One of the best things about Scotland is the right to roam which means anyone can explore the countryside and incredible landscapes that make it so extraordinarily beautiful.
Scotland is famous for its long-distance routes like the West Highland Way, but there are countless other shorter and accessible routes around lochs, across beaches, through tranquil forests and more, which you can walk at a slower pace and take the time to really experience the environment.
Here are just some of the best ‘slow’ walking routes you can enjoy in Scotland. Whether in the city or in the countryside, you’ll be amazed at how many new discoveries you can make when you allow yourself more time to explore.
Walking is undoubtedly one of the most enriching ways to see the country and the most sustainable; but it is essential we all do so responsibly. Watch our new video below and learn more about the ways you can experience sustainable and slow travel in Scotland.
1. Caerlaverock and Ward Law
Location: Dumfries & Galloway
Start/End: Castle Corner Car Park – Caerlaverock Wetlands Centre
Distance: 5 m (8 km)
This meandering circuit around the Caerlaverock area, including part of the 20,000-acre national nature reserve, is a joy to explore for wildlife and history enthusiasts. Start by admiring breath-taking views across the merse, a fertile marshland and Nith Estuary, then follow the path into a woodland of huge oaks and along the edge of the merse which explodes with wildflowers in the warmer months. Eventually you arrive at Caerlaverock Castle, the pink sandstone 13th century stronghold and its moat which has featured in countless film and TV productions. If you’ve still got more energy, follow the footpath to the top of Ward Law for stunning views of the Solway Firth before descending to the natural haven of Wetlands & Wildfowl Trust (WWT) Caerlaverock Wetland Centre. Here you see can see migratory birdlife from around the world, including nesting ospreys from spring to late summer.
2. The Union Canal
Start/End: Fountainbridge – Ratho
Distance: 9 m (14.5 km)
Take the road less travelled and follow the Union Canal towpath beyond the Edinburgh city boundary. Start at Fountainbridge and follow the tree-lined footpath leisurely winding through the outskirts of the capital. Keep your eyes peeled for traces from the city’s industrial past when the waterway was a busy trade route between Edinburgh and Glasgow while enjoying picturesque sightings of flocks of ducks and geese and vividly coloured canal boats. Pass over the sturdy Victorian Scott Russell aqueduct before arriving at the charming conservation village of Ratho. Here you can rest your legs and savour a well-earned pint at the historic Bridge Inn while watching boats, rowers and joggers drift past.
3. Loch Leven Heritage Trail
Location: Kinross, Perthshire
Start/End: The Pier – RSPB Loch Leven
Distance: 10 miles (16 km)
This classic lochside trail is the longest on the list, but the well-maintained gravel path makes it manageable for bikes, pushchairs and even wheelchairs. Surrounded by pastural farmlands and craggy hillsides with the lonely ruin of Lochleven Castle – where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned – marooned on a lochan, the circuit is a joy to explore throughout the year. But it is especially memorable in autumn when the loch becomes a home to up to 20,000 pink-footed geese and other migratory birds escaping the harsh Arctic winter. Trace the loch shore and take in the distant Lomond Hills and magnificent Kinross House, stroll through idyllic spots like Levenmouth Woods and the little sandy bay of Burleigh Sands, and finally, enjoy a well-earned rest at the RSPB Reserve at Vane Farm with its café and network of nature trails. There’s also Loch Leven’s Larder nearby with its restaurant, food hall and gift shop.
4. The River Tay to Birnam
Location: Highland Perthshire
Start/End: The Taybank Hotel
Distance: 3.5 m (6 km)
In a wood valley on the bank of the River Tay nestles the ancient village of Birnam, a name that is familiar to many as the setting of ‘Birnam Wood’ which features in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Follow this easy waymarked circuit around the village which leads to the great Birnam Oak, a reputed survivor of the play’s wood and a relic from the Great Caledonian Forest which once covered most of Scotland. Begin in Dunkeld and cross the fine stone connecting bridge before descending a flight of steps next to the tiny tollhouse. From here, follow the woodland footpath in the direction of the downstream river. After arriving at the legendary oak, return towards the heart of the village where you’ll find Birnam Arts with its café, art gallery, exhibition and garden dedicated to Beatrix Potter. The beloved children’s author spent many family holidays here and was greatly inspired by this part of Perthshire.
5. The Kelvin Walkway
Start/End: Kelvinhaugh – Milngavie
Distance: 10.5 m (16.9 km)
This footpath meanders along the banks of the River Kelvin beneath a leafy canopy with natural delights scattered throughout, all without leaving Scotland’s largest city! From romantic sandstone bridges to tumbling waterfalls, feel yourself transported to the countryside as you wander below the hubbub of the city. Keep a look out for herons, foxes and other creatures as you pass by Glasgow Botanic Gardens and the bustling Great Western Road before emerging in Kelvingrove Park, one of the city’s best-loved green spaces. Continue onwards to Riverside Museum, where the river spills into the mighty River Clyde.
6. Loch Ard Sculpture Trail
Location: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Start/End: Aberfoyle Village
Distance: 4 m (6.5 km)
Tucked away in the wilds of the Trossachs is a footpath circuit which brings together postcard-perfect lochs, flourishing wildlife and surprising art installations that blend seamlessly with their natural surrounds. This low-level and easily walkable walk through Queen Elizabeth Forest Park offers plenty to see and do along the way making it an ideal choice for young families. Look out for sound posts emitting recordings by local creatures such as woodpeckers, buzzards, stags and toads, as well quirky creations by acclaimed artist Rob Mulholland inspired by the park’s wild inhabitants – including red and grey squirrels battling it out with lightsabres!
7. Old Military Road
Start/End: Kippen – Gargunnock
Distance: 8 m (12.9 km)
Experience a slower place on this historic walking route located midway between Stirling and Loch Lomond. Created in the late 18th century to allow Hanoverian troops access to the Highlands to combat the threat of Jacobitism, today the route offers a relaxed saunter through a landscape which has changed little since the days of Outlander. Take in undulating farmlands dotted with sheep and herds of Highland cattle against a backdrop of distant peaks including Ben Vorlich, Ben Ledi and Stùc a’ Chròin. There are also plenty of pieces of history to admire along the way, from grand country houses and the baronial Leckie Castle to ancient churches and even traces of an Iron Age broch.
8. Sandwood Bay
Location: Sutherland, Highlands
Start/End: Blairmore Car Park – Sandwood Bay
Distance: 8 m (13 km)
Sandwood Bay in Sutherland is one of the most spectacular beaches Scotland has to offer and the journey getting there is equally spellbinding. Wonderfully secluded, breathe in the revitalising salt air as the undulating tracks cut through open countryside dotted with white crofts, wild patches of moorland, gleaming lochs and lonely ruins – including one said to be haunted by a shipwrecked mariner. The final stage of the route takes you through grassy sand dunes before the immense sea stack of Am Buachaille, ‘The Herdsman’, comes into view signalling your arrival and the vast sandy expanse of Sandwood Bay. Pick a spot among the dunes and sit a while to see if you can catch a pod of dolphins frolicking in the bay.
Are your feet itching to get out there and start exploring? Here’s everything you need to know about planning a walking holiday in Scotland.