Bag a what? While it may sound like a challenge to successfully seduce a particular family of Scotsman, in reality, it is far from it. A Munro is any mountain peak in Scotland over 3,000 feet (914 m), of which there are currently 282 to choose from.
Bagging one simply means to hike all the way to the peak and it is somewhat of a national sport in the UK. Named after Sir Hugh Munro who first surveyed and produced a list of these highland hills in 1891, the Munros of Scotland mostly congregate around the Glencoe and Fort William area. That’s not to mention the smaller but not less impressive Corbetts (2,500 – 3,000 feet) or Grahams (2,000 – 2,499 feet) of which there are a further 450 odd.
These beautiful mountains rise up from the valley floors and reach for the clouds as the road snakes between them and the pristine lochs. Driving into Glencoe late in the afternoon with a storm rolling in was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of our journey so far. Dotted throughout these endless valleys are beautiful stone bothies and villages, and if you are lucky the occasional herd of Highland Coos.
Bagging Two Munros and Hiking for Beginners
Now we have to be honest, when we left Australia we had no concept of hiking as a pastime. We certainly didn’t own any hiking gear or train in readiness. Luckily we were with our friends Stu and Ali, who met us in Scotland fresh from tackling Mt. Everest, as they soon had us convinced of the merits of hiking as the best way to see the world.
So 9am on our first day in the Highlands found us down the main street of Fort William waiting for the outdoor shops to open so we could get our boots on and hit the trails. At this point, we feel we are very well positioned to give some beginners tips on hiking for novices with no experience.
Hot tip number 1: Invest in the best shoes you can afford.
This could almost be the only tip, as once you have the right shoes, you can hike! We looked at a couple of different shops and the choice came down to a decent looking no-name shoe, and a premium brand shoe with a hefty discount that was still twice as much. The salesman had the casting vote with an extra staff discount on top (you can’t fault the friendliness of the Scottish) and by 11am we were well underway climbing up to the top of Stob Dubh in Buachaille Etive Beag.
Thinking we had a 3-4 hr hike in front of us, it wasn’t until we’d been on the ridgeline for a while that we realised the hike was actually a good 5-6 hr walk! Lucky we went with the premium shoes, as we survived the hike up and down the two peaks with not one blister between us. So far we were winning!
The climb to the top was pretty much big stone steps the whole way up. We were a lot less fit than Ali and Stu, so they led the way encouraging us to put one foot in front of the other. The view from the top is spectacular, and we had a perfect sunny day and great visibility. One of the great things about hiking in this region is there are so many walks and mountains to climb that we barely encountered another soul.
Hot Tip Number 2: Use the Walking Highlands website and download maps.
This site has the most amazing information on all the main walks in the area. With summaries of the hike, downloadable GPS maps, photo highlights, ratings, user comments and more it is essential reading before you head out.
This is the hill walk we completed: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/fortwilliam/buachailleetivebeag.shtml
An essential app that we use everywhere we travel is Maps Me: https://maps.me/
With the ability to download an entire region before heading out, it gives decent driving directions whilst offline but even better it has extensive walking path maps that come in real handy.
This is still one of the most rewarding experiences of our travels so far. Our boots have had a real workout since then and are still the best purchase we have ever made. Unfortunately, our legs could not back up day one’s performance and we weren’t able to bag any more Munros in the next couple of days. So instead, it was time to go hunting for some heroes.
Tracking down 007 and Harry Potter
If walking or strenuous hiking isn’t your thing, just driving aimlessly through the valleys makes for a spectacular day out. If you are more the type that needs to have a plan in place, then there is still plenty to see. We ended up on a bit of a movie tour, as the Fort William region has been used in many movies and TV shows in the past.
James Bond aficionados can drive down the road used for filming Skyfall. This was high on Tim’s list while we were there and the drive was simply stunning. We managed to squeeze it in after our hike as it was not far out of Glencoe. The road follows the River Etive into Loch Etive and we saw several groups camping along this lovely waterway and quiet valley.
For fans of Harry Potter or cool bridges, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is well worth a look, if you have time you can even go on The Jacobite train itself that goes over the viaduct. Settling on a sunset photography spot, we checked the timetable and headed on out. There is a smaller cheeky car park past the main visitor centre that is free which we managed to get a spot in.
Several paths wind away from the viaduct and offer a variety of walks and views. We picked a hike up a hill with a good view over the bridge and settled in to wait for the train to come across. We waited. And waited. And no train appeared. Getting cold and dark we abandoned our wait and went home. A tough break but a beautiful sunset nonetheless. Maybe next time we will get on the train rather than wait for it!
Our top 3 tips for hiking beginners
- Make sure you have a decent backpack that won’t hurt your shoulders or do damage to your back. Get a professional to fit one for you, and look for sternum and waist straps.
- Pack LOTS of water and snacks. Plan for around 1 litre for every 1-2 hours weather dependant. Granola bars, bananas, apples, nuts are staples in our bags. Look at your route and see if there are any water sources on the way which may lighten your load.
- Decent shoes are a must, we’ve seen people climbing in Cons and Vans and don’t even want to think about the state of their toes after a hike! One foot in front of the other and you’ll be amazed how far you go!
Our favourite Glencoe and Fort Willam memories
BAG at least one Munro, maybe two!
INVEST in decent, quality walking shoes and your feet will be happy.
PLACE one foot in front of the other and you’ll be amazed at how far you go.
PREPARE well with supplies and stay informed of weather conditions.
IMAGINE you’re on the train to Hogwarts or cruising down the road in an Aston Martin with 007.
Did you find this post interesting? Here are some others you might like!