Celebrate National Walking Month at Scotland’s nature jewels

11 May 2019

NatureScot is urging people to get outside at one of Scotland’s stunning nature reserves during National Walking Month.

With May’s lighter evenings and better weather there’s never been a better time to visit a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and experience the best of our natural world.

Spring awakens a host of wildlife on our NNRs and while nature needs room to live and thrive there are many great places to experience its abundance.

With 43 sites throughout Scotland, from mountain tops to beaches, we’ve picked five of our favourite walks to inspire people to enjoy the great outdoors this month.

1. Go wild on the Beinn Eighe NNR mountain trail

Scots pines growing beside the mountain trail at Beinn Eighe Britain's first National Nature Reserve.

Stretching from loch-side to mountain top Beinn Eighe in Wester Ross was Britain’s first National Nature Reserve and it’s easy to see why. Rugged ridges and ancient Caledonian pines combine to make a visit to Beinn Eighe unforgettable. Challenge yourself by taking the 6.5 km waymarked mountain trail and climb to 550m to experience the best of the reserve’s wildlife, geology and dramatic scenery. Look out for dippers splashing in the cascading burns, golden eagles soaring above the mountain tops and alpine plants clinging to the higher slopes.

2. Explore the dunes of Forvie NNR

Evening light on the sand dunes at Sands of Forvie NNR, Aberdeenshire.

The stark beauty of the shifting dunes of Forvie to the north of Aberdeen have been compared to the Sahara Desert and are home to a huge variety of wildlife. The reserve is renowned for its birds, including eiders, four species of breeding terns and a wealth of wildfowl and waders. Take the waymarked Dune Trail to explore the River Ythan estuary, the dunes and beach, or extend your walk with a trip to the wonderful hidden Hackley Bay. Look out for guidance at the Reserve for the best place to see the tern colony at nesting time, usually between April and July. The mouth of the Ythan is also home to a large seal haul out which can be best seen from nearby Newburgh beach.

3. Step back in time at Knockan Crag NNR

Writing carved into rocks with mountains and lochs in the background.
Interpretive writing, poetry, carved on to rocks at Knockan Crag NNR, Highland Scotland.

Discover three billion years of geological history on a visit to Knockan Crag near Ullapool in the far north-west of Scotland. Some of the world’s oldest rocks can be seen at the reserve, while all around is evidence of the huge upheavals, collisions and pressures that have shaped Scotland. Find out more about an amazing story of colliding continents and scientific intrigue on a visit to the unique Rock Room visitor centre before exploring the sculpture and poetry trails. Climb the steep Crag Top Trail for wonderful views across Coigach and Assynt and an eagle’s eye view of deep time.

4. Spot wildlife galore at Loch Leven NNR

Panorama of Loch Leven NNR and the Lomond hills from the bird hide near Kinross.

Nature lovers don’t have to travel too far for one of the best wildlife experiences in Scotland with a visit to Loch Leven NNR near Kinross.  The huge expanse of water is home to countless birds, with more breeding ducks than anywhere else in inland Europe. Loch Leven is also rich in history and heritage – the castle is famed for having held Mary Queen of Scots captive. One of the best ways to explore the reserve is to follow the 21km Heritage Trail around the loch. Visit the peaceful wildlife hides and in late summer keep an eye out for ospreys patrolling the loch in search of a fish supper.

5. Get the complete mountain experience at Creag Meagaidh NNR

Rock cliffs leading down to a loch, with some snow in the crevices.
Allt Coire Ardair and Lochan a Choire, Coire Ardair, Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve.

Creag Meagaidh is a magical place that lies between Fort William and Newtonmore and feels like the Highlands compressed into one reserve. The dramatic scenery takes in a wild mountain plateau, ice-carved gullies and woodland being brought back to life thanks to pioneering conservation work. Three waymarked trails make it easy to explore the lower slopes of Creag Meagaidh, while a good path takes visitors up the glen to Coire Ardair – a wild and beautiful place where a lochan nestles beneath dramatic cliffs and eagles soar high.

For lots more ideas on hidden walking gems at our National Nature Reserves see our latest blog here