While there are many Scottish Great Trails, these are the four original Scottish long distance routes (LDRs), similar to the England and Wales National Trails, plus the daddy of them all – the unofficial Cape Wrath Trail.
I’ll admit that I can’t be overly objective with these trails, as I think it’s a shame to travel to Scotland and then not go and sample some of the true wilderness the country offers. But that’s just me!
1 – West Highland Way – 154Km
This is the popular, well known route from Milngavie to Fort William and often topped off by a bimble up the ‘tourist’ route (politically corectly known as the Mountain Path now to prevent ‘tourists’ thinking it’s easy) and a noisy celebration in the Ben Nevis in Bunkhouse (ensuring little sleep to others!)
Staying in YH along the way, it seems that many walking it are doing so for a challenge, but seem ill prepared for the physical nature of the route. While there are some seasoned walkers, there were plenty of others who don’t realise how hard a week’s walking is on their soft tootsies and develop blisters the size of Crianlarich somewhere along Loch Lomond. Be prepared for anyone who asks you in any of the SYHA establishments along the way if you’re doing the Way to give you a strange look if you say you’re not and you’re just Munro bagging.
Following the shores of Loch Lomond for an eternity, the way finally enters the hills and Crianlarich. The route here is truly spectacular and becomes even more so, if it’s too your taste, across Rannoch Moor. It is then onto upper Glencoe, which is a treat for anyone with the views of the Bucaille Etive Mor (stop at the Kingshouse for a haggis toastie) and the Devil’s Staircase seems to be painted with an image to strike fear into backpackers, but doesn’t even register when you compare it to the ascent of a proper UK mountain and certainly not to the final day yomp up the Ben. However, for someone who’s never really walked long distances before, carrying an overweight pack (anything over 10kg, less still if hostelling) and having developed huge blisters a few days ago, then this could appear as hell on earth. It’s finally down to Kinlochleven and on to Fort William, along with a traditional ascent of “The Ben”.
2 – Southern Upland Way 340Km
This is a Scottish Coast to Coast route from Portpatrick on the south-west coast across the Southern Uplands to Cockburnspath on the east coast. It provides plenty of remote walking, and certainly lacks the hordes that plod along the West Highland Way. Some sections are across moorland and you will need to be able to navigate!
3 – Spayside Way – 130Km
A lesser known route from Buckie on the Moray Firth, deep inland towards Aviemore and the Cairngorms.
4 – Great Glen Way 127Km
A route you could take to extend the West Highland Way as it starts off in Fort William, through the Great Glen and ends in Inverness. It’s largely low level, but has the added bonus of being a mountain bike friendly route all the way. They even suggest that you can complete the route by kayak, though that’s obviously by taking the Caledonian Canal. Just as a measure of how easy the surface is, the Scottish branch of the Disabled Ramblers completed 82% of the route using motorised scooters.
5 – Cape Wrath Trail 330Km
An unofficial route, but without doubt the jewel in the crown of the Scottish trails. For me, Scotland epitomises the closest to wilderness we can get on these isles, and this trail is the wildest of all the trails. It is generally regarded as the toughest trail in the UK, mainly as it is the most remote making restocking a problem. You’ll need 20 days to complete this, and a tough 20 at that. Just to complicate things, there are two routes – The Cape Wrath Trail: A New 200-mile Walking Route Through the North-west Scottish Highlands (out of print) and North to the Cape: A trek from Fort William to Cape Wrath .
If those aren’t enough, then there are plenty of other shorter routes on the Great Trails website.
Or if you want something even more challenging, you’ll need to design your own long distance path from scratch.