Ah, Scotland. The home of golf, bagpipes, haggis and the highest proportion of redheads in the world (fact: 13 percent of Scotland’s population has red hair). There’s no denying that Scotland is a truly fascinating place, some might even say magical. So magical in fact, that Scotland’s official animal is the unicorn (seriously). Full of castles, deep lakes possibly inhabited by pre-historic sea monsters and unpredictable weather that creates a landscape of lush, rolling green hills, Scotland is only about the size of the United Arab Emirates or the American state of Maine.
Scotland’s beauty, history and especially it’s size lend itself perfectly to walking. Countless trails, many of which are long distance, criss-cross Scotland and give those with the stamina a way to experience every nook of the nation. The newest long distance trail, the John Muir Way, stretches from coast to coast and will soon welcome visitors. If the fresh air and scenery aren’t enough to motivate you from sea to sea, there will be whisky and castles along the way. I repeat, whisky and castles.
John Muir Way
Launching on April 21, 2014 as part of VisitScotland’s Year of Homecoming, the John Muir Way will link together established paths, routes, trails, cycleways and the original John Muir Way to create a 134-mile trail stretching from coast to coast.
Spanning the distance between Dunbar (the birthplace of John Muir and now a working class suburb of Edinburgh on Scotland’s east coast) and Helensburgh (a seaside resort town on Scotland’s west coast and the place from which Muir set sail for American in 1849), the Way will afford adventurous travelers an up close look at Central Scotland’s beautiful scenery. For more information on what you’ll see along the Way, keep reading.
Walking The Way
Walking the 134-mile John Muir Way can take anywhere from seven to ten days, depending on your pace and how much time you spend exploring the cities and villages you’ll pass through. Biking the Way is also possible (for more information click here) and will take you about four to six days.
If 134 miles and crossing all of Scotland sounds a little too intense for you, think about walking only a portion of the Way as a ‘day walk.’ Conveniently, the John Muir Way is broken up into 10 manageable sections which you can choose from (for a detailed route map, click here).
Public transportation is accessible at points throughout the John Muir Way, so it’s also possible to jump ahead, skip certain sections, easily return to your starting point, or connect with other established paths.
Tip: The Scottish winds blow from west to east, so most people will walk the Way in that direction so to have the winds behind them.
Tip: Consider using a baggage transfer service. If you have a large and heavy backpack, just hand it off to the service’s driver and they’ll have it waiting for you every night at your accommodation, allowing you to just hit the trail with a day pack.
Wait A Minute, Who Is John Muir?
Before we go any further, it’s vital to know just who John Muir was, especially if you plan on walking 134 miles on a Way named in his honor. Here are some fast facts:
- John Muir was born in Scotland in 1838, and at the age of 11, immigrated with his family to the United States.
- A mountaineer, geologist, naturalist, author and inventor, John Muir is best known as a conservationist and the founding father of the conservation movement in America.
- His activism helped save California’s Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park among other wilderness areas. His work was also integral in creating the world’s first national parks system.
- His friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson called him a naturalist “more wonderful than Thoreau.” And the New York Times called him, “one of the greatest thinkers of America.” His obituary in the New York Times is fascinating and worth reading.
- In 1892, he co-founded the Sierra Club, an environmental organization now with more than two million members and supporters.
- In 1903 he camped with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite’s backcountry (he was also friends with presidents Taft and Wilson). During this trip he convinced Roosevelt to federalize the Yosemite Valley and integrate it into the wider park (thus conserving the land).
- One of his famous quotes: “God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.”
What You’ll See
Walking the John Muir Way through Central Scotland will bring you through some of the nations most stunning scenery, from coastlines and rivers to woodlands and farmlands. You’ll also pass by the beautiful Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (Scotland’s first National Park), as well as pass right through Edinburgh and near Glasgow. Here are a few other points of interest you can expect to see:
- John Muir Birthplace Museum.
- Arthur’s Seat, an 822 foot tall hill which provides amazing views over Edinburgh. Some legends say this was the location of Camelot, the fabled castle of King Author.
- Antonine’s Wall, a 39-mile long, 10-foot high and 16-foot wide wall built by the Romans in the 140s AD. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Local Natural Reserves including Aberlady Bay, Drumbec Marsh, Corstorphine Hill and Lenzie Moss.
- Historic castles and palaces such as Blackness Castle, Dirleton Castle, Balloch Castle and Linlithgow Palace.
- County Parks like Mugdock, Muiravonside, John Muir Park, Kinneil and Beecraigs.
- Unicorns, Scotland’s official animal, prancing under rainbows (just making sure you’re still paying attention).
- Glengoyne Whisky Distillery.
Hold On, Did You Say Whisky?
Yes I did. A walk across Scotland cannot be accomplished without whisky (OK, so it can be accomplished without whisky but it would be a bloody shame to leave Scotland without sipping on your fair share of Scotch). Luckily Glengoyne Distillery can be found along the John Muir Way and they love visitors.
This picture perfect distillery which literally straddles the boarder between Scotland’s highland and lowland, has been operating and producing whisky for the past 175 years. Known for their slow distillation process, it takes six years just to prepare the oak casks before they receive a drop of whisky — now that’s dedication!
They have a great line up of tours which start at £7.50, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to book the £50.00, two-hour long Cask Tasting Tour which’ll give you an behind the scenes look at the distillery.
There are bed and breakfasts, hotels and inns to match most travelers budgets along the Way (and camping is also possible in select locations). But when you’re in Scotland and have the opportunity to stay in a castle, a real life, not Disney World, not Medieval Times castle, you stay in a castle. The good news, Scotland is not short on castles, towers and grand estates, and your nights can be spent relaxing in style between long days walking the John Muir Way.
To get you started, check out Cameron House located on the shores of Loch Lomond, Dundas Castle, and Fenton Tower. For more information on accommodations, including detailed PDFs breaking down accommodations by John Muir Way section (as mentioned above the Way is broken into 10 sections) click here.
(For a detailed map of the route, click here)
Photo Credit: John Muir Way/Scotland photos courtesy of VisitScotland. Glengoyne Distillery photos courtesy of Glengoyne Distillery. Accommodation photo courtesy of Dundas Castle.