Hill-walking Solo in Scotland: A Woman's View
by Pamela Mitchell
Ben Nevis in the summertime
Scotland is a small country rich in history and beauty and is famous for many things including its stunning hills and mountains. It is this dramatic scenery that I want to share my experience of as it was truly breath-taking.
As a 30-something Scottish woman, I had never really thought about the mountains and incredible surroundings until I read a book by Nan Shepard called ‘The Living Mountain’ which describes her experiences in the Scottish mountains. It really struck a chord with me so I decided to invest in some walking boots and start exploring what was on my doorstep.
To begin with I took it easy and went along more what could be called challenging country walks rather than actual hikes, but as I improved I became a bit more adventurous. Through my wanderings, I have now developed my own system for solo hillwalking, to make it both safe and enjoyable, so here are a few of my tips.
Checking out and familiarising myself with this hillwalking Scotland site was invaluable to me at the beginning, and is still pretty useful for in depth information about my routes. Especially helpful for me was the ‘Walking Grades’ section as since I prefer to hike alone, I can’t really responsibly do some of the routes, so this helps serve as a guide for ones that do.
Take a lightweight tent and a sleeping bag and make a trip of it. Obviously you have to be prepared to make the most of hillwalking, but Scotland allows wild camping as long as it is done responsibly, so you can enjoy a night under the Scottish stars after a hard day’s hiking.
I would highly recommend using public transport to get there and back for several reasons. Train services like East Coast (I love their tea service!) and buses can take you easily and swiftly to your chosen starting point, and they are reasonably priced in Scotland. Next, personally I like if I can, to not return by the same route, but to keep on walking forward. If I take a car, I have to return to the same spot. And finally, a long day of challenging walking can really be fatiguing (in a good way obviously) and the last thing you want to do is hop in the car! So relax and have a cuppa as you make your way home in comfort.
Other obvious tips include checking the weather as it can be really changeable here, dressing warmly in layers of lightweight clothing and notifying people where you are going and when you expect to be back. That’s all common sense really though! I think BBC Weather is the best for checking the weather as it does it hourly which is pretty useful.
Scotland is great for hill-walking daytrips and weekends, such as the wild camping, but there are also walking holidays that you can go on with long hikes through beautiful scenery. The only one that I have been on is the West Highland Way, which is a 100-mile walk from Milngavie on the northern edge of the city of Glasgow in the centre of the country to Fort William which is up along the west coast. It takes around 5-7 days to walk, and there are hostels and places to stay along the route, as well as a whisky distillery to visit. I took a week to do it as I wanted to really enjoy the scenery, and I wasn’t disappointed! You pass by Loch Lomond and see the awe-inspiring splendour of the Highlands amidst peace and tranquillity. This route is also ideal for solo walkers as it is one of the best monitored in Scotland, meaning help is never far away if you get into any sort of difficulties.
And what’s on the horizon for me? Well I am definitely going to become a ‘Munro-bagger’ (somebody determined to walk the 282 Munros; a Munro is a mountain in Scotland higher than 3,000 feet), as I don’t really hike to gain a sense of achievement, but more for my well-being and happiness. So instead, I would love to walk in part the 470-mile Gore-Tex National Trail which runs the length of Scotland. In particular I want to visit the dramatically named Cape Wrath on the north-west tip of the country, which is the UK’s most isolated spot too, surrounded as it is by ocean and moorland.
Being outdoors enjoying nature is now one of the most important things for me and I hope to keep on enjoying the sense of contentment throughout my life. And I hope that I can inspire others to get and enjoy Scotland the way that I do.