Let’s go for a winter walk
ONE of the best things about living in Scotland is how close you invariably are to countryside, coastline and castle. No matter which part of the country you live in, great walks with stunning views are right on the doorstep.
And there’s no better time to pull on your walking boots than over the festive period, especially the days between Christmas and New Year when cabin fever can all too easily set in.
Scotland looks particularly beautiful in winter, a fact I couldn’t fail to notice as I traversed the country to research Scotland’s Insider Guides for this magazine.
Over the last six months I’ve walked for miles up and down high streets, through woodland, on beaches, up hills, learning about the history and culture of each place along the way.
You’ve helped too, of course, sending excellent recommendations, hints and tips about places to visit, trails to take, cafés in which to sample the scones.
With this in mind, I’ve compiled 11 of the best walks from my travels, any of which would boost physical and mental health over the holidays. So, whether you’re looking for a short donder with family and friends, or a few hours of fresh air and solitude, wrap up warm and get out there.
The Darn Walk, Dunblane to Bridge of Allan
Which ever way round you do it, this ancient pathway by the River Allan makes for an enjoyable amble at any time of year. It also passes through one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s favourite spots, which provided inspiration for Ben Gunn’s cave in Treasure Island.
Local resident Judy Murray, mother of tennis champions Andy and Jamie, loves this walk. “The three-mile pathway, which dates back to Roman times, is one of my favourite things to do in Dunblane,” she told us.
“If you start at Dunblane Golf Club, you come out close to Bridge of Allan’s famous ice cream parlour, the Allan Cafe. Perfect! And you can always get the train back.”
The West Sands, St Andrews
On a crisp winter’s day there are few places I’d rather be than walking along the uninterrupted beach and dunes of the West Sands. It takes a good couple of hours to walk from the Old Course towards Leuchars and Tentsmuir, and back.
No matter what the weather this beautiful stretch of sand is populated with dogwalkers, runners and kite surfers keen to blow away the cobwebs – it’s nearly always windy – and soak up the views, which are still remembered by many for their starring role in the closing credits to the Oscar-winning film Chariots Of Fire.
Afterwards, you’ll be ready for a cuppa. The café at the British Golf Museum (britishgolfmuseum.co.uk), right next to the 18th hole of the Old Course, has great coffee, excellent scones and some of the best views in Scotland.
Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle
Perched on a giant rocky headland that almost seems detached from the mainland, Dunnottar Castle is surely the most spectacular of all Scotland’s coastal ruins.
It takes around 90 minutes to walk from the town up to the castle and back, and according to Esther Ballesteros, no visit to Stonehaven would be complete without making the trip at least once. “The views are just amazing,” she said. “Aside from the castle itself and the beautiful cliffs, Stonehaven War memorial is also really interesting. And it’s an easy route for people of all ages and abilities.”
The castle itself (dunnottarcastle. co.uk) is always worth exploring, as are the ancient rocks on which it sits, thought to have been formed 440 million years ago.
Linlithgow Palace and loch
This easy circular walk, which covers 2.25 miles and takes about an hour, is perfect for families and provides excellent wildlife-spotting opportunities, despite being close to the town.
Susan Knox had a weekend break in Linlithgow earlier this year. She said: “I would always recommend a walk around the loch to blow the cobwebs away. It’s one of the largest natural freshwater lochs in the area and offers unparalleled views of the palace.”
Nairn to Cawdor
Nairn has much to offer visitors, not least its famously beautiful beach. But I’ve chosen this linear six-mile walk along the River Nairn to Cawdor, since it offers an alternative view of the town, and passes through some lovely countryside. It takes around two hours to get to the village, and if you have time, Cawdor Castle makes for a fascinating couple of hours. Time it right and you can catch a bus back to Nairn.
Two viewpoints walk, Oban
Though its name means “little bay” in Gaelic, Oban’s shoreline is expansive, as are the vistas to the mountains and islands beyond.
This excellent four-mile, 2.5 hour walk explores the centre of town and takes in the promenade before climbing up to two excellent viewpoints: MacCaig’s Tower (known locally as “the folly”) and Pulpit Hill.
When you head back down into town, stop by at the Seafood Hut (also known as the Green Shack) at the CalMac Pier for some of the freshest crab, mussels and scallops you’re ever likely to eat.
Jedburgh to Kelso
If you’re looking for an all-day walk, this ancient trail through the rolling countryside of the Borders fits the bill perfectly.
Get an early start for this 12-mile stretch of the Borders Abbeys Way, which takes in two rivers – the
Main image: Dunnottar Castle Above: Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian
Tweed and the Teviot – the Waterloo Monument, Wallace’s Tower and Roxburgh Castle. At the end of the walk sit the ruins of Kelso Abbey.
End with a pint of IPA and a hearty burger in The Cobbles (thecobbleskelso. co.uk) on Bowmont Street.
Corrieshalloch Gorge, Wester Ross
Around 20 minutes from Ullapool sits one of the most spectacular sights in Scotland. Granted, you’ll need a good head for heights to get the most out of Corrieshalloch Gorge (“unattractive corrie” in Gaelic), which is 1.4km in length and 60m deep.
The Victorian suspension bridge allows for dramatic tree-lined views of the River Droma as it plummets through waterfalls, while the surrounding woodland nature trails offer great walking and bird-spotting potential. If you’re lucky, you might even see a golden eagle. Allow around an hour for the walk. Go to nts.org.uk for more details.
The Birks of Aberfeldy
This lovely circular walk, immortalised in song by Robert Burns, remains one of the most popular walks in Perthshire. It can be steep in parts, but the gorge of the Moness burn, waterfalls and views across to Strathtay are more than worth the effort.
Back in Aberfeldy, the Habitat Café, right on the Square, is the place to go for a tasty bowl of soup or coffee and cake.
Tobermory to the lighthouse
If you’re on Mull over the festive season, be sure to pull on your wellies for this three-mile walk from the island’s main town, through woods to the picturesque lighthouse at Rubha nan Gall. From there you’ll be rewarded with wonderful views over the water to Ardnamurchan.
On your way back, pop into the excellent Tobermory Distillery (Tobermory distillery.com) for a tour and a dram.
North Berwick to Gullane
Treat yourself to a fish supper from North Berwick Fry on Quality Street, then work it off with a stunning three to four-hour shoreline walk to neighbouring Gullane. The walk itself is around seven miles, but factor in some time for sandcastle-building and rock-pooling, for the perfect day out. Be careful, however, to avoid high tide. When you reach Gullane, you can jump on the bus back to North Berwick.
McCaig’s Tower on Battery Hill overlooks the town of Oban