Adventure Through Scotland Like A Local

Crumbling Castles, Waterfalls, and Legendary Views

By Neil Robertson, Travel Writer

Felicity—a 20-something travel lover—has teamed up with her friends from around the world to provide readers with local, insider knowledge of today’s most awe-inspiring destinations. Through writing, photography, and video, they’ll share the best tricks and tips for experiencing a place authentically and getting off the beaten path.

Ancient castles, grim battlefields, and rugged ruins loom large in the minds of most when they think of Scotland, likely including you, Felicity! Peaks, glens, and isolated islands aren’t far behind. Merging history with nature, this land is abundant with opportunities for walking in the footsteps of legends and getting off the beaten path. Since you’re the adventurous type and always in search of mythic ruins, here are three incredible walks that show off some of Scotland’s finest.

View of Scottish agricultural landscape

Photo: Neil Robertson

Bridging the Highlands and the Lowlands

With the vast majority of Scotland’s population concentrated in the Central Belt, finding serenity there is no easy task. There’s one little oasis, however, that springs to mind above all others. Dollar Glen can be found in Clackmannanshire, spreading out from the pretty town of Dollar and north into the Ochil Hills.

The Ochils, best viewed from the city of Stirling, run horizontally across much of Central Scotland and provide something of a natural starting point to the promise of the Highlands. Walking options (a.k.a. “hiking,” in America) of all lengths and difficulties are to be found if you look hard enough, but Dollar Glen is the place to start. Beginning in the town, follow the signposted paths uphill towards the luscious vastness of the Glen. Prepare for waterfalls, ravines, and an environment that is as close as Scotland gets to the jungle!

waterfall surrounded by lush green foliage

During this ascent, you’ll be ominously aware of Castle Campbell looming somewhere overhead. One of the most picturesque in all of Scotland, the jagged ruins of the once-mighty Clan Campbell’s Lowland base sit snugly on a spur between the Ochil’s gentle mounds. Firmly in the tourism shadow of nearby Stirling and Doune Castles, its relative secrecy only adds to the appeal. Catch it on a misty day and you’ll see why it was often referred to as ‘Castle Gloom’.

Old castle surrounded by green landscape

Photo: Neil Robertson

Stunning views over the Glen await from the tip of the castle’s tower (entry fee required) and it is from here that you can plan out your extended walking route. Heading north and east will see you meander along the higher lines of the Ochils, and imminent sprawling views towards Edinburgh and the east coast await. Heading west will take you atop the large mound directly overlooking the glen, as well as offering views over the famous battlegrounds of Stirlingshire. The choice is yours, with both do-able as part of a half day out that starts and ends in Dollar.

An Introduction to the Borders

The vast, fertile farmlands of southern Scotland don’t make it onto most travel itineraries, a constant bemusement to those of us who know these parts well. For it is here where you will find countless serene walking trails and many of the country’s most tangible ruins, relics of the many conflicts that raged fiercely in these lands between Central Scotland and England.

Four stunning ruined abbeys are dotted around the Scottish Borders, but none have quite as much impact as magnificent Melrose. Destroyed by the English in the 14thcentury, it was largely rebuilt by Robert the Bruce, the most legendary King of Scots. His attachment to the place led to his heart being buried here (the rest of him is to be found beneath Dunfermline Abbey in Fife). At this glowing red sandstone ruin—complete with nerve-jangling graveyard—our long and turbulent history hangs thick in the air.

Old abbey in trees with field in foreground

Photo: Neil Robertson

You can begin or end the day at Melrose Abbey by parking up in the town centre; it’s overlooked by your target, the Eildon Hills. Allow three to four hours for the full circuit of the three iconic border mounds—the path is clear throughout as you weave between heather-strewn terrain, likely utilized by just a handful of local walkers. Take on each of the three as you wish, but I advise Mid Hill first (the western one) before continuing to the southern peak and re-tracing your steps for the final northernmost conquest.

In Lowland country, the views are uninterrupted in all directions; even the Romans set up a sentry point here to watch warily for threatening movement from those fearsome Northerners. Like the great writer, and local favourite, Sir Walter Scott before you, these lands are the place to drink in a very different side of Scotland’s diverse story.

The Islands

A visit to Scotland’s islands is an almost compulsory exercise. However, while many will flock to the giants like Skye, Orkney, and Mull, there are a few lesser-known little champions that make for magnificent day trips. Allow me to introduce you to Kerrera.

Scottish coastline with blue sky

Photo: Neil Robertson

A six-mile circuit of this wee beauty—just over the water from the bustling port of Oban on the west coast—will likely be all you need to fall in love with our island allure. Reached by just a ten-minute ferry crossing, you’ll be dropped along the centre of the eastern shore. While the whole island is worth seeing as part of an extended route, the priority should be to head south on landing. This is the island where King Alexander II of Scotland died in 1249 from a fever—with his actual burying place being none other than the above Melrose Abbey.

A relaxed walk throughout, you should allow three to four hours to traverse the southern section of the island before circuiting your way back to the ferry collection point. You’ll be joined overhead by birds of prey, countless Soay sheep, and possibly even seals and otters in the shallows. Your target along the way is one of the most dramatic ruins on the Isles: Gylen Castle.

Old castle on green land next to sea

Photo: Neil Robertson

It glowers out to sea on its precarious coastal perch, much as it has done since the 16thcentury. Besieged and burned in 1647, it has lain in its current inhospitable state ever since.
With salt in the air, history under your feet, and the promise of more island exploits further west, Scotland is bound to hook you. These spectacular walks and ruins may only be the start of your adventures in Scotland…

Cheers,
Neil

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Neil Robertson is a Scotland travel writer and digital marketer as Travels with a Kilt. A lifelong traveller and Scotland-fanatic, he loves nothing more than poking about a ruin, taking on a Munro, and chasing his drone around a loch. You can keep up with his adventures on his Scotland blog where he is constantly exploring his home country’s top assets.

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