Scotland’s Long Distance Walks

Cairngorms footpath

With the official opening of the John Muir Way on the 21st April this will bring the number of long distance walks in Scotland up to 27.  Most people will have heard of the West Highland Way, the Southern Upland Way and perhaps the Cape Wrath Trail but I’m sure that many on the list below will be new to you.  I thought it was worth drawing attention to the range and variety of long distance walks available in Scotland.

But first, what is a long distance walk ?  In Scottish terms I think it describes a recognised multi-day trail.  In most cases these will have signage and a guide available (online if not in print), but some sections may not have waymarked paths.  As such, they don’t compare with the well-known trails in the US (such as the Appalachian or the Continental Divide) or France’s comprehensive infrastructure of Grand Randonnees routes.  At 3,100 miles the Continental Divide really is a long distance trail.

But what Scotland lacks in grandeur and scale it makes up for in terms of variety and charm.  The John Muir Way, West Highland Way and of course the Scottish National Trail, opened last year, traverse a real mix of landscape and natural and built environments.  Even shorter walks of a few days provide enormous variety and access to some truly world-class scenery.  You won’t find the same changes of landscape in the US or France within such proximity.  No part of Scotland is more than 65km from the sea and of course it’s not uncommon to experience four seasons in one day !

Don’t expect these trails to be busy.  Aside from the West Highland Way you may not find yourself coming across many other long distance walkers, although the Scottish National Trail could well – over time – become Scotland’s most popular walk.

As ever, the Walk Highlands website provides an excellent resource for anyone planning any of these walks and I’ve used the site as the basis for this article.  Another (print or e-book) guide worth searching out is the Cicerone guide to The National Trails of England, Scotland and Wales by Paddy Dillon, which covers the longer routes (Southern Upland Way, Speyside Way, West Highland Way and Great Glen Way).  There are of course individual guides to specific walks also available.

How you choose to walk these trails is really up to you.  Some people prefer to walk them in one trip, carrying their food and gear on their backs and camping out in the wild.  Others will want to pay someone else to lug their gear from one night’s B&B to the next to take things a little easier (yes, baggage transfer is available for 11 of these routes).  Or you can split the route up into chunks and do them as single-day walks, gradually covering the whole of the distance.

However you walk them, make sure you’re sufficiently prepared and in shape for the walk, respect the environment and pack the most suitable, lightweight gear you can.


Long Distance Trail

 

Length

(km)

Time

(days)

Scottish National Trail

864

35

Cape Wrath Trail

378

14-21

Southern Upland Way

338

12-15

John Muir Way

212

8-10

Fife Coastal Path

183

6-9

West Highland Way

151

5-8

Ayrshire Coastal Path

147

6-8

Kintyre Way

140

6-7

East Highland Way

128

4-7

Skye Trail

128

7

Rob Roy Way

128

5-8

Borders Abbeys Way

107

5-6 days

Speyside Way

106

5-7

Cateran Trail

104

4-6

Forth & Clyde and Union Canals

101

3-4

St Cuthbert’s Way

100

4-5

Cowal Way

90

4-7

Annandale Way

88

3-5

Formartine and Buchan Way

86

3-5

Moray Coast Trail

72

3-5

River Ayr Way

65

2-4

Clyde Walkway

63

2-5

Three Lochs Way

53

3-4

West Island Way

48

2-4

Berwickshire Coastal Path

48

2-4

Dava Way

38

1-3