The appeal of Scotland’s long-distance walks

On the new John Muir Way. Photograph: Mike Bolam

On the new John Muir Way. Pic credit: Mike Bolam

As another Scottish long-distance walking trail, the John Muir Way, is launched we look the attraction of these fabulous routes

Next month sees the launch of another long-distance walking trail in Scotland, the (extended) John Muir Way.

The 134-mile coast-to-coast route, from Dunbar to Helensburgh, opens on April 21 and celebrates the life and work of Scots born conservationist John Muir.

While Muir, the founder of America’s national parks, left Scotland for the US as a child his name remains closely linked with his home nation.

The new walk is an extension of a shorter existing John Muir Way in East Lothian and is expected to be a huge draw for walkers, especially in the Year of Homecoming Scotland 2014.

There will also be a nine-day John Muir Festival at the time of the walk launch.

Scotland’s walking trails

There are almost 30 official long-distance walking routes totalling nearly 2,000 miles in Scotland. See Scotland’s Great Trails and Walk Highlands long-distance walks.

These include the grand-daddy of them all, the West Highland Way (WHW), which is the most popular long-distance hike in Scotland.

Approaching its 35th anniversary, the waymarked trail that starts in Milngavie, north of Glasgow, and runs 96 miles to Fort William, attracts an estimated 85,000 walkers annually.

Other “old-boy” paths include the 212-mile Southern Upland Way, in the Borders, and the 65-mile Speyside Way from Buckie to Aviemore.

Another of the “original four” is the Great Glen Way, running 79 miles from Fort William to Inverness.

There are also many other newer walking trails such as the River Ayr Way, the new East Highland Way and two island paths, Bute’s West Island Way and the Arran Coastal Way.

West Highland Way. Pic credit: Mike Bolam

West Highland Way. Pic credit: Mike Bolam

The many attractions of these walks include:

  • Variety of geography and terrain
  • Detailed routes and maps
  • A walking route or section for all ages and fitness levels
  • Waymarks and signposting
  • Longer multi-day options or a few hours of strolling on a shorter section
  • Easy access with public transport to many start and stop-off points
  • Multi-day options with overnights at camp-sites or B&Bs
  • Walking guides, companies and luggage transfers.

A few words about navigation: On most of the well trodden trails you will usually find clear signposting. Waymarked routes are great news but it is important to be aware of your vulnerability in Scotland’s great outdoors, so a map and compass or GPS device is a valuable asset.

The long-distance walking fan

Paul McGreal has walked and run around a dozen of Scotland’s long-distance routes.

The events organiser from Selkirk says: “The big appeal for me – and no doubt for others – is the ease of getting to these walks and then following them.

“You don’t need to think too much about planning the route and nor do you need to be a brilliant navigator.”

Paul, who has completed a trail every Easter for the last decade, rates the Southern Upland Way as his favourite.

He said: “All of the many routes I have completed, including the WHW, EHW, Cateran Trail, Speyside Way and Great Glen Way, are fantastic.

“They get people out and enjoying the countryside quickly and easily.

“But for me, it is the Southern Upland Way, that is my absolute favourite.

“It is what waymarked trails should be: Easy to locate, a pleasure to walk and out there where it’s at in Scotland’s amazing landscape.”

Waymarks. Pic credit: Mike Bolam

Waymarks. Pic credit: Mike Bolam

Walking the new John Muir Way

It’s estimated that the new John Muir Way will be a multi day walk of seven to 10 days to walk the whole John Muir Way.

Walkers can also dip into the long-distance trail, walking shorter sections of the trail for just a few hours or a day.

The John Muir Way route is split into 10 sections. It can be walked from east to west or west to east.

The coast-to-coast route takes in a huge variety of scenery, including canal towpaths, lochsides, hills, farmland, villages, towns and cities.

Most of the route is on easy-going terrain although some sections are a bit more challenging, including Gouk Hill, between Balloch and Helensburgh.

Other sections to visit, if you do not plan to walk the entire route, include Croy Hill, which is part of the Antonine Way near Cumbernauld, where you can see the site of a Roman fort; a section on the Firth of Forth between Bo’ness and Blackness Castle; and  walking beneath Forth Bridge at South Queensferry, near Edinburgh.

It’s also possible for cyclists to ride the trail, although several different paths are provided in certain places to avoid damaging historical sites.

* Next week we look at the walking challenges in Scotland that follow some of Scotland’s Great Trails.

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  1. […] not long since I wrote about Scotland’s wonderful collection of long-distance walking trails, but they’re worth another look – because many are the focus of a range of challenge events […]


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