Bonnie Scotland isn’t just a turn of phrase. The country regularly stars in lists of the world’s most beautiful destinations and contains a wide array of national parks and nature reserves. And with such a stunningly varied range of landscapes - from the double UNESCO world heritage site of St Kilda to the striking peaks and glens - there are a vast amount to choose from when planning your next trip.
1. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Scotland may only have two official national parks - compared to the 13 in England and Wales - but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in scale and grandeur. The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is the fourth largest in the UK and contains a treasure trove of beautiful lochs - including the country’s biggest.
Some 21 Munros - mountains with summits in excess of 3,000 ft or 914 meters high - can be found within the park’s boundaries. And then there are the myriad other peaks that fail to qualify as Munros but are among the country’s most popular - not least of which is The Cobbler in the ‘Arrochar Alps’. This 2,900 ft summit’s iconic outline and popularity among rock climbers are well-known. The park’s location close to the city of Glasgow also makes the region exceedingly popular with day-trippers, holidaymakers and campers.
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Address: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, Carrochan, Carrochan Road, Balloch, G83 8EG
Contact: +44 1389722600 or [email protected]
2. Cairngorms National Park
Little in the British Isles can touch the Cairngorms National Park for scale. As well as being home to several of Scotland’s tallest peaks in the form of the mountain range which gives the area its name, the park is also by far the biggest in the UK. In fact at 4,528 sq km it is larger than the next two parks - the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales - combined.
Within its boundaries lies the outdoor and ski sports town of Aviemore, which serves as a gateway to the heart of the park. It is by no means the only ski resort either, with The Lecht and the Glenshee Ski Centre both welcoming many sports enthusiasts every year. In the east lies the Aberdeenshire towns of Braemar and Ballater, which are famous for their links to the British monarchy - Balmoral Castle lies between the two. Another noted highlight of the park includes the River Spey, which is famous for its salmon fishing and as the geographical source of many a fine whisky.
Caingorms National Park
Address: Cairngorms National Park Authority, 14 The Square, Grantown-on-Spey, PH26 3HG
Contact: +44 1479873535
Website: Cairngorms National Park
3. Beinn Eighe
Beinn Eighe in Scotland’s north-west holds the distinction of being Britain’s very first national nature reserve - paving the way for the many which followed. The reserve, which is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, is a particularly popular area for walkers - with the scree fields of the eponymous peak being an especially popular destination for serious hikers. A little further west also lies the famous mountain walking area of Torridon.
In recent times the reserve has been extended to include the neighboring site of the Loch Maree islands - roughly 60 isles which sit in the large freshwater loch of the same name and that are a haven for wildlife and pockets of the country’s native Caledonian Forest.
Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve
Address: Reserve Office, Anancaun, Kinlochewe, Ross-shire, IV22 2PA
Access: The visitor centre car park is at map grid reference NH019630. Its postcode is IV22 2PD
Contact: +44 1445760254 or [email protected]
Website: Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve
4. Glen Affric
Affric has a well-earned reputation for being one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens. The nature reserve can be accessed by road via the small Inverness-shire village of Cannich. The route winds its way up past woodland and the reservoir of Loch Beinn a'Mheadoin to a Forestry Commission Scotland car park just east of Loch Affric. A short uphill walk leads to a stunning viewpoint that looks west across the loch to the mountains that surround it.
Those who are up for it can also enjoy an 11-mile (17 km) low level walk that begins and ends at the car park and completely encircles Loch Affric - just note that a couple of the burns that are crossed en route do not have bridges, which means you’re liable to get your feet wet in times of spate. Hikers can also access several Munros from the car park.
Glen Affric National Nature Reserve
Contact: +44 1463791575 or invernessross&[email protected]
Website: Glen Affric National Nature Reserve
5. Forsinard Flows
The Flow Country in Caithness is among the wildest land left in Europe. It features mile after mile of blanket bog and looks much the same as it likely did at the end of the last Ice Age. Its pools of standing water also make it an important spot for birdlife, attracted by the many insects that call this landscape home. Indeed the Forsinard Flows reserve is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) because of the varied array of avian species that frequent the area. The charity also runs a visitor centre out of former railway platform buildings at Forsinard station on the Far North Line.
