Having grown up in a big city with far too much concrete and far too little greenspace, I have always treasured a quiet walk in the great
outdoors. In terms of fitness, there is no single activity that offers such versatility – from a gentle 20-minute saunter on flat ground to a gruelling day-long hike to the top of a Munro, there is literally a walk to challenge every level of fitness, and nowhere offers more choice, or more stunning scenery, than Aberdeenshire.
In the heart of Aberdeenshire, the Bennachie range dominates the landscape and offers a nearly limitless supply of walking opportunities. With four separate car parks, numerous peaks, forest paths, ancient ruins, and an 8-kilometre span, the only limitation
here is your motivation. The Gordon Way Trail is the best way to fully explore Bennachie and if you are spending some time in the area, you may also want to climb the short, steep Dunnideer hill, in Insch, or tackle the more challenging Tap o’ Noth, in Rhynie, both with picturesque hillforts on top.
Coastal trails are a great way to take in some breath-taking scenery on the flat, while also doing a bit of wildlife spotting. If you are in the north, visit historic Portsoy harbour and meander along the circular route that takes you via the golden beach of Sandend. Or start in Fraserburgh Bay and make your way through the Waters of Philorth, a local nature reserve that is home to many seabirds. A bit further south you can explore the undulating dunes at Balmedie, or make your way to the stunning coastal town of Stonehaven, then explore the Dunnotar Woods and eventually find yourself at the haunting ruins of Dunnottar Castle.
If you are looking for a Munro to bag, you must spend a day conquering Lochnagar, near Balmoral. Although it is a long, challenging climb, it is worth every drop of sweat when you find yourself at the top, mixing company with majestic wild stags and staring down the sheer cliff face to the loch below. But don’t stop there – the expanse from Braemar to Banchory could keep you walking for a month. Try Banchory’s beloved Scolty Hill, Aboyne’s Muir of Dinnet to Burn o’ Vat, Braemar’s stunning loop around Loch Muick and the Balmoral Cairns Walk, on which you will see some very intriguing cairns erected by Queen Victoria’s family in the 19th century.
Walking has always been my favourite way to stay fit, because it can also be so much more. If well-planned, it is a way to get your exercise, walk the dogs, brainstorm, meditate, work through life’s challenges, and catch up with friends, all at the same time. Of course, this is Scotland, so dress for every weather eventuality, then strap up your boots and get moving.