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From pedalling along tranquil cycle paths to eco-friendly stays in rewilded forests, Scotland is teeming with year-round activities perfect for travelling sustainably and enjoying the country’s quieter side.
Scotland’s outdoor splendour peaks at the summit of its craggy mountains and runs right through its vast glens and valleys, passing historic woodland, centuries-old forests and expansive lochs along the way.
This scattered network of glorious hiking trails, cycling paths, woodland walks and enticing Munros (hills with more than 3,000ft elevation) make this one of Europe’s best loved destinations for getting off that beaten track. Here’s how to do it.
Take the road less travelled – on two wheels
Cycling in Scotland has always been popular, but its popularity has grown exponentially over the last decade, especially after Glasgow and Scotland hosted the inaugural combined UCI Cycling World Championships in 2023.
There are many new cycling routes to follow, including a new network of trails in Orkney, off the north coast, one of which is named after none other than 6-times Olympic gold medal-winning track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy. The new 31km ‘Hoy on Hoy’ route – opened by Sir Chris on his namesake island of Hoy – is one of 12 new routes to recently open on the archipelago; the routes showcase Orkney’s smaller islands as the perfect place to slow down and enjoy the scenery on two wheels… and without the hills!
Back on the mainland, the Kintyre 66 is another route that taps into a chunk of Scotland unknown to most: the Kintyre Peninsula, in Argyll & the Isles. Those familiar may be due to the Paul McCartney song ‘Mull of Kintyre’ – he has a home here – and you can now follow in the footsteps of a Beatle by cycling and exploring this 66-mile loop, which offers stunning views, rolling countryside and excellent seafood.
Explore Scotland’s unsung beauty on foot
There’s something to be said for lacing up your boots and breathing in the great outdoors. Thankfully, Scotland is not short of hiking trails and woodland paths to follow, and one named after one of Scotland’s most loved outdoors enthusiasts, who is celebrated as the ‘father of the National Parks system’, turns 10 in 2024.
The John Muir Way is a 134-mile coast-to-coast walking trail that runs between Helensburgh in Argyll & the Isles, to Dunbar – Muir’s birthplace – in East Lothian. On the trail you’ll pass ancient Roman forts, significant Industrial Revolution landmarks, peaceful parks and remote beaches; in its entirety it would take around 10 days to complete, but can also be done as a 3, 4 or 5 day trip.
For city dwellers, or those seeking something shorter, there’s Edinburgh the Walk. This 43-mile route takes in all seven of the city’s hills in a loop which sprawls out far beyond the Old Town to the beach at Cramond, through the peaceful River Almond Walkway and out to the Cammo Estate. Conveniently, it meets the John Muir Way for a short section before Craiglockhart and Blackford hills respectively, followed by the coastal suburb of Portobello, and culminates with a climb up Arthur’s Seat which offers amazing views across the city and over to the Kingdom of Fife, followed by a descent to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Set aside three days for this one.
Enjoy regenerative tourism and a rewilding stay
While we all like to do our bit for the planet at home, it’s equally important to do so while travelling. Fortunately, Scotland’s offer of regenerative tourism and rewilding stays tick all those eco boxes: whether it’s staying in a cosy woodland cabin where profits are invested back into the surrounding family-owned forest, or touring one of the country’s newest rewilding projects.
An example of the former can be found overlooking the banks of Loch Broom, at Ecotone Cabins Ullapool in the northwest Highlands. A result of the Planterose family, who own both the surrounding Leckmelm Forest and an ecological timber construction company, this pair of log cabins were built with slowing down in mind; the renewable heating sources and sheep’s wool used as insulation further their credentials.
Then there’s the award-winning Dundreggan, a Trees for Life initiative in Glenmoriston, near Loch Ness. This rewilding centre is a world-first: set across 10,000 roaming acres of gorgeous Scottish forestry, the aim is to plant 100,000 trees each year. Through its visitor centre and surrounding woodland, guests can enjoy year-round activities, guided walks and talks, and can even stay at its purpose-built accommodation An Spiris, with profits reinvested in the rewilding project.
Find inner peace at a secluded wellness retreat
Not much rivals a relaxing spa experience at a five-star resort – of which Scotland has many – but how about a yoga retreat for truly stepping off that well-beaten path and unwinding in style? Not just any yoga retreat, either: one with mischievous sheep.
Sheepy Sleepovers, based in Loch Lomond near Glasgow, combine mindfulness with, well, sheep, on a three-day countryside retreat which also includes sound healing, meditation and off-site excursions. You’ll be joined by the jovial sheep during all on-site wellness activities and will sleep in a converted barn complete with log burning fire and board games. Ewe heard it here first. (Sorry.)
Or, how about a straight-forward yoga retreat in Glencoe, amid one of Scotland’s most breathtaking landscapes. Wild Yoga Glencoe’s authentic wellness experiences combine the ethereal, and often brooding, mountainous backdrop of Glen Coe with mindfulness activities like wild swimming, meditation, hiking and, of course, yoga, in small focused groups. Accommodation at off-the-beaten-track bothies is included, so feeling spiritual in the Scottish ‘wilderness’ has never been easier.
Plan a relaxing trip to Scotland and find out more about off the beaten track highlights at VisitScotland.
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