Since starting Secret Scotland in 2005 our small team of tour researchers has been extended by the addition of our son. When possible, we try to plan our trips so that we can either go away as a family, but this does mean that we have to moderate some of our hikes. To be honest, our son could probably outwalk us so long as he has the right motivation such as the promise of a bag of sweets at the end of the forced march.
Whilst we have dragged him up a few Munros, we do find that some hill climbs can become a bit too monotonous to keep him enthusiastic. The ideal walk for Junior is something around 90 minutes long that features an interesting objective. So the following is a selection of 5 shortish walks that a young child can undertake, but which an adult will still find rewarding.
Dun na Cuaiche - Every visitor to the pretty village of Inveraray on Loch Fyne, must have looked up and wondered what the tower on the hill top was. Well the hill is called Dun na Cuaiche (which translates as “Hill of the Cup” and the building that is so clearly visible on the skyline is just an ornamental watchtower which was built in 1748. Friends who grew up in this area have told us stories that one of the Dukes of Argyll used to have his dinner served to him in the tower so that he could enjoy a meal with a view. It is certainly an excellent viewpoint that lets you take in all of Inveraray as well as looking down the length of Loch Fyne to the distant peaks of Arran.
The route to the hilltop is well signposted and starts from the car park at Inveraray castle. For a £3 parking fee, you can leave your car at the start of the path and simply follow the blue arrows to get to the tower. The walk up should only take about 45 minutes, but it has some steep sections that will help you work up an appetite. On the way up to the tower, you pass through a “Pinetum” woodland with some non-indigenous species of conifers that were planted some 200 plus years ago. There are some impressive sequoia trees and hidden amongst them are the ruins of an old limekiln that operated up until the early 1900’s.
Craig Varr - The appeal of Craig Varr to a 5 year old is the thrill of seeing how close to the edge of this rocky outcrop you dare to go before you chicken out. To be honest, there are more dramatic and vertiginous cliff edges elsewhere in Scotland, but Craig Varr has the right balance of being scary without really making you feel in danger. The walk starts from the village of Kinloch Rannoch which is a remote, but appealing little village on a road that leads to nowhere. The village has an attractive hotel, cafe, general store, art gallery, garage, 2 churches and a smokehouse. So it is much more of a hive activity than its remote location on a map might lead you to expect.
From the village centre, you pass a lovely waterfall that flows in random rivulets over a large exposed rock face into a deep pool that looks like a very inviting place for a post perambulatory swim, were it not for the midges. From here on the ascent is a steep and steady climb through woodlands of bluebells until you break out of the tree line. Once clear of the woods, the gradient eases enough to let you catch your breath and start to take in some of the views across the glen to the Schiehallion mountain (“Schiehallion” roughly translates from Gaelic as the “Fairy Hill”). By this point you’ve done the bulk of the hardwalk and the final ascent to Craig Varr is an enjoyable scramble up a steep grassy slope to the crag where you will find a few stunted trees huddling against the wind which has forced them to grow at jaunty angles.
Outlander fans might be interested to know that Craig Varr is one of the hills in the background when Claire visits the standing stones at Craig na Dun. Now, we could tell you exactly where to go to find the site where they filmed the Craig na Dun standing stone scenes, but the site is on private land and we don’t think the farmer would thank us if we filled his field with lots of tourists trying to time travel.
Craignish Point - So how do you get a 5 year old enthused about a 2 mile walk in the rain, you try to appeal to their sense of adventure by telling them a good story about the place they are going to see. Although in the case of Craignish Point it helps to omit the fact that the place in the story is going to be about 4 miles away and only just discernible with binoculars.
Craignish Point is a rocky peninsula that points south west down the Sound of Jura. It’s highest point is only 60 metres above sea level, but this gives you just enough elevation to catch sight of the standing waves in the Gulf of Corryvreckan where the world’s third largest whirlpool can be found. The legend that makes this whirlpool interesting is one that I have recounted previously in this blog, but here is a condensed version. It all starts with a young Viking Prince called Breakan who fell in love with the daughter of a Scottish Chieftain. The girl’s father was not keen to see his daughter married to a Viking raider so he set Breakan the challenge of mooring his ship in the whirlpool for 3 nights. Breakan accepted the challenge and had 3 ropes made, one of wool, one of hemp and one of maiden’s hair as it was deemed to have magical powers of strength.Unfortunately, one maiden was not as pure as she claimed and all 3 ropes failed with poor Breakan drowning in the whirlpool.
Whilst the real drama of the whirlpool really needs to be seen up close to be appreciated, it is still an impressive sight if viewed through binoculars during the peak tide times of late July to early August. And even if you can’t see Corryvreckan, there are still some large eddies to be seen in the turbulent waters just south of the point.
Fairy Bridge - There are a few places around Scotland that claim connections to the “little people” and you’ll probably have heard about the Fairy Pools, Fairy Glen and Fairy Bridge on Skye. These places are fine if you don’t mind fighting to get a car parking spot and then having lots of other tourists photo bombing your holiday pictures, but that’s not our thing and we much prefer to go to places where it feels like we’re discovering a secret. The Fairy Bridge of Glen Creran is just such a place.
We’ve never actually found out the story behind this bridge and don’t even know if there are any “Fairy Stories” that relate to it, but the location and style of this bridge are such that it perfectly fits all your preconceptions of somewhere that fairies would hang out. The way to the bridge is not obvious and the path starts at the end of a road that leads nowhere. As a result you only tend to bump into “locals” when walking this way and even then you aren’t likely to pass many people as the locals seem quite happy to keep this place a secret for themselves.
For a 5 year that loves playing in streams, jumping in mud and dropping sticks off bridges, this path is paradise. And that’s before you even get to the bridge. The path does get exceptionally muddy in some places and there are sections, just before the bridge, where you will start to despair that you’ve wandered off track, but this all adds to the pleasure and surprise when you suddenly turn a corner and find this small, but perfectly formed stone arch which has an unusual parapet of upright mounted stones that look like teeth. The bridge sits in a shady little glen and is so narrow that it is hard to imagine that it was ever built with any intention of being anything other than a curiosity to make people puzzle why it was ever built at all.
Steall Falls - There are 2 good reasons why this walk appeals to a kid; first of all it is where they filmed the back drop for Harry Potter “Quidditch” matches, but more importantly it has a wire bridge for crossing over a river! This is one of our favourite walks as it delivers a great spectacle for just 90 minutes of effort (and that’s the round trip walking time). Unlike the other walks listed above, the way to the Steall Falls is one that will most likely be quite busy and you can expect to be stepping aside a few times as it is quite a narrow path. The thing that makes this hike so rewarding is the sudden change in landscape as you emerge from a shady woodland walk through a narrow gorge into a wide pasture surrounded by mountains. The icing on the cake is the impressive cascade of the Steall Falls which drop 120 metres making them he second highest waterfall in Scotland.
This hidden glen would be a wonderful place to hang around for a picnic and a swim, but in summer it is perfect midgie country so it becomes a test of endurance when there’s no wind to blow the wee bugs away. The optional fun element of this climb is crossing the wire bridge over the Water of Nevis. Optional because it is only necessary to cross the bridge if continuing on the path to the foot of the Steall Falls, but fun as the bridge only consists of 3 stout wires arranged in a “V” shape and is thus quite a bouncy means of traversing the river.