With the summer holidays coming you may be looking forward to climbing a fairly easy hill with your kids – getting them away from those small screens to experience ‘real life’ in the great outdoors. But among the many hundreds of hills across Scotland, which one should you choose ?
If, like us, your kids are of primary school age and above, you’ll be thinking of an accessible and manageable hill. It has to have good views and attractions along the way to maintain their interest, but not too stretching so that it’s liable to put them off any future hillgoing excursions.
I’ve put together a top 10 list that’s inevitably fairly selective; there are many more I could have included. While many ‘favourite’ child-friendly hills appear on the list, I’m sure you’ll know of others that could have been included – so please leave a comment to share your views.
You’ll see that most of these hills are located within fairly easy reach of one of Scotland’s main cities, all except the Quiraing in fact. I’ve also deliberately excluded any munros, largely since they’re just a little more challenging (and also since the ‘top 10 easiest munros’ is a future topic in its own right).
Finally, it goes without saying that these hills – literally – are NOT a walk in the park. Scotland’s weather is reknowned for its unpredictability and you are likely to encounter rough, wet and boggy ground along the way. So please make sure you’re prepared with appropriate clothing, footwear, maps, food and rations.
10. Meall a’ Bhuachaille (near Aviemore)
Distance: 10 miles | Summit height: 810m | Ascent: 990m | Approx. time 5-7 hours | Route
Meall a’ Bhuachaille is easily accessible, with good paths to the summit as well as superb views. It gives a good feel for the character and scale of the Cairngorms without the length and remoteness of some of the larger mountains. The route described in the link above takes in a fuller circuit of the entire ridge. However, a shorter route (in the reverse direction) is described here. Both routes pass Ryvoan Bothy (now maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association) and the peaceful An Lochan Uaine (the green lochan – it really does have a green tint to the water).
9. The Quiraing (Skye)
Distance: 4.25 miles | Summit height: 543m | Ascent: 340m | Approx. time 3-5 hours | Route
The Quiraing, near Staffin on the northeast coast of Skye, is a classic hillwalk. Save it for a clear day for the views of the spectacular rock formations, of Skye and across to the mainland. It’s actually created from landslips along the Trotternish Ridge in this part of Skye, a most unusual landscape that’s sure to capture your kids’ imagination. While there are some steep sections there are good paths – and plenty to interest the family.
8. Ben Ledi (Callander)
Distance: 6.25 miles | Summit height: 879m | Ascent: 760m | Approx. time 4-6 hours | Route
Towering over Callander, Ben Ledi is a popular hill in the Trossachs. The views are surprisingly good as they gradually open up, first eastwards towards Stirling and the Pentland Hills and then westwards to Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps. There is a good path the whole way (which can get boggy in a couple of sections). The route above describes a circular walk with the descent via Stank Glen. When we climbed Ben Ledi last year we simply retraced our steps, and this would make the walk slightly shorter.
7. Creag Choinnich (Braemar)
Distance: 1.5 miles | Summit height: 538m | Ascent: 165m | Approx. time 1 – 2 hours | Route
This is a short walk from the centre of Braemar but once you’re through the pine trees, opens up wide vistas along the valley of the Dee towards Lochnagar and north to the rocky tors of Ben Avon and Beinn a’Bhuird.
6. The Eildons (Melrose)
Distance: 5.25 miles | Summit height: 422m | Ascent: 377m | Approx. time 3 – 4 hours | Route
Just as Bennachie is the defining landscape feature near Inverurie so the Eildons are such a distinctive element of the Central Borders, visible from Carter Bar in the south and the Pentlands in the north. The three hills were actually formed from an underground volcanic eruption and then the softer rocks above have gradually been eroded over time. The views are great and Melrose is a perfect base for some pre/post-walk refreshments.
5. Conic Hill (Loch Lomond)
Distance: 2.5 miles | Summit height: 361m | Ascent: 350m | Approx. time 2-3 hours | Route
From a car park in Balmaha the well-worn path to Conic Hill initially follows the route of the West Highland Way. Fantastic views open up ahead of you, taking in the southern end of Loch Lomond with its many islands and Ben Lomond. The route follows the line of the Highland Boundary Fault – so brush up on your knowledge of Scottish geology so you can explain this bit to the kids !
4. The Cobbler (aka Ben Arthur, Arrochar)
Distance: 6.75 miles | Summit height: 884m | Ascent: 920m | Approx. time 4 – 6 hours | Route
The Cobbler must be one of the most popular hills in West Central Scotland and has been the ‘training ground’ for generations of young climbers from the Glasgow area. Just west of Arrochar you’ll find a large car park and the start of the walk up a steep, zig-zagging path. Once you near the summit you’ll see the very distinctive three peaks, the highest being the central peak topped by a pinnacle. The summits are rocky, however, and you’ll need to keep a close eye on any ‘enthusiastic’ rock climbers in your family. If you want to extend the walk you can also take in Ben Ime and Beinn Narnain, both munros.
3. Bennachie (Aberdeenshire)
Distance: 5.75 miles | Summit height: 528m | Ascent: 490m | Approx. time 2.5 – 4 hours | Route
Bennachie stands proud above Aberdeenshire’s farming country and provides commanding views for miles around. While it’s steep in places (my neice, then eight, found it a little too exposed once we left the cover of the trees) there are good paths. This route takes in the various peaks along Bennachie’s ridge and returns back down to the Back o’ Bennachie car park. Bennachie holds special significance in our family: my dad grew up just nearby and my grandad, a forester and former Bailie of Bennachie, planted many of the trees on the hill.
2. Ben Vrackie (Pitlochry)
Distance: 5.75 miles | Summit height: 841m | Ascent: 720m | Approx. time 3 – 4 hours | Route
Travelling south down the A9 Ben Vrackie carves an extremely distinctive shape above Pitlochry and gives great views of the surrounding Perthshire countryside and up towards the Cairngorms. The route starts and finishes near Moulin (check out the Moulin Inn for pre-post- walk refreshments). I once met the farmer whose land includes Ben Vrackie on the summit of Seana Braigh, having a day off – now that’s what you call a busman’s holiday !
1. Ben A’an (Loch Katrine)
Distance: 2.25 miles | Summit height: 454m | Ascent: 340m | Approx. time 2 – 4 hours | Route
Ben A’an is a superb first family hill: a shortish walk with fine woodland, a pyramidal peak and wonderful views across Loch Katrine and the Trossachs. It’s steep in places so worth just taking your time but given the great view of the summit once you’re out of the forest, my son just bounded up leaving me trailing behind !
And the rest …
I could easily have included many, many other fine hills in this list and so if you’re still looking for inspiration why not look into some of the following:
- Ben Venue (Trossachs)
- Arthur’s Seat (Edinburgh)
- Dumyat (The Ochils)
- White Coomb and Grey Mare’s Tail (near Moffat)
- Duncryne Hill (Gartocharn, near Loch Lomond).