28

So I wanted to go with a friend to Scotland for 4 to 5 days. We would arrive at Edinburgh by plane. We wanted to rent a car so we could go where we wanted to to hike, but we would have to pay double the price because of the young driver fee. That would make the whole trip really expensive for five days, not even taking into account plane tickets, oil and food.

I was wondering if taking bus / train to get to an itinerary for a good hike that would last those days + hitchhiking would be doable, even for a short span.

17
  • 7
    Be aware that Scotland is big, and except for a few main roads, road speeds are slow (think more like urban driving speeds than freeways or motorways, though the scenery is nicer to look at!). Allow a full day to get from one place to another, not two or three hours to drive 150-200 miles at the start or end of a day's hiking! – alephzero Aug 3 '20 at 22:10
  • 4
    If you do decide to drive, there’s an important thing to note about driving in the northern parts of Scotland. If the fog comes down, STOP. Sleep in the car. No-one will hit you. In the morning, set off again. If you attempt to drive in the fog, you will very quickly leave the road and regret it. – Adam Chalcraft Aug 4 '20 at 7:35
  • 4
    @AdamChalcraft Is this a joke based on the opening scenes of Local Hero? – Oscar Bravo Aug 4 '20 at 8:17
  • 21
    I wound not expect to get many pick ups with hitch hiking, and even less with the pandemic, but trains & buses will be enough for you anyway – PeterH Aug 4 '20 at 8:20
  • 18
    Where are you from? Be aware of quarantine rules. There's a pandemic on: consider staying at home for the time being. – Asteroids With Wings Aug 4 '20 at 16:44
69

Not only is this possible, it would be my preferred way of doing it. Scotland has very good rail and bus connections, and the railways run through some of the best scenery and over some of the most spectacular bridges in the world. What's the point of renting a car and leaving it in a parking lot while you hike? Using public transport also means you can do an end-to-end hike without having to return to your start point to pick up a car.

Here is a link to get you started. It lists the major trails and how to get to them. Many start from towns with railway stations - for example the Great Glen Way runs from Fort William to Inverness, both with excellent connections to Edinburgh. The West Highland Way also starts from Fort William. The John Muir way starts from Edinburgh.

Don't forget to check out discount rail cards for youth, and the Scottish Youth Hostel Association for cheap accommodation.

10
  • 5
    For trains, it might be worth looking at a Britrail pass for UK visitors, which has some variants for Scotland (but currently off sale due to COVID-19). Fort William is a small town, which should make access to hiking trails fairly easy, and is very well placed for Ben Nevis, UK's highest mountain at 1345m, achievable in a one day hike by serious walkers. Warning: Ben Nevis can be dangerous — do the research. – Weather Vane Aug 3 '20 at 19:35
  • 7
    Ben Nevis is not very dangerous in the middle of summer unless the weather forecast is terrible - though you will probably still find some snow even in August if you venture off the well-used trails. The "tourist trail" to the summit is just a long uphill slog - no climbing ability at all required. – alephzero Aug 3 '20 at 22:15
  • 2
    @alephzero so you are saying "Ben Nevis can be dangerous even in the middle of summer." I did say it is a hike but there are routes to suit different abilities, even climbers. – Weather Vane Aug 3 '20 at 23:06
  • 3
    @WeatherVane Anywhere can be dangerous at any time of year, depending on weather and on how prepared you are for the conditions! Most serious problems in the hills relate to hypothermia, and most cases of that relate to setting out without adequate clothing and emergency kit. On easily-accessible routes like Ben Nevis, it is sadly very common for novice walkers to see sunshine at the bottom and so not carry warm clothes and waterproofs (assuming they even have them). But in summer, the path will not covered with snow and ice, so you don't need crampons and the route is obvious. – Graham Aug 4 '20 at 12:59
  • 2
    @Graham the question is about using trains/buses, not hiking. I mentioned BN in passing. "Ben Nevis can be dangerous — do the research" is enough in this context, thanks for the brilliant but off-topic advice. – Weather Vane Aug 4 '20 at 15:18
8

Travelling around Scotland by public transport or hitchhiking is possible. But as one comment said, Scotland is big. It can take 3 or 4 hours to drive Edinburgh to Inverness, It is about the same by train, and trains in the UK are generally expensive if not booked in advance.

