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Ten Good Hillwalks - big days out

Here are some suggestions for great hill-walking in Scotland. But take care on the high tops.

Ten Good Scottish Hillwalks

Hillwalking in Scotland is really, really popular these days. There is an ongoing preoccupation with Munros. These are the mountains in Scotland over 3000ft (or the more untidy 914 metres) in height with so-much re-ascent all around to qualify as Munros as opposed to subsidiary tops. See? I told you it was a bit untidy.

At the moment there are 282 Munros in Scotland. The figure changes sometimes as surveying technology gets more and more accurate. Walkers in Scotland can take a lifetime to climb them all. Or do them quickly. Or do them more than once. Yes, it's quite a preoccupation.

The name Munro refers to their original compiler, Sir Hugh Munro, who helped found the Scottish Mountaineering Club and whose moneyed background meant he had enough time to research the relative heights of Scotland's hills. 'Munro's Tables' were first published in the Club's journal in 1891.

Anyway, here is a list of ten rewarding big hillwalks in Scotland. And, no, Ben Nevis certainly isn't on this list. 

Incidentally, while walking the low-ground approaches to these big hills, you know you're going to need some kind of protection from biting insects, basically either cleg or midge repellent. Take a look on that Amazon link - and be prepared!

Meall nan Tarmachan, near Killin, Perthshire

There are a two good reasons to climb Meall nan Tarmachan. Firstly, the starting point from the public road into Glen Lyon is quite high and, also, the mountain flowers are almost as good as its neighbour Ben Lawers, but it isn’t usually as crowded.

A moody autumn day on Meall nan Tarmachan. The rain stayed away though.

A moody autumn day on Meall nan Tarmachan. The rain stayed away though.

There is quite a short but slightly narrow ridge beyond the main top with an (unexpectedly) steep descent to the west. It can be avoided by a traverse - otherwise this is just a fine long day in the hills. Best in May-June when the alpines are at their bonniest.

Lochnagar, near Ballater, Deeside, Aberdeenshire.

Ah, yes, ‘The steep frowning glories of dark Lochnagar’. Starting from the road-end at Glen Muick, just dig in and keep walking - especially on that steep pull up after you’ve had your first glimpse of the classic bowl of the corrie with its spectacular headwall and wee corrie loch. Most people descend via the Glas Alt Shiel (a house where the royals go to rough it. Bless.) Return along the lochside. Spot a golden eagle perhaps. A favourite excursion from Aberdeen. Take special care on the high plateau though - it is seriously exposed country up there in the classic Grampian rolling tops.

A distant view of Lochnagar from the north. It's high summer and the mauve foxgloves are in flower. 

A distant view of Lochnagar from the north. It's high summer and the mauve foxgloves are in flower. 

You are going to need the gear, of course. We've been impressed by the offering of a company called Ayegear, whose outdoor clothing is designed in Scotland for the rigours of the Scottish weather. Forbes magazine described one of their products as 'the ultimate 'jacket of holding' for the geekerati who lives in inclement weather'. Basically, they are top quality with tons of pockets for stuff. Take a closer look for their outdoor clothing on that Amazon link.

Ben Chonzie, near Crieff, Perthshire.

It isn't especially  late in the year, but it's late in the day and, as you can see, there's a keen wind blowing on the summit of Ben Chonzie. This view looks south over Strathearn.

It isn't especially  late in the year, but it's late in the day and, as you can see, there's a keen wind blowing on the summit of Ben Chonzie. This view looks south over Strathearn.

What’s this dull dome doing in a distinguished list, you may ask? Well, I’m sorry, I kinda like it as a beginner’s Munro peak. Start from Glen Artney or Glen Turret. It’s a grand day out and not overly difficult. Right on the Highland edge means there are great views - but really tempting ones northwards, where waves of hills beckon you on...see, even low-key Munros can make you go slightly wistful.

Ben Ledi, near Callander

Aha, a big hill that isn’t a Munro. But still a great day out from the central belt of Scotland. Choose a clear day and you can see all kinds of mostly Lowland landmarks, from the Pentland Hills behind Edinburgh round to the distinct profile of the isle of Arran’s peaks way off to the west. Get there early enough to get a parking place in the carpark though, off the A84, north of Callander. And though it falls short of Munro status, still treat it as a serious hill, especially if climbing in the off-season. (I’ve slithered around in snow and ice up there!)

View from the top of Bynack Mor, in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park. It's early June and the highest tops are still carrying some snow.

View from the top of Bynack Mor, in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park. It's early June and the highest tops are still carrying some snow.

Bynack Mor, Cairngorms, near Aviemore

Sample the ambience of the Cairngorms by the back door, as it were. Instead of joining the crowds on Cairngorm, take a big day to tackle this granite triangle sitting on its moorland plinth. Plenty of atmosphere, nice views northwards into Speyside. You’ll probably see the Moray Firth too. Take your time and bring an extra sandwich though.

