Outdoor Scotland

This page is for anybody who wants to know more about being outdoors in Scotland, whether hiking, biking, paddling or horse-riding. If you haven't done a Great Trail in Scotland before, here are some issues to be aware of, including the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Use the menu on the right to skip straight to the content you want.

Hours of daylight

Scotland extends over high latitudes – higher than most people who live elsewhere in the world have experienced. Most of Scotland’s Great Trails are in the range 55° to 58° N (and Scotland extends to 61°N at the north of Shetland, similar to Anchorage, Alaska). Visitors should be prepared for how widely the hours of daylight vary from month to month. In late June, there may be as much as 17-19 hours of daylight, whereas in late December, there could be as little as 5-7 hours.

Running short of daylight can take you into real danger if you are unprepared. Between late September and late March, aim to set out at first light and always check the time of sunset before you go. Plan realistically what distance you can expect to cover in a short day, and always carry a headtorch in case, for whatever reason, it takes longer.

Weather and waterproofs

The weather in Scotland is unpredictable year-round. It can be cloudy and windy at any time, the sun may shine, rain, hail or sleet may fall – and all of these may happen within half an hour. Be prepared for anything, and often you will get a pleasant surprise. Check a weather forecast before deciding what to carry with you each day: click here for the Met Office.

It is vital not only to carry a waterproof top layer, but also to know that you can rely on it. Long before a multi-day expedition, test your waterproofs so you have time to reproof or replace. It can be surprisingly difficult to find a suitable shop once you have set off. Be sure to take a waterproof cover for your rucksack.

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Scotland has one of the most enlightened access policies in the world: by law, everyone has the right to be on most land and inland water providing that they act responsibly. Your access rights and responsibility are explained fully in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Click for a short Introduction to the Code or download Know the Code Before You Go (leaflet, 650 K)You can download the entire document as a PDF, epub (ebook) or mobi (Kindle).

Tides

Many coastal routes include sections that may be passable only with care around high tide, or even that may be unsafe unless you know that the tide is falling. For online tide times well into the future, Tides4fishing is helpful and free, but sadly covers very few of the islands, nor even large peninsulas such as Kintyre or Cowal.

For a more comprehensive set of locations, but restricted to only one week ahead (free service), use Admiralty EasyTide. Remember that tidal predictions are only forecasts: the actual hazard depends also on weather, wind and waves.

Midges

In summer months, small biting insects called midges can be a problem. Some people won’t ever be bitten, others find them so maddening that they resort to headnets, especially if camping or wishing to sit still anywhere near water and vegetation. If you walk fast (4 mph/6.4 kph), midges can’t keep up! For more about the midge season, repellants and a five-day midge forecast based on midge traps and mini-weather stations, visit the Smidge website.