Hiking in Scotland means walking through stunning landscapes along rugged coastlines, and up to beautiful viewpoints. E&M-Author Janina Kehrer took a closer look at a few walking routes, specifically around Inverness, one of the most significant towns in the Scottish Highlands. And in the meantime, she has even discovered a true Nessie hunter…
The air tastes salty and the coast murmurs quietly. It was actually raining till I arrived, but Inverness greeted me with a pleasantly cool climate and a wonderfully grey sky that stopped raining for the rest of the evening. Thanks for that very peaceful welcome, Heart of the Highlands!
Situated where the River Ness meets the North Sea in a ford, Inverness is rightly called the gateway to the Highlands. Giving home to some important historical sites and being capital of the Scottish administrative district of Highland, this meaningful city marks a cultural highlight in the north of Scotland. Some must-sees here are, for example, Inverness Castle or the Clava-Cairns, which represent some very impressive and mystical stone circles. To experience some history, you should also visit Culloden Battlefield, where in 1746 one of the most important, but unfortunately very bloody battles of Scotland took place. But where the city and its history already have much to offer, however this is trumped by the beauty of the surrounding nature, where verdant valleys and crystal-clear lakes are embraced by the stunning mountainous Highlands. Wanting to explore this area, I set out in search of hiking trails around Inverness that would take me through this exciting and beautiful terrain. Especially two of my hikes stood out in terms of beauty and harmony with nature, which is why I am very happy to be able to share them.
The Hillockhead Circular (~15 km, ~3 hrs)
The inconspicuous start of this route, which will lead to a brilliant finale, starts at Rosemarkie, a little town lying at the southern side of the Moray Firth, which marks the transition to the North Sea. Starting at a little parking lot, you will soon hit two beautiful small waterfalls on your path. Passing this first highlight of the route, you will have to go uphill for a while. But this is all the more worthwhile, as you will be rewarded with an amazing view over the Moray Firth when reaching the path that leads along the hills between Rosemarkie and nearby Craighead. Feeling like you can´t get enough of the view, after a few kilometers the path over the hills will lead you into a very jungle like descent. Following only a small footpath, you meander through a dense fern-overgrown forest, where you see nothing but lush green and feel as if hardly anyone has walked this way before. As long as the upward path was, so steep is now the descent through the mysterious forest, which through the scrub repeatedly reveals views of the rushing sea, which seems to be getting closer by every step. A few rotten and even steeper steps lead you down through the last foothills of the dense fern and let you enter a completely unreal world when reaching the lonely coast. Stepping out of the forest reveals the view of a breathtaking rocky coastline, where large pieces of rock rest on sandy ground, waiting for the tide to return. Since you hardly meet any other hikers on this part of the way, you feel as if you are stranded in a foreign world. And that’s actually a bit the case. Because this stretch of coast is usually flooded by the tide, there are only a few time windows a day to pass the path. During the low tide, you can literally walk along the bottom of the sea, which will be under water again in a few hours. So if you ever wanted to take a walk under the sea, this is your chance. Standing alone in this breathtaking scenery between the solid outstanding rocks, seeing no one far and wide, hearing only the rustling of the slowly approaching waves, will make you never forget this stunning moment. The moment is all the more valuable because it can only be short-lived. In order not to be trapped by the rising tide, you finally have to tear yourself away from the sight and make your way along the lonely coast back to Rosemarkie. Climbing over the rocks and wading through colorful pebbles on the wet sand, you start your way back and will gradually come across one or another hiker again. Walking through a last high gate of rocking, the beach of Rosemarkie finally comes into view and you slowly move back into the real world. Stopping at the small café in Rosemarkie Beach, you can take a last look back at your rocky underwater world and strengthen yourself for the last section of your hike: The walk to Chanonry Point, a famous and unique spot for Dolphin Watching. A few miles of walk over the sandy beach of Rosemarkie take you to the headland where a lucky viewer can watch the residential free-living dolphins of the Moray Firth. I was lucky. While getting closer and closer you can already see the dolphins from the distance jumping in and out of the water. When reaching the tip of the headland you can watch them playing and hunting for food in the water only a few meters away. Since the water at Chanonry Point narrows due to the protruding headlands (on the opposite side the fortress Fort George stretches far into the water), the dolphins living here have a particularly large food supply. Schools of fish have to move closer together between the headlands and are therefore easy prey, which is why the dolphins are found here particularly often and so close to the coast. Being able to observe these wonderful animals in their natural terrain is a crowning finale to a beautiful hike on this amazing and almost magical coast.
