Bagging the Munros: Hillwalking in Scotland
Come rain, sleet, wind, or shine, a troop of gallivanting "Munro baggers" is to be found spread across the heather-stubbled Scottish hillsides. Their quest is simple: To stand atop all 284 Scottish Munros, or mountains above 3,000 feet. (Munro is taken from Sir Hugh Munro, the man who first catalogued these peaks.) You'll understand the Munro-bagging obsession once you find yourself on just one of these summits as the sun breaches the ubiquitous low-lying bank of rain clouds; then you'll witness the moody Scottish landscape in all its umber, purple, and green glory. Naturally, most visitors won't have time to tickoff even a dozen of Scotland's club of highest peaks, so the best approach is to target a specific region and get a' bagging.
Close to both Glasgow or Edinburgh, the Munros of the Trossachs region are Scotland's most accessible, enabling hikers to tackle one or two peaks in the space of one kinetic daytrip. A sentimental favorite on the eastern shore of ballad-inspiring Loch Lomond is Ben Lomond ("Ben" is Gaelic for Mount), a knobbled sentinel that offers a straightforward, but at times steep introduction to the art of Munro bagging. Should you be looking for a less-vertical challenge in this region, consider a stroll along the banks of Loch Tay, popular for water sports, or through Glen Lyon, in the shadow of 3,552-foot Schiehallion, another beautiful hike. For those requiring a Trossachs base camp, Crianlarich and Callander are both ideal outdoor gateways.
The cream of Scottish hiking is to be found in the Highlands and on the West Coast, a stretch of almost mystical landscape that will have you harking for the skirl of bagpipes as you climb. Ben Nevis, Britain's tallest peak at 4,406 feet, is the pinnacle of Munro bagging; its preeminence has also made it a somewhat over-trafficked trophy peak. Choose instead to slip into the barren, haunting wastes of Glencoe (scene of the 1692 massacre of the MacDonald Clan), or northwest to Skye and the challenging climbing in the jagged Cuillin Hills. Equally adventurous, the small coastal town of Torridon is a hospitable gateway to some beautifully remote and rugged mountaineering, including the steep, treacherous trek up 3,457-foot Liathach and its pinnacled fortress of flanking Munros.
The eastern torso of Scotland gradually levels out in a sweep of fields that fan into the icy North Sea, but only after negotiating the rolling, muscular topography of the Cairngorms. The rather shabby resort town of Aviemore is the staging post for most outdoor activities here, which include Scotland's best (relatively speaking) skiing and some good mountain-biking trails. The highest Munro here is 4,295-foot Ben Macdui, Scotland's second-highest mountain, while further east lies the popular saddle-like Lochnagar, memorialized in a famous watercolor by Prince Charles.
While not behemoths on a world scale, always exercise caution when hiking in the Scottish hills, especially when it comes to the weather. Carry plenty of warm clothing, emergency supplies, and let someone at your hotel or B&B know of your plans. That said, nothing beats the panorama from any of the 284 cairn-topped summits. Should the weather turn, and it likely will, revel in the remote, silent landscape, then hightail it back toward the crackling hearth of some local pub. Visit www.munromagic.com for a full catalogue of all of Scotland's little big hills.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication