Here are some suggestions for great hill-walking in Scotland. But take care on the high tops.
Hillwalking in Scotland is really, really popular these days. There is an ongoing preoccupation with Munros.
These are the mountains in Scotland over 3000ft (or the more untidy 914 metres) in height with so-much re-ascent all around to qualify as Munros as opposed to subsidiary tops. See? I told you it was a bit untidy.
At the moment there are 282 Munros in Scotland. The figure changes sometimes as surveying technology gets more and more accurate.
Walkers in Scotland can take a lifetime to climb them all. Or do them quickly. Or do them more than once. Yes, it’s quite a preoccupation.
The name Munro refers to their original compiler, Sir Hugh Munro, who helped found the Scottish Mountaineering Club.
His moneyed background meant he had enough time to research the relative heights of Scotland’s hills. ‘Munro’s Tables’ were first published in the Club’s journal in 1891.
Anyway, here is a list of ten rewarding big hillwalks in Scotland. And, no, Ben Nevis certainly isn’t on this list.
Incidentally, while walking the low-ground approaches to these big hills, you know you’re going to need some kind of protection from biting insects, basically either cleg or midge repellent.
Meall Nan Tarmachan
Near Killin, Perthshire
There are a two good reasons to climb Meall nan Tarmachan. Firstly, the starting point from the public road into Glen Lyon is quite high and, also, the mountain flowers are almost as good as its neighbour Ben Lawers, but it isn’t usually as crowded.
There is quite a short but slightly narrow ridge beyond the main top with an (unexpectedly) steep descent to the west. It can be avoided by a traverse – otherwise this is just a fine long day in the hills.
Best in May-June when the alpines are at their bonniest.
Near Ballater, Deeside, Aberdeenshire
Ah, yes, ‘The steep frowning glories of dark Lochnagar’. Start from the road-end at Glen Muick
Just dig in and keep walking – especially on that steep pull up after you’ve had your first glimpse of the classic bowl of the corrie with its spectacular headwall and wee corrie loch.
Most people descend via the Glas Alt Shiel.
This is a lodge by Loch Muick where the royals go to rough it. Bless. Return along the lochside. Spot a golden eagle perhaps.
A favourite excursion from Aberdeen. Take special care on the high plateau though – it is seriously exposed country up there in the classic Grampian rolling tops.
Near Crieff, Perthshire.
What’s this dull dome doing in a distinguished list, you may ask?
Well, I’m sorry, I kinda like it as a beginner’s Munro peak. Start from Glen Artney or Glen Turret. It’s a grand day out and not overly difficult.
Right on the Highland edge means there are great views
There are really tempting vistas northwards, where waves of hills beckon you on…see, even low-key Munros can make you go slightly wistful.
Aha, a big hill that isn’t a Munro. But still a great day out from the central belt of Scotland. Choose a clear day and you can see all kinds of mostly Lowland landmarks, from the Pentland Hills behind Edinburgh round to the distinct profile of the isle of Arran’s peaks way off to the west.
Get there early enough to get a parking place in the carpark though, off the A84, north of Callander. And though it falls short of Munro status, still treat it as a serious hill, especially if climbing in the off-season.
I’ve slithered around in snow and ice up there! See for yourself on the route description for Ben Ledi
Cairngorms, Near Aviemore
Sample the ambience of the Cairngorms by the back door, as it were. Instead of joining the crowds on Cairngorm, take a big day to tackle this granite cone sitting on its moorland plinth.
Plenty of atmosphere, nice views northwards into Speyside. You’ll probably see the Moray Firth too. Take your time and bring an extra sandwich though.
(With Mam Soul), West Of The Great Glen
Glen Affric? You’ll love it. Highland scenery at its best. This feels like being on the backbone of Scotland, with a real sense of wilderness, especially looking westwards.
Lots of other big hills around, but by the time you’ve got out of the Glen, up to and along the ridge, up on to Mam Soul, then round to Carn Eighe, then you’ll have done quite enough for one day.
(With Stobinian), Near Crianlarich
A Southern Highlands classic, either from Inverlochlarig at the head of Balquhidder Glen or from the main road, the A85 east of Crianlarich, Ben More is another of these distinctive profiles – a distinctive pointy cone – seen from as far south as some of Edinburgh’s high points.
Easily told from its near neighbour and twin Stobinian which has its own cone-shape silhouette cut off at the summit.
It’s one of these ‘follow the skyline’ routes but remember that Ben More from the north is simply a relentless slope – like walking up the cone mentioned above.
The picture above shows this feature, as well as the shallow snow-holding corrie that makes this not a hill for the inexperienced in winter conditions (though you could say that about any of the hills on this list).
Ben More Assynt
(Via Conival), Sutherland
Another ‘big ben’, this one is in the north-west and is included for its summit views as well as the desolate air that seems to be part of its bare, shattered quartz top and long scree slopes.
The walk-in starts from Inchnadamph, noted for its nearby limestone caves and fine alpine flowers.
This, the largest mountain in Assynt, is in an area of interesting geology. It just feels old and worn.
On a clear day you can see the Outer Hebrides and Orkney and the inner Moray Firth at the same time. (Well, I was impressed.)
A poignant memorial
As an aside, you may want to pay your respects to Scotland’s highest war graves while on this hike.
A wartime training exercise claimed the lives of all six crew members of an Avro Anson that crashed here in bad weather in January 1941.
The area was considered so remote that the when the wreckage was eventually found (in the following May), the men were buried at the site.
As well as surviving wreckage, a substantial stone memorial, replaced and renewed in 2013, marks the site (which is well off the main walkers’ route, to the north-west, on the slopes of Beinn an Fhurain).
Arguably one of the most instantly recognisable of the north-west Highlands, hence one of the best known.
Beautifully made path (these days) to the summit ridge. (But NB, NOT the summit.)
After that, it’s very loose and scrabbly along the ridge, with the sudden appearance of steep gullies not at all conducive to a casual stroll.
A long summer afternoon is all it takes but watch out for loose rocks. Wonderful panoramas of the western seaboard.
Particularly UNSUITABLE for young-ish children and nervous adults with a poor sense of balance.
And it isn’t a Munro. How not to climb Stac Pollaidh is described here.
It’s our westernmost mainland Munro and a big day out from, say, Inverie, itself a remote little settlement best reached by boat from Mallaig.
Most mountain guidebooks recommend a clock-wise excursion, in via Gleann na Guiserein and homeward by Gleann an Dubh Lochain – all in an area so remote that the Ordnance Survey feel obliged to spell ‘glen’ in an exotic way.
Anyway, repeat, this far western hill makes for a long day. Still, if you have got yourself as far as Inverie, you’re probably at ease in Scotland’s great outdoors. More on climbing Ladhar Bheinn here.
Or check out the best places for Scottish wildlife.