Rugged, beautiful, and inspiring are just a few of the words used to describe the Sottish Highlands. Hiking the Highlands is a journey through the magnificence of nature.
— By Pamela Grant
In 1875, Professor Wilson wrote in the General History of the Highlands, “In no other country does Nature exhibit herself in more various forms of beauty and sublimity than in the north of England and the Highlands of Scotland …There, indeed, all objects are on so vast a scale, that we are for a while astonished as we gaze on the gigantic … but on recovering … that faculty everywhere recognises in those mighty mountains of dark forests, glittering glaciers, and regions of eternal snow – infinite all – the power and dominion of the sublime.”
Once the land of the Gaels, the Scottish Highlands retain their power and dominion of the sublime, even in a time when so many natural environments are harmed by pollution and over population. Instead, the lochs and mountains of the Highlands remain mystical, unspoiled, and enticing to eco-travelers looking for respite through nature, a cultural journey, and exercise all rolled into one. Hiking and walking through the Scottish Highlands is an adventure that embraces castles, snow–capped mountains, forests, and history. There do not seem to be enough adjectives to describe the Scottish Highlands – magnificent, picture-perfect, fairy-tale charms, breathtaking, grandeur.
Roaming Through Beauty
The Scottish Highlands form a mountainous region in north Scotland with the Great Glen separating these mountains from the Grampian Mountains in the south.
Historically speaking, the Gaels lived in the Highland region, while the Scots lived in the lowlands. The Great Glen was a natural dividing line. To this day, there are still cultural differences between the Highlands and the lowlands.
The Highlands have distinct areas.Wester Ross is an unspoiled remote area located between Loch Carron and Loch Broom and Ullapool. Due to its remoteness, visitors tend to stay in certain areas, but a hike can take you past lock Torridon in the Torridon mountain range or give you a chance to see the remains of the old Caledonian forest. There are only 6,000 people living in eight villages, so the eco-traveler that sincerely wants to get away should consider this Highlands area. However, due to its remoteness and ruggedness, hikers should be careful to be fully prepared with good equipment and for a sudden change in weather. There is much to see in this region, including the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve which has two excellent trails where you can roam from Loch to mountain top.
The City of Inverness is near the northeastern edge of the Great Glen and is the unofficial “capital of the Highlands.” This is where the famous Loch Ness and the Monster of Loch Ness resides. It is also where you will find 13th century Urquhart Castle which is a castle ruin with a view of the Loch Ness. There are plenty of walking trails in this area that will take travelers to forts, fishertowns, villages, and the magnificent views that Scotland Highlands are so famous for.
Castles, Ruins, Fairiesand Spectacular Nature
Like Wester Pool, Sutherland and Caithness is remote and famous for its strangely shaped mountains like Canisp and Stack Pollaidh. There are more castles ruins here, like the Ardvreck Castle at Loch Assynt. Caithness is for cultural enthusiasts because it has a wealth of prehistoric occupation remains. They include sites like the Grey Cairns of Camster and the Hill O Many Stanes.
Badenoch and Strathspey is where hikers will find some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in Scotland. The Cairngorms National Park is located here and is the second of two national parks established by Scotland. The views are once again magnificent because the Cairngorm Mountains are so spectacular.
Eco-tourists will especially appreciate the national park because it is a Special Area of Conservation. It is full of wildlife, including reindeer, wildcats, red deer, and eagles. You can ski and snowboard in the winter and cycle or hike in the other seasons.
The Isle of Skye is reached by ferry from Mallaig to Armadale or you can drive the Sky Bridge, a road bridge. The Cuillin Mountains have sharp peaks, and green and gold coloring that creates yet another spectacular view. Visitors can climb single peaks, or if experienced enough, do the full 7-mile traverse of the ridge. The 1266 Dunvegan Castle is here and is still occupied but open to the public. Built on a rock, it holds the “Fairy Flag” which has traditional magical properties. It is believed to have been gifted to an infant chieftain by a fairy.
When tired of hiking in remote areas, the Lochaber and Fort William region is a good place for hillwalking and climbing in the Ben Nevis and Munro Mountains. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland and the British Isles. There is also Glen Coe which is a combination of grandeur and precipitous mountains.
One of the many appealing aspects of the Highlands is that you can take a long or short hike, an easy or difficult hike, or a guided or rambling hike. The Great Glen Way is 73 miles long, but there are easy rambling flat routes that follow the coast. A walk along the Mamores Mountain path is only for the experienced hikers. Hiking or walking in the Highlands is an individual experience filled with geologic and human history.
The Scottish Highlands is the only place where a single hike can include a visit to a local village, a walk past fields of heather and wild moorlands, a tour of an ancient castle, and miles of coastline and mountain terrain. Campers enjoy the astonishingly clear view of the Milky Way, only possible on earth where there is little or no light. When in a village, enjoy some fare at a local pub and talk to the locals about their history, filled with fairies and gruesome ancient battles.
Professor Wilson had it right. This is a unique place on earth anyway you look at it.