Walking and wellness go hand in hand. A brisk walk improves fitness, cardiac health, mood and can prevent weight gain. Other benefits include improved circulation, better posture and the alleviation of depression and fatigue. Walking can even reduce your risk of cancer and chronic disease. Good news for those of us who prefer a walk to working out in the gym!
Walking in nature has been found to reduce negative thinking and improve self-confidence. In our increasingly urbanised world, taking time to experience the great outdoors is of vital importance.
Fortunately, there’s a place where you can enjoy the best forest, mountain and coastal trails for free – Scotland! Whether it’s part of a dedicated wellness retreat or just a day out in between other pursuits, Scotland is a walker’s dream.
1. Galloway Forest Park, Dumfries & Galloway
The largest Forest Park in Britain, Galloway Forest Park has a fantastic selection of trails ranging from gentle woodland strolls to more mountainous adventures. Head for one of the park’s three visitor centres, such as Kirroughtree, to find scenic circuits and activities. Galloway Forest Park is also the UK’s first Dark Sky Park – the perfect place for a spot of glamping. See the stars like you’ve never seen them before and catch up on restorative sleep in one of the darkest places in Europe.
2. The Hermitage, Perthshire
Forest bathing is a Japanese form of nature therapy. It involves practicing yoga and tai chi in the forest, or simply walking mindfully, paying close attention to the sensation of your feet on the forest floor. The Hermitage is a beautiful stretch of Perthshire forest, originally designed in the 18th century as a pleasure ground for the Dukes of Atholl. What a place to enjoy the peaceful sights and sounds of the trees as you practice forest bathing.
3. Cardrona Forest, Scottish Borders
Cardrona Forest hugs the hillsides on the south side of the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders. Discover relaxed walking trails that take you into the calming atmosphere of the forest. The Pikes Knowe Trail, for example, will take you deep into the forest to discover the remains of Cardrona Tower and the Iron Age fort at Castle Knowe. There are plenty of places to rest along the way, an ideal time for meditation and relaxation.
4. Tay Forest Park, Perthshire
It’s not only a natural, serene feeling that spending time in the forest gives you. Did you know that breathing in the organic compounds trees emit – phytoncides – can help improve your immune system? Put this theory to the test in Tay Forest Park, where you’ll find big trees and Highland Perthshire’s most iconic view: Queen’s View.
5. Argyll Forest Park, Argyll
The forest is a wonderful place to walk your dog, which is a great wellness activity. Did you know the companionship between pets and owners is good for mental health and that dog-walking increases confidence and self-esteem? You and your furry friend will love a trip to Argyll Forest Park, with its rugged scenery, waterfalls and lochs.
6. Eaval, Outer Hebrides
It’s time to disconnect your devices and head for the mountains. Our digital lives are all-consuming and addictive so it’s no surprise that switching off from tech now and then allows you to recharge and calm your mind. Eaval is the highest hill on North Uist and the perfect place to start your digital detox. Although only 347 m high, it provides gorgeous views of the Outer Hebrides. Don’t worry – your phone will be waiting for you when you get back!
7. Stac Pollaidh, Highlands
Another way to unwind on a mountain walk – or any walk for that matter – is to listen to music. Perhaps this doesn’t quite tick the digital detox box, but studies have shown that calming music helps to relax muscles and lower blood pressure. So, pick some chilled out tunes for your playlist and head for the famous peak of Stac Pollaidh, with its many pinnacles and steep gullies. Just remember to keep your wits about you as you make your ascent. For more information on Stac Pollaidh take a look at WalkHighlands.
8. Ben A’an, The Trossachs
A mountain walk is your chance to enjoy stunning views and that special feeling of being surrounded by nature. Savour the sights and sounds of the mountains on a trip to Ben A’an, one of Scotland’s most popular small peaks. The craggy summit of Ben A’an is a fantastic viewpoint that looks out over the heart of the Trossachs. Try a calm breathing exercise at the top as you take in the scene.
9. Conic Hill, Stirlingshire
Wellness isn’t all about self-care, it can also involve helping others too. Don’t just take our word for it – acts of kindness are even recommended by the NHS for mental wellbeing! Many organisations offer volunteering opportunities in Scotland’s wild places. One such initiative is path maintenance on Scotland’s hills and mountains. Tie in a visit to Conic Hill with a path repair project and you might just feel the good vibes. Take a look at how you can improve Scotland’s mountain paths.
10. Ben Nevis, Highlands
One way to build self-esteem and confidence is to give yourself a challenge, like running a marathon or a climbing a mountain. Achieving these milestones has been proven to help us deal with stress better. And for those of you who like a mighty challenge, why not try climbing the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis? Located in the north west Highlands, this is a long and arduous climb, but by anyone’s standards a great achievement. Find out all you need to know about tackling Ben Nevis or one of the other 281 Munros in Scotland.
11. St Abb’s Head, Berwickshire
Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the secrets to feeling happy and well. Not only will a seaside walk tire your body out and have you feeling ready for bed – sea air, which is rich in oxygen, is like a natural sleeping pill. Try out this theory on a walk to St Abb’s Head, a dramatic clifftop route that takes in seabird nesting areas and a lighthouse which has been in operation since 1862. Let the sound of the waves soothe and clear your mind, lowering your stress levels. Sleep tight.
12. Mull of Galloway, Dumfries & Galloway
Studies say that being close to the water makes you happier. One US experiment even suggests that simply looking at the sea can be enough to perk you up. The 59km Mull of Galloway Trail has some transcendent sea views to boost those happy feelings. You might not be able to walk the whole route, but even a short section should hopefully increase feelings of wellbeing. This is a great way to explore the south-west corner of Scotland.
13. Loch Ness 360 Trail, Inverness-shire
Wellness walkers heading to Loch Ness may be hoping to catch sight of a rare Scottish phenomenon: the sun! One of the hidden benefits to a coastal walk is sunshine, something that, like the Loch Ness Monster, is often a little bit shy round these parts. But you don’t need blazing sunshine to soak up that precious Vitamin D, you’ll absorb it even through clouds. The sunshine vitamin has many health benefits, including regulating mood and warding off depression.
14. Isle of Berneray, Outer Hebrides
You might not have thought about it but walking on sand, with your feet sinking in, requires more effort than normal walking and is therefore better exercise. So, pick a beach, any beach, and start strolling! We have chosen the coastline around the Isle of Berneray, as much for its beauty as its potential for exercise. The beaches here are so pristine that the Thai tourist board once used a picture of Berneray to promote beach holidays in Thailand. True story!
15. Fife Coastal Path, Fife
Salt spray in the air, crashing waves, birds drifting overhead – taking a seaside walk should invigorate all of your senses. Research has shown that the sound of water creates a form of white noise which helps us feel less distracted and more relaxed. The Fife Coastal Path is a fantastic place to enjoy the sounds of the sea, stopping off at points of interest as you go. From nature reserves to historic towns like Buckhaven and St Monans, the Fife Coastal Path is an excellent place for a walk.
Hopefully we have inspired you to strap on your walking boots and head out into the Scottish countryside. Walking is a free and fun way to stay fit and well, and there are brilliant walks to be found all over the country. Now, go on, take a hike!