Scotland is a brilliant place for outdoor recreation and has something to offer everyone, from those who enjoy a short stroll to full-on adrenalin junkies. Although hiking, golf, fishing and cycling are the most popular activities, there is an astonishing variety of other things to do.

Birdwatching

Scotland is the best place in the British Isles (and in some cases, the only place) to spot bird species such as the golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, osprey, corncrake, capercaillie, crested tit, Scottish crossbill and ptarmigan. The country’s coast and islands also provide some of Europe’s most important seabird nesting grounds.

There are more than 100 ornithologically important nature reserves managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (www.nnr.scot), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (www.rspb.org.uk) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust (www.swt.org.uk).

Further information can be obtained from the Scottish Ornithologists Club (www.the-soc.org.uk).

Canoeing

Scotland's islands, sea lochs and indented coastline provide some of the finest sea kayaking in the world. There are sheltered lochs and inlets ideal for beginners, long and exciting coastal and island tours, and gnarly tidal passages that will challenge even the most expert paddler, all amid spectacular scenery and wildlife – encounters with seals, dolphins and even whales are relatively common.

The inland lochs and rivers offer excellent Canadian and white-water canoeing. Lochs Lomond, Awe and Maree all have uninhabited islands where canoeists can set up camp, while a study of the map will suggest plenty of cross-country expeditions involving only minor portages. Classic routes include Fort William to Inverness along the Great Glen; Glen Affric; Loch Shiel; and Loch Veyatie–Fionn Loch–Loch Sionascaig in Assynt.

There are dozens of companies offering sea kayaking and canoeing courses and guided holidays, including:

Further Information

  • Scottish Canoe Association (www.canoescotland.org) Publishes coastal navigation sheets and organises tours, including ones for beginners.
  • The Northern Isles (by Tom Smith and Chris Jex) A detailed guide to sea kayaking the waters around Orkney and Shetland.
  • The Outer Hebrides (by Mike Sullivan, Robert Emmott and Tim Pickering) A detailed guide to sea kayaking around the Western Isles.
  • Scottish Sea Kayak Trail (www.scottishseakayaktrail.com; by Simon Willis) Covers the Scottish west coast from the Isle of Gigha to the Summer Isles.

Cycling

Cycling is an excellent way to explore Scotland. There are hundreds of miles of forest trails and quiet minor roads, and dedicated cycle routes along canal towpaths and disused railway tracks. Depending on your energy and enthusiasm, you can take a leisurely trip through idyllic glens, stopping at pubs along the way, or head off on a long and arduous road tour.

The network of signposted cycle routes maintained by Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk) makes a good introduction. Much of the network is on minor roads or cycle lanes, but there are long stretches of surfaced, traffic-free trails between Callander and Killin, between Oban and Ballachulish, on Royal Deeside, and along the Union and Forth & Clyde canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

But it's the minor roads of the Northwest Highlands, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland that are the real attraction for cycle tourers, offering hundreds of miles of peaceful pedalling through breathtaking landscapes. The classic Scottish cycle tour is a trip around the islands of the west coast, from Islay and Jura north via Mull, Coll and Tiree to Skye and the Outer Hebrides (bikes travel for free on Calmac car ferries).

Further Information

Many regional tourist offices have information on local cycling routes and places to hire bikes. They also stock cycling guides and books. Other resources:

VisitScotland (www.visitscotland.com/see-do/active) Publishes a useful free brochure, Active Scotland, and has a website with more information.

Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk) For up-to-date, detailed information on Scotland’s cycle-route network.

Cycling UK (www.cyclinguk.org) A membership organisation offering comprehensive information about cycling in Britain.

Fishing

Fishing – coarse, sea and game – is enormously popular in Scotland; its lochs and rivers are filled with salmon, sea trout, brown trout and Arctic char. Fly-fishing in particular is a joy – it’s a tricky but rewarding form of angling, closer to an art form than a sport.

Fishing rights to most inland waters are privately owned and you must obtain a permit to fish in them – these are usually readily available from the local fishing-tackle shop or hotel, which are also great sources of advice and local knowledge. Permits cost from around £5 to £20 per day, but salmon fishing on some rivers – notably the Tweed, Dee, Tay and Spey – can be much more expensive (up to £150 a day).

