Travel the Hidden Trails of Scotland
With Wilderness of Scotland, Explore the Highlands
By Sierra Sumner
Imagine yourself on a coastal hike to white sandy beaches. You see the water is a rich turquoise that'd make you think you were in the Caribbean.
Look to your right, you see the rugged coastline stretching as far on as the eye can see. Turn to your left, you see iconic mountains rising out with eagles soaring above its peaks.
Where are you?
You are at The Old Mill and Achmelvich Beach, which happens to be one of Stevie Christie's favorite trips. Christie is the Head of Adventure at Wilderness Scotland; he loves how quickly the landscape in Scotland changes - take a 40 minute drive from one place and you can go from heather clouds and rolling plateaus to mountains.
This place is day five of a trip at Wilderness Scotland called Luxury Walking - Sutherland: The Great Wild North and you're standing where only a tiny portion of tourists will come to visit.
While there are many popular places to visit Scotland, such as Edinburgh, Wilderness Scotland aims to bring travelers to new areas of Scotland to experience the wild beauty of the country.
It's a Scotland-based company that attracts those looking to go where most people have never been before and exploring new areas. Here you can plan a trip to a quintessential Scottish lounge, then hike or travel by boat to a remote pub.
Popular trips include an introductory sea kayaking, bicycling trips that end where the modern bicycle was invented, "wilderness walking," mountain biking, canoeing, and other trips to discover gems of Scotland.
Comments from Clients
Lesley Lind commented, "Breathtaking scenery of mountains, lochs, and coastline all looking glorious in the October sunshine which lasted for the whole trip! Walking in the peace and quiet of this amazing part of Scotland with flourishing Scots pine forests and the bright autumnal colors meant this was a truly memorable holiday. I really look forward to returning again soon." (10/29/2016)
Brian Hammond gave a four-star review, saying that "Excellent guides, great location, and food. The only thing I'd do to improve the trip for me personally is to speak to the guides first as I booked on a trip that was not as demanding as I'd normally choose and you have to remember in some instances this will limit what you can do by the capabilities of others in the group, the guides will not always be able to split the group etc." (9/25/2016)
Elizabeth Roberts gave a two-star review, saying that "I would be careful with recommending the holiday to some of my friends (I am 71) because the enjoyment of the holiday depended very much on 'going with the flow' and previous long experience on family sailing holidays. I might try somewhere a bit warmer next time but would not fault the professionalism of the crew or the safety of the boat. Just one shower between 12, that's pretty extreme..." (5/18/2016)
Margaret Houtzaager commented that "The Highland Way was a great walking experience. Daily walking distances were very do-able and accommodation on the way was very comfortable. Our guide, Duncan, was awesome. Overall a fabulous walking trip." (9/29/2016)
Wilderness Scotland's goal is to cover the whole of Scotland. It's experiencing Scotland "not through a glass window - it's breathing the air and [the] experience. That's what Scotland is all about," says Stevie Christie, Head of Adventure in Wilderness Scotland. "Imagine yourself sitting on a boat looking up at the mountains, trying something you've never tried before."
"Scotland is a surprising destination," says Christie. The country is rich with Scottish history, such as you can hike to a remote valley and suddenly find small ruins that date back to the eighteenth century. "It's a whole different way of learning." The land is linked to history, where many people come to Scotland because they had family from there; it was place for enlightenment.
"We aim to give clients what they want, but more as well." This means that clients come to visit Scotland with certain expectations in mind, perhaps they want to see an ancient loch or castle, but as well as seeing these more popular destinations, they experience beautiful, more obscure areas of Scotland as well. It's the sense that a client will come to visit and think this is more than what I came for.
"It is the safest place for a rural, relaxed destination. You can have good fun and good history," says Christie. A favorite of many is to experience the birthplace of whisky and where the drink is made. It is also a very diverse land; "taken a continent and squashed it down into Scotland." It is also fairly accessible to people and you can travel across the whole country.
History of the Company
Based in Avenmore, Scotland, the company was launched in 2001. It began with people of the same ethos; Scotland and Ireland are these people's homes. Mederios said that they wanted to"do something and do something great."
