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail
    Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail, Highlands
  • Looking across to Glen Affric, Highlands
    Glen Affric, Highlands
  • Two dog walkers makes their way along the Great Glen Way, Highlands
    Two dog walkers make their way along the Great Glen Way, Highlands
  • The golden sands of Sanna Bay on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, Highlands
    Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan peninsula, Highlands

The dramatic landscapes of Scotland seem magnified in the Highlands. With staggering mountains, extensive coastline and beautiful sea lochs to boot, the region promises big things and delivers on a grand scale. It’s hardly surprising that this glorious corner of Scotland is a favourite of walkers given the sheer range of routes to explore. Lace up your boots and grab your poles; the Highlands are waiting for you.

Walking in the Highlands

Although varying in terrain, the Highlands are the most mountainous area in Scotland, popular with climbers and hill walkers alike. Many of the tallest mountains in Scotland can be found near the picturesque town of Fort William, which sits at the foot of the Nevis range.

As the name suggests, it is the home to Britain’s tallest mountain Ben Nevis, which towers at 4,409 ft and number one on the list of any Munro bagger. Speaking of which, the Highlands are home to some of Scotland’s most famous Munros with the Isle of Skye alone boasting 12 of them.

Given the prominence of altitude across much of the region, you would be forgiven for thinking you’d have to be an expert and skilled with crampons to get the most out of your visit. There are many accessible routes which give a flavour of what makes the Highlands what they are, including walks that let you drink in the dramatic panoramas so often seen on the silver screen or through stunning photography in books and brochures.

Below is just a selection of the many walks that have been mapped out in the region, arranged in level of difficulty. Find out more about walking routes, printable maps and GPS waypoints in the Highlands.

Easy walks

• Coire Loch, Glen Affric
Distance: 6 km; duration: 1.5 - 2 hours
This walk has everything you’d want from a forest walk. The trail takes you through ancient Caledonian forestry, where you could even stumble on roe deer or the seldom seen capercailie in the foliage, as well as providing views of stunning Glen Affric. To top it all, a dramatic waterfall thunders through a rocky gorge.

• Inchnadamph Bone Caves
Distance: 4.5 km; duration: 1.5 - 2 hours
A limestone valley with a secret to share, this popular walk leads you along the valley floor until it narrows and you climb its steep sides to reach the dramatic bone caves. The remains of lynx, reindeer and even polar bear, who once roamed the area, have been found inside the cave mouth.

• Randolph’s Leap
Distance: 4 km; duration: 1 hour
This route traces the steps of the disgruntled Cummings family who, with their men, attacked Randolph, the Earl of Moray, only to be forced to retreat to the River Findhorn and leap across its churning waters to make their escape. The popular walk involves clear paths but give due attention to the steep edges near the fast-flowing river.

• Stacks of Duncansby
The true most north-easterly point of Scotland, Duncansby Head has been content to let nearby John o’Groats take all the attention. A track from the latter emerges at the peninsula’s lighthouse, built in 1924. Further along the path lies the highlight of the walk, the impressive and prominent Stacks of Duncansby, two jagged pinnacles jutting out of the sea.

• Glenmore Forest
Located near Aviemore, Glenmore Forest has some of the best preserved areas of ancient Caledonian forestry in the country. Plundered for industry, much of the area’s former woodland was felled but Glenmore retains many pristine pine, juniper and birch trees from the old forests. Enjoy the solitude and quiet as you roam among these proud trees.

Moderate walks

• Portuairk to Sanna Bay
Distance: 6.6 km
A walk to the sandy beaches of Sanna Bay on the Ardnamurchan peninsula is a festival of colour during the late spring and summer. As well as breathtaking views of sweeping crystalline sea, there are many varieties of machair grassland which provide shelter to raptors, larks and a variety of seabirds.

• Stac Pollaidh
Distance: 4.5 km; duration: 2 - 4 hours
A circular route around Stac Pollaidh, or Stac Polly in its anglicised form, yields spectacular views of the Summer Isles and the vast wilderness of Assynt. There’s an optional ascent up the ridge and reaching the true summit involves highly skilled scrambling, making it one of the most difficult summits in the UK.

• Lost Valley Glencoe
Distance: 4 km; duration: 2 - 3 hours
A rough but dramatic walk through history, this route takes to the hidden valley in Glencoe where the ill-fated Macdonald clan hit their rustled cattle. You will see why this wide, flat expanse of land tucked away from view was the perfect hiding place. For this reason, it was the refuge where many escaped to from the Glen Coe massacre but tragically perished in the snow. The path is steep and rocky with some scrambling required in some places.


