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This part of the world is stunning and unlike anywhere else. It can also be tough to cross, but that’s the challenge. here are a few walks on Scotland’s coast that you might like to try.
The one thing you’ll probably realise, once you’ve committed to traversing Scotland, coast to coast, is that the country’s a lot bigger than you think. Possessing over 10,000 miles of coastline (mainland and islands combined), it’s clear that The Proclaimers weren’t exaggerating when they pledged to walk 500 miles – the mainland alone measures 6,160 miles of glorious coastline (sorry).
Consisting of sandy pastures, estuarine firths, promontories and sea lochs, this part of the world is stunning and unlike anywhere else. It can also be tough to cross, but that’s the challenge. While we aren’t suggesting you tackle the entire length, here are a few walks on Scotland’s coast that you might like to try:
Starting you off with a fairly short one, this part of the Fife coastal path is especially popular with bird watchers, who may be able to spot eiders and puffins. The delightfully-named Pittenweem is a cobbled fishing village, known for St Fillan’s Cave and the Tolbooth Tower, in which a local woman was jailed for witchcraft. From Pittenweem, you’ll reach Anstruther, the largest of the East Neuk fishing ports. Take the bridge or stepping stones to cross the Dreel Burn and enter the harbour, from which you can walk either along the road or the stone beach (at low tide) to Cellardyke.
Cellardyke is what you might consider a ‘traditional Scottish village’ and it’s from this point that you will pick up a grassy path which offers incredible views of the Isle of May (to which boat trips are available) and Bass Rock. Get your cameras ready as you approach The Coves – a collection of strange and holey rock formations. Follow the path along the sea and Crail should be in sight. The pretty harbour with its chocolate box cottages is well worth a visit before you hop on the bus back to Pittenweem. This route measures about six miles and should take around two and a half hours.
The eerily-named Cape Wrath Trail is one of the most loved and most difficult of all Scotland's coastal walks. It's a 200-mile route which is situated in the north west of the country, taking in some absolutely glorious, rugged landscape. The challenge, other than the route's length, is that it isn't officially marked, meaning that it's probably one which only the most experienced walkers should attempt. However, it also means that you can choose your path to an extent. It starts in Fort William and ends, unsurprisingly, in Cape Wrath which, incidentally, is as far north as you can travel on the western side of the UK's mainland.
To walk the entire route usually takes around three weeks, but naturally, you can opt for smaller chunks – such as from Fort William to Glenfinnan. A ferry ride to the small hamlet of Camusnagaul, over Little Loch Broom, might trick you into thinking this is a genteel trot. Don’t be fooled; at nearly 22 miles and with an ascent reaching 562m, you’ll need some ten hours to complete the leg, which continues via rocky footpaths along the Ardgour Peninsula, through Cona Glen and finally to Glenfinnan, a beautiful village in which you’ll be able to bed down for the night and get a good meal.
At the other end of this epic trail is the Sandwood Bay to Cape Wrath section. While this is a shorter route, measuring closer to eight miles, it’s a difficult one which necessitates some pre-planning. You’ll need to make sure that the bus or ferry is running from Cape Wrath and that there is no firing on the Cape Wrath Ministry of Defence firing range – just small details! From Sandwood Bay, you’ll encounter lochs, streams, bogs, sandy paths and fences to climb; so be prepared. The route encompasses the Strath Cailleach River, the Cnoc a’ Gheodha Ruaidh hill and Keisaig River before you stumble across the Cape Wrath headland. It’s a wild and strenuous journey but one which perfectly shows the beauty of this part of the world.
Another of the ‘Great Scottish Walks’ is the Kintyre Way in the south west of Scotland. A newish route, it’s recently been redefined, removing around five miles of previously dangerous road walking. It spans some 100 miles of coast from Tarbert to Machrihanish, but is divided up into several stages. This trail is mostly well marked, but there are some more isolated stretches, such as those contained within the Skipness to Clachan leg. Though this starts comfortably enough on the road, offering unparalleled views of Arran, it soon leads to some beautifully-described “desolate moors of tussocky grass before beginning to descend through forestry plantations”. You’ll need boots that offer decent ankle support. Clachan itself is another pretty village and though small, boasts a couple of restaurants and nearby B&Bs.
The last leg begins in Southend and is a hilly, tricky walk which is partially pathless. The terrain is rough going in parts and if you’re visiting after it’s been raining, expect boggy patches. This is the toughest stage of the Kintyre Way, but it does offer some of the best views and if you’re looking for something that ‘takes you away from it all’, this is the (18 mile long) walk for you. You’ll pass highlights including St Columba’s chapel, a plethora of impressive caves and signposts for the famous Mull of Kintyre – though this isn’t on the Way, you’ll need to head to the most south-western point on the peninsula, near Campbeltown.
Back to the trail, you’ll climb hills, cross heather-covered moors and be able to enjoy the countryside undisturbed. The path continues past through Largiebaan Wildlife Reserve and inland hugging the Innean Glen, through farmland to eventually bring you out at Machrihanish, where you may be able to spot seals.
Scotland is strewn with long, difficult coastal walks – why not challenge yourself? You’ll be well rewarded with unforgettable views and incredible stories about this lesser explored part of the UK.
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