It’s no secret that Scotland attracts some of the world’s top photographers. From grandstand views of iconic sporting events to celebrity scoops and intimate moments with royalty, Scotland has the perfect backdrop for top-notch paparazzi photos.
This year, photography lovers can look forward to even more breathtaking images courtesy of the forthcoming 2021 edition of the famous London to Scotland race, billed as the highest-altitude road race. Organizers estimate that more than 300 people will participate in the foot race – a competition that has drawn international appeal due to the incredible Scottish landscape and spectacular views of Edinburgh.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just getting started, this year’s race promises to deliver fantastic images and stories. But it can be tricky to navigate the highlands effectively on your own. That’s why we’ve compiled this ultimate guide, which will take you on a tour of Scotland’s most stunning hiking trails, including tips on how to make the most of your visit.
The Edinburgh Trail
One of the most famous and most photographed city trails is located in and around the Scottish capital. There are actually several trails that crisscross the city, but the one that’s most accessible and most frequently used is the Pentland Hills Trail. This 5-mile route takes you from one of Scotland’s most vibrant and exciting cities into the verdant hills of the Highlands. You can either opt for a full circuit, which includes the northern section of the Mearns Traverse and the southern part of the Cockburn Trail, or you can take the more leisurely southern route. Either way, the stunning panoramic views of the city and its impressive collection of Scottish and European plants and animals are well worth the effort.
We recommend starting early in the morning and taking the northern route so that you get the full benefit of the sun rising over the city. The start of the hike is quite picturesque, as you’ll find a bench there with which to sit and take a break from the hustle and bustle. You’ll quickly be swept away by a sense of awe as you soak in the beauty that is Edinburgh. By the time you reach the top of the hill, you’ll be mentally and physically prepared for the rigorous walk ahead. But the view from the summit is so spectacular that you’ll definitely want to stop and take a break.
Cairngorms is the largest and most popular mountain range in the UK, and it’s only an hour or so away from the capital by car. It’s a popular choice for day hikes, with some amazing steep trails and unforgettable panoramic views. The best time to visit is between June and September, as the weather is ideally pleasant then. The best way to access the trails is by bus, which stops near the Cairngorm ski resort. Day passes allow you to access the entire network of trails, including the easy Glen Feshie and the more challenging Corbett Park and Rotten Batch trails. If you’re an adventurous traveler, you can even hire a local guide to lead you through the wilderness and bring you back to the modern day conveniences of the Cairngorms International Airport.
The Great Glen
The Great Glen is essentially a valley located between the Cairngorms and the Scottish Highlands. It’s a popular place for recreation due to its unique scenery and lush forests. The valley is surrounded by impressive mountains, and there are more than 20 trails that crisscross the Great Glen, offering spectacular views of the surrounding hills. The trails are well maintained, and it’s easy to navigate. There’s an official Great Glen app which you can use to find amenities and read about trail conditions. If you want to add another layer of adventure, you can even participate in some events, such as the Sheltie Dash, an annual dog race that takes place in May. The race is named after Queen Victoria’s dog, who is the breed’s namesake. Shelties from all over Europe and beyond flock to the Great Glen in May, competing for first prize. The best bit is that you can bring your dog with you on the trail. There’s also a trial in the UK where you can register your pet’s name and registration number, so that they can be identified in the event of an emergency.
The St. Kilda Trail
This trail is located on the remote and beautiful archipelago of St. Kilda, which is just outside of the city of Edinburgh. It’s easily one of the most photogenic spots in the British Isles – and that’s saying a lot, because there’s a reason why it’s been chosen as the Instagrammable spot of the year every year since 2014. The St. Kilda trails are actually part of Skuldyerse, the island’s network of walks. The whole island is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and that means there’s more than one way to explore it. The trails themselves are quite easy to follow, and they meander through the heather-covered moorland towards the sea. There are no roads on St. Kilda, so unless you have a 4×4 vehicle, getting around is going to be quite difficult. But that’s part of the charm of this remote and stunning place. There’s certainly no rush to get anywhere, so you can fully appreciate the unique scenery. If you visit in the autumn, you’ll see the golden colors of the heather and the red leaves which accompany it. This is one of the best places to photograph the changing colors of the season.
Although not technically in Scotland, we need to include this iconic destination on our list because it’s so close to the country. But first, let’s discuss the famous Golden Road Trip which took place in 1934. The film crew for the legendary road trip went on a quest to capture postcard-worthy vistas of the UK and beyond. They hit the road and made their way to Oban, which is located on the west coast of Scotland. It was a town at that time, but the popularity of the seaside destination grew as a retreat for those pining for the golden era of travel. It still is a favorite with photographers looking to evoke the spirit of the trip – and it’s not hard to see why. The route which they followed is still referred to as the ‘golden road’, and today it’s a well-known and popular driving route through the Highlands. It starts in Stornoway, the largest town on the islands, and meanders through the countryside to Oban. Along the way, you’ll stop at picturesque resorts such as Barra and Tarbet, which are used to advertise brands like MIELE and Braun. The route is closed to private vehicles, so you’ll have to content yourself with taking selfies on the hood of a tour bus.
So you want to get away from the crowds and head to a remote and quiet part of Scotland? Well, you can’t leave town without visiting Penny Cairn, a lonely and eerie hill which towers over the village of Gillingham. It was here that the great H. H. The Princess Alice of Wales – the future Queen albert – lost her wedding ring in 1865. The story goes that after the ceremony, the happy newlyweds made their way to the top of the craggy hill. As they looked out over the landscape, the prince slipped the band on his wife’s finger and they spent the night in a canvas tent, celebrating the union and the stunning views they had before them. Since then, the site has become a popular place for solo travelers to sit and reflect, or even for photographers looking to evoke the spirit of that special night. We recommend heading up there as soon as possible after you arrive in Scotland, as the light is fantastic and the colors are amazing. We think it’s worth the trip whether you’re visiting the site for the first time or you’re an experienced hiker looking for a more personal connection to the land of Scottish pride.