Coastline at the end of the Hillockhead circular. Photo: Janina Kehrer.
The Torr Wood Walk (~6 km, ~1,5 hrs)
This route at the northern end of Loch Ness lake starts with incredible views of the famous but absolutely beautiful body of water. Whereas a lot of spots around Loch Ness are very touristic, the access point in the little town of Dores seems to be not to crowded and therefore offers a great little hiking route in the nearby forest. Starting in Dores Beach, where you can have the perhaps most beautiful view of Loch Ness between the towering Highlands, you’ll take a walk along at the edge of the lake, which with its rushing waves actually looks more like a slightly stormy sea. From the shore you head directly to the adjoining woods, where a path leads you steeply up into the quiet forests and the sound of the lake becomes quieter and quieter. The deeper you go into this green paradise, the fewer hikers you will meet, discovering only here and there a lonely tent or a wooden swing attached to a massive tree trunk a long time ago. But heading back after finishing the circle around Torr Wood offers even more impressive views, as you slowly descend through the trees and get closer to the lake again. Barely perceptible footpaths lead you through the trees and shrubs to lonely, incredibly beautiful little bays on the edge of the lake. With the green Torr Wood in the back and your eyes fixed on the beautiful lake and the Highlands towering behind it, it is extremely difficult to leave this sight and the small peaceful bays that line up on the way back to Dores Beach. Back on the shore you can once again take a unique look at this wonderful lake, which stretches from its northernmost point at Dores for about 37 kilometers into the Scottish Highlands. After reaching a depth of about 230 metres at its lowest point, Loch Ness is the lake with the largest volume of fresh water in the whole of the UK. Maybe that’s why it hasn’t been possible to find the fabled monster Nessie yet. But one does not stop trying. On the shores of the lake in Dores Beach you will find a striking wood-lined caravan that settled in the area a long time ago. If you are lucky, you can meet Steve Feltham selling some of his little selfmade Nessie figures in front of the caravan. After Nessie’s legends did not let him go as a child, he gave up his normal life as a young adult and became a full-time Nessie hunter. For 30 years now, Steve has been living in his caravan on the edge of the lake, looking out for Nessie. However, the fascinating thing about his story is that it’s not just about finding a fabled monster, but much more about living a dream of peace and fulfilment. Asked about what is the best thing about his life here in Dores Beach, Steve answers:
“This is one of the most recognisable mysteries of the modern age. Is there or is there not something unidentified swimming about in the depths of Loch Ness? I say there is. The potential for a discovery of that scale greets me every single day as I gaze on the vista from my van, a view that was recently voted the sixth most spectacular landscape view in Britain. To me its the best view in the world. It is printed on my retina. Shut me in a blank walled room with only a blank sheet of paper and a piece of charcoal and I could produce for you a recognisable portrait of this view. It is printed on my heart.“
Lock Ness view from Dores Beach. Photo: Janina Kehrer.
I was very impressed by Steve’s courage to abandon all social norms to live a dream for which most of us would not be brave enough. And where better to live this dream than in this breathtaking place? Speaking of breathtaking places, there were an incredible number of them on this trip, so there is no question that it will not be long for me to return and discover even more of this wonderful country. And next time, I might even catch a glimpse of Nessie. Who knows?
A few more practical tips for traveling to and hiking around Inverness:
- You won’t need any cash since you can pay for everything by card or with mobile payment apps. You’ll only need a few coins if you’re willing to give some tips.
- If you are also suffering from a difficulty telling left from right and therefore not willing to lean a car, get yourself the “Inverness Megarider Ticket”. You’ll be able to travel round the countryside by bus for 7 days, paying less than 40£ overall.
- Always thank the Bus driver. Everybody does it due to being very polite to each other.
- Use a hiking app for exploring some less popular and uncrowded hikes. You’ll discover some great insider tips.
- If you’ll come across a foot path, follow it. Always! Barely seen footpaths are leading you to the most wonderful and hidden places.
To know more about Nessie hunter Steve Feltham, visit his website: https://www.nessiehunter.co.uk/