For wild brown trout the close season is early October to mid-March. The close season for salmon and sea trout varies between districts; it’s generally from mid-October to mid-January.

FishPal (www.fishpal.com/scotland) provides a good introduction, with links for booking fishing on various rivers and lochs.

Golf

A round in the home of golf isn't about nostalgia: the sport is part of Scotland's fabric. Playing here is a unique experience; you're almost guaranteed heart-stopping scenery and a friendly atmosphere whatever the weather. Scotland's tradition of public courses means that outstanding golf is usually accompanied by sociable moments and warm hospitality.

Where to Play

With more golf courses per capita than any other country, Scotland has a bewildering choice. A selection of world golf’s most iconic courses offers some of the sport’s most famous holes, with deep, challenging bunkers where you might only get out backwards, if at all. But there’s also great pleasure to be had on simpler, local fairways eked out by small Highland or island communities, where you'll have to improvise shots over the sheep or deer nibbling at the green.

10 of the Best Golf Courses

St Andrews The public Old Course is the game's spiritual home, and you can’t help but be awed by the history and atmosphere here. The 17th – the Road Hole – is famous for its blind drive, nasty bunker and seriously sloping green. Several other courses for all abilities make this Scotland’s premium golfing destination.

Turnberry Now owned by Donald Trump, Turnberry’s Ailsa is one of Scotland’s most prestigious links courses, with spectacular views of Ailsa Craig offshore. Pack a spare ball for the nasty ninth on the Ailsa course, where your ball will sleep with the fishes unless you manage the 200yd carry off the tee. Luckily there’s the renowned Halfway Hut to drown your sorrows before taking on the 10th.

Carnoustie Widely known as Scotland’s toughest challenge, it's nicknamed Car-nasty, as much for near-constant winds as for the course itself. It ain’t over till it’s over here: the Barry Burn on the 18th has undone many a leader in social games and Open Championships alike.

Loch Lomond On the shores of the famous loch, this course – not a links – has a picturesque, romantic location, including an impressive clubhouse and a ruined castle by the 18th green. Nevertheless, it's a real test, with plenty of water hazards and cunningly placed sand traps. You have to be a member or be invited by one.

Royal Troon Making its way along the dunes, this classic seaside venue could define a links course. The short eighth is known as the Postage Stamp for its tiny, well-protected green.

Royal Dornoch Up north, the sumptuous championship course rewards the journey with picture-perfect links scenery and a quieter pace to things. If this were nearer the southern population centres, many would rate it Scotland’s best.

Machrihanish Dunes On the Kintyre peninsula, this Old Tom Morris–designed course is one of Scotland’s most scenic. There’s no easing into your round here; strike long and clean on the first or you’ll be on the beach – literally.

Gleneagles Three brilliant courses and a five-star hotel with truly excellent service make this legendary Perthshire destination a great choice for golfing breaks. Plenty on offer for golf widowers, widows and/or kids.

Muirfield Handy for Edinburgh, this private course on land reclaimed from the sea allocates some public tee times. It's one of Scotland's more traditional – and many would say outrageously sexist – institutions, and hit the headlines in 2017 when it finally allowed women to join its ranks.

Trump International Environmentally controversial course near Aberdeen featuring spectacular high-dune scenery.

Links

Links, the seaside courses where modern golf was born, present unique challenges with their undulating fairways, unforgiving rough, vertical bunkers and enormous greens that can resemble the Scottish Highlands in miniature. They’re usually wholly treeless, with gorse, heather and machair making up the vegetation. But that’s not to say that they're easy. Far from it.

On sandy uncultivable ground between the fields and the sea and largely unplanned, they follow the contours of the landscape. Exposed and unprotected, they are at the mercy of wind and weather: on a sunny day you can post flattering scores, but a healthy sea breeze means that approaches into scarily angled greens need meticulous execution. It pays to listen to locals.

Need to Know

  • When to Play

Summer is most enjoyable – long daylight hours mean you can tee off at 6am or 7pm. Courses are busy in these months, though; a good compromise is to play in May or September.

  • Resources

VisitScotland (www.visitscotland.com/golf) Useful information, including on discount golf passes. Publishes Golf in Scotland, a free annual brochure listing courses, costs and accommodation information.

Scotland Golf (www.scottishgolfcourses.com) Good for investigating courses to play.

