Scotish Highland Day Hikes? in November?
November 15, 2013 7:19 AM   Subscribe

So last time I was in the UK I asked about day hikes outside of London. This time, I'm looking for day hikes in the Scottish Highlands... and I'm even more overwhelmed.

I'll be located near the village of Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness (about middle on the western side) for 5 days, with no wifi, a car, and a stockpile of tea, books and scotch. I will most definitely be visiting at least one castle, with my longest planned trip (fine, only) is to Eilean Donan Castle.

I would like to spend one-two days doing some hiking- under 6-7miles, so not too strenuous (also it's november, and I'm no fool wrt to weather. I know it's going to be foggy, damn, cold and miserable- I'm actually looking forward to it).

I've looked at this map of the "great scottish trails" and browsed many other websites, I can't seem to find what I need; I don't need an epic 90mile journey. I want to wake up, go walk through some interesting country side, and then head home, wash up, cook up some dinner and sleep. Driving too/from the hike is not an issue- we're willing to do up to 3hrs each way for particularly wonderful scenery.

Any suggestions? Major bonus points for any prehistory/forts/historic neat things.

Assume myself and my travel companions hike 8-10mile hikes 3-4x a year, we're traveling with hiking boots and waterproof gear, are prepared for the weather, and know enough about general hiking to not get ourselves into too much trouble.
posted by larthegreat to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well there's this walk, as suggested in the Guardian. It's an hour's drive from where you'll be.

6. Loch Carriagean cairn, Inverness-shire

A real secret. "On the road to Boat of Garten from Aviemore there's this cairn, about 4,000 years old." Before the age of steam, the cairn and its sister cairns lay on the old drovers' road north. But when the railway arrived the laying of the track cut it off, isolating it from visitors. "I discovered it because I read a description of it in an old book," says Diarmid. "You walk across this heathland and here's this series of cairns – it looks like a burial field." To walk from Aviemore takes an hour. "It looks exactly as described in 1910. It's a wee hidden gem."

• To get there, head out of Aviemore on the B9152 going towards Boat of Garten. After about 2km turn right into the road to the Quarry (grid ref: 901 148 on the OS Explorer Map 403, 1:25000). Follow this wee road and cross over the bridge at the railway line. Turn left and follow the track for about 1km to Loch nan Carriagean. The cairn is by the loch with a big Scots pine growing in the middle of the circle.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:44 AM on November 15, 2013

Just one thing to bear in mind if this is happening any time in the next few months - remember it'll be dark by about 3.30pm and plan accordingly - makes it tougher to drive 3 hours to get somewhere and still have time for a decent walk in daylight.
posted by penguin pie at 7:46 AM on November 15, 2013

Eilean Donan is right near the Skye bridge, and there's lots of good walking to be had on Skye - anything round the Cuilins should be good. But you may fall foul of the very short days trying to fit more than one outdoor thing in a day. In that area of Scotland most walks are pretty awesome. I think if I were in your position I'd get hold of a local Ordnance Survey map (e.g. one of these). They show the location of trails as well as forts, ruins, caves, stone circles etc. and between that and the contours it shouldn't be too hard to find something good.
posted by gnimmel at 8:16 AM on November 15, 2013

It's happening next week... so thanks for the reminder about daylight...
posted by larthegreat at 8:26 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Last night's weather report predicted a fairly sharp drop in temperature next week. Keep an eye on the weather and dress appropriately.
posted by epo at 8:41 AM on November 15, 2013

Since you are driving to Eilean Donan, it is not very far to the Applecross peninsula, one of my absolute favourite places in the world, lochs, mountains, the sea, heather and bracing wind. Pretty much everywhere you stop you find a hike, shorter or longer, and you could stay overnight to make the extra hour or two of driving pay off. Here is an Applecross blog (scroll down to "Applecross visitors advert" where he also mentions some walks). Here a write-up on Loch Toridon, which is in the northern part of the peninsula. Here walks in and around Applecross, graded by time and difficulty level, with printable maps, downloadable to google earth etc.

You get to Applecross via the A890/A896, one of the most spectacular roads imaginable, through Lochcarron, and then at some point you turn left into the peninsula, into a narrow road with passing places that winds along the shore. Accommodation in the peninsula itself can be a bit sticky, but there are such cool places as this, if you manage to get a one-night deal, or this. Here (prices per week) some more B&Bs in Applecross village itself, where you can also eat the most amazing seafood, if things are as they were ... um... 10 - 12 years ago.

An alternative would be Loch Morar, further south, still on the west coast, also very beautiful, you can stay in Morar, Arisaig or Mallaig for the night. Here a useful link for these.

