News, views and guidebooks for walking, trekking and cycling
Scotland is a veritable paradise for outdoor enthusiasts – there’s so much to do here so why not try something new? Here’s a little overview of things to do in Scotland this Summer. If you are not confident in your abilities then hiring a guide or going with a group may be sensible. There is also much more information in the relevant Cicerone guidebook to each area.
Scotland has some of the wildest and most challenging walking country in Europe. The main mountain activity for walkers is peak bagging, as all bar a very few summits can be reached by rough walks or easy scrambles without any technical climbing. With 284 Munros (summits over 3000 feet, 914.4m), 219 Corbetts (summits between 2500 and 3000 feet, 762–914m) and 224 Grahams (summits between 2000 and 2500 feet, 609.6–762m) plus associated tops and lower hills there are plenty of peaks to climb.
Very few of Scotland’s hills require even scrambling to reach the summits. However large cliffs abound in the mountains and there are thousands of rock climbs of every grade available on widely differing types of rock – granite, gabbro, gneiss, rhyolite, quartzite, schist, sandstone – and every sort of feature – huge slabs, narrow arêtes, steep gullies, overhanging crags, vertical walls and more. Some cliffs are easily accessible; some are remote and little visited.
Whether it’s short steep hard routes or long mountaineering classics every type of rock climbing is to be found in the Scottish mountains. There are many opportunities for new routes too, and not just at the extreme end of the grades. You can climb on popular crags in the company of others or seek out remote cliffs where hardly anyone ever goes.
Bothies are unlocked shelters away from roads that are available for use by anyone. They can provide a roof over your head and sometimes a sleeping platform, chairs, tables and even a fireplace or wood stove. However, there are no other amenities and a sleeping bag, mat, stove and cooking equipment and food are required.
There are many bothies in the Scottish hills, many maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), an organisation any regular bothy user should support. Staying in a bothy can be a magical experience – as Phoebe Smith will tell you – but you must treat them with respect and follow the Bothy Code.
There are ample opportunities for wild camping away from roads in the Scottish mountains and it is the best way to stay in the hills, a way to experience them 24hrs a day, soaking yourself deeper into the wilds. Long a de facto right and accepted in most areas, wild camping is now a legal right under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Wild camping brings responsibilities with it and campers should always ensure they have as little impact on the environment as possible. All rubbish should be carried out, faeces buried well away from water and the ground left undisturbed. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland publishes useful advice, Wild Camping: A Guide to Good Practice, on its website.
Bivvying is another option: sleeping outside without a tent. a range of bivvy bags are now available, from the £2.99 orange survival bag right up to an eye-wateringly expensive bivvy bag. However you do it, comfort is not guaranteed but an adventure is. Ronald Turnbull will do his best to put you off in his Book of the Bivvy.
What better way to end a long day walking with a refreshing dip in a loch? Well, if the weather has been typically Scottish then you may prefer to end your day with a pie and a pint. But there are a great many places to have a go at outdoor swimming in Scotland and the views are much better than from your local pool. Try the Wild Swimming website for suggestions.
Scotland is rightly regarded as one of the world’s top mountain bike destinations, with magnificent riding and stunning scenery. From the self-proclaimed Outdoor Capital of the UK, Fort William, to the majesty of the Outdoor Hebrides, Scotland offers scintillating single track, challenging descents (or ascents), incredible mountain vistas and many rewarding days in the saddle.
OK so this one may take a little more planning…
Scotland has five officially designated Long Distance Routes, managed by Scottish Natural Heritage: the West Highland Way, the Southern Upland Way, the Great Glen Way, the Speyside Way and the brand new Hebridean Way. All the official routes are waymarked with a thistle symbol. There are many more ‘unofficial’ long distance routes, such as the Cape Wrath Trail and the Skye Trail. However you don’t need someone else to design a long distance walk for you. It’s much more challenging, exciting and fulfilling to plan your own and in Scotland this is quite feasible and the opportunities are many.
Between mid May and mid September the Scottish hills are plagued by tiny biting flies called midges. These little monsters often appear in large swarms in calm, humid weather and can make life unbearable. Insect repellent is essential and head nets a good idea. Midges can’t fly in more than a breeze so going high and choosing windy campsites is a good idea in summer. They can’t fly very fast either so aren’t a problem while you’re moving. Midges also don’t come out in bright sunshine, heavy rain or strong winds, but hazy sunshine, drizzle or gentle breezes provide just the humid conditions they like. There are several species of midges, of which the main one is the aptly named Culicoides impunctatus. Midges leave an itchy red spot where they have sucked your blood (squash one that has fed and it leaves a red smear). With some people this itch disappears in a few hours or even minutes, with others it may last for days. After-bite products can help.