Munro bagging: How to live the highlife on Scotland’s peaks

Friday 09 March 2018

Travelling around Scotland, you're spoilt for choice for stuff to write home - and Instagram - about: think whisky tasting at century-old distilleries, spending the night in a fairy tale castle, cruising mystical lochs, or riding heritage steam trains. You can even learn how to play 'Flower of Scotland' on the bagpipes! Yet there are few things more rewarding than bagging a ‘Munro’.

Named for English-born mountaineer Sir Hugh T Munro, it means scaling a Scottish mountain higher than 3000 feet (914.4m). Although Sir Hugh only counted 236 such peaks when he surveyed the country in 1891, it transpired that 282 munros scatter Scotland's soul-stirring landscapes. Climb them all - like an estimated 6000 people have - and you can call yourself a Munroist (or 'compleatist'). Don’t have time to tick every one off your list? Here’s how you can follow in their boots on a select few:

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis View

© VisitScotland / Airborne Lens.

The Nevis Range of mountains is famous for its 1,345m high goliath, Ben Nevis. Considered the king of the munros, it is the highest mountain in not only Scotland, but Britain. Many people tackle it as part of a Three Peaks challenge along with Snowdon (Wales' highest mountain) and Scafell Pike (the loftiest summit in England). It looms on the outskirts of Fort William, a town on the shores of Loch Linnhe that's dubbed 'Britain's Adventure Capital', thanks to the pulse-raising activities you can do on its doorstep. Despite meaning 'venomous mountain' when translated from ancient Scottish Gaelic, Ben Nevis is a pretty straightforward, although strenuous, walk up a stony trail. For trekkers of reasonable fitness it usually takes 6-8 hours there and back. Weather conditions can change quickly on Nevis, so it's important to come well prepared, ensuring you have plenty of layers and waterproofs, plus a map, compass, snacks and water (and perhaps a hip flask of Scotch as a treat when you reach the summit). On a clear day, you'll enjoy awe-inspiring panoramas of the Scottish Highlands.

Ben Lomond

Loch Katrine from Trossachs

If you're looking to combine a spot of hiking with a city break, then Ben Lomond is just the place. Only  90-minutes’ drive from Glasgow, the peak rises 974m beside one of the most beautiful slices of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. Scaling Scotland's most southerly munro should take a little under three hours. If you’ve worked up appetite on the descent back, head to the Rowardennan Hotel where you can refuel on Scottish dishes infused with fresh, local produce, and warm up by the roaring log fire on a chilly day. Taking Ben Lomond's well-trodden path, you'll witness scenery immortalised in the poems and novels of Sir Walter Scott. One of his most celebrated works, 'Rob Roy', touched on the life of Robert Roy MacGregor, a 17th century folk hero who hailed from these parts and was regarded as 'the Scottish Robin Hood'.


View towards Schiehallion

© VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins.

Translated from Gaelic as 'fairy hill of the Caledonians', but affectionately known locally as 'The Matterhorn of Perthshire', Schiehallion (1083m) is one of the most show-stopping munros. Viewed from the west, from across the waters of Loch Rannoch, it appears to have a near-perfect conical summit. Tackle it from the east (starting at the Braes of Foss car park) and you'll find a broad ridge that, while sporadically dotted with boulders, isn't too taxing to walk up. Give yourself 4-6 hours (return) and keep an eye out for birds of prey, including golden eagles, which often soar over the Perthshire hills. A fine base for your Schiehallion trek is Pitlochry, a quaint town that shot to fame in the 1840s when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came for a summer vacation. It sparked a regal love affair with the Highlands that culminated in the construction of Balmoral (still a beloved holiday home of the present-day royals).

Ben Hope

An Teallach

One of the most exciting recent additions to Scotland has been the North Coast 500, a scenic touring route that loops around the far northern Highlands. As well as pit-stopping at Michelin-feted eateries, folklore-rich landmarks and chic and cosy boltholes, there are plenty of munros to pull over for. Two challenging options are the west coast peaks of An Teallach and Suilven (dubbed 'Scotland's Sugarloaf' for its resemblance to Rio de Janeiro's iconic mountain). Ben Hope (946m) is one of the most mesmerising, with the added attraction of being Scotland's most northerly munro. Using the delightfully-named village of Tongue as a springboard, you can make the short, thigh-straining, sometimes boggy ascent up this craggy monolith. On a fine day, expect dramatic views over the remote northern Highlands, and to the Orkney Islands out at sea. The entire walkshould take around 4-6 hours. 

While this, and the other munros listed here, may whet your appetite, you'll find details on the rest at Walk Highlands - a must-visit website for would-be munro baggers. 

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