  • Costs

A round at an unfashionable rural course may cost as little as £10. Showpiece courses charge green fees of £160 to £250 in high season. It’s more economical in winter, it’s often cheaper midweek, and ‘twilight’ rates (teeing off after 4pm or so) can save you up to 50% at some clubs.

Practical Tips

  • Handicap certificates are often unnecessary, but bring one, along with an introduction letter from your home club, for more upmarket clubs. Some courses have a minimum handicap requirement.
  • Dress regulations aren’t generally too rigorous – think smart casual as a norm. Most places prohibit jeans, trainers and T-shirts, and several don’t look kindly upon shorts. Mobile-phone use on course is frowned upon. Stricter dress regulations may apply for the clubhouse.
  • Club hire is usually available, but it’s not cheap (up to £70 on elite courses), so if you’ll play a few rounds, it’s worth bringing your own bag.
  • Motorised carts are widely available but are less used than in the US or Australia. They tend to be hired mostly by people with mobility difficulties and are prohibited on some courses.
  • Book rounds at desirable courses well ahead – many months in the case of prestigious links like the Old Course at St Andrews.
  • Caddies can help greatly. They know the layout, and will advise when to attack the pin and when caution is the better part of valour. Their local lore and fund of anecdotes also often make for a special Scottish experience. Caddies should be booked, though you may be able to hire one on the day. Plan on around £50 plus tip for the round.
  • Some courses have starters, whose job is to get your group out on time. It’s worth chatting to these savvy folk for tips on not embarrassing yourself off the first tee with everyone watching.
  • Solo players may be put into existing groups. Some busier courses won’t allow single players to book, allocating places in twosomes or threesomes on a first-come, first-served basis.

History

The first known mention of golf is from 1457, when James II banned it to prevent archery, crucial for military reasons, from being ignored as an activity.

The oldest club is the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (1744), based at Muirfield. In 1754 the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, which became the game’s governing body, was born.

Modern golf really evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Legendary figures such as James Braid and Old Tom Morris designed courses across Britain; the latter was a founding figure of the Open Championship and won it four times.

Scotland is also very much at the forefront of international professional golf, with high-profile events such as the 2018 Open at Carnoustie, the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles and the 2021 Open at St Andrews.

Horse Riding

There are hundreds of miles of beautiful woodland, riverside and coastal trails to be ridden in Scotland, and seeing the country from the saddle is a wonderful experience even if you’re not an experienced rider.

VisitScotland publishes the Riding in Scotland (http://riding.visitscotland.com) brochure, which lists riding centres around Scotland.

The Trekking & Riding Society of Scotland (www.ridinginscotland.com) can provide information on horse-riding courses and approved riding centres.

Mountain Biking

A combination of challenging, rugged terrain, a network of old drove roads, military roads and stalkers' paths, and legislation that enshrines free access to the countryside has earned Scotland a reputation as one of the world's top mountain-biking destinations. Fort William has hosted the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships every year since 2007.

Scotland offers everything from custom-built forest trails with berms, jumps and skinnies to world-class downhill courses such as those at Laggan Wolftrax and Nevis Range. But perhaps the country's greatest appeal is its almost unlimited potential for adventurous, off-road riding. Areas such as the Galloway hills, the Angus Glens, the Cairngorms, Lochaber, Skye and most of the Northwest Highlands have large roadless regions where you can explore to your heart's content.

Top trails include Glen Feshie, Glenlivet and Rothiemurchus Forest in the Cairngorms, Spean Bridge to Kinlochleven via the Lairig Leacach and Loch Eilde Mor, and the stretch of the West Highland Way between Bridge of Orchy and Kinlochleven. The 37-mile loop from Sligachan on Skye (south through Glen Sligachan to Camasunary, over to Kilmarie, and back north via Strath Mor) was voted by Mountain Bike Rider magazine as the best off-road trail in Britain. Check out the Where to Ride link on www.dmbins.com.

But the ultimate off-road experience is a coast-to-coast ride. There's no set route and no waymarking, so it's as much a planning and navigational challenge as a physical one. A coast-to-coast trip can be as short as the 36 miles from Ullapool to Bonar Bridge via Glen Achall and Glen Einig, or as long as the 250 miles from Aberdeen to Ardnamurchan (90% off road).

