The Scottish Islands are a haven for hillwalkers, mixing rugged coastal scenery with jagged mountains that rise directly from the sea to some of the loneliest and most spectacular summits in Europe.
The views are massive, the wildlife is magnificent and the only problem is figuring out where to start first. So, we’ve done the hard work for you by picking out our five favourites.
1. Ben More, Isle of Mull
Often left until last by people aiming to ‘compleat’ the full collection of Scotland’s Munros, Ben More is a stunning mountain that provides a more than fitting finish to the hillwalking challenge of a lifetime. At 966m it’s far from the highest peak in the Scottish islands, but for drama, wildlife and views stretching across the surrounding seas to both the mainland and neighbouring islands, it takes some beating. The approach from the north is a stunner, first taking in the long, undulating ridge of Beinn Fhada, then the rocky scrambling terrain of A’ Chioch before climbing to the shelter on Ben More’s summit. If you’re a fan of wildlife then take your binoculars because Mull is famed for its thriving population of white-tailed eagles and on a clear day you’re likely to see these ‘flying barn doors’ soaring above the peaks and across Loch na Keal below.
2. Sgurr Alasdair, Isle of Skye
Situated in the south-west corner of Skye, the highest peak on the infamous Black Cuillin Range is a true showcase of the characteristic rocky and exciting landscape that makes this island a hillwalker’s paradise. Look up from the turquoise waters of flooded Coire Lagan and you might think summiting this beast is beyond imagination, but it’s well within reach if you’re prepared for a long scree trek up the iconic Great Stone Chute with its vertical slabs that are the stuff of fantasy film sets. From the saddle at the top of the Chute, track right to the stunningly exposed Grade 1-2 scramble to the tiny 992m summit and drink in views you’ll scarcely be able to believe. On your descent, turn around at Coire Lagan to spot the tiny climbers that were the same size as you all but a few hours ago. With this perspective, you can be quietly smug that you’ve clearly nailed the highest mountain on Britain’s most mountainous island.
3. Goatfell, The Isle of Arran
An easy ferry ride from the mainland makes Goatfell a top choice for hillwalkers wanting to experience a Scottish island mountain walk within a day. Be assured, however, Goatfell’s appeal is far greater than just an easy day trip from Ayrshire. This is one of the most popular mountain walks of all the Scottish islands and offers of a variety of routes for a mix of abilities. Hardy hillwalkers can take on the scramble from neighbouring North Goatfell before arriving at the summit, while others will prefer to tread the popular trail from Brodick Castle. The route from Brodick, with its marked ‘slabby’ paths, makes for an achievable day out, and whilst it steepens to the 874m summit it’s nothing a good pair of boots and a bit of puffing can’t handle. Goatfell is epic for its changing landscapes which keep you well entertained as you traverse from lush woodland to moorland and onto an exciting rocky finish. Look out for swooping golden eagles and roaming stags on your way to the summit trig point with wiggling granite ridges and blue sea views stretching away in all directions.
4. The Paps, Isle of Jura
What sets The Paps apart from our other Scottish Island walks is their stirring wilderness. The isolated feel of these dramatic humps is what makes any ascent so impressive. This trio of mountains can be completed within a day if you’re up for digging in and cracking on with some scree climbs. No fixed paths exist to the summits, but this makes for an awesome adventure between just you and your map. Once you’ve pushed through the lower boggy moors and steep scree slopes, on the final ascent the difficulty wanes just at the right time for breathtaking views to take over. Look south to the Isle of Islay or north to the expanse of Jura. If the day got your blood pumping, head back in May for the ultimate endurance test where the mountains host the popular Isle of Jura Fell race.
5. Askival, Isle of Rum
This may be the smallest island on our list, but the peaks of the Rum Cuillin had to make the top five. The unbeatable seascapes out to the Isle of Skye combined with the wonderful village community of Kinloch, where you’ll most likely start or stay, makes for a fantastic hillwalker’s retreat. In between Hallival and Ainshval, Askival is 812m high and the ridge to the top offers some thrilling scrambling. You can have fun without the exposure that comes with a lot the trendy scramble routes. From high on the summit, the barren grassy slopes and wiggly rivers catching light and shadow beneath the clouds are mesmerising. Views down to where the scribbly edge of the green coast of the island stops and the swathes of blue sea begin is releasing and magical. It’s on Askival that you really feel you’ve climbed an island mountain.