Inverness is ideally suited as a base to explore the many trails, paths, mountains and glens of the Scottish Highlands, but you don’t need to go that far to enjoy some fine walks, with excellent views, remarkable nature and ancient sites to marvel at, all close by.
Located within the west of Inverness itself, the hill of Craig Phadrig is visible from much of the city, and the views across the Beauly Firth are outstanding. A car park is situated on the side of the hill and, once there, your choice of route is varied, with several different paths weaving in and out of the trees. At the top you are met with a large grassy area that was once an Iron Age hillfort, built 2500 years ago. The earthworks are all that remain visible now, but serve as a reminder that people have enjoyed this view for millennia.
The banks of the river Ness provide excellent walks, but head upriver a short way to combine them with a visit to the Ness Islands and you will quickly forget you are in the capital of the Highlands. These wooded islands are connected by suspension foot bridges, constructed in the mid 19th century, and are havens of wildlife and nature. It is possible to see deer, otters, salmon, seals and bats, or take a ride on the Ness Islands miniature railway. There are plenty of park benches and places to pause, whether to share a picnic or simply absorb the natural beauty. The islands are also a part of the Great Glen Way, so if you’d like to extend your walk — by five or six days — just follow the signs!
The Caledonian Canal and The River Ness
Also a part of the Great Glen Way, the path following the River Ness and the Caledonian Canal can easily be broken into shorter sections. As it follows the waterways, it is low-level and flat, with very little in the way of obstacles. By simply following the canal tow-path, it is also very difficult to get lost, and the path is worth exploring in both directions; towards Loch Ness, or towards the sea and Merkinch Nature Reserve. If driving, park at Whin Park and follow the Great Glen Way signs. Expect to see many water birds and other wildlife, and friendly waves from those on the water itself, travelling slowly between Inverness and Fort William, all the way at the other end of Loch Ness and the canal.
The Fairy Glen at Rosemarkie
Cross the Kessock bridge to the Black Isle and head east to the delightful village of Rosemarkie. This walk follows the Rosemarkie Burn as it tumbles through beautiful woodland, now a nature reserve. There is a millpond that dates back at least a century and two photogenic waterfalls along the route. In spring, the ground is covered in wild flowers, including primrose and bluebell, and dippers can be seen collecting insects from underwater. Children used to decorate the pool with flowers, in order to keep the stream running clear and pure. You can also combine this walk with a visit to the nearby Clootie Well at Munlochy or a spot of beach-combing along one of the lovely beaches in the area.
Another beautiful woodland walk, Rogie Falls is also one of the best places in Scotland to see leaping salmon. The Black Water river thunders downstream from the high places around the imposing peak of Ben Wyvis, and is especially impressive after heavy rain, or when the winter snows are melting. The best time to see the salmon is between June and September as they swim upstream to spawn, with the end of summer seeing the most action. A recently constructed suspension bridge offers an excellent viewing platform.
Nairn to Cawdor
Head a few miles to the east of Inverness and you quickly reach the ancient seaside village of Nairn, with its sandy beaches and excellent local places to eat. The River Nairn flows to the Moray Firth from the Monadhliath Mountains and is definitely worth exploring. Simply follow the path, on the left hand side of the river as you head inland, and keep walking. A popular salmon fishing river, if you continue for five miles you reach the pretty village of Cawdor, and its famous castle.
Also east of Inverness, this walk is easily accessible by bus or car, and affords spectacular views over the city and to the mountains beyond. The woods are an excellent place to spot playful red squirrels, shy deer, and other wildlife. There are several paths to explore, but do ensure you head to the western fringe of the woods for the outstanding view. To the east, the view is also worth a look, with the River Nairn twisting away to the moors of Culloden, and the pretty little church of Daviot itself.