Hill walks and mountain climbs
BEST FOOT FORWARD - Walking & hiking, scrambling & climbing
If you enjoy walking, you'll love the diversity of landscapes on Scotland's west coast islands and peninsulas. Whatever your fitness levels, age or experience, there is a route to suit your aspirations... and your legs!
Many walkers are surprised by the breadth of terrain in this part of Scotland. It ranges from flat lowlands to high-rise mountain ranges, wild moorlands to rolling hills, rugged coastal cliffs to wide sandy beaches and sheltered forests. As a foot passenger, travelling between the Scottish mainland and the islands is easy and budget-friendly. There are numerous walking routes that can be accessed from ports or via public transport but taking a car or bicycle can be a good idea if you plan to roam further afield.
A walk on the not-so-wild side
If you can't decide where to walk on the islands why not join one of the island walking festivals, such as Walk Islay or Arran Mountain Festival, or book a guided walk with a more experienced leader? Another option is to follow short waymarked trails, where signposting will help with your navigation. Country parks and gardens, such as Brodick Castle on Arran, Achamore Gardens on Gigha, and the parklands around Lews Castle, Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, are perfect for easy strolling and sight-seeing.
From the Beehive Dwellings to the Fairy Pools...
There are a number of lovely short walks connected to the Peter May Literature Trail, also in the Outer Hebrides, and inspired by his books in the Lewis Trilogy. A stroll will take you to the Beehive Dwellings and Disappearing Loch Morsgail at Uig, or you can walk the Bridge to Nowhere at North Tolsta, both on Lewis.
The three-mile-out-and-back walk to the magical Fairy Pools at the foot of the Black Cuillins at Glenbrittle on Skye is highly recommended and on a warm day you might even like to take a dip in the crystal clear waters.
Find out more aboutwalks to the Fairy Pools at www.isleofskye.com/skye-guide/top-ten-skye-walks/fairy-pools
... and from Coral Beach to the Singing Sands
The long and varied coastline found around the islands offers an attractive destination for walkers too. How about a breezy stroll on fabulous white sandy beaches, such as those found on Tiree and the west coast of Harris? Or a fantastic family beach walk to Claigan on Skye where Coral Beach boasts stunning white sand that makes the water look a tropical blue when the sun comes out.
Another family favourite is the mile long route to the Singing Sands of Islay where, in dry conditions, the sand will make a singing sound when you move the soles of your shoes over it. Or visit the small community island of Eigg - just a short walk from Cleadale will take you to Camas Sgiotaig, also known as the Bay of the Singing Sands.
A good stretch for your legs
Whether you prefer easy-graded walks with the family or more challenging hikes on the wild side, you'll discover a wealth of routes on the west coast islands.
For a more dramatic hike along a clifftop, the five-mile outing to the striking sea stack, Soldiers Rock, on Islay, will reward you with fabulous sea views and the chance to spot buzzards and golden eagles. Reaching the summit of one of many low-lying hills on the islands provides a great goal for walkers who are keen to hike that little bit higher. A trig point marks the top of Beinn Shleibhe - or Ben Leva - at just 305ft on the Outer Hebridean isle of Berneray, between North Uist and Harris. The short walk to the top opens up views on a fine day to no less than 30 other islands.
On the small island of Colonsay and its even smaller neighbour, Oronsay, there are 22 hills that rise to 300ft each. Together they are known as the MacPhies and can be walked in one connected hike of 20 miles or as individual outings.
Walk your socks off!
Official long-distance walks are a wonderful way to explore more of an island and on Bute the 25-mile West Island Way offers options of walking for one, two or three days on a route that takes you the entire length of the island. The Arran Coastal Way is a scenic trail of 65 miles around the very edge of the island while the Hebridean Way stretches 185 miles along the length of the Outer Hebrides from Vatersay in the south to the Butt of Lewis in the north. This route passes through ten islands linked by a combination of causeways and ferries and takes in lowlands, hills and the picturesque Atlantic coast.
The St Columba's Way pilgrimage trail - Scotland's answer to Europe's iconic Camino de Santiago - starts in the islands. A 40-mile route from Fionnphort, opposite Iona, along Mull's south coast to the port of Craignure, forms part of the longer Way, which extends 200 miles to St Andrews on the east coast of the Scottish mainland. The route also has links to Campbeltown on Kintyre and to the island of Islay.
A bit of a scramble
Walking and climbing can really be whatever you want them to be on the west coast of Scotland. And for those looking for more of a challenge, there are certainly plenty of options. Whether you like the idea of walking further on a long-distance trail, escaping to more remote locations or climbing to higher altitudes, there's an island route that will inspire you.
Munros and Corbetts
Skye and its magnificent Cuillin Mountain Range is easily the most striking of the more mountainous islands and unsurprisingly has become a top destination for more experienced walkers, mountaineers and climbers. You might like to hike the 80-mile Skye Trail over a multi-day adventure. The route follows much of the magnificent Trotternish Ridge and later passes beneath the shadows of the Cuillin. In Scotland, the 282 mountains with a summit of more than 3,000ft are called Munros and Skye is home to no less than 12 mountains of this classification.
The only other Munro in the islands is located on Mull. Ben More is a fine, rocky mountain that stands almost 3,200ft tall and can be hiked from Dhiseig on more straightforward path or via the a' Chioch ridge for the drama and excitement of a short section of scrambling.
Other mountains honoured with higher altitude classifications are known as Corbetts. Standing at 2,500 to 3,000ft, there are 221 Corbetts in Scotland, 11 of which are found on the west coast islands. At 2,621ft, Clisham is the highest mountain in the Outer Hebrides and a magnificent viewpoint in southern Harris. You can choose a shorter and more direct ascent from the road or, for a full hillwalking day that rewards with wide-ranging views, hike the Clisham Horseshoe.
Another Cuillin range is found on the island of Rum, in the Inner Hebrides. A demanding but beautiful walk with an easy-graded scrambling section reaches five major summits, including the two Corbetts of Ainshval and Askival. Further south, on the island of Jura, famous for its single malt whisky, the island's three 'Paps' offer a fabulous but tough skyline hike. The Paps include Beinn an Oir, Beinn Shiantaidh and Beinn a 'Chaolais.
Four more Corbetts on Arran provide great walking days and a network of paths in the glens leads to defined routes to three of the peaks, Beinn Tarsuinn, Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail. Goat Fell, the tallest at 2,867ft, is usually walked in a single day's outing and can be approached from two directions. Arran is often referred to as 'Scotland in Miniature' because of the contrasting lowland/highland scenery created by the Highland Boundary Fault Line, an ancient geological line that cuts through the island and traverses the entire breadth of Scotland.
Another superb place for a more wild and rugged walk is on the Kintyre peninsula. The 100-mile Kintyre Way, from Tarbert to Machrihanish, is acclaimed as one of Scotland's most scenic waymarked walks and can easily be extended by ferry routes to take in trails on the islands of Gigha, Islay and even Colonsay and Bute.
For walkers and climbers who like a get-away-from-it-all adventure, these islands are difficult to beat.