Scotland is every bit as idyllic, magical and serene as the photographs and documentaries would have you believe. The fresh natural air, picturesque views, bag pipe notes, cobbled streets and hints of tartan all make up this country’s greatest selling points.

While it is famous for its castles and lochs, Scotland is packed with hidden gems that sit away from the hustle and bustle of major tourist spots. Forget walking around the busy Edinburgh city centre, you need to pack your walking boots for your trip – especially if you’re a lover of the great outdoors.

Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park is home to the most extensive range of high mountains within the United Kingdom (including five of the six highest in Britain). A wild and vast terrain, magnificent hollows are carved into the mountainside thanks to mother nature. So dominant is this park in scale that when you look at Scotland on Google maps, the large green space marked out is, in fact, Cairngorms National Park.

On occasion, snow sits within the mountains. Views are spectacular, especially if you make it up to a high vantage point. Even at the lower points though, the babbling brooks and grassy expanse make it a scene to behold – as do the views of the rocky mountains above.

The valleys of the Rivers Spey and Dee (upon which Balmoral Castle sits) pass through the ancient Caledonian pinewoods and add a touch of blue to an otherwise grassy and brown expanse. The National Park is alive with wildlife and movement.

It is a space best explored on foot (although you could also take a bike too if you’re a keen cyclist) and given how vast it is, there’s plenty to be seen. If you like to be more spontaneous with your travels, leaflets can be found around the National Park on the local path networks guiding you on your walks – just be careful not to lose your bearings.

Most of the 43 munros (Scottish mountains over 3000ft) can be walked within a day and only require basic equipment and previous navigation experience. A good dose of common sense and logic will take you a long way – as will talking to neighbouring passers-by!

Keep an eye out for any ranger services who may be offering guided walks and events. Walk Highlands is also a great resource for inspiration and has over 1,900 free walks around Scotland for you to take advantage of (including some through the Cairngorms National Park).

Hillview Cottage in Cairngorms Mountain Park is the perfect location to kick off your walking boots and relax at the end of a busy day – and comes complete with a hot tub, which is the perfect retreat for blistered feet. Once part of the Glenlivet Whisky Distillery until 1952, this cottage is packed with history, cosy creature comforts and offers views over stunning ever-changing scenery.

Ullapool

Further up the map sits Ullapool, situated alongside Loch Broom and with Loch Achall sat further inland. This small village is a popular destination in Scotland, despite only having around 1,500 people residing there. It was first founded as a herring port in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society, and the harbour remains on the edge of the village.

With mild temperatures year round, Ullapool is the place to head to if you like a fresh sea breeze and are desperate to escape the claustrophobic haze of city life. With hauntingly beautiful and breathtaking views, the quaint small town is cuddled by vast and rugged hilly terrains and deep blue glossy waters.

It’s a great region for walkers and sits between two stark and contrasting parts of the Highlands (Ullapool being in the north-west Highlands). Whether you’re a long-distance rambler, a family with young children, a strenuous hiker or a short-distance sprinter, there’s something for everyone. Walking Highlands again has plenty of walks to download, ranging in distance from 1.2km (which will take 20 minutes) to 864km (which will take a duration of six weeks).

If you’re planning on spreading your walks out over a period of time, Locholly Lodge is the ideal base. Not far from Ullapool, in the area of Achiltibuie, it offers postcard-worthy views over the rolling grassy lands and calming lochs. Warm up your weathered hands and freezing feet with the log-burning stove, sauna and hot tub. Pets are also welcome, meaning you can bring your furry loved ones along for the walks and get their bodies moving too.

Photo: cairgorms by peachesh licensed under Creative commons 2