Forsinard Flows National Nature Reserve
Address: RSPB Visitor Centre, Forsinard Railway Station, Forsinard, Highland, KW13 6YT
Contact: +44 1641571225 or [email protected]
6. Isle of May
The largest island in the Firth of Forth, the Isle of May is sandwiched between the Lothians to the south and Fife in the north. Its coastal location and isolation make it a superb spot to watch the region’s bird life, with its cliffs attracting many a nesting bird during the summer - including the popular puffin.
The island’s proximity to Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh, coupled with the isolation that only comes with being an island, has also made this spot a popular location for many a people down the centuries - with monks, smugglers and even Vikings paying a visit at various times. Those looking to visit can get to the Isle of May via boat trips from Anstruther in Fife and the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick in East Lothian.
Isle of May National Nature Reserve
Access: Boat trips depart Anstruther in Fife and North Berwick in East Lothian
Contact: +44 1334654038 or [email protected]
Website: Isle of May National Nature Reserve
7. Knockan Crag
The tortured rocks of Scotland’s north-west tell a fascinating history. Some of the strata in this area date back more than three billion years making them among the oldest in Europe. From ice ages to volcanic upheaval, this region has seen it all at various points in the Earth’s past - including evidence of a massive meteorite impact about a billion years ago that only came to light in the past decade or so and is among the largest ever discovered on the planet.
This rich and varied history has led to some bizarre anomalies, including the Moine Thrust at Knockan Crag, which puzzled geologists for years after they discovered that older rock sat on top of much younger strata. The cause? Major tectonic forces in the distant past. The Knockan Crag nature reserve is home to a number of trails and rock sculptures that give visitors the chance to learn about this history.
Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve
Access: The reserve is located north of Ullapool on the A835
Contact: +44 1854613418 or [email protected]
Website: Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve
The most southerly National Nature Reserve in Scotland, Caerlaverock sits on the shores of the Solway Firth, which separates Dumfries and Galloway from the English county of Cumbria and its famous Lake District. The reserve’s location on the firth makes it an important spot for coastal wildlife, with all manner of species drawn to the rich mudflats and marshland.
Next to the reserve sits a visitor centre belonging to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, which offers bird watchers and other wildlife enthusiasts the perfect spot from which to enjoy the aerial displays. And if you’d rather just soak in the sea views with your family, there are a number of picnic tables dotted about, some of which are wheelchair accessible.
Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve
Contact: +44 3000673200 or [email protected]
Website: Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve
9. St Abb's Head
The coastal cliffs of the Berwickshire coastline will be familiar to anyone who has passed this area on the train between Edinburgh and London. The track hugs the coastline for a short time north of the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed and provides a tantalizing taster of the sheer cliff faces and coastal inlets.
St Abb’s Head is a particularly popular section of this old county’s cliffs, both for the superb coastal views they afford and also for the large number of sea birds that swoop overhead on their way to and from their feeding grounds and nests. Guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills are among the avian species to be found in the area, while the grassy fields above the cliffs are home to a number of colorful flowering plants. Those keen to explore the North Sea’s bird life further may also wish to head north to North Berwick, which offers boat trips out to Bass Rock - home to the largest gannet colony in the world.
St Abb's Head National Nature Reserve
Address: The Rangers’ Office, St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve, Northfield, St Abbs, Berwickshire, TD14 5QF
Contact: +44 1890771443 or [email protected]
10. Clyde Valley Woodlands
This reserve is actually six separate sites, all located relatively close to Glasgow for ease of access but also boasting the kinds of landscape you might associate with more remote spots - including lovely waterfalls such as Dundaff Linn (pictured) and Corra Linn, as well as ancient trees that avoided felling in centuries long past in part thanks to inaccessible gorge slopes.
The area is home to the World Heritage Site of New Lanark, famed for the cotton mills of the 18th-century industrial revolution. Corra Linn, meanwhile, is another notable attraction - its falls having cast a spell on painters and poets alike, including JMW Turner and William Wordsworth. The Scottish Wildlife Trust operates a visitor centre in the area, ideal for those looking to discover more.
Falls of Clyde
Address: Falls of Clyde, Dye Works, New Lanark, ML11 9DB
Contact: +44 1555665262 or [email protected]
Website: Falls of Clyde
Where will inspiration take you?
Stunning landscapes, fascinating histories, rich culture and diverse wildlife, these are just some of the choice reserves and national parks that await a visit to Scotland. And with the country boasting more than 40 National Nature Reserves alone - including such illustrious spots as the famous isle of Staffa - you will never be far away from the next memorable and inspiring experience.