Hitchhiking is of course free, but could take a long time (and sometimes a lot longer) to get one or more rides to your preferred part of Scotland, and that's before you can even start your hike. Spending most of a day getting out of Edinburgh and to where you want to start your hike, and then having to spend most of another day getting back to Edinburgh is really going to eat into your 4-5 day trip.

Renting a car will let you see a lot more, but will be poor value if you only drive for a couple of hours to somewhere close to Edinburgh and then park up for 4 days while you hike & camp.

What it comes down to is what kind of trip you want:

  • See lots of remote areas of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, you'll probably be better off with a car, or a lot more time.
  • Go to a nearer location (eg. Loch Lomond) and hike for a few days, public transport is quite possible.

However, the current situation, with the Coronavirus Pandemic is likely to be the biggest problem. According to https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-public-health-checks-at-borders/ you could find yourself needing to quarantine for 14 days on arrival, depending on where you have come from. Add to that the other restrictions, many services, hostels, restaurants, bars, etc. being closed or severely restricted, and the much lower likelyhood that anyone would want to pick up some random hitchhiker who may be carrying Covid-19. The situation could change at short notice (for better or worse), but I would imagine you will have a very difficult time right now.

3
  • The OP’s profile says he’s from Lyon in France. There are at present no restrictions or quarantine requirements for travel in either direction between Scotland and France. – Mike Scott Aug 4 '20 at 8:33
  • Renting a car won't let the driver see very much more than the back of the RV in front. On many roads there are few safe places to pass, and if you don't already know them, best not to try. – user_1818839 Aug 4 '20 at 16:22
  • 3
    "Scotland is big" depends on where you are from. I'm from Canada, and Scotland is less than a tenth of the size of my province. – DJClayworth Aug 5 '20 at 14:41
7

With only 4 days, it will be a problem. As other answers have said, Scotland is a big place.

If you're flying into Edinburgh, I would recommend spending those 4 days doing a thorough job of exploring Edinburgh. There is a lot of history in the city, so it will keep you plenty busy enough.

For hiking, climbing Arthur's Seat is an iconic part of a trip to Edinburgh, and will occupy you for most of a day if you wander round the crags around it and Duddingston. (And allowing for a pub stop before you return!) Walking around Holyrood House and gardens could easily take another day, as could the castle, depending on your interest in history. And the city itself is hilly enough that you will be kept fit just walking around.

If you really want to do some more strenuous hiking, I would recommend the last section of the West Highland Way to get a feel for the Highlands. If you get the train to Tyndrum, that gives you four days of the recommended route. The route follows the old Military Road, now a wide gravel track, so it is almost impossible to get lost and the path is easy to walk, although you do still have substantial height gains to deal with. If you're in good shape then you should be able to add Ben Nevis to the walk for a long day's hike; or you could get the train up to Bridge of Orchy instead and cut some of the distance.

If you're hiking in Scotland, do be aware that the weather can change dramatically and unpredictably. I once hiked up Ben Lomond with my parents, whilst my sister stayed in the campsite around 5km away. We had continuous horizontal rain for around 3 hours, all the way up and down. My sister at the campsite was sunbathing in a gentle breeze and full sunshine, with barely even a cloud. Whatever the weather seems to be like, you need to pack full waterproofs (jacket and trousers) and a warm sweater or fleece. This doesn't relate to travelling, but it's an important note if you're hiking, especially if you're used to hiking somewhere like central France with relatively stable weather. Most people who need rescuing in the hills, it's because they get cold (and usually wet) and hypothermia shuts their body down.

