Heading for the Hills: Escapes from Scottish Cities

Spey Valley Scottish Highlands
The Spey Valley provides the mythic appeal of the Scottish Highlands at a convenient distance from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Photo: Keith Laverack.

Glasgow and Edinburgh are both very fine cities to be sure, but they are not the Highlands. Most visitors to Scotland want to smell the tang of heather and feel a Highland breeze and you’ll certainly not do that in Princes Street in Edinburgh.

Here are some suggestions for day trips into the Scottish hills.

Heading for the Spey Valley

The Highlands are a vast area of rugged terrain, much of it very remote from Scotland’s two principal cities. A decent tour of the Highlands demands at least a fortnight. But it is possible to get a feel for the mountains in easy day trips from Edinburgh or Glasgow.

From either city, it is just two and half hours by regular fast train to Kingussie. It is a pretty enough Highland township in the Spey Valley, but the real reason for making the journey is just to gaze through the window at the passing scenery. North of Perth, the hillsides tilt ever sharper as the train follows the Tay Valley north, before climbing over wild Drumochter Pass and dropping down into the headwaters of the Spey.

Loch Katrine in the Trossachs

Loch Katrine, in the Trossachs, was made famous by Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. Photo: Michel27.

Into the Trossachs

If you are really pushed for time, and just want to catch the spirit of the Highlands, then head for the Trossachs (little more than an hour’s drive from either Glasgow or Edinburgh). Sir Walter Scott popularised this gorgeous sweep of mountains, forests and lakes in his narrative poem The Lady of the Lake. This one poem, first published in 1810, did more to promote the Trossachs than all the tourist brochures ever published since.

Take a boat trip on Loch Katrine where the steamship SS Sir Walter Scott runs regular tours from April till October.

The bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

Even closer to Glasgow is famous Loch Lomond, its waters lapping onto the edgelands of Scotland’s largest city. Just 47 minutes on the twice-hourly local train from Glasgow Queen Street to Balloch and you’ll be able to see the loch and its surrounding mountains. It’s the traditional excursion for urbanites who just want a peek of the Highlands without getting tousled hair and muddy shoes.

View of coast from Oban

Head to Oban if you prefer the smell of Highlands heather when it’s mixed with sea spray. Photo: Jim Brodie.

To the west coast

If you’re the type who needs a bit of sea along with your mountains, then Oban is the obvious choice. Scotrail runs regular trains from Glasgow Queen Street to Oban. It is a three-hour journey that takes in Loch Lomond, Loch Awe and grand views of many a Munro. (If you are a Scotland novice, you’ll need to check out what a Munro is.) Trains run three or four times daily on the route from Glasgow to Oban.

From June 23rd to August 25th, Scotrail also runs a direct Sunday excursion train from Edinburgh to Oban. It departs Edinburgh Waverly at 8:10 am, and the schedule allows five hours in Oban before the journey back to the Scottish capital. That’s just enough time to catch the ferry from Oban to Mull and back—proof indeed that one can see something of the Scottish Highlands and Islands in a day!

Anything to add?

If you consider yourself a Highlands expert, or you just have a couple tips to share, head down to the comments section below and let us know!

About the author

hiddeneurope
About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.
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