Three Short Hikes in North Scotland
Scotland has some of the world’s best hiking. Not a controversial statement, it is just true – hiking in Scotland is simply wonderful. There is just so much on offer. And while a lot of the best hikes in Scotland involve climbing mountains or heading out into the rugged wilderness, there are a plethora of more accessible options.
We all know that hiking doesn’t always have to be up mountains or over long distances. Although I love to challenge myself, I like nothing more than spending an hour or two meandering through woodland or by the sea shore, along easy to follow trails, with family and friends. Spending time outside as either a social activity or just because it is beautiful is such a good way to spend an afternoon.
In this post I want to introduce you to three short walks that you should consider if you’re heading north. Each of these is very easily accessible from the North Coast 500 road trip route, and make for an excellent way to get out of the car for a stretch in between the driving.
Rogie Falls is a series of waterfalls on the Black Water river, famous for its salmon. At the right time of year, you can watch them leap up the falls on their way to the breeding areas.
There are a two marked trails to choose from (plus a variety of unmarked ones), leading to the falls from the parking area. The Salmon Trail, marked with yellow posts, is half a mile long and takes just a few minutes to take visitors directly to the falls (to give you an idea, I’ve walked this in motorcycle boots, it’s not tough going). The slightly longer Riverside Trail comes with blue posts showing the way, taking walkers through the edge of the Torrachilty Forest and along the river bank before reaching the falls – around a mile each way. It takes you along the river towards the falls, which gives you an opportunity to get right up to the water (and in it if you so choose…), and have a good look for any fish swimming along. It’s a little uneven in places thanks to tree roots, some undulating sections and some rocky bits, but it is an easy walk for most.
When you get to the falls proper there is a suspension bridge across the Black Water river offering great views and access to the other side. Your best bet for salmon leaping is during August and September, but visit any time of year after heavy rain like we did and the falls roar with noise and rush with water.
Parking: A signposted parking area just off the A835 about 20 miles/30 mins drive from the centre of Inverness towards Ullapool.
Facilities: Public loos at the car park.
More than just a cliff face in the middle of an already breath-taking part of Scotland, Knockan Crag exposes rocks that have fascinated scientists since they were discovered in the 19th Century. Old rock sits on top of much younger rock, and you can run your hands right along it, literally allowing something like 500 million years of history to run underneath your fingertips.
I recommend the less-than-two-mile Crag Top Trail if you want the best views. A simple and easy to follow loop, the path goes along the crag, steeply up via steps and a narrow trail, along the top of the crag on the spongey peat and protective slabs, and then zig zags down the other side. You can pretty much see the car park at all times, so it isn’t a particularly long or arduous trail, but it will work your lungs and legs hard as you are gaining height very quickly. From the top we had wonderful views across Coigach and Assynt, and for miles around.
There are a number of art installations along the trail, both poetry and sculpture, created by people inspired by the area and all based on the history of the crag. More than just an excuse to stop and catch your breath, the art is beautiful and very interesting to see. It took us around an hour, including a decent length stop at the top to let the stunning view soak in. Bear in mind that the trail is very exposed at the top and so the temperature can be a lot cooler up there; waterproofs, hat and gloves are a good idea!
Parking: The visitor centre is located on the A837 around 13 miles north of Ullapool and just south of Elphin.
Facilities: Public toilets and “Rock Room” visitor centre.
Bones Caves, which sits within the North West Highlands Geopark, are named after the huge number of animal bones that were excavated here over a century ago; northern lynx, Arctic fox, brown bear and even a polar bear.
There is a wonderful short hike up to the caves, and while this is more strenuous than the other two mentioned above, it is still easily doable in an afternoon. It starts through the gate at the end of the car park and follows the river upstream. You begin by walking with the noisy and fast flowing river on your right, past waterfalls and fast flowing water, and then in an instant it disappears and the river is dry, as the water flowers underground through the valley unless there has been heavy rainfall.
As the valley narrows the caves become visible up on the cliff and you can see your destination. The path forks – there’s a rock instructing you to go right and cross the dry river bed; this is the start of the circular section of the walk. It gets quite strenuous for a short distance – the ascent is steep and the path narrow up to Creag nan Uamh (Crag of the Caves), but you can see the top from here and it's not far. There are three entrances in the limestone valley under the northern crags of Beinn an Fhuarain, named Badger, Reindeer, and Bones. If you are up for exploring inside more than a few feet you will need a torch – we hung around for a little while but didn’t venture far inside the caves.
The circuit from the car park to the caves and back is around 2.5 miles and took us around two hours at a leisurely pace including our time spent at the caves and taking photos of the waterfalls. The path was easy to navigate, and the terrain is reasonable except for one steep section where the path heads up to the caves themselves, and a few boulders to clamber over that have been brought down by the river.
Parking: Off road parking on the A837 south just south of Inchnadamph.
What are your favourite short hikes in northern Scotland? Have you done other short one or two hour bimbles when you did the North Coast 500 route? I’d love to hear from you @Splodz.
You can find more about Zoe over at Splodz Blogs where she writes about all things adventure and fitting it into a 'normal' everyday life.