3
  • 3
    While exploring the crags around it may occupy a few hours, going up Arthur's seat takes less than half an hour. The circular road around it is 5km at the maximum. When I run there in the early morning, it is quite common to find people, often in fancy dress, who have gone to the top at sunrise, presumably after a night out. – Xi'an Aug 5 '20 at 7:44
  • 2
    @Xi'an Yes, I'd expect anyone fairly keen to have a more general wander around once they're there, not just a straight up and down. I'll edit my answer to make that clear. – Graham Aug 5 '20 at 8:23
  • The West Highland Way is a very good recommendation, as it keeps crossing transportation opportunities and hence can be adapted to whatever schedule and conditions. – Xi'an Aug 5 '20 at 12:07
4

Renting a car would result in a rental car road-trip of Scotland and you would see less. reserve the money from the car and spend it on trains and hotels and hostels. Like that you can go wherever you want and stay for as long as you want. I'd want to walk along the Scottish coast for a couple of days and the mountains a couple of days and spend some time in some historic Scottish towns on the way. Just the hill above Edinburgh takes all day to hike, it's an ancient volcano. It's best to get out to the small towns by train, then in 10 minutes from the hotel you are already in the countryside.

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/9iOAcN3dYF58cSRTgaErLFv8ZAbOQxtMR3-E-DgJlJSJHRGp0zavwCKWYyjT-k5ZO94RcV4514GunqR7M15RvGVaLU_KKAXwNwBAMhYWSuyGTQeEwnVTDBWmM7iE

3
  • 3
    “The hill” assumes there’s just one ;-). A fun challenge in Edinburgh is to climb as many of the seven hills as possible in a day, but it works best with a decent amount of local knowledge. Arthur’s Seat (the volcano) is interesting on its own, and the Pentland Hills offer plenty of hiking. – Stephen Kitt Aug 4 '20 at 8:50
  • Everything is relative!!! There were also seven heavens, and broken mirrors are a bad omen... 7 hills is certainly a more poetic way to describe the geography beside Edinburgh, I lived there and found two suburban hills and a massive mountain further away. if you call them suburban hills and a mountain, it sounds ok too and it's also accurate. – aliential Aug 6 '20 at 7:51
  • Heh, I agree it’s relative, and mountains in Scotland would be called hills elsewhere (but are just as dangerous as mountains in other countries). I just found the use of “the hill” to refer to Arthur’s Seat amusing. (For context, I lived for a long time in Edinburgh, hiked and cycled around Scotland quite a bit, and I’ve also lived for a long time within sight of the Alps.) – Stephen Kitt Aug 6 '20 at 8:03
4

Its pretty much impossible to give suggestions without knowing how experienced you are at walking and camping, but here is my 2 cents.

Setting realistic expectations, if you are starting in Edinburgh, and you want to go hiking in Scotland's more famous places, like Glen Coe, Fort William, or Aviemore or wherever, then it will take you about a day to get there, and a day to get back to Edinburgh, meaning: If you want to go hill walking 'for a few days', it will likely be the only thing you do while your here.

Basically, take the train to Glasgow and get a bus or a train to wherever you want.

Use this mapping website ( https://maps.the-hug.net/ ) and walk highlands website ( https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/ ) to get a feel for the areas and plan where you want to go. As suggested, Glen Coe, Fort William, or Aviemore are towns surrounded by hills and well established walks. You would be as well to check them out.

Accommodation would be the normal - youth hostels and campsites.

Finally, be sensible and have respect for the hills and the weather (dont take stupid risks), because people die from lack of it. Have fun :)

2

20 years ago I happily hitchhike from Edinburgh to the west coast (Fort William, Glen Coe, Skye, Ullapool, Glen Affric) and north coast (Orkney). Nowadays I'd probably take a bus to Inverness (15-25 GBP) and try to hitchhike from there.

If you like nature, there are also bothies to stay. Camasunary on the south of Skye was really nice (but currently closed due COVID-19).

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.