The most popular coast-to-coast route, though, is from Fort William to Montrose (starting and finishing at a railway station) via Fort Augustus, Aviemore, Tomintoul, Ballater and Edzell, taking in the Corrieyairack Pass, the Ryvoan Pass, Glen Builg, Glen Tanar and Glen Esk (195 miles). You can camp wild along the way or book accommodation at B&Bs and hostels, or join a guided expedition with an organisation such as Wilderness Scotland.

Top Five MTB Trail Centres

  • 7stanes (www.7stanesmountainbiking.com) Series of seven forest-trail centres strung across the Southern Uplands, with fantastic trails for all skill levels from beginner to expert.
  • Nevis Range (www.nevisrange.co.uk/bike) Ski resort offering summer sport in the form of a world-championship downhill course, and a 3.7-mile red-grade cross-country trail from the top station of the gondola.
  • Witch's Trails (www.nevisrange.co.uk/bike) Has 22 miles of forest road and single track in the shadow of Ben Nevis. Hosts the annual cross-country world championships and the annual 10 Under the Ben endurance event.
  • Laggan Wolftrax (http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/laggan-wolftrax) Forest centre near Newtonmore with everything from novice trails and a bike park to hard cross-country and a challenging black route with drop-offs, boulder fields and rock slabs.
  • Highland Wildcat (www.highlandwildcat.com) The hills above Golspie harbour have the biggest single-track descent in the country (390m drop over 4 miles, from the top of Ben Bhraggie almost to sea level). Plenty for beginners and families, too.

Rock Climbing

Scotland has a long history of rock climbing and mountaineering, with many of the classic routes on Ben Nevis and Glen Coe having been pioneered in the 19th century. The country's main rock-climbing areas include Ben Nevis (with routes up to 400m in length), Glen Coe, the Cairngorms, the Cuillin Hills of Skye, Arrochar and the Isle of Arran, but there are also hundreds of smaller crags situated all over the country. One unusual feature of Scotland's rock-climbing scene is the sea stacks found around the coastline, the most famous of these being the 140m-high Old Man of Hoy.

Further Information

Scottish Rock volumes 1 and 2, by Gary Latter, and the Scottish Mountaineering Club's Scottish Rock Climbs are excellent guidebooks that cover the whole country.

  • Mountaineering Council of Scotland (www.mountaineering.scot) General background and information.
  • Scottish Mountaineering Club (www.smc.org.uk) Publisher of climbing guidebooks.
  • UK Climbing (www.ukclimbing.com) Discussion forums and databases of crags and routes.

Sailing

The west coast of Scotland, with its myriad islands, superb scenery and challenging winds and tides, is widely acknowledged to be one of the finest yachting areas in the world.

Experienced skippers with suitable qualifications can charter a yacht from one of dozens of agencies. Prices for bare-boat charter start at around £1800 a week in high season for a six-berth yacht; hiring a skipper to sail the boat for you will cost £135 per day or £850 per week. Sailing dinghies can be rented from many places for around £60 per day.

Beginners can take a Royal Yachting Association (www.rya.org.uk) training course in yachting or dinghy sailing at many schools around the coast. For details of charter agencies, sailing schools and water-sports centres, get hold of VisitScotland’s Sail Scotland (http://sail.visitscotland.com) brochure, or check out the website.

Scuba Diving & Snorkelling

It may lack coral reefs and warm waters, but Scotland offers some of the most spectacular and challenging scuba diving in Europe. There are spectacular drop-offs, challenging drift dives (the Falls of Lora is a classic), and fascinating wildlife, ranging from colourful jewel anemones and soft corals to giant conger eels, monkfish and inquisitive seals. There are also hundreds of fascinating shipwrecks.

Dive sites such as Scapa Flow in Orkney, where the seven remaining hulks of the WWI German High Seas Fleet, scuttled in 1919, lie on the seabed, and the oceanic arches, tunnels and caves of St Kilda rank among the best in the world.

For more information on the country’s diving options, contact the Scottish Sub Aqua Club (www.scotsac.com).

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has created snorkel trails in the Northwest Highlands and the Outer Hebrides (www.swt.org.uk/snorkeltrail), with sites along the coast between Gairloch and Lochinver, and in North Harris, showcasing the colourful wildlife you can spot beneath the waves.

