The Silver Walk, Moidart
Undoubtedly one of the truly special paths of the Highlands, this fascinating route cut out of the rock through picturesque scenery. The eastern end of the Silver Walk near Kinlochmoidart is currently diverted, but this isn’t the finest part in any case. The best outing is a circuit from stunning Castle Tioram, taking in a deserted hamlet, pine-fringed hill lochs and a view out to the Isles. It’s a stone-cold classic half-day walk – surely one of Scotland’s finest.
Kinloch Hourn to Barrisdale Bay, Knoydart
The Knoydart landscape ranks amongst Scotland’s most rugged, to the extent that, famously, no roads run into the peninsula. It does, however, have some remarkable constructed footpaths. Often wrongly thought of as stalkers’ routes, many of these historic paths were constructed by an engineer named James Watt who returned to Scotland from Rhodesia in disgrace and needed work hidden from public view. He obtained a contract to link some of Knoydart’s settlements which he expertly did with the help of just two others; some of his paths are used on the Cape Wrath Trail.
Our favourite Knoydart path though, has to be the walk in to Barrisdale Bay from Kinloch Hourn. Its constant rises and falls may be cursed by walkers carrying heavy packs, but the path itself and the scenery it passes through are unsurpassed.
Puck’s Glen, Argyll
Forestry and Land Scotland’s estates have some great shorter walks, but few are finer than this. Puck’s Glen is a dark and atmospheric defile on the Cowal peninsula. A tumbling burn, criss-crossed by bridges, is enclosed by rocky walls heavily hung with mosses and overshadowed by dense trees. The path was built as a showplace in Victorian times but it’s still a favourite today.
The Brough of Deerness, Orkney
Sadly, the remarkable path that leads up onto the Brough of Deerness – a headland almost detached from Orkney Mainland – is closed at the time of writing due to a landslip, but hopefully repairs can be completed as it fully deserves a place in this list. The headland is the site of a Viking settlement, and various faint mounds can still be seen. The most obvious ruin now is that of a chapel – originally built in the 10th century though it later fell into disuse and was refounded in the 11th or 12th century, before falling into disrepair by the sixteenth. The path is cut out of the rock in places.
Whaligoe Steps, Caithness
The 330 remarkably-made steps at Whaligoe are perhaps the most famous path on this list. Dating back to the mid 18th century, there were originally 365, built at a cost of £8; some of the ones near the top are now missing. They make an unlikely route down the vertical cliffs towards the sea and an otherwise inaccessible harbour. At the bottom is a platform which once housed a winch for loading the catch from the boats below, or for hauling the boats from the water. The fishwives would have carried the fish up in creels, although some herring were salted in barrels at a point part way down and then loaded into schooners for export – in this case the women would have carried the heavy salt down.
Postman’s path, Rhenigidale, Isle of Harris
Until the 1980s, the village of Rhenigidale on Harris was not linked to the road network. The main access route overland was used every week by children attending school at Tarbert, as well as – more famously – by the postie. The “Postie’s Path” route to Rhenigidale is described as a one-way walk only, so you need to check the times for the bus back unless intent on a much longer route.
Path down to Rubha Hunish, Isle of Skye
The northernmost part of Skye is the dramatic headland of Rubha Hunish, situated at the foot of great cliffs of columnar basalt. A remarkable rocky path – created by residents of the now lost village of Erisco – leads down the cliffs to reach the lazybeds they once cultivated out on the headland, the remains of which are still visible today.
The Old Herring Path, Corran
At the very end of the road through the Glenelg peninsula is the hamlet of Corran. From here a remarkable old Herring path continues along the shores of Loch Hourn – now a road to nowhere. It doesn’t seem to feature in any guidebooks but is an absolute gem.
Stalkers path up Sron Garbh, Carn Eige, Affric
Although we may deplore some of the bulldozed tracks made today, Scotland’s hills are made richer by some of the wonderfully constructed old paths made by stalkers. One of our favourites is the descent path from Gleouraich above Loch Quoich, and the Coulin Forest region further north has some great examples. Our pick though is the remarkable steps up Sron Garbh on the east ridge of Càrn Eige – easily missed today, but making a great route up what is otherwise a loose and scree-covered slope.
Ness Glen, Ayrshire
Ness Glen was once a renowned showplace but is far less known today than similar locations that were also created and popularised in Victorian times as part of the cult of the picturesque. Whilst the Birks of Aberfeldy, the Hermitage or the Falls of Bruar remain very popular this day, Ness Glen seems to have fallen from fame; it still retains its spectacular path running down the gorge beside the foaming river.
Ailsa Craig, Ayrshire
The dramatic granite outpost of Ailsa Craig is an icon amongst Scotland’s smaller islands. It can be visited on a boat trip from Girvan; the ascent to its highest point is pathless in its upper parts, but the first section up to the ruins of a castle is very dramatic – well-made zig-zags above an increasingly airy drop.
Building remarkable paths isn’t a skill that has been completely lost to the past. The gully on the north side of wonderful Suilven which is part of the main ascent route was, until recently, eroded, steep and very unpleasant. That was before the path project undertaken by the John Muir Trust and the Assynt Foundation. The boggy route across the moors was much improved, but project was much more ambitious than this and tackled the eroded gully itself – creating an amazing path up what seems like impossibly steep terrain.