Walking into 2018: Four forest trails to explore
For many of us, the start of a new year means making resolutions to get fit and active, and spend more time enjoying the outdoors. A little forward planning can help you stick to your new exercise programme – and the advantages of exercising outdoors cannot be overstated. With no costly gym memberships to worry about, and all of Scotland’s breathtaking natural beauty to explore, getting active in the new year can feed the soul as much as it helps condition the body.
To help you get 2018 off to a great start, we asked some of our colleagues out in the sticks to recommend their favourite new year walk. Whether you’re looking for a challenging climb, a gentle amble through the woods, or a stunning view, we’ve got a recommendation for you! Have fun, dress warmly, and away you go.
“The Beinn Lora trail is a short but thrilling uphill blast with the best panoramic views in the district, taking in the Firth of Lorne and looking over to Mull, Lismore and Kerrera,” says Joanne Maclean, our ranger in West Argyll.
With a shorter and longer loop giving you a few options depending on your fitness, this is a great trail for eager beginners or more advanced hikers. The Coastal Climb trail should take you about 45 minutes at a modest pace, while the more strenuous Eagle’s Eyrie trail should take an hour and a half.
You might even catch a glimpse of some local wildlife: “Watch out for the roe deer who live near the trail, often seen wandering the hillside!” says Joanne.
“Cambus o’ May has glorious views of the surrounding Deeside mountains all year,” says Karen Patterson, Visitor Assistant for the Moray & Aberdeenshire Forest District. “They look amazing with their winter snow cladding - and that’s just from the car park!”
There are three routes to choose from. “All three trails are beautiful and interesting in all seasons,” says Karen, and there’s plenty of wildlife to look out for. “In winter, on the Two Lochans Trail, you can enjoy the calm, beautiful lochans nestled in the pines, and watch for ducks on the water and red squirrels in the trees.”
The Two Lochans Trail should take you about an hour, while the Pine Tree Trail is the longest of the three at approximately an hour and a half of walking. The shortest is the Lochside Trail, which is just a short 15-minute jaunt, but with some short, steep slopes to get your pulse racing.
“For those looking for an energetic start to the year I would recommend a hike up Ben A’an,” says the adventurous Chris Peach, who works in the Cowal & Trossachs districts. This is a recommendation that would suit a more experienced walker, given that the route is not waymarked – you need to take a map and compass with you. “It’s not a long walk, but it’s steep,” he warns – the walk should last just shy of two hours. “You’ll be rewarded with great views across the Trossachs from the top,” says Chris.
Ben A'an may be a mountain in miniature but the steep hike to the summit is still a serious challenge. It's a strenuous route and suitable for fit and experienced walkers. “If you make it to the top, there are spectacular views to Loch Katrine, Loch Achray, Loch Venachar and Ben Venue,” Chris continues. “On a clear day, you can see the Arrochar Alps.” Remember that even in summer the weather can change very quickly atop Ben A’an, so be prepared.
If you are not keen on a climb, Ruari Watt up in the Lochaber district has another option for you: “Halfway between Glencoe and Fort William, Glenrigh forest is a great option for winter walks,” he says. “With stunning views, this trail is good for getting some exercise and fresh air, and if you are lucky you might see some red squirrels at the viewing screen in the carpark.”
The Waterfall Trail is quite short at just over a mile long, but packs in a lot of interest: “There are great views onto Abhainn Righ waterfall – which cascades down the gorge in eight separate waterfalls. It is best viewed after heavy rain. Looking back from the waterfalls gives lovely views over Corran ferry, to Ardgour and Ardnamurchan.”
If you’re near Fort William and ready for a challenge, however, Ruari recommends the Wade’s Road route. “This one is a bit longer at a little over 2 miles, and has a long steady climb to get the heart pumping! Tall larch trees give a tranquil feel, and once at the top you are rewarded big views out over Loch Linnhe looking west – good for lovely late afternoon light,” says Ruari, also a keen photographer who took the stunning shot above, and whose work is featured regularly on our Twitter and Facebook feeds.
Explore and enjoy!
These are just a small selection of the hundreds of walks and trails on offer throughout the Forestry Commission’s parks and forests - visit scotland.forestry.gov.uk/activities/walking to find the right one for you, including important information about our trail grades, tips for hillwalking, and information about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Happy trails!