Guest Post: Advice for Fellow Americans Hiking in Scotland
Posted on Jun 16, 2017 by Wilderness
Hiking in Scotland: Advice for Fellow Americans
By Brandi Willis Schreiber
This past May my husband and I traveled to Scotland to hike part of the West Highland Way and explore the Isle of Skye’s southern coasts. Now that we’ve (sadly!) returned home, I’d like to share a list of helpful tips for other Americans hiking in Scotland.
We are hiking hobbyists and take a weekend several times a year to explore trails in Texas and neighboring New Mexico. However, we knew an adventure like this in Scotland would require a lot more planning and preparation. I scoured blogs and books for information on what to expect, but no amount of research could have truly prepared me for Scotland’s beauty and the experience of spending nine glorious days in its great outdoors. So here they are: my top tips.
Plan early and be open-minded
Scotland’s outdoor pursuits are extremely popular and finding accommodation in the spring and summer can be tough. Book your trip as soon as possible. We confirmed our May 2017 adventure with Wilderness Scotland in February 2017, which caused a bit of a scramble for accommodation close to the trails. We stayed in a few B&Bs in villages off the West Highland Way, which was a lovely, more personal introduction to the locals. One of my favorite aspects were talking with the hosts who made us breakfast and hearing their stories and recommendations!
- Book now for 2018 – our 2018 dates are already proving popular!
Invest in a guide
And speaking of people: invest in a guide. We chose the self-guided option for the West Highland Way because the trail is very well marked, but we took advantage of Wilderness Scotland’s excellent guides for our foray into Skye. Fran Pothecary, our personal guide, was so kind, knowledgeable, and attentive. She tailored hikes to fit our interests, taught us the history of the Isle, and made sure we were well cared for. Beyond that, however, she was just fun, and we felt like we’d made a lifetime friend by the end of our trip. This was money very well spent. Wilderness Scotland has many guided adventures to choose from including a fully guided version of the West Highland Way.
- Meet the Wilderness Scotland guiding team. They really are the best in the business.
The most important tip: take your time
If you race to the end of each day’s miles, you’ll miss the marvelous sights, sounds, and smells that belong only to Scotland. Thanks to the longer daylight hours in spring and summer (the sun often rose before 5:00 a.m. and set close to 11:00 pm) you really don’t have to rush. I’m no marathon runner, and I lingered at streams, old ruins, and fields of playful lambs. Even on the longest day, which we hiked in about 8 hours, we still had plenty of daylight to burn once we reached our accommodation.
What is the point of coming all the way to this ethereal place if you don’t enjoy the open vistas, smell the sweet air, or allow yourself a moment to linger in the grass next to a waterfall, in awe? Give yourself this gift.
- Long summer days are amazing but shorter autumn days increase your chance of seeing the northern lights in Scotland
Train your body for your adventure
We hiked the canyon systems in West Texas and took to the treadmill a few times a week before our trip. Completing several hikes of 5 – 8 hours in length will give you a good idea of what to expect. While the West Highland Way is not difficult, it is long and requires endurance. The same goes for some trails in Skye. I can honestly say that although my feet were tired at the end of each day, my body did not hurt like I expected it to, and I attribute this to training in advance.
- Check out Wilderness Guide Gill’s top tips to get fit for a long distance hike
Dress practically and comfortably
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t rain all the time in Scotland, but the weather is variable! Days often cycled through cool, drizzling rain to warm, breezy, sunshine and back again before we reached our accommodation. You don’t have to buy the latest fashions, but you do need some basics to prepare for changes in the weather, especially as you are exposed to the elements on long stretches of trails.
I liked hiking in long, fitted Lycra/Spandex blend workout pants, while my husband preferred looser, classic hiking pants. For both of us, a moisture-wicking base layer was a must. Bamboo or synthetic blend fitted tops underneath a fleece helped me stay dry and comfortable. Stay away from cotton. The day I wore an oversized, long-sleeved t-shirt was the only day it poured and I was most uncomfortable because the wet cotton got heavy.
- For more advice read this blog post: What to Pack for the West Highland Way
Invest in a really good pair of hiking boots
I can’t overemphasize this enough: trainers (tennis shoes) just won’t do. Hiking trails vary greatly in material and grade, and you will walk across more rocks than you can imagine. Likewise, don’t use hiking in Scotland as the time to break in your boots! Hike in them long before you cross the Atlantic because blisters will be your greatest enemy.
On our last day of the West Highland Way, which was a gorgeous, warm leg of our hike through miles of golden hills, we saw a pair of new leather hiking boots abandoned on the side of the trail. After hiking four days, our feet were tired, but not hurting thanks to proper footwear, so bring your boots already well-loved. I brought two pairs so that I could trade out if one pair got too wet or muddy. Silk or synthetic liner socks underneath a heavy pair of wool socks kept my feet dry, cushioned, and blister-free.
- Read more about the best footwear for hiking in Scotland
Bring only the essentials in your daypack
Because we used Wilderness Scotland’s luggage transfer service on the West Highland Way for our big suitcases, all we had to bring on daily hikes was a daypack. Here is where I went a little overboard, however. Anticipating everything from a horrible bug bite to falling off the trail into a ravine below (neither happened), I overstuffed my daypack.
Learn from my mistake and carry just the essentials: water, snacks/a packed lunch, pre-cut moleskin patches with a few large, flexible strip Band-aids (in case a hot spot or blister does develop), sunglasses, sunscreen, your phone/camera, an extra pair of socks, a fleece, light rain jacket, waterproof backpack cover, and collapsible walking sticks (if you use them). Be sure that your daypack is constructed of lightweight material and has good shoulder support. I made the mistake of using a canvas backpack, which was heavier.
- Read Wilderness Guide Gills’ top tips for self-guided walking
A final word of advice
Scotland is a hiker’s dream, and Wilderness Scotland helped make it a dream come true for us. To plan your own outdoor adventure, contact one of their adventure consultants. Kirsty Duncan helped us plan our adventure from start to finish and patiently answered all of our questions!
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