Wilderness Scotland explores entire regions of Scotland, North of England, all the Scottish Isles including Skye, Shetland, Moidart, and the Highlands (which are considered the "bread and butter," as Mederios emphasized).
The company looks for pockets that pique travelers' interests, that "fall under the wilderness collective." They don't hire third parties and train their own guides. All of the guides hold national qualifications, such as first aid certificates, and have devices that can contact the head office directly. Christie says "anyone who meets our guides will trust them" and that the company is "a top of the game in terms of safety."
But keeping the client safe is an important basic to the company; there is some much more for the guides to teach, they are historians, environmentalists, story tellers, and experts in the local flora and fauna.
Wilderness has a different meaning for everyone, but essentially it is a place that is less built up and an escape from everyday crowding. "Once you get out of your car to get away from everything, you lose everybody," says Christie.
In Scotland, there is the hiking access law which allows any person to hike on any land. Granted, there are no marked trails, and not a lot of trees, so you can set off after looking at a map and either follow tracks or make your own way. "It really gives you a proper feel" of Scotland.
There is a wide range of trips, with the option of 45 different itineraries or you can create your own self-guided route. Custom departures can be made to run a trip for a private group or the company can make a trip from scratch to suit your desires.
There are also plenty of wildlife to see along the way. You can spot the red deer, which is a classic symbol of Scotland, the rare (across the UK) red squirrel, or the well-known"Highland cows."
Or take a trip on a sea kayak to see seals, dolphins, sea otters, whales, and porpoises. There's also a diverse range of birds in Scotland and some guides are wildlife specialists who aim to track down wildlife.
The trails can be an enlightening experience, with the guides there to point out wildlife and the flora, with explanations of methodology, medicinal uses, history of its importance, and Gaelic mythology. You will here it all - the stories and how things were used.
Wilderness Scotland takes care of all aspects of a trip to the country. They include hotels in their trip prices and they work with a network of small hotels to give you an authentic experience.
The company partners with locals to spread the economic benefits of tourism to the area - that means no hotel chains, only locally-owned businesses. A great example of this is on the West Coast there is a peninsula with no road access. The population was about 55-60 people, but because of its exposure to tourists, the population has roughly doubled and has built a school for its children.
"[We] design trips with sustainability in mind... we are somewhere that cares of the environment," says Christie. One way to be eco-friendly is the using no emissions forms of transportation, such as biking and hiking across Scotland.
Wilderness Scotland considers the food included in trips, they work with restaurants that have locally-sourced food. This includes Scottish salmon, beef, lamb, and wild mushrooms on the menu. One biking trip actually stops at a cheese maker where you can learn about how they run their business and taste a cheese board for dessert.
The company also focuses on educating people on how to help and protect the land. Another way they support the environment is through financially supporting and volunteering with the John Muir Land Trust. Staff members volunteer with the nonprofit multiple times a year to help out.
Wilderness Scotland wants to give clients everything they want while in a tiny place in a tiny country. It exposes clients to places they would have never known about and then they want to explore more new places.
Most trips are roughly a week long, but there are some that are as long as 10-12 days. The average price is about 1,295 - 1,485 pounds (~$1,500) which includes all lodging, most meals, and the cost of any activities integrated in the trip. The company has received a World Travel award for the good value for your money.
Each experience varies; some are based in one location with day trips to the surrounding areas, while others create a natural journey through the land as you travel. The company is expected to host about 160 departures next year. They specialize in small groups of about 8 clients, so that they are non-intrusive going into the wilderness.
There are no subcontractors in your trip; when you go, you are with Wilderness Scotland's guides and vehicles.
Wilderness Ireland was added to the company a few years ago. The company "really liked that destination and they have very similar values. A lot of us who have worked here [Scotland] have spent a lot of time there." says Christie.
Ireland, too, focuses on the remote and beautiful areas of the country; this includes North of England (across the border). Besides this expansion, there are not any future plans to expand anywhere else. This is because the company wants to focus on what they were passionate and knowledgeable about. To put in the words of Stevie Christie, "it was the best decision we've ever made."
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Sierra Sumner is a writer from Massachusetts, Hawaii and California. She loves the outdoors, such as hiking and kayaking, and has traveled all across the US. She hopes to continue her explorations and to encourage others to expand their horizons.