10 Things to Know About Hiking in Scotland
Posted on Nov 14, 2017 by David Russell
If you are thinking or have booked a hiking adventure to our beautiful country, then you will want to be prepared before embarking on your exciting adventure. Below is a checklist of 10 things you should know before travelling and hiking in Scotland.
1. Scottish Weather and Seasons
2. The Scottish Landscape – where to go
3. The Trails
4. Clothing and Equipment
5. Food and Accommodation
6. Needing a guide
7. When to plan and when to book
8. Using your credit card in Scotland
9. Getting a cell phone signal
10. Purchasing Hiking Supplies
1) Scottish Weather and Seasons
The most asked question we get is some variation of ‘when will the weather be best/what is the best month for hiking?’
The answer – we don’t know! No-one does. The weather in Scotland changes all the time. While the summer months are generally drier than the winter months, there’s no single one that is any likely to have less rain or higher temperatures.
What does change with the seasons is the scenery. It’s always beautiful, but you’ll see a different character to it depending when you’re here:
- In Spring (April – June) the hills are initially still brown but gradually come to life with colour as wildflowers, grasses and forests bloom.
- Summer in July and August is extremely green and lush. The famous Scottish heather blooms purple at the end of August transforming the hills.
- Autumn arrives in September and the colours reach their peak sometime around mid October.
Whenever you choose to hike you should be prepared for a mix of medium/cool temperatures, some rain and some sun. Yes, it can rain persistently but what you’ll often find are showers that blow through in a few minutes, with shafts of sun and rainbows enriching the scenery. When the clouds disappear and the sun shines for days (yes it does happen) it’s lovely and warm – even hot!
2) The Scottish Landscape – Where to go
Where in Scotland should you visit? The Highlands and Islands are home to most of Scotland’s mountains, and hence are where most people like to hike. But there is tremendous variation from area to area so one place is very different from another. We break it down into the following regions:
- The West Highlands
- The North West Highlands
- The Cairngorms and Central Highlands
- The Inner Hebrides
- The Outer Hebrides
- Shetland and Orkney
The West Highlands
Scotland is a small country that boasts nearly 10,000km of coastline. The West Coast is the most famous and is home to hundreds of spectacular mountains, glens and lochs. This is classic Scotland, with high shapely peaks, stunning greenery and rich in coastal wildlife such as basking sharks, dolphins and otters.
The North West Highlands
The further north you go the wilder and wilder it gets. The towering mountains are more spaced out up here and you can explore landscapes made of truly ancient stone. The coast is a blend of rocky shore, sandy beaches and towering cliffs. Inland you can find vast empty spaces and quiet lochs.
The Cairngorms and Central Highlands
In the middle of the country the hills are wide and rolling, covered in heather. Perhaps not quite the drama and fame of the west coast but that’s made up for with beautiful ancient forests, rare wildlife such as osprey, red squirrel and pine marten – plus slightly drier weather! In late summer and autumn these areas really come into their own.
The Inner Hebrides
These are the Scottish islands that lie closer to the mainland than their cousins in the Outer Hebrides. They are astonishingly varied from jagged black mountains of the Isle of Skye to the gentle hills of Islay. The Small Isles just off the coast of Arisaig are a true Scottish gem and as different as they are beautiful.
The Outer Hebrides
A world apart, the Outer Hebrides are a haven of wilderness on the Atlantic fringe of Europe. Unique landscapes including rolling green hills, blue lagoons and white sand beaches to die for. The weather is constantly changing, but when the sun shines you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven as you stroll through the coastal wildflower meadows.
Shetland and Orkney
Scotland’s ‘Northern Isles’ each have their own character, but in both places you’ll find astonishing history from ancient times to modern, abundant wildlife and green islands bounded by dramatic shores. In springtime they are a fantastic place to visit to find rare birds and enjoy the long, long daylight hours.
3) What are the trails like?
If you join us on one of our Green graded trips you’ll find that Scotland has plenty of beautiful hikes on straightforward and easy trails, grassy paths and delightful beaches. But you should still be prepared for walking off-trail and doing some easy climbs and descents. Scotland is never really flat and you’ll find that even good paths can be rough, wet and muddy in places.
