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Hiking Routes in Scotland to Discover your Scottish Ancestry
6 Min Read
26 March 2024
Hiking Routes in Scotland to Discover your Scottish Ancestry

If you’re keen to discover your Scottish heritage, our self-guided Scottish routes take you into the depths of authentic and rural Scotland - where history is rich and abundant. We’ve rounded up our top trips where you’ll be greeted by some of the friendliest locals around and immersed in the very landscapes your ancestors will have wandered.

Eilean Donan Castle

Nancy’s Story – Following my ancestor’s footsteps

One of our customers, Nancy, did just that on our self-guided Scottish Highlands and Skye by Rail tour, where she discovered her roots and followed the footsteps of her ancestors. 

“Our June tour to Scotland became a trip down memory lane, not because I’d personally visited these places before, but because my ancestors had lived there, particularly in the Lowlands.  Though I didn't know the individuals that emigrated to the ‘New Land’, I do know they were from the late 18th and early 19th centuries and deeply enjoyed walking in places they might have called home and experiencing and learning about what their lives might have been like. It certainly enhanced the meaning of this journey. 

It was the perfect, stress-free way to tour this beautiful country and my ancestry. The accommodations were perfect, and we really enjoyed meeting our lovely hosts in Inverness, and Heather, our host in Portree! 

If we’d had longer, we would've stayed a few more days in Inverness and ventured north to explore Orkney. I was there in 1981 and was so nice to share the country with my husband, and to see more of it." 

We’ve rounded up some of our top self-guided hiking routes in Scotland to help you get one step closer to discovering your roots... 

colourful houses in Portree

Top self-guided Adventures in the Scottish Highlands & Hebrides

Migrants from the Scottish Highlands and Scotland’s western Isles in the late 1700s and early 1800s mainly settled in United States frontier regions like North Carolina and Georgia, and Canadian provinces like Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Glengarry County. These self-guided Highland hikes and self-guided trips to the Hebrides take you into the heart of the regions, where enchanting routes, foothill towns and ancient history are peppered throughout. 

 

Skye & the Outer Hebrides

Many Scottish immigrants traded the windswept pastures and pristine beaches of the Hebrides for the prospects of a freer and more enriched life in New York and Pennsylvania. Many of Scotland’s Hebridean islands have turquoise seas and dazzling sands that look like they’ve been plucked from a tropical land. Skye provides incredible contrasts with its pastel-hued town of Portree and the other-worldly rock formation of Old Man of Storr.  

This Classic Route begins with a train ride through the dramatic Highlands towards the Hebridean archipelago. Pass vast lochs and stretches of unspoilt beaches while staying in quaint accommodations and meeting some of the friendliest folk around. 

Discover our self-guided Skye and the Outer Hebrides trip

 Isle of Harris beach

 

Highlands & Isle of Skye: Rail & Hike 

Beginning in Glasgow, where its network of grid streets very much resembles those in the United States, you’ll leave the bustling metropolis, heading north to the majestic Loch Lomond. This is where the peaceful Scottish solitude begins and where you’ll start to get a feel for the types of terrain your ancestors walked.  

The roads make for an incredibly smooth ride and with every bend and turn, you’re met with another exquisite view. The atmosphere up here changes. Its remoteness blankets you in peace and quiet and has a magical air to it. The crystal-clear fairy pools in Skye and the many castles – like the 18th century Eilean Donan Castle can vouch for that. And while many of these places may have inspired a fictional story or two, these sites are very real and add to the enchanting experience you’ll have.  

Discover our self-guided Highlands & Isle of Skye: Rail & Hike

 old man of storr, Isle of Skye

 

Walking in the Scottish Highlands 

Kick-start your self-guided hiking trip in the small village of Blair Atholl. On its cusp stands the dazzling white Blair Castle, dating back as early as 1269. This route has an abundance of historic locations, each with a story to tell.   

Settle into charming accommodations in characterful spots like Pitlochry, which neighbours Killiecrankie, site of the Jacobite rebellion of 1689.   

Wander through the diverse Scottish wilderness, over rocky scree, across wild heathland and beneath forest canopies before having a drink at the many whisky distilleries.   

The river-perched village of Dunkeld is your final destination, where a warm Scottish welcome awaits. 

Discover our self-guided Walking in the Scottish Highlands hike

 Blair Castle

 

Rob Roy Way  

Follow the footsteps of one of Scotland’s most notorious figures along this 79-mile route through highland glens, gorge walks and open moorland. Rob Roy fought tooth and nail to defend his land and we understand why… 

Mythic ancient stone circles, Crannogs, ancient dwellings, and Roman forts dot the trail creating an otherworldly atmosphere. Featuring six lochs, this tour has its fair share, each one as impressive as the last. 

Pass viaducts and charming towns like Drymen and Callander, where you can learn more about the Rob Roy legend. Follow unused railway tracks, encounter bubbling waterfalls, and delve into the heritage and folklore of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. 