Snowsports

There are five ski centres in Scotland, offering downhill skiing and snowboarding:

  • Cairngorm Mountain (1097m) Has almost 30 runs spread over an extensive area.
  • Glencoe Mountain Resort (1108m) Has only five tows and two chairlifts.
  • Glenshee Ski Resort (920m) Situated on the A93 between Perth and Braemar; offers Scotland's largest network of lifts and widest range of runs.
  • Lecht 2090 (793m) The smallest and most remote centre, on the A939 between Ballater and Grantown-on-Spey.
  • Nevis Range (1221m) Near Fort William; offers the highest ski runs, the grandest setting and some of the best off-piste potential in Scotland.

The high season is from January to April, but it’s sometimes possible to ski from as early as November to as late as May; conversely, the fickleness of Scottish weather means it's also possible for resorts to close temporarily in season due to high winds or lack of snow.

VisitScotland’s Ski Scotland brochure is useful and includes a list of accommodation options. General information, and weather and snow reports, can be obtained from Ski Scotland (www.ski-scotland.com) and Winterhighland (www.winterhighland.info).

Surfing

Even with a wetsuit you definitely have to be hardy to enjoy surfing in Scottish waters. That said, the country does have some of the best surfing breaks in Europe.

The tidal range is large, which means there is often a completely different set of breaks at low and high tides. It’s the north and west coasts, particularly around Thurso and in the Outer Hebrides, that have outstanding, world-class surf. Indeed, Lewis has the best and most consistent surf in Britain, with around 120 recorded breaks and waves up to 5m.

For more information, contact Hebridean Surf (www.hebrideansurf.co.uk).

Walking

Scotland's wild, dramatic scenery and varied landscape have made walking a hugely popular pastime for locals and tourists alike. There really is something for everyone, from after-breakfast strolls to the popular sport of Munro bagging.

Planning

For gentle walks along clearly defined tracks, the most planning you’ll need to do is to take a look at the weather forecast and decide how many layers to wear. Highland hikers should be properly equipped and cautious, as the weather can become vicious at any time of year. After rain, peaty soil can become boggy, so always wear stout shoes or boots and carry extra food and drink – many unsuspecting walkers have had to survive an unplanned night in the open. Don't depend on mobile (cell) phones (although carrying one with you is a good idea, and can be a lifesaver if you can get a signal). Leave a note with your route and expected time of return on the dashboard of your car.

When to Go

The best time of year for hill walking is usually May to September, although snow can fall on the highest summits even in midsummer. Winter walking on the higher hills of Scotland requires the use of an ice axe and crampons and is for experienced mountaineers only.

Access & Rights of Way

There is a tradition of relatively free access to open country in Scotland, a custom that was enshrined in law in the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, popularly known as 'the right to roam'. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code (www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot) states that everyone has the right to be on most land and inland waters, providing they act responsibly.

You should avoid areas where you might disrupt or disturb wildlife, lambing (generally mid-April to the end of May), grouse shooting (from 12 August to the third week in October) or deer stalking (1 July to 15 February, but the peak period is August to October). You can get up-to-date information on deer stalking in various areas through the Heading for the Scottish Hills (www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/hftsh) service.

Local authorities aren't required to list and map rights of way, so they're not shown on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps of Scotland, as they are in England and Wales. However, the Scottish Rights of Way & Access Society (www.scotways.com) keeps records of these routes, provides and maintains signposting, and publicises routes in its guidebook, Scottish Hill Tracks.

You are free to pitch a tent almost anywhere that doesn't cause inconvenience to others or damage to property, as long as you stay no longer than two or three nights in any one spot, take all litter away with you, and keep well away from houses and roads. (Note that this right does not extend to the use of motorised vehicles to reach camping spots.)

Further Information

Every tourist office has leaflets (free or for a nominal charge) of suggested walks that take in local points of interest. Lonely Planet's Walking in Scotland is a comprehensive resource, covering short walks and long-distance paths; its Walking in Britain guide covers Scottish walks, too. For general advice, VisitScotland's Walking in Scotland (http://walking.visitscotland.com) website describes numerous routes in various parts of the country, and also offers safety tips and other useful information. WalkHighlands (www.walkhighlands.co.uk) is an online database of more than 2000 walks complete with maps and detailed descriptions.

