Walking Scotland's Highlands and Hebrides

Walking Scotland's Highlands and Hebrides

» Featured Columnists | By Steve Winston | November 28, 2012 10:34 AM ET

In the northwest of Scotland, offshore from the storied Highlands, lie the Inner and Outer Hebrides islands. Here, in a place of misty moors, high heather, and legendary lochs, are some of the best walking lands in Britain.
On a walk around the Hebrides, you can experience the historic essence of Scotland. You can touch, you can see, and you can feel, from the damp, fragrant earth to the warm fires by the hearth, from the distant lilt of bagpipes to the traditional ways that still live on. And a company called English Lakeland Ramblers can take you there, on guided walks that will give you an intimate insight into these lands and the people who inhabit them. .
These walks will ramble through both the Highlands, scene of so many legends and so much triumph and tragedy, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. You'll see majestic Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. In Moidart, a remote and wild region of the Scottish Highlands, you'll retrace the route of Bonnie Prince Charlie after he landed in Scotland and declared himself king; and along the way, you'll gain insight into the centuries-long conflict between Scotland and England, from the Middle Ages up to the 1700's.
At Eilean Donan Castle, whose dramatic stone face is one of the most enduring images of Scotland. The walls have echoes of the colorful personalities who once lived here; this is the ancestral home of the MacKenzie Clan, At Quiraing, a bunch of striking rock features formed by lava from ancient eruptions shoot up from the earth, and the views of the surrounding countryside are wonderful. Dunvegan Castle is another place where the footsteps of the ancients still echo; ancestral home of the Chiefs of MacLeod, it's the oldest continuously-inhabited castle in Scotland.
The route also takes in the prehistoric stone monument known as the Standing Stones of Callanish. You'll take a boat across Loch Roag (no monsters in this loch!), to the island of Great Bernera, with a village straight out of a history book. And you'll walk the ancient mountain footpath connecting the tiny villages of Rhenigadal and Urgha, on the Isle of Harris.
Two nights are spent on the Isle of Skye, where you'll get a chance to browse the colorful shops of Portree, the largest town on the island. You'll also see the Fairy Pools, a series of pools and waterfalls formed by the Allt Coir' a' Mhadaidh stream flowing down from the mountains. Three nights are spent on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. There's an impressive grouping of prehistoric ruins here, and you'll find yourself wondering why, how, and who.
You'll walk along quiet sandy beaches caressed by foamy salt-water breezes, and overlooked by heather-filled cliffs and wildflower-filled meadows. And you'll do so with the knowledge that a comfortable bed and good food await at the end of each day's walk. (Walks generally cover 4-7 miles daily, with one 10-miler. And elevation gains are a relatively modest 400' to 1500.')
Evenings will be spent in distinctive inns and hotels offering warm Scottish ambience and excellent food. All of them are set in beautiful countryside, and are convenient to cozy country lanes for wandering and meeting the locals. And many have tranquil gardens.
Scotland's a feast for the senses. And on walks through the Highlands and the Hebrides, your senses will be in for a feast that will stay with you forever.

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