• Old Man of Storr
Distance: 8 km; duration: 3 - 5 hours
This famous pinnacle sits, almost precariously, in front of the craggy face of the Storr peak, both of which provide the backdrop to this spectacular walk. Prominent landmarks in view as you ascend include Skye’s famous Cuillin Mountains, the flat-topped Macleod’s Tables and the islands of the Outer Hebrides.

• Sandwood Bay
Distance: 13 km; duration: 4 - 5 hours
Arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the walk to the sands of Sandwood Bay can seem bleak at first as you trudge along moorland paths. The views of the bay when it comes into view are definitely worth the effort, so make sure to spend some time exploring the craggy sea cliffs, sand dunes and the giant sea stack.

Strenuous walks

• Coire Lagan
Distance: 9 km; duration: 3 - 5 hours
Coire Lagan is one of the most impressive corries in Skye’s Cuillin range. The relatively gradual ascent first offers views of the Isle of Rhum before reaching a narrow gully which exits at a stunning lochan. The new path on the descent passes the Eas Mor falls, a stream that dramatically plunges from the cliff face into a deep ravine below.

• Ben Rinnes
Dominating the landscape of Moray, the summit of Ben Rinnes is a familiar sight to visitors of Speyside. There are several routes suggested to get to the top of this 840 m Corbett and is popular with hikers for, amongst other things, the waterfalls from the many rivers which flow down it, for instance the Linn of Ruthie.

• Five Sisters of Kintail
Distance: 15 km; duration: 8 - 10 hours
One of Scotland’s best ridge walks, the Five Sisters cut a distinctive sight bursting through the clouds. Out of the five pointed peaks, three are classified as Munros which means you can tick a few off your bagging list in one stroke of your pen. The ascent is hard going and very steep with some scrambling required over rocky ground and along the connecting ridge.

• Glen Strathfarrar Munros circuit, Glen Affric
Distance: 25 km; duration: 7 - 10 hours
Interest in this circuit is ever increasing thanks to its many ridges and the four Munros to bag. The views of the surrounding are nothing short of spectacular, particularly the descent to Bealach Toll Sgaile. The walk is long so you may want to consider using a bike for returning along the road sections.

• Cairn Gorm and the northern corries
Distance: 11 km; duration: 5 - 6 hours
The best known and most walked mountain in the range, Cairn Gorm can initially seem quite hectic with visitors to the ski resort and funicular railway. This longer approach to the summit takes you by way of some impressive rock architecture and the northern corries with a more up and down ascent to the plateau.

Munros

• Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor)
Distance:  13 km; duration: 5.5 hours
This mountain, perhaps more than most, is a draw for climbers, photographers and walkers alike. Although there is a secondary route, particularly used by scramblers, the route of choice for many to reach the summit of this classic peak is the ‘tourist route’ which ascends the ridge at the far end of Coire na Tulaich.

• Ben More Assynt
Distance:  17.45 km; duration: 6 hours
The climb to the summit of Ben More Assynt can be difficult. With two peaks linked by a narrow rocky ridge, those ascending the mountain should be prepared for high exposure. Appreciating the scale and beauty of one of Scotland’s last untouched wildernesses, Assynt in the west of Sutherland, is one of the draws of reaching the top.

• Bruach na Frithe
Without too much demand for scrambling or climbing experience, Bruach na Frithe forms part of the Isle of Skye’s spectacular Black Cuillins range and is perhaps one of its more accessible Munros to bag. It is, however, a steep ascend and it is particularly rocky in places.

• An Teallach
Distance:  19 km; duration: 7 – 11 hours
Perhaps one of the most impressive in the UK, this fabled mountain is offers some challenging scrambling on exposed ridges but the drama of the walk is overshadowed by the dramatic landscape at your feet. This walk is sure to live long in the memory.

• Ben Nevis
Distance: 14.83 – 16.68 km (dependent on route); duration: 5.5 – 6 hours
Not far from Fort William lies Britain’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis. There are two routes to take to conquer the mighty Ben; the first is a 5.5 hour ‘tourist route’ which is nonetheless taxing and is a serious navigational challenge. The more difficult ascent up the peak along the ridge joining the summit of neighbouring Carn Mor Dearg to Ben Nevis is herculean and is a serious feat of mountaineering. For this reason, it is less crowded and but difficult with high exposure in places and some scrambling required.

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