Sometimes you don’t have the energy or time to slog your way up one of the great iconic giants of the Highlands. Some of Scotland’s best-loved hills are the smaller peaks, often more accessible, full of character and offering equally spectacular views. Here’s our pick of 16 of the best wee hills around the country… all under 600m high.
Ben A’an, Trossachs
Ben A’an is the archetypal ‘great wee hill’. A glance at a map reveals it’s just a bump on the southern slopes of the inconsequential higher summit of Meall Gainmheich… but a visit on the ground reveals that height can mean nothing. Forget the parent hill – it’s the dramatic rocky cone of Ben A’an that wins all the attention, and perhaps helps to earn the Trossachs its reputation as the Highlands in miniature. Deservedly popular, the ascent reveals stunning views over Loch Katrine.
Route: Ben A’an (detours in place until Summer 2016)
The Ochils offer superb hillwalking, easily accessed from the central belt, with their steep southern faces and glens hiding a rolling plateau. But it is their lower outlier, Dumyat, that steals much of the attention in the views out from Stirling past the Wallace Monument. It’s a great hill to climb and a superb viewpoint too.
Eildon Hills, Borders
The Eildons are a very shapely group of three small hills rising on the edge of the beautiful Borders town of Melrose. This is Walter Scott country – his house at Abbotsford is nearby – but there are few better ways to spend a fine afternoon than visiting each of these three summits.
Route: Eildon Hills
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
We couldn’t omit this, could we? A dramatic rocky culmination to the amazing Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is a remarkable hill to have at the heart of a capital city. Edinburgh may be spoilt for viewpoints with Corstorphine Hill, Calton Hill, Blackford Hill and the Braid Hills, but there is no doubt that this volcanic summit reigns supreme.
Route: Arthur’s Seat
Ben Hogh, Isle of Coll
From the most familiar to perhaps the least, Ben Hogh is the highest summit of the stunning Isle of Coll. Rising to only 104m, the island is not an obvious place for hillwalking, but in reality the landscape is rugged and dramatic, not to mention fringed by some of the finest beaches you’ll ever visit. A climb up Ben Hogh makes a fine introduction.
Route: Ben Hogh
For all that Clachnaben has a great summit tor, there no doubt that Bennachie is THE small hill in Aberdeenshire. Although actually consisting of a small range with several summits topped by Oxen Craig, there is no doubt that it is the iron-age fort and dramatic peak of the Mither Tap that is its finest feature.
Route: Oxen Craig and the Mither Tap from Back o’ Bennachie
Route: Mither Tap from the Bennachie Centre
Route: The Complete Bennachie from Rowantree
Criffel, Dumfries and Galloway
Criffel rises from the southern coastline of Dumfries and Galloway, a lone sentinel looking out across the Solway Firth to the hills of the English Lake District.
Route: Criffel (from Ardwall)
Route: Criffel circuit (boggy, from New Abbey)
Eaval, North Uist
The interior of North Uist seems more water- than land-scape, making an ascent of Eaval (or Eabhal in Gaelic) a unique hillwalking experience. Requiring a little more effort than some of the other hills on the list, the rewards are a truly remarkable view.
Plockton Crags, Lochalsh
This line of prominent crags, with its pine-clad lower slopes, provides the backdrop to one of Scotland’s most picturesque villages. The ascent uses tracks heading up to communication mast on the summit – Carn a’ Bhealaich Mhoir – but just a few paces further reveals a splendid view down to the village and across Loch Carron to the peaks of Applecross.
Route: Plockton Crags
Ben Tianavaig, Isle of Skye
Not far from Plockton is the bridge to the Isle of Skye – Scotland’s most celebrated island. The great rock peaks of the Cuillin, the scree-girt Red Hills and the dramatic landscapes of Trotternish peninsula are the best known features of a remarkable landscape. Less known is this smaller hill lying south of the capital, Portree. It’s remarkable form mirrors the much higher Storr to the north, but Ben Tianavaig is a spectacular hill to climb in its own right and offers amazing views of much of the island.
Route: Ben Tianavaig
Struie Hill, Easter Ross
Struie Hill dominates the landscape around the Dornoch Firth. The nearby Struie may be the highest summit along this heathery ridge, but it is the northeastern top – decorated with a communications mast – that offers the finest views across the firth and the fertile lands around it.
Route: Struie Hill
Carnan Eoin, Isle of Colonsay
I doubt many non-islanders can name the highest hill on the remote island of Colonsay without checking on a map. But that’s our loss, because Carnan Eoin is an unmissable wee rocky hill to climb, offering views of much of the island set off by the splendid sands of Kiloran Bay.
Route: Carnan Eoin and Kiloran Bay
Conic Hill, Loch Lomond
We’re back into the realm of the familiar for most Scots here. For views of Loch Lomond, Duncryne (the Dumpling) above Gartocharn offers a stunning panorama for minimal effort, but if you are prepared to put in a bit more of a grind than the views from Conic Hill, looking right along the chain of islands on the Highland Boundary Fault, are simply unbeatable. A highlight on the West Highland Way.
Route: Conic Hill
An Sgurr, Isle of Eigg
This is probably the most remarkable of all Scotland’s wee hills. The Sgurr is a huge lump of volcanic pitchstone and completely dominates the landscape of the beautiful Isle of Eigg. Its great cliffs offer rock-climbing, but the summit can be reached by a reasonably straightforward path (in hillwalking terms).
Route: The Sgurr of Eigg
North Berwick Law, East Lothian
This is another volcanic peak, like the nearby Bass Rock, Traprain Law and Largo Law across the Firth. It rises with incongruous steepness above the farmland of East Lothian; the short steep ascent reveals a stunning panorama over the town of North Berwick.
Ord Ban, Cairngorms
A wee hill in the mighty Cairngorms? Actually, there are quite a few beautiful ones, and who could imagine Ballater without the lovely, oak-clad Craigendarroch? Our pick though is Ord Ban; a short but rough ascent from the famed beauty spot of Loch an Eilein. There can be few better views for a nature-lover than this view over the great Caledonian pinewoods to some of Scotland’s highest mountains.
Route: Ord Ban and Loch an Eilein