Sidebar: Essential Hill-Walking Gear

  • Good waterproofs
  • Spare warm clothing
  • Map and compass (know how to use them!)
  • Mobile (cell) phone (but don't rely on it)
  • First-aid kit
  • Head torch
  • Whistle (for emergencies)
  • Spare food and drink
  • Bivvy bag

Sidebar: Safety Checklist

  • Check the weather forecast before you go
  • Let someone know your plans
  • Set your pace and objective to suit the slowest member of your party
  • Don't be afraid to turn back if the going becomes too difficult

Long-Distance Footpaths

Scotland has no fewer than 26 official long-distance footpaths (ie waymarked trails), which are all described on the website www.scotlandsgreattrails.org.uk. Each trail also has its own dedicated website, and at least one print guidebook such as those published by Cicerone (www.cicerone.co.uk) and Rucksack Readers (www.rucsacs.com).

Top Long-Distance Footpaths

Fife Coastal Path

Distance (miles)

78

Features

Firth of Forth, undulating country

Duration (days)

5-6

Difficulty

easy

Great Glen Way

Distance (miles)

73

Features

Loch Ness, canal paths, forest tracks

Duration (days)

4

Difficulty

easy

Pilgrims Way

Distance (miles)

25

Features

Machars peninsula, standing stones, burial mounds

Duration (days)

2-3

Difficulty

easy

St Cuthbert's Way

Distance (miles)

62

Features

Follows the path of a famous saint

Duration (days)

6-7

Difficulty

medium

Southern Upland Way

Distance (miles)

212

Features

Remote hills & moorlands

Duration (days)

9-14

Difficulty

medium-hard

Speyside Way

Distance (miles)

66

Features

Follows river, whisky distilleries

Duration (days)

3-4

Difficulty

easy-medium

West Highland Way

Distance (miles)

96

Features

Spectacular scenery, mountains & lochs

Duration (days)

6-8

Difficulty

medium

West Highland Way

This classic hike – the country's most popular long-distance trail – stretches for 96 miles through some of Scotland's most spectacular scenery, from Milngavie (mull-guy), on the northwestern fringes of Glasgow, to Fort William.

The route begins in the Lowlands, but the greater part of the trail is among the mountains, lochs and fast-flowing rivers of the western Highlands. After following the eastern shore of Loch Lomond and passing Crianlarich and Tyndrum, the route crosses the vast wilderness of Rannoch Moor and reaches Fort William via Glen Nevis, in the shadow of Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis.

The path is easy to follow, making use of old drove roads (along which Highland cattle were once driven to Lowland markets), an old military road (built by troops to help subdue the Highlands in the 18th century) and disused railway lines.

Best done from south to north, the walk takes about six or seven days. Many people round it off with an ascent of Ben Nevis. You need to be properly equipped, with good boots, waterproofs, maps, a compass, and food and drink, for the northern part of the walk. Midge repellent is also essential.

It's possible to do just a day's hike along part of the trail. For example, the Loch Lomond Water Bus allows you to walk the section from Rowardennan to Inversnaid, returning to your starting point by boat.

The West Highland Way Official Guide, by Bob Aitken and Roger Smith, is the most comprehensive guidebook, while the Harvey map West Highland Way covers the entire route in a single waterproof sheet.

Accommodation shouldn't be too difficult to find, though between Bridge of Orchy and Kinlochleven it's limited. At peak times (May, July and August), book accommodation in advance. There are some youth hostels and bunkhouses on or near the path, and it's possible to camp in some parts. A list of accommodation is available from tourist offices.

For more information, see www.westhighlandway.org.

Speyside Way

This long-distance footpath follows the course of the River Spey, one of Scotland's most famous salmon-fishing rivers. It starts at Buckie and first follows the coast to Spey Bay, east of Elgin, then runs inland along the river to Aviemore in the Cairngorms (with branches to Tomintoul and Dufftown). There are plans to extend the trail to Newtonmore.

The 66-mile route has been dubbed the 'Whisky Trail' as it passes near a number of distilleries, including Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, which are open to the public. If you stop at them all, the walk may take considerably longer than the usual three or four days! The first 11 miles from Buckie to Fochabers makes a good day hike (allow four to five hours).

The Speyside Way, a guidebook by Jacquetta Megarry and Jim Strachan, describes the trail in detail. Check out the route at www.speysideway.org.

