My six months in the beautiful country of Scotland is coming to a close. I certainly didn’t get to see everything, was merely teased really, but did acquire the certainty that an enormous part of me belongs here and my time is not really over. In case you forgot why you’re dying to come here too, I’ve compiled a short list:
- Wild Camping and the Right to Roam ~ In Scotland you may tramp wherever you like and you may camp wherever you like ~The Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003 (explained in detail here)~ established for your pleasure a statutory right of access over most land and inland water. It is also incredibly handy to be able to plan your treks completely oblivious of where you are going to sleep beyond not being on a summit or in a bog at nightfall, within very basic reasonable guidelines of course, explained here.
- Mist/Fog ~ Mist and fog have generally been seen by the outdoor adventure community as a hindrance and an annoyance. In Scotland, it is a seduction. It is appropriate amongst the black rocks of the ridges, suspended above the heather, veiling the banks of the lochs. It adds the aura of mystique that has inspired so many pulp romance novels and blaring bagpipe battle scenes in Hollywood. It also conveniently veils the tracts of farmland that would otherwise be tainting your feeling of being in the wilderness.
- Very Unique and Stunning Beauty ~ Really this is the number one reason and the one that should add the fire of passion in your packing speed. Get here fast, before anything about it changes…..
- Chris Townsend ~ If there is anything you want to know about exploring Scotland as a walker, this is your man. He has literally written the book on Scotland’s trails, routes, really everything walking, including gear advice and honest experienced opinions. The best way to catch up with him and his publications is through his website.
- The Sea ~ Scotland is on an island, an easy detail to forget because of its size. This means that you are never very far from the Atlantic Ocean on the West Coast or the North Sea on the East Coast. A demanding itinerary of mountain and hill walking is easily balanced out with stunning coastal routes.
- Bothies, Rural Hostels, and B&B’s ~ Bothies are simple shelters that are offered free to walkers in remote wilderness areas. They often have fireplaces, simple bunks, and entertaining guest logs. Rural hostels are also available in remote locations, as well as many family run B&B’s, both VERY inexpensive options. You will not be stuck out in Scotland. If you don’t want to camp, a warm bed and tea are almost always just a few bog leaps away…
- Stagecoach Buses ~ They are not shockingly inexpensive, but will pick you up and drop you off anywhere along their very extensive route network (including unmarked trail heads) and seem to really not mind tourists asking stupid questions.
- Castle Ruins and Standing Stones ~ I know most walkers are too otherwise-oriented to go seeking out touristy things like castle ruins and standing stones, but you are going to trip over them out on the land. They’re everywhere. And they really are beautiful and fascinating in a history-swallowed-by-the-earth kind of way. Adds intrigue to the story.
- The Outdoor Blogging Community ~ They are an active, feisty bunch here in the UK. Read, introduce yourself, comment. You will most likely have walking partners if you desire. My roster of favorites is in this page’s margin, but I would like to especially draw attention to Phil Turner at Lightweight Outdoors. This is your gear guy in Scotland. And not inconsequentially, the only gear reviewer that sports an occasional penguin costume in his video reviews.
- OS Maps ~ Ordnance Survey Maps are so incredibly detailed. And pretty. And organized. And thorough. And any dummy can fold them. And they even smell good. I have never seen such high quality topographical maps, certainly not in the US. They also happen to be available everywhere. I used an OS map on the Isle of Hoy (Orkney Islands) that informed me where the barbed wire sheep fences were. That’s detail (and very helpful to someone protecting an expensive pair of trousers).
- Tourist Information Centers and Traveline ~ Scotland is a country of people that seem to actually like their tourists. They make life easy for us. This is not anywhere more apparent than at the TIC’s or Tourist Information Centers which are located in nearly every village. The helpful people there will research and book accommodations for you, give you maps, schedule your transportation for you including complex itineraries with many changes, and chat with you about just about anything you might want to know. Traveline is available online to research public transportation options.
- Pubs ~ Pubs are not merely collections of drinking people. They are community centers. Every village has one and occasionally there will be one out in the middle of nowhere. They usually serve food, sometimes very nice food, and almost always have a fire going in the main room. Families complete with dogs are frequently there socializing and it’s a convenient place to meet locals and chat about the area.
- Discount Airlines ~ If you have a whole bunch of time and harbor fantasies of walking in nearby countries in the same holiday, the discount airline companies bring all of Europe to your eager trail runners with obnoxiously low fares. I flew from Edinburgh to Amsterdam for 5 Euros ($7.80 USD) roundtrip. And that’s typical. The big companies are RyanAir and EasyJet, but there are others…
- Public Toilets ~ Another gorgeous gesture of tourist nurture. There are public toilets in every village and at some trailheads. Some of them are even in lovely little stone buildings. I realize that hardcore walking people snub public facilities. But the surviving aspects of my femininity are still quite pleased to find one.
- Edinburgh ~ If you HAVE to go to a city, and unfortunately most travelers usually do have to, if for nothing other than a currency exchange and a decent curry, Edinburgh is a gorgeous city to go to. It lacks the spirit-less skyscrapers and endless office buildings that are the spines of the average city and enchants you with its intact medieval village feeling. Art is alive amidst the cobblestone streets and there is a bloke with a bagpipe on every corner.
- The Islands ~ There are no words for the islands. I was graced with an experience of 4; The Isle of Skye, Isle of Arran, Isle of Hoy, and mainland Orkney and fell speechlessly in love EVERY SINGLE TIME and in all weather. Please don’t look at any pictures first or do any research. Just put it on your schedule and go. It’s promised life change.
- Scottish Accents ~ Leave your IPod at home because the Scottish accent is an endless song. It’s gorgeous. The most menial interactions sound like a whimsical storytelling. If you’re lucky enough to catch a child under the age of four talking with a strong Scottish accent, you may even be moved to tears with the loveliness of it.
- Burns/Water ~ Water is abundant and clean. I never walked with more than 21 ounces in my pack at any time and fearlessly drank from the burns (little creeks).
- Hills/Munros ~ The 10 highest mountains in the UK are all to be found in Scotland. There is also a healthy population of hills for the less ridge-oriented who still like a vista.
- Sheep ~ If you have to tolerate the frequent presence of livestock near a natural area, sheep are the way to go and Scotland bears many. They aren’t very smelly and they’re damn cute. They respond when you make noises at them and climb tiny ridges on the faces of steep cliffs for your visual amusement. Many in Scotland are spray painted pink. I wish I was joking.
- The Lochs ~ Lochs (lakes) are everywhere in Scotland and offer plenty of pack-rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and meandering opportunities when your feet get tired. And as we all know, there is supposed to be a monster in one of them.
- The Love ~ I felt the love in Scotland. People are friendly and warm. They have stories to tell you while they are checking your groceries. I met people I’d love to be close to, people who became instant friends, intelligent people who would share themselves with me. I could live here.
- The TGO Challenge ~ The TGO Challenge is the pinnacle hoo-ha of the walking community in Scotland and people come from all over the world to participate. See my post about it.
- Clotted Cream and Scones with Tea ~ Okay, so food is not usually included on the don’t-miss list of all things British. But they really have something there with the scones and clotted cream, especially with a cup of hot tea by a fire after a few days out on a trail.
- Heather ~ Heather is the word they use for the royal carpet that is laid upon all of the hills for the walkers to enjoy. It is an expression of joy from the Scottish soil when it can no longer stand to contain its color and delicacy. It brings the hills to life and cradles your body from the cruelty of gravity. It’s lovely.
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