National Trails Navigation Scotland

Scottish National Trail – planning and resources

UPDATE: I have canceled walking the Scottish National Trail in May to follow Covid-19 lockdown guidance and for these reasons:

  • Stay close to family and friends – they will need support and reassurance during these difficult times
  • I want to volunteer for my local community support groups
  • It is difficult to practice social distancing in hotels, B&Bs and hostels (and busy campsites at times)
  • Getting provisions and supplies will be difficult (specifically freeze-dried meals and camping shops will have closed)
  • If I am asymptomatic I will spread the virus unwittingly to remote isolated communities
  • Will I be welcome in areas that are making every effort to isolate?
  • If areas go into lockdown, it will be difficult to get home
  • If I have an accident or become ill, I am far from home and will burden the local emergency services who are needed elsewhere.

The trail is not going anywhere and I will be back later and will try to spend more to revive the local tourist businesses. The wildlife and hills can do with a rest.

During the dreary winter months I can get lost in planning an adventure. This time I’d like to walk the Scottish National Trail.

Building a Google My Maps is great fun and brings together an offline guide for public transport, hostels, campsites, B&Bs and Bothies for the 5-week trip. Preparing for such a long walk is part of the pleasure and builds anticipation and excitement. I can’t wait for the weather to improve and intend to start in May 2020, subject to work commitments.

The My Map I created is available online to view at the following URL. It should be easy to use allowing you to (de)select layers and see section distances.

Scottish National Trail Google MyMaps

The GPS routes are overlaid with the locations of hostels, campsites, B&Bs, hotels, bothies that I could consider using. I have no fixed plan for accommodation, but these options are spaced at 20-30km intervals and in villages and towns. They are not pre-booked and I will undoubtedly add to these as I progress. Google My Maps allows you to do that as you travel. I will also wild camp as much as I can, but it is good to know that I have options of a warm bed or a bothy if the weather turns bad.

There is a huge diversity of walking on the Scottish National Trail, which is part its appeal. I expect to walk along busy city streets, through urban environments, across gentle arable landscapes and into one of the most rugged, remote regions of Europe, where there will be 3-4 day unsupported backpacking sections with very little opportunity for food and shelter. So planning ahead and considering contingencies is important, more so than for the way marked routes I am used to.

Walking south to north has many advantages:

  • The walking will get more difficult as you head north, so you can build fitness levels and make sure your kit is working well
  • The sun will be behind you as you walk (mostly), which will keep the sun out of your eyes and favourably light the landscape ahead
  • Transport to Berwick by train and by bus to Kirk Yetholm works well at the start without giving you a preview of the walk
  • I expect others will walk this way too, so increasing options to team up on difficult sections (river crossings)
  • Cape Wrath lighthouse is a superb ending.

This information was gathered from a number of sources:

www.walkhighlands.co.uk – an excellent resource for all forms of walking in Scotland from short day routes to long-distance paths. Thank you. I must consider donating to help this site maintained.

www.capewrathtrailguide.org/ – a companion website to the Cicerone Guidebook for the Cape Wrath Trail, the section from the Great Glen to Cape Wrath which forms the last challenging section of the SNT.

www.independenthostels.co.uk – instead of using Youth Hostel Association hostels also consider these independently run dorms – they are often quirky and interesting alternatives to the uniformity of the YHA.

www.hostellingscotland.org.uk – Scotlands premier site for hostels, similar to the England and Wales YHA

www.mountainbothies.org.uk – a wonderful site listing remote mountain bothies and the authoritative source of information on condition and closures during stalking seasons, or during rebuilding work

www.google.com/maps – just type in “campsite” or “B&B” to search the area you are looking at. This method is becoming more commercially oriented now and forcing you towards booking sites, but ignore those and speak directly to the B&B or campsite you have found. Has a few bothies listed, but not all. Use the above sites first. Also great for planning public transport options.

Once created online the details sync with my mobile phone app – Google My Maps. I can then recall this information offline later, saving me time planning or where there is poor mobile signal (quite often the case in the Highlands). Together with ViewRanger and BackCountry Navigator Android Apps, with the GPS route overlays loaded, I have good navigation aids in addition to various Ordnance Survey and Harvey XT40 1:40,000 scale maps and compass I will carry for the more remote sections:

  • Harvey – Rob Roy Way
  • Harvey – Cape Wrath Trail South
  • Harvey – Cape Wrath Trail North
  • Other OS Maps as needed as yet to be determined for remote sections (e.g Cairngorms)

The Scottish National Trail strings together several shorter long-distance routes, so I will be able to follow some way marks. I won’t carry maps for all sections, they are too heavy and expensive and a Smartphone is usually enough for way marked, semi-urban, easy to navigate sections.

  • St. Cuthbert’s Way (may walk from Lindisfarne)
  • Southern Upland Way
  • Forth & Clyde and Union Canals
  • John Muir Way (also a short-cut to Drymen)
  • West Highland Way
  • Rob Roy Way
  • Great Glen Way
  • Cape Wrath Trail South and North (after crossing the Great Glen)

Further reading:

  • Walking the Cape Wrath Trail: Iain Harper – Cicerone Guide 2nd Edition
  • (others I have yet to list or purchase)

Let me know in the comments if you have any further advice and I will add it to My Maps and share this in future for anyone who wants a head start in planning their walk along Scotland premier long-distance route.

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