Scotland is unsurpassed for those who like to walk and hike across mountain and dale, coming to rest on the bonnie, bonnie banks of a loch.
In all of Scotland, there are no finer long-distance footpaths than the West Highland Way and the Southern Upland Way. The West Highland Way begins north of Glasgow, in the town of Milngavie, the Southern Upland Way in Portpatrick, in the Dumfries and Galloway region. Information on these paths is provided by the Scottish Tourist Board, 94 Ocean Dr., Edinburgh EH6 6JH (tel. 0845/225-5121; www.visitscotland.com). Nearly all bookstores in Scotland sell guides documenting these paths.
The Borders is one of the greatest places for walks. All tourist boards in the area provide a free guide, Walking in the Scottish Borders, detailing half-day scenic walks around the various towns. Scotland's longest footpath, the 341km (212-mile) Southern Upland Way, also extends through the Borders.
The magnificent coastline of Galloway, southwest of the Borders, is ideal for walks. Tourist offices distribute a free guide to 30 walks, Walking in Dumfries and Galloway. They also offer a helpful pamphlet called Ranger-Led Walks and Events, outlining scenic hikes through the forests of the southwest.
In central Scotland, the Cairngorm region offers the major concentration of ski resorts in the country, including Ben Macdui, the second-highest peak in Britain at nearly 1,304m (4,278 ft.). In the Cairngorm Ski Area, Cairngorm Rangers offer guided walks through the forest to skilled and beginning hikers alike. The Glenmore Forest Park Visitors Centre (tel. 01479/861-220) dispenses information on great walks in the area. It's open daily from 9am to 5pm.
The best self-led tours of the Scottish Highlands and islands are offered by Bespoke Highland Tours, Tigh Na Creig, Ross-shire (tel. 01854/612-628; www.highland-tours.co.uk). It has devised a series of treks, lasting from 5 to 12 days, including the West Highland Way, that take in the finest scenery in Scotland. Their tours are reasonably priced, ranging from £350 to £470.
You can arrange with a company such as Easyways, Haypark Business Centre, Marchmont Avenue, Polmont, Falkirk (tel. 01324/714-132; www.easyways.com), to make all your bookings during an extended hike along such trails as the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way, Rob Roy Way, and St. Cuthbert's Way. The staff will take care of sending your luggage ahead, so you don't have to walk with heavy backpacks.
With North-West Frontiers, Tigh Na Crieg, Garve Road, Ullapool, Ross-shire (tel. 01997/421-474; www.nwfrontiers.com), you can explore remote glens, magnificent mountains and lochs, and isolated islands and beaches. You're likely to see seals, deer, and many species of birds, including divers and golden eagles. Unlike Bespoke , these tours are led by experienced hikers who know the countryside as if it were their backyard.
Some of the most memorable walks in Scotland are along Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. At tourist centers and various bookstores in Scotland, you can purchase a copy of Walk Loch Lomond and the Trossachs to guide you on your way.
An organization that can put you in touch with like-minded hikers is the Ramblers Association (Scotland), Kingfisher, Auld Mart Business Park, Milnathort, Kinross KY13 9DA (tel. 01577/861-222; www.ramblers.org.uk/scotland). To book a rambling tour before you go to Scotland, contact the English Lakeland Ramblers, 15404 Beachview Dr., Montclair, VA 22025 (tel. 800/724-8801 or 703/680-4276; www.ramblers.com).
Offering guided walking and hiking tours on a daily basis from Edinburgh, Walkabout Scotland, 2F2, 70 Strathearn Rd., Edinburgh (tel. 0845/686-1344; www.walkaboutscotland.com), specializes in jaunts through the Highlands. A different tour for each day of the week is offered, tackling different grades of walks. From backpackers to millionaires, the ages of clients range from 16 to 69. Longer walking holidays throughout Scotland can also be booked, including to such fabled spots as Glen Nevis, Glencoe, Loch Lomond, and the Isle of Arran.
C-N-Do Scotland (tel. 01786/445-703; www.cndoscotland.com) has been organizing hiking tours since 1984. It knows the Scottish landscapes well, and hooks up its patrons with the best in hiking, good Scottish food, wildlife viewing, and what it terms (accurately) "a palette-full of panoramas."
English Lakeland Ramblers (tel. 800/724-8801 or 703/680-4276; www.ramblers.com) features a walking tour of Skye and the Outer Isles. The tour spends 2 nights on Skye, plus 3 on the Outer Hebridean Islands of Lewis and Harris. Passengers walk along hills and dales, mountain screes and grassy moors, and lakes and gushing waterfalls. Later they can explore old Scottish villages, stopping off perhaps at a pub for a wee dram of Scotch.