Ben Wyvis, near Inverness (sort of…)

Easily recognisable from afar - a big whaleback giving grand level-ish walking along its summit ridge. It’s also somewhat isolated from its other Munro-cousins, so you can have a fine day out working out which mountain is which, looking to the west. Brilliant views over the Moray Firth too. But, remember, it’s another big hill. (But aren’t they all, on this list?)

Carn Eighe (with Mam Soul), west of the Great Glen

Glen Affric? You'll love it. Highland scenery at its best. This feels like being on the backbone of Scotland, with a real sense of wilderness, especially looking westwards. Lots of other big hills around, but by the time you’ve got out of the Glen, up to and along the ridge, up on to Mam Soul, then round to Carn Eighe, then you’ll have done quite enough for one day.

Ben More and the River Fillan near Crianlarich.

Ben More and the River Fillan near Crianlarich.

Ben More (with Stobinian), near Crianlarich

A Southern Highlands classic, either from Inverlochlarig at the head of Balquhidder Glen or from the main road, the A85 east of Crianlarich, Ben More is another of these distinctive profiles - a distinctive pointy cone - seen from as far south as some of Edinburgh’s high points. Easily told from its near neighbour and twin Stobinian which has its own cone-shape silhouette cut off at the summit. It’s one of these ‘follow the skyline’ routes but remember that Ben More from the north is simply a relentless slope - like walking up the cone mentioned above. The picture here shows this feature, as well as the shallow snow-holding corrie that makes this not a hill for the inexperienced in winter conditions (though you could say that about any of the hills on this list).

Ben More Assynt (via Conival), Sutherland

Another ‘big ben’, this one is in the north-west and is included for its summit views as well as the desolate air that seems to be part of its bare, shattered quartz top and long scree slopes. The walk in stars from Inchnadamph, noted for its nearby limestone caves and fine alpine flowers. This, the largest mountain in Assynt, is in an area of interesting geology. It just feels old and worn. On a clear day you can see the Outer Hebrides and Orkney and the inner Moray Firth at the same time. (Well, I was impressed.)

As an aside, you may want to pay your respects to Scotland’s highest war graves while on this hike. A wartime training exercise claimed the lives of all six crew members of an Avro Anson that crashed here in 1941. The area was considered so remote that the when the wreckage was eventually found, the men were buried at the site. A granite memorial (and surviving wreckage) marks the place (which is off the main walkers’ route).

The summit paths of Stac Pollaidh. Steep and eroded and not for the vertigo-prone. I'm not putting you off, am I? It's still a very popular hill.

The summit paths of Stac Pollaidh. Steep and eroded and not for the vertigo-prone. I'm not putting you off, am I? It's still a very popular hill.

Stac Pollaidh, near Ullapool

Arguably one of the most instantly recognisable of the north-west Highlands, hence one of the best known. Beautifully made path (these days) to the summit ridge. After that, it’s loose and scrabbly along the ridge, with the sudden appearance of steep gullies not at all conducive to a casual stroll. A long summer afternoon is all it takes but watch out for loose rocks. Wonderful panoramas of the western seaboard. Particularly unsuitable for young-ish children and nervous adults with a poor sense of balance.

And it isn't a Munro.  How not to climb Stac Pollaidh is described here.

A grey afternoon on the western seaboard, as viewed from the slopes of Ladhar Bheinn. Islands of Eigg and Rum prominent on the horizon.

A grey afternoon on the western seaboard, as viewed from the slopes of Ladhar Bheinn. Islands of Eigg and Rum prominent on the horizon.

Ladhar Bheinn, Knoydart

Alert readers will have noticed this actually makes eleven hills, but how could I miss out this fine ridge, the westernmost mainland Munro and a big day out from, say, Inverie, itself a remote little settlement best reached by boat from Mallaig. Most mountain guidebooks recommend a clock-wise excursion, in via Gleann na Guiserein and homeward by Gleann an Dubh Lochain - all in an area so remote that the Ordnance Survey feel obliged to spell ‘glen’ in an exotic way.

But, repeat, this is a long day. Still, if you have got yourself as far as Inverie, you’re probably at ease in Scotland’s great outdoors. More on climbing Ladhar Bheinn here.

To conclude the Big Hills list…

If you are visiting Scotland and intending to get into its wild and high places, note how the hills group themselves geographically for day trips - the Arrochar Alps and the Crianlarich Hills are easy from Glasgow; the Lawers range, or even the Glenshee hills from Edinburgh. Likewise, the Cairngorms from Inverness, the Mamores from Fort William and so on. You may care to sample the Aonach Eagach, Scotland’s narrowest mainland ridge that walls in the north side of Glen Coe; or work out how many Glen Shiel hills you can bag, using two cars at different points in the glen to get the party back; or you may be fit and confident enough to take on the Cuillins of Skye. There’s a big choice up there north of the Highland line - a lifetime’s exploration.

Return to the main Top Tens in Scotland Outdoor list.