Scotland – beautiful, dramatic, scenic. And a country that is becoming more and more popular with tourists every year, especially for people wanting to go walking and hiking in Scotland’s magnificent hills.
We’re not surprised. Scotland has incredible mountains, stunning lochs, and miles upon miles of empty sandy beaches.
But how would you feel if we told you there’s a whole part of Scotland tourists are not seeing?
We will let you into a secret. Scotland has hidden hiking routes and paths that you can walk for days without seeing a single person – it’s not just a myth, it’s very true. And we’re going to show you how to find them.
Just make sure you have a good lightweight rainproof and midge-proof tent. Both are very important when walking and hiking in Scotland! Two great value options which we recommend would be this one, or this one.
So where are these hidden hiking routes?
Drovers’ roads – Scotland’s hidden hiking gem
Scotland is full of drovers’ roads – old routes, used for centuries by farmers to bring animals from one side of the country to the other. These paths criss-cross the width and breadth of the country, and the Scottish Highlands in particular, is full of them.
These routes still exist, and while not signposted, you can make out many of the centuries-old paths if you have a map and know where to look.
These paths take you through Scottish glens, up mountains, around lochs, and along the sea, and they’re as rural as you can get – don’t expect a phone signal, but don’t expect to see anyone else either.
As the country gets more popular, drovers’ roads remain one of the few places you can go walking and hiking in Scotland and feel as through you’ve been transported back to medieval times.
Let us warn you though, they may be called “roads”, but the vast majority of drovers’ roads are nothing like it. Some are barely paths, some are nothing at all – just rocky ground and boggy terrain. Expect to go over rivers, and up mountains. These are routes that hardy well-weathered Scots and their animals took so you will need proper hiking boots, and a good level of fitness.
One of our contributors took one of them recently, making their way from east to west, with a storm cooker, a tent, and a healthy dose of motivation – although not much motivation is needed when hiking for three days in some of Scotland’s most beautiful and untouched landscapes.
And one of the best things about hiking in Scotland is the ability to camp anywhere – yes anywhere! Scotland has a right to roam in the country, so you can walk through estates, over mountains, just wherever (within reason of course, just don’t go walking around someone’s front lawn!).
With that right to roam comes the right to wild camp – just make sure your tent is set up away from buildings, roads, paths, and out of people’s way. Wild camping like this is truly one of the best ways to experience Scotland – you can find more about wild camping in Scotland here.
How to plan your trip
So how to find these hidden hiking routes?
Well, if you’re a local, it’s easy. Locals grow up knowing about many of the roads and paths that can stretch on for tens of miles in the rural landscape around them.
But if you’re a visiting walker (from abroad or even from another part of Scotland), and you want to go hiking in Scotland, these locally-known routes are barely even marked out on modern maps, if not at all.
What you need, is a little know-how to find Scotland’s best hiking paths.
A few maps from decades ago still have these routes set out – such as the one above which has some of the major routes.
If you use resources such as that map in conjunction with the incredible project Heritage Paths (it’s a project where Scots can write about drover roads in their own communities), then you’re guaranteed to start finding these hidden Scottish hiking routes.
And the best thing is, you could have them all to yourself for days. That is, you could go hiking in Scotland – one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and the world – and yet have some of the country all to yourself. How good does that sound?
How to find these paths:
To do this takes a bit of planning.
First, you need to decide on a general region or direction you wish to go. Maybe you want to hike Scotland from east to west, without walking on a concrete road or seeing a car, for example.
With your direction and goal in mind, identify the region of Scotland you want to start in, and use a drovers’ road map (like the one posted above) to see if there are any major routes in or near that region.
Once you have one – locate roughly where it starts (you can also use a modern map at the same time to help work out where it is likely to start), and then search Heritage Paths to find drovers’ roads in that exact region. We guarantee you’re going to find your route!
Furthermore, many of these drovers’ roads connect to each other, so let the local knowledge in Heritage Paths guide you to where those connections are – it could be a loch, or prominent mountain, some derelict croft houses or an old hiking path.
Heritage Paths have written descriptions of many of the old drovers’ routes including information on where they start and how to find them. It’s an invaluable resource that very few people (even in Scotland) know about.
With a little bit of work, you will find a medieval route that has been used for centuries by Scottish farmers, where you can hike to your heart’s content, while witnessing Scotland at its most rugged, rural, and unspoiled, beauty. It is walking and hiking in Scotland at its most true level.
Many of these drovers’ routes also have bothies along their routes – small buildings that have a place to sleep, and often a fireplace – where walkers and hikers are allowed to stay the night for free. You can find out if there are any bothies near some of the routes you are thinking about by checking out the Mountain Bothies Association website here.
However in exchange for such a beautiful country, God gave Scotland a lot of rain! So if you want to cook or make yourself a well deserved cup of coffee on your hike, a storm cooker is a must. The best brand on the market, in our opinion, is the Swedish made Trangia storm cooker. These little stoves are virtually indestructible.
Below are some must-know tips for hiking Scotland’s hidden paths.
A few tips for hiking the drovers’ roads:
- Print out the best directions you can and take them with you – even better to laminate them or keep in a plastic folder. It will rain. A compass or a phone with GPS capability would be a fantastic idea.
- There are many different water sources in Scotland, but try and make sure you pinpoint a few on your route before leaving. Take plenty of water, but remember to top up at any streams you find – the water is fine to drink in Scotland, actually it’s really fresh and tasty (as far as water goes!). A collapsible water bottle like this one could be a very useful purchase.
- If you’re camping, make sure your tent is midge-proof. These small blood-sucking flies (much smaller than mosquitoes) come in swarms of thousands and your tent must not have holes in it that are big enough to let them through. A mosquito-proof tent is not a midge-proof tent – we can’t emphasize that enough!
- Do not leave rubbish in bothies, and take any trash with you. These hidden hiking routes are known by locals and that’s it, and they use them too. Scots are always happy to see people enjoy the undiscovered parts of their beautiful country, but only if they respect it.
- Blister plasters! And put them on at any sign of a blister forming – don’t wait. Expect all different types of terrain.
- When going to the toilet you should do it far from water sources, such as rivers and lakes. Make sure to use a trowel (such as this folding one) to bury any human waste, don’t just leave it out in the open.
Recommended reading for your trip to Scotland
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