On our more challenging trips we’ll be climbing some hills and doing more remote hikes. In that case you must be ready for rough ground – many so called paths and trails in the hills are just informal tracks that have been worn in over time. You need to be prepared for rocks, heather, water and some steeper terrain.
Apart from the most popular routes you won’t find lots of signposts, handrails and fences. In Scotland you have freedom to walk largely where you please, but you’re expected to accept responsibility for yourself too.
4) Clothing and Equipment
It’s essential to be properly prepared for hiking in Scotland. As we’ve said the weather can be poor and the trail can be rough. You should be properly clothed with warm layers underneath and waterproof layers on top – both waterproof jacket and trousers if it is raining. Good footwear is crucial and things like sneakers or trainers really aren’t suitable. At the very least you need walking shoes with a good tread, but proper waterproof walking boots are best.
For day hikes you’ll need a small rucksack to carry your spare clothes, lunch plus snacks and anything extra such as a camera. Walking poles are a popular choice and hats and gloves should always be in your bag except when it’s forecast to be warm and nice all day.
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5) Food and Accommodation
Once upon a time Scotland had a reputation for poor food. Those days are long gone.
With our clean coastal waters Scotland boasts some of the best seafood in the world. Scottish Salmon is a byword for quality and we also claim lobster that is the equal of anything available in New England. On land you’ll find all sorts of delicious ingredients too such as venison and trout. Of course you can find plenty of veg in the shops, but the real treats are grown locally and served up with the best local ingredients in traditional style recipes.
You will also find accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. On our trips we prefer to use smaller, locally owned and managed establishments, but these range from alpine style lodges set by remote beaches to luxurious Highland lodges and grand mansion houses. Whichever you choose, you’ll be sure of a warm welcome, plenty of comfort and a good night’s sleep.
The Delicious Food and Quality Accommodation You Can Expect on a Wilderness Tour
6) Do I need a guide?
Whether you need a guide depends on which hike you’re choosing and how much experience you have, but once you hear about our guides you’ll certainly want one!
It’s having a guide that will really turn your adventure into the trip of a lifetime. You’ll have someone there to explain what’s around you – from the history and folklore to the names of mountains, plants, animals and some amazing insights into each of these. You’ll feel like a local in their company. And of course, many of our guides also individually have a particular interest that they can share with you to an expert level, whether that’s botany, history, gaelic songs or ecology. Of course, they’ll be there to manage safety and lead hikes, and all our guides are qualified in their activity – often to the highest professional level. There’s no doubt that the Wilderness Scotland guiding team is the best in the country.
Rather Explore at Your Own Pace?
7) When should I plan? When should I book?
We recommend booking your trip as far ahead as possible. Our trips have small group sizes for a more personal experience, but it means that trips can fill up a surprisingly long time in advance. It’s not uncommon for people to book a year ahead.
On some of our trips we may be able to accept a booking even up to the day before it starts if there is a place available. On others we will need to check if rooms are available, so at the latest we recommend you leave it no later the 4-8 weeks before you plan to travel.
More Information on Booking with Wilderness Scotland
8) Can I use credit cards in the Highlands and Islands?
Yes! Scotland is fully connected and you shouldn’t have any problems paying with cards even in quite remote spots. By all means carry some cash just in case – but for most things you won’t have any issues.
9) What about my cell phone?
Cell phone coverage is generally good and improving all the time, but in the far flung places there are still black spots for some networks. On our guided trips we use a 2-way satellite communications system so we’re never out of touch with base, but if you plan on going alone then tell someone where you’re going, just in case.
10) Can I buy hiking supplies etc there?
Yes! We’re amply supplied with outfitters for hiking and other sports here. In the cities you’ll find major outdoor stores, plus in several Highland towns such as Fort William, Aviemore and Inverness. So if you need to get some shoes or a jacket it should be easy. You can buy things like insect repellent, sunscreen and sunglasses almost anywhere.
Inspired to Hike Scotland on a Thrilling Guided Adventure? Check Below to See the Schedule for our Next Walking and Hiking Holidays!
A full range of our walking and hiking trips can be found here. We also run a number of different adventure holidays such as Canoeing, Sea Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Road Cycling, Photography and Sailing!
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