Isle of Skye

Skye is a walker's paradise, criss-crossed with trails both easy and strenuous that lead you through some of the country's most spectacular scenery.

Quiraing (3.5 miles; two to three hours) Start at the parking area at the highest point of the minor road between Staffin and Uig. A clear path leads northeast towards the obvious pinnacles, but after 200m or so strike north up the hill to reach another path that leads across the summit of Meall na Suiramach with fantastic views down into the Quiraing. The path continues to a saddle and break in the cliffs where you can descend and return to your starting point through the midst of the pinnacles.

Kilmarie to Coruisk (11 miles; at least six hours) One of the most spectacular and challenging of Skye’s low-level walks begins at a parking area just south of Kilmarie, on the Broadford–Elgol road. A stony track leads over a hill pass to the gorgeous bay of Camasunary, and continues on the far side of the Camasunary River – at low tide you can cross on stepping stones, but if the tide is high you’ll have to splash across further upstream. The notorious Bad Step is opposite the northern end of the little island in Loch na Cuilce; it's a rock slab that drops straight into the sea, where you scramble out onto a shelf and along a rising crack (the secret is to drop down leftward when you reach a niche in the crack). There are no further obstacles, and 15 minutes later you arrive at Loch Coruisk, one of the wildest and most remote spots in Scotland. Return by the same route, or arrange in advance to be picked up by one of the tour boats from Elgol.

Top Short Walks

  • Quiraing (Isle of Skye) One to two hours; bizarre rock pinnacles.
  • Steall Meadows (Glen Nevis) One to two hours; waterfall beneath Ben Nevis.
  • Lost Valley (Glen Coe) Three hours; impressive mountain scenery.
  • Conic Hill (Loch Lomond) Two hours; views over Loch Lomond.
  • Loch an Eilein (Aviemore) One hour; lovely lochan (small loch) amid Scots pines.
  • Linn of Quoich (Braemar) One hour; rocky gorge and waterfall.
  • Plodda Falls (Cannich) One hour; dizzying viewpoint above waterfall.
  • Duncansby Head (John O'Groats) One hour; spectacular sea stacks.
  • Stac Pollaidh (Coigach) Two to four hours; ascent of miniature mountain.
  • Old Man of Hoy (Orkney) Three hours; Britain's tallest sea stack.

Feature: The Ancient Art of Munro Bagging

At the end of the 19th century an eager hill walker, Sir Hugh Munro, published a list of Scottish mountains measuring over 3000ft (914m) in height – he couldn't have realised that in time his name would be used to describe all Scottish mountains over 3000ft, and that keen hill walkers would set themselves the target of reaching the summit of (or bagging) all of Scotland's 282 Munros.

To the uninitiated it may seem odd that Munro baggers see venturing into mist, cloud and driving rain as time well spent. However, for those who can add one or more ticks to their list, the vagaries of the weather are part of the enjoyment, at least in retrospect. Munro bagging is, of course, more than merely ticking off a list – it takes you to some of the wildest and most beautiful corners of Scotland.

Once you've bagged all the Munros you can move on to the Corbetts – hills over 2500ft (700m), with a drop of at least 500ft (150m) on all sides – and the Donalds, lowland hills over 2000ft (610m). And for connoisseurs of the diminutive, there are the McPhies: 'eminences in excess of 300ft (90m)' on the island of Colonsay.

Whale Watching

Scotland has cashed in on the abundance of minke whales off its coast by embracing whale watching. There are now dozens of operators around the coast offering whale-watching boat trips lasting from a couple of hours to all day; some have whale-sighting success rates of 95% in summer.

The best places to base yourself for whale watching include Oban, the Isle of Mull, Skye and the Outer Hebrides. Orkney and Shetland offer the best chance of spotting orcas (killer whales), while the Moray Firth has a resident population of bottlenose dolphins. Seals, porpoises and dolphins can be seen year-round, but minke whales are most commonly spotted from June to August, with August the peak month for sightings.

The Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust (https://hwdt.org) has lots of information on the species found in Scottish waters, and how to identify them. A booklet entitled Is It a Whale? is available from tourist offices and bookshops, and provides tips on identifying the various marine mammals that you’re likely to see.

The Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code (www.snh.scot/marinecode) provides guidance on best practice and legal considerations.

Outfits operating whale-watching cruises include: