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Why Go Trail Running in Scotland?

Updated: Jun 6

Why go Trail Running in Scotland?

Why wouldn’t you want to go running in Scotland? Seriously though, Scotland is a runner’s paradise. Yes, the trails can be tough with rough terrain and steep ascents and descents, but there really is something for everyone. From beautiful forest trails to remote mountain tops and airy skyrunning scrambles, whether you’re a complete newbie to running off tarmac or already have lots of experience, you are guaranteed to find something to test your legs on in Scotland.

We also have much more freedom to explore in Scotland compared to England and Wales, and pretty much the rest of the world. Here in Scotland, we have the right to responsible access to most of the land, or as many people call it, the “right to roam.”

What is the “Right to Roam”?

When people say that you have the right to roam in Scotland, they’re referring to the Land Reform Act 2003. In a nutshell, this means that everyone has the right to access most of the land (with some fairly obvious exceptions such as people’s gardens) and inland water, as long as you are doing so responsibly. What does this mean for us as runners? It means we’re not restricted to paths. Although we usually stick to paths because it generally makes for easier and more pleasant running, we can leave them if we fancy exploring that nice loch or fun-looking crag over there. Or even enjoy a wonderful boggy descent if you’re into that kind of thing.

Side note: Paths are marked differently on maps in Scotland. In England and Wales, they are designated as Public Rights of Way, whereas in Scotland they’re just paths.

What Skills Do I Need for Trail Running in Scotland?

Many of the skills will be quite similar to where you usually go running, but there are some things to bear in mind.

  • Navigation: Even on trails, Scotland doesn’t tend to do signposts as much as places south of the border, so if you’re not familiar with an area, it’s worth having a map with you so you can keep track of where you are. If you’re heading into the mountains, paths aren’t always marked, so you may have to rely on contour features. If you’re going off-path, you definitely need to be familiar with contours and other features.

  • Weather: Our mountains are bigger, which means potentially colder, windier, and wetter weather. How does this affect what kit you need to carry? And your route planning?

  • Remoteness: You can get quite remote quite quickly, and there are often very few other people around. You need to be independent and confident that you can look after yourself, especially if something were to go wrong.

Don’t be put off by this! All of this is what makes running in Scotland so rewarding. And it will feel easier when you go home! Train hard, race easy. Isn’t that the saying!?

Where is the Best Place for Running in Scotland?

We might be a little bit biased, but west is best. We’re based in Fort William, the Outdoor Capital of the UK, and right at the foot of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. Within an hour's drive, we have forest runs, lochside runs, coastal runs, mountain runs, scrambly runs, runs to waterfalls, runs to beaches, and runs to bothies. What’s a bothy? You’ll have to join one of our experiences and come to Scotland and find out!

What Kit Do I Need to Go Running in Scotland?

Good waterproofs! It’s no joke that it rains quite a lot here, especially on the west coast, but that’s what makes it so lush and beautiful, and why we have so many amazing waterfalls.

The rest of your kit depends on you and what you’re hoping to do. There are so many variables in terms of terrain, elevation, length of run, weather, and how much you feel the cold. You’ll need good trail shoes and a selection of layers that are not made from cotton or down. Synthetic or wool are best. Cotton and down are both useless if they get wet, which they probably will from either sweat or rain.

  • Gloves: Even in summer, bring gloves.

  • A bottle of Smidge:

Are the Midges Really That Bad?

They can be bad sometimes, but it really depends on where you are. It also helps if you know how to avoid them. Midges love calm, damp conditions with lots of vegetation, and they’re particularly active around dawn and dusk. Dampness is common in Scotland, and there’s also a lot of vegetation when you go trail, mountain, or sky running. So how on earth do you escape the dreaded midge? Your options are to either:

  • Find a breeze: Midges can’t fly in wind that’s stronger than about 5-7mph, which is a light breeze. There’s usually a bit of wind in Scotland, but if it’s a particularly calm day, you can give yourself a better chance of avoiding midges by going high (wind speeds increase as you go higher), going somewhere a bit more open (less sheltered), or finding a nice sea breeze on a coastal run.

  • Keep moving: If you’re running, the midges won’t be able to keep up, but if you stop, they will find you!

How Do I Get to Fort William?

It’s actually relatively easy to get to where we are in Fort William. Here are the options:

  • Train: There are a number of trains per day from Glasgow to Fort William, and if you’re coming from the London area, you can even take the Caledonian Sleeper train. This leaves from London Euston and brings you into Fort William the following morning, feeling well-rested and ready to run.

  • Bus: There are good bus links between Fort William and Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, and Skye. These are run by Citylink.

  • Drive: Your satnav will show you the way.

  • Fly: We’d rather you don’t fly (unless you’re coming from abroad) because we want to try and maintain the wild places that we get to enjoy when we run. But if you absolutely have to fly, the easiest airports to connect with Fort William are Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness.

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