I am often asked by walkers who have spent their life to date walking In England “How does it compare to walking in Scotland, particularly the mountains (the Highlands)”. The first thing I always reply is that ‘it is bloody hard work’….pause for a while and then add ‘but very rewarding’. It is difficult to describe the differences until you have actually climbed a good peak in Scotland but I have had a go at the 5 main differences.
To illustrate the differences I have also added some photos which I took a couple of weekends ago which help emphasise how walking in Scotland can be very different. These photos were taken on a weekend trip: on the Saturday myself and Alistair were battling blizzard conditions on the Cairngorm plateau, the following day I was basking in glorious sunshine on Ben Aden within the remote region which is the Rough Bounds of Knoydart.
My 5 main differences are:
1. Remoteness: Many of the mountains in Scotland are truly remote and difficult to get at. On Ben Aden (for example) we canoed down Loch Quoich to avoid what was probably a 10 hour walking day in rough terrain. On other occasions the distance from the nearest road means that an overnight stop in the hills is needed, either wild camping or a stay in one of the remote bothies that dot the wilder areas. They may not be much but they are a fantastic service to us walkers. Even in the Lake District or Wales you are never far from the road, probably no more than 2 hours if you pick the correct direction!
2. Rough Terrain: Many of the mountains are trackless (although most of the Munros are less so) and if you are not on the path it is very hard work. Try walking around Kinder Scout for a few hours to get the idea. Although there are Rights of Way in Scotland they are not usually of much use to the walkers, you will end up on rough paths that stalkers follow or hill walkers have made.
3. Weather: It really is worse or at least more extreme – my weekend a few weeks ago and the photos will prove that. Yes the mountains are higher which obviously makes a difference but Scottish weather is wetter (on the western side where most of the best mountains are) and snow lasts in many places till high summer. If you check out my account of my completion of the Munros and their associated tops you will find some stats on the weather on the summits. For 37 of the 284 main Munros I was in sun on the top.
4. After Walking: The challenge of Scotland does not end when the day’s walking finishes. Even when you hit the road at the end of the walk there may be nowhere civilised for miles around. Villages are a long way apart and, Scots may not like me saying this, many of the pubs and hotels could do with a facelift. Do not expect comfort, food is not always particularly imaginative and it may be ludicrously expensive to stay. There are honourable exceptions but they are so good they really do stand out – there is unlikely to be a warm, comfortable English pub as can be found in the Dales or Lakes.
5. Midge: It would be remiss of me not to mention these horrific creatures. Many a camping trip is ruined by them, even getting in or out of a car can be an ordeal. Its difficult to describe how unpleasant they are unless you have ventured in to a storm of them. I have ended up running for a mile after an 8 hour walk just to try and avoid them.
Having said all that walking the mountains in Scotland is a fantastic experience, the best in the country by far. The Scottish mountains would probably take 17 or 18 of Britain’s top 20 if I am being honest and, if you get them on a good day, it brings memories that will last a lifetime; Ladhar Bheinn, the Cuillin, Tom Dubh, Ben Aden (last week) and the Aonach Eagach are just a few for me that go back nearly 30 years. Even the ones in appalling weather I look back on with fondness.
Scottish mountain walking is just so much harder than in England, do not take it lightly.
I am writing this blog partly because next weekend I am heading up to Mull to accompany my brother Alistair on his final Munro. That means all 3 of us brothers will have completed them (I believe unique but I may be wrong) and it really does feel like the end of an era. I will still carry on with trips there, picking and choosing mountains I like (as it should be) but the days of the big expeditions are probably over. Scottish walking does that to you; it may be tough, at times horrific but utterly memorable.
Update 29th May 2006: Alistair duly completed his final Munro in perfect summer conditions:
Enjoy your walking
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