I don't think I've ever missed anywhere as I miss Scotland right now! Enjoy it, wherever you end up going!
posted by miorita at 8:45 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

You'll be super close to Glen Affric, which is spectacular and had several loops, so you can make your hike as long as you wish. The river trails are great and it's worth taking the extra time to visit Plodda falls as well.
posted by j.edwards at 9:12 AM on November 15, 2013

And this is actually properly pushing it and probably unfeasible for you, but I'll leave it here in case you ever find yourself on the west coast - one of my favourite walks ever was from Gairloch, then Melvaig to the Rua Reidh Lighthouse, as far as I remember, not at all a long walk. Again, you are along the shoreline, all rugged and sea-beaten . When we were there, the wind and the currents were hurtling waves against the rocks so hard that the water was exploding upwards through the cracks, then scattered in that otherworldly light you sometimes get in Scotland in thousands of rainbow-coloured droplets. Sort of reminded me of Kubla Khan.
posted by miorita at 9:14 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure exactly where you are, but if you have the chance, visit Fort William and climb Ben Nevis. I was told, when I was there, that it's the highest mountain in Great Britain.

The hike (up and down) takes about 6 hours, and the view from the top is gorgeous. The first part is obviously all up-hill but I don't remember it being horribly strenuous.

There is a visitor's centre at the entrance to the park that can give you all the info you need to prepare. The great thing is you can't get lost simply going up and down a mountain.
posted by winterportage at 9:26 AM on November 15, 2013

WalkHighlands is a great site in general for walks in Scotland, from short strolls to serious hikes, mostly nothing longer than a few hours. Good maps, directions and GPS downloads of routes. Very trustworthy in my experience - but if it says "paths may be muddy", assume that in November they will be very muddy indeed!

Also, echoing the earlier reminder to be careful about daylight. You will have about 7 hours of daylight - use them wisely!
posted by Catseye at 9:30 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding the hike to Ben Nevis. Just watch the forecast and bring warm, dry clothing. That mtn is similar to Mt Washington in the rapid change of conditions at the top. When I did it, it was dry and sunny at the base, and completely socked in at the top.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:41 AM on November 15, 2013

I would be very cautious about attempting Ben Nevis, or any serious mountain hike, in late November. You will be cutting it really fine in terms of daylight if you can even manage to complete the walk before dark, and you'll likely be dealing with snow and ice nearer the top - the mountaintops nearer me already have snow, and we're further south. Unless you have experience with mountains in winter and you are confident about going up with crampons and an ice axe and experience in using them, I would not advise risking it.
posted by Catseye at 9:52 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have experience with iceclimbing/and winter mountaneering, but I am not bringing technical gear on this trip, and that's a bit beyond what I'm comfortable doing on my own in a foreign country. (and I'm just traveling with carry-ons, so def no crampons or ice-axes).

We'd discounted Ben Nevis because of the time of year already, although we would have been happy to attempt that in summer.

but so far wonderful ideas. The Glen Affric looks pretty awesome for a short trip, and since we're planning on heading up very early to Eilean Donan, we can definitely drive up to the Isle of Skye and hike around there, (apparently there's also dinosaur mueseum at staffin?).

Since November appears to be a bit of the offseason are there any recommendations for particular distilleries or the like that we can swing by after a hike? aka a good hike within driving distance of your fav distillery?
posted by larthegreat at 10:00 AM on November 15, 2013

OK, this may be a bit far but it's a combination I've done before that was great: the Fairy Pools on Skye and the Talisker distillery (also on Skye, a few miles further in roughly the same direction). Warning: although the distances are not great the roads (particularly the one to the Fairy Pools path and the one to Carbost) are tiny little windy single track ones, so it will take longer to drive than it looks.
posted by gnimmel at 10:10 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did Ben Nevis in late November... no need for ice crampons or anything like that, it's a walking hike (no climbing), although I guess the weather could be different this year. We managed to make it down right as sun was setting so we cut it a little close. But I think we started out a bit late due to not being morning people.
posted by winterportage at 12:35 PM on November 15, 2013

So far we've done Glen Affric (plodda falls) and are aiming for the isle of skye fairy pools tomorrow.

The snow is actually the biggest issue, since its harder to see the trails with the dusting on the ground.
posted by larthegreat at 1:46 PM on November 19, 2013

Did the fairy pools in Isle of skye + talisker distillery (although due to hail/sleet/fog) we def didn't spend as much time hiking as we would have liked. It was a bit windy by talisker (nearly lost my hat) but definitely worth the trip.

Thanks for the help!
posted by larthegreat at 2:44 PM on November 20, 2013

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