I’ll admit that I sometimes like to indulge in touristy sights. On a recent trip to Scotland, I hoped to spot men in kilts towing bagpipes. To my satisfaction, there was no shortage of such displays in Edinburgh. I was surprised, however, to learn that the kilt purportedly originated in the Scottish Highlands. This is where I spent much of my visit and, here, the garb was nearly nonexistent. But, perhaps, this is because I was too distracted by the area’s astonishing landscape — and too busy taking part in many of the activities it has to offer — to notice much else.
Iconic draws aside, Scotland is on the rise as a fantastic destination for nature and adventure travel, and a focus on environmental sustainability permeates each and every available option. From sea kayaking to mountain biking, a plethora of activities awaits adventurous clients.
A morning canoe tour of Scotland’s Loch
Tay proved memorable.// © 2010 NZ_Willowherb
Local tour operator Wilderness Scotland features such expeditions. I was fortunate enough to experience one of its custom tours in the Highlands. Our group spent one morning canoeing on Loch Tay, located in the Perthshire area near the center of Scotland. This particular loch, or lake, with its flat water and surrounding rolling mountains, was the perfect place for me to embark on my first canoeing experience; if I didn’t fare well, I’d be content just taking in the incredible panorama. I was lucky to get paired with a more experienced canoe paddler, and it wasn’t long before we attempted a tricky task. At the instruction of our guide, Myles Farnbank, we found ourselves gliding horizontally across the loch, against the current.
I left Loch Tay feeling accomplished and ready for more adventure. Before I could get my fix, however, I headed back to my hotel, the Fortingall Hotel. Clients looking for the quintessential Scottish country experience should undoubtedly stay at this charming property. Fresh cuisine (the smoked salmon dish was a favorite), fireplace lounges and inviting rooms provided the perfect ending to an exploratory day.
The following morning, we made a trip to Rothiemurchus. A forested area that sits inside Cairngorms National Park, it boasts some of Scotland’s rarest wildlife. As we hiked through the region, I was amazed at the variety of stunning scenery. I couldn’t help but notice that the path we were on seemed to lead straight toward a snow-covered mountain range, only to veer right past towering pine trees and into a vicinity where dazzling lochs prevailed. In the middle of one particular loch, Loch an Eilean, we came across the ruins of an ancient castle. Although time and weather have taken its toll on the structure and it stands looking rather defeated, its presence still makes for an idyllic, almost magical setting.
According to Farnbank, some of Wilderness Scotland’s most popular tours center on mountain biking, a pastime that appeals to many visitors. And, after my own mountain biking experience in the Highlands, I can see why this is so.
I hadn’t bicycled in 10 years, so the thought of cycling through the Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms National Forest made me cower. We began near the village of Boat of Garten and, for nearly 13 miles, we rode through areas seemingly untouched. Surrounded by fallen trees, we arrived at new lochs, namely Loch Mallachie and Loch Garten. At each of these locales, tree roots appeared to grow out of the shimmering waters, providing vivid images for photographs.
My favorite part was passing through the quaint countryside. Here, the sights of never-ending fields of green accompanied by grazing sheep were so beautiful, they stopped me in my tracks — quite literally. While I can’t say I didn’t encounter any struggles along the way, I can declare that the challenge was well worth it.
As a testament to the growing role it plays in adventure tourism worldwide, Scotland will host the seventh annual Adventure Travel World Summit in October in Aviemore.
I can thank my experiences in the Highlands for giving me a new appreciation for adventure travel and for showing me there’s more to the land than meets the eye.