Walking and cycling in Ross-shire and the Highlands from Big Sky Lodges
The countryside on either side of Big Sky Lodges contrasts starkly. To the east is the Black Isle, one of the richest agricultural areas in Scotland, with many attractions for visitors. Cromarty, at its eastern edge, is a wonderful mix of old buildings, one of the most interesting villages in Scotland. This whole area is great for wildlife lovers, with the best dolphin-watching areas in the UK, as well as frequently seen and magnificent Red Kites.
West of Dingwall the landscape is much more rugged, with fine woodland walks alongside the Blackwater river, with Rogie Falls only one example of the wondeful cascades in this area. Higher up the valley becomes hemmed in by ever higher mountains, with Ben Wyvis a true giant with magnificent views. This area also boasts Strathconon, one of the longest and most peaceful glens in Scotland – a great place to explore. Page down for footpaths around Muir of Ord map.
In Scotland a hill is rarely just a hill. Depending on where you are in the country, what it’s shaped like and how high it is, a hill might be a ben, a mount, a law, a pen, a brae or even a pap. Even more confusing if you’re keen on doing a bit of hillwalking are “Munros”. These are the hills in Scotland over 3000 feet in height, defined by a list first drawn up by one Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. You “bag” a Munro by walking to the top of it, and once you’ve bagged all 284 you can call yourself a Munroist and let your chiropodist retire in peace. Of course, there’s no need to do them all: at heart, Munro-bagging is simply about appreciating the great Scottish outdoors. It’s advisable, however, not to get too obsessed by Sir Hugh’s challenge: after the Munros you might hear the call of the “Corbetts” (hills between 2500 and 2999 feet) or even the “Donalds” (lowland hills above 2000 feet).
Walking and climbing
The whole of Scotland offers superb opportunities for hillwalking and the freedom to roam responsibly in wilder parts of the countryside, with some of the finest Highland climbing areas in the ownership of bodies such as the National Trust for Scotland and the John Muir Trust (www.jmt.org); both permit year-round access. Bear in mind, though, restrictions may be in place during lambing and deerstalking seasons. It’s worthwhile picking up the booklet Hill Phones published by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS; www.mountaineering-scotland.org.uk), which provides walkers with detailed information for hiking safely during the stalking season. In addition, the green signposts of the Scottish Rights of Way Society point to established paths and routes all over the country.
There are several Long-Distance Footpaths (LDPs), such as the well-known West Highland Way, which take between three and seven days to walk, though you can, of course, just do a section of them. Paths are generally well signposted and well supported, with a range of services from bunkhouses to baggage-carrying services, and are a great way to respond to the challenge of walking in Scotland without taking on the dizzy heights.
The excellent and reliable Ordnance Survey (OS) series are usually available from local tourist offices, which can also supply other local maps, safety advice and guidebooks/leaflets. A wide range of maps, are available from most of the good outdoor stores scattered around the country (most notably Tiso), which are normally staffed by experienced climbers and walkers, and are a good source of candid advice about the equipment you’ll need and favourite hiking areas.
For relatively gentle walking in the company of knowledgeable locals, look out for guided walks offered by rangers at many National Trust for Scotland, Forest Enterprise and Scottish Natural Heritage sites. These often focus on local wildlife, and the best can lead to some special sightings, such as a badger’s sett or a golden eagle’s eyrie.
Daily information for hill walkers about deerstalking activities (July– Oct).
All you need to know about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
wildlife highlights the fauna and flora you may spot on a walk.