In a year that is filled with milestones – from the Independence Referendum, to the Commonwealth Games, to the year-long festival called The Homecoming – it’s tough to pick just one reason to visit Scotland in 2014. For outdoor enthusiasts, however, April 21 is possibly the date to save. On that date, the 134-mile-long John Muir Way, named for the Scottish conservationist, will officially open. The walking trail (which takes seven-to-10 days to walk, or four-to-five days by bicycle) runs coast-to-coast from Muir’s hometown of Dunbar to Loch Lomond National Park, passing by castles, hills, and canals along the way. It ends at the waters of the River Clyde at Helensburgh. To celebrate, the John Muir Festival, from April 17-26, will host events and public performances along the trail.
A detailed route map and information on accommodations is available at the official John Muir Way website, but this isn’t the only epic walking trail in Scotland. The country is home to more than 20 long-distance walking trails, from the 24-mile-long Dava Way in the northeast to the 537-mile Scottish National Trail that runs the length of Scotland from Kirk Yetholm on the English border to Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point in the mainland United Kingdom. Whether you want to hike solo or as part of a group, there are plenty of trails, for all abilities, to choose from.
Go it Alone
The West Highland Way is one of Scotland’s best-established walking routes. This 96-mile path runs from Milngavie, close to Glasgow, to Fort William in the Highlands. Taking in Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor, and Glencoe along the way, it covering terrain that ranges from lowland moors and dense woodland, to rolling hills and high mountains. A fairly well-trodden path, (around 30,000 people hike the full length each year) independent travelers armed with route maps and other resources from the West Highland Way National Park Headquarters should have no problem navigating the route, which usually takes seven-to-eight days.
If you are looking for something more remote and wild, the Knoydart Peninsula, accessible only by boat or by a two-to-three-day walk from Kinlochhourn or Glenfinnan, is one of Scotland’s last great wildernesses. Knoydart lies between two lakes, Nevis and Hourn, and is part of the na Garbh-Chrìochan (Rough Bounds) area, so named because of its harsh terrain. This is not an easy walk, and the Knoydart Foundation recommends contacting the ranger service prior to attempting it. But if you do make it all the way, you can reward yourself with a well-earned pint at The Old Forge, classified by the Guiness Book of Records as the most remote pub in mainland Britain.
Take a Guided Tour
For less confident walkers, or those who would just prefer to leave logistics to the professionals, several companies offer guided hikes through Scotland.
Wilderness Scotland offers 10 different guided wilderness walking tours for all levels of ability. Rates vary from £775 ($1,287) for a four-night trip through the western regions of Applecross and Torridon, and £1,075 ($1,818) for six nights hiking across the Shetland Isles. Rates include hotel accommodation, most meals, and local transportation
English Lakeland Ramblers, contrary to their name, offers all-inclusive walking tours of Scotland. For 2014, Ramblers has two distinct Scottish itineraries – “Scotland’s Western Highlands and the Isle of Skye” and “Scotland: Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides.” The first itinerary covers three to nine miles daily, with ascents up to 1,000 feet, and includes four nights in the Highlands and three nights on the Isle of Skye. For the second itinerary, you will be walking between four and ten miles per day, with elevations up to 2,000 feet. Rates are steep too, at $3,275 for the first itinerary and $3,375 for the second, but they include all seven nights’ hotel accommodations, all meals, and all local transportation and admission fees.