The accommodation along this route is so cozy and twee. Victorian country inns, Edwardian guesthouses and traditional B&Bs serve up homely breakfasts and comfy rooms for a well-earned rest. And you can’t visit Scotland without sipping its golden whisky and trying the famous hearty Highland cuisine at a friendly local pub. 

Discover our self-guided Rob Roy Way hike

 A water front crannog on the Rob Roy Way

 

Speyside Whisky Trail  

If you’re fascinated by history and are partial to a nightcap of the golden nectar, this self-guided hiking trip brings the two together in perfect harmony. Hop from one distillery to the other, wandering along the original smuggler's trails through the depths of the Scottish countryside. Where ancient pine forests, heather-carpeted glens and rushing rivers create a diverse backdrop to your journey.  

Home to almost half of the 100 malt whisky distilleries in Scotland, Speyside and Strathspey are the places to be for whisky connoisseurs. And you may be lucky enough to spot ospreys and golden eagles who also call these regions home. As this is a Slower Adventure, you can sip your whisky slower while learning about the production process and stop to admire the scenery for longer.  

Did you know if the liquor is made in Scotland, Canada or Japan, it's spelt 'whisky' & if it's made in Ireland or the United States, it's spelt 'whiskey'?

Discover our self-guided Speyside Whisky Trail hike

 whisky tasting

 

Self-guided hikes in the Scottish Lowlands

Lowland Scots mainly settled in locations like New York City and Philadelphia and Canadian provinces like Québec. These Scottish self-guided trips showcase the raw beauty of Scotland's east coast, where stretches of powdered sugar beaches and bushy pine tree forests beckon to be explored, and castle and abbey ruins stand tall amongst wild landscapes. 

 

John Muir Way 

Journey from west to east along this remarkable self-guided route, named after conservationist, activist and explorer, John Muir. He too was an immigrant, heading to the United States with his family in 1848, aged 10. Muir dedicated his life to protecting wild places and educating people about the vital role nature plays in the wellbeing of humans. Impressively, he also inspired the creation of the world’s first national park system! 

This trail starts in Helensburgh – where John Muir set sail for North America. Heading east, you’ll walk along the bonnie banks for Loch Lomond and through forest plantations with sweeping views of the Lomond Hills. Dotted with history, this trail features the Antonine Wall – built around 142 AD by the Romans, historic Linlithgow - birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, 15th Blackness Castle and of course, the iconic Edinburgh castle. You’ll end your adventure in Dunbar, on the east coast and the birthplace of John Muir himself. 

Discover our self-guided John Muir Way hike

 John Muir Way reservoir

 

St Cuthbert’s Way 

Named after the Anglo-Saxon saint, this self-guided route begins in Scotland and ends in Lindisfarne. Also known as Holy Island, it’s an island off the northeast coast of England that’s accessed via a causeway. It’s here that St Cuthbert’s name and life inspired the building of the Lindisfarne Priory which began around 1120. St Cuthbert was an avid benefactor of birdlife, making him one of the earliest wildlife conservationists. In fact, this area is abundant with birdlife, so keep your eyes peeled for Godwits, Oystercatchers, Lapwings, Curlews and Redshanks. 

Throughout this trail you’ll navigate grassy pastures, misty woodland and mauve moorland. A treasure trove of history, you’ll pass centuries-old abbey ruins, grand castles perching atop windswept lookouts, historic towns with thatched cottages and astounding Roman ruins. 

Discover our self-guided St Cuthbert’s Way hike

 Lindisfarne Castle sign with the castle in the background

 

Fife Coastal Trail 

Just north of Edinburgh, on the east coast of Scotland, you’ll find Fife Coastal trail. A route that hugs the edge of the coast – countryside on your left and rippling North Sea to the right. Pass through seaside towns with houses painted in rainbow tones and stop for award-winning fish and chips at cobbled fishing villages.  

White sandy beaches pave the way on stretches of the route, and if you’re lucky, you may spot basking seals and acrobatic dolphins among the surf. History is abundant here too, so if you’re a history buff, you’re in for a treat! Explore pre-historic caves, delve into the past at castle ruins and local museums and soak up the atmosphere at Elie Ness Lighthouse, built in 1908 and designed by David Stevenson, cousin to the famous Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Discover our self-guided Fife Coastal Trail hike

 Fife coastal trail

Experience the Majesty of Scotland with Macs Adventure Hiking Tours

Immerse yourself in Scotland's dramatic landscapes as you explore your Scottish ancestry with Macs Adventure. From the rolling hills of the Highlands to the rugged beauty of the Isle of Skye, our expertly curated self-guided hiking tours and routes offer something for every adventurer. Join us as we embrace the natural beauty of Scotland and discover the magic of its ancient trails and historic landmarks. With Macs Adventure, your Scottish hiking experience awaits. 

For more inspiration, check out our self-guided Scottish hiking trips and UK self-guided hiking trips. 

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Kirsty Schneider

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Kirsty Schneider
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