Take a hike: a student’s top 5 walks outside Aberdeen

by Gabe Kolanen

Now, more than ever, is a great time for outdoors. The weather might seem appalling, but the rewards are that much more better–and we have some great locations just outside our doorstep! Whether it is a calm tramp through Caledonian pineland or clambering along the precipice of a mountainside, Aberdeenshire has an amazing variety of outdoor options within easy reach by public transportation. It really does wonders to have a short break. Here’s my top 5 destinations, ranked in terms of casual to a bit more difficult.


 Bus 63| Travel Time ≈45min | Walk duration ≈1-2h

An oldie but goldie. Forvie sands sits right up north from Aberdeen, and is known for its seal colony and shifting dunes. Often people walk right up to the seals, admire these amphibious waterdogs, and walk back to Newburgh for scones and tea. However, there are some curious objects a little beyond the usual beaten path. During WWII, a ring of marine defence was built along the shallow coast that runs up along Aberdeen all the way to Newburgh. These half-submerged cement monoliths still stand to this day, dotted here and there along the coast–hidden amongst the folds of sand. Also, the vistas that open up from the peak of the highest dune are well worth the inevitable deposits of sand in your boots.

For best access to seals, head north during low tide; timetable found here.

#4––Scolty Hill/Banchory

 Bus 201 | Travel time ≈1h | Walk duration ≈2-3h

Overlooking the town of Banchory nestled next to the Dee, Scolty Hill offers a casual walk through pine & birch trails, leading up to the stone tower dating back to the 1840s. The trailhead is located via a walk through the town and across the river Dee. Details of the hike and maps can be found at walkhighlands–an invaluable resource when it comes to planning your trips!

From the top of the tower, to your east, you might be able to discern the group of tower blocks that reside on the west hillside of Aberdeen. The view towards the west greets the Cairngorms with its softly undulating curves. Pack a lunch for a picnic.

#3––The Balmoral Cairns

Bus 201 | Travel time ≈2h | Walk time ≈2-3h

Long live the Queen! While this walk won’t take you above 50m, it will traverse through old Caledonian forest with Scot’s pines situated on the extensive land owned by Her Majesty next to Balmoral Estate. Steal sneak peeks of the grey baronial turrets and spires that vie for height amongst the woodland. The walk is marked by Cairns built in succession over the past two centuries in memory of deceased members of the Windsor family, all varying in size, height, and structure. The spirit of the Cairngorms seems to rest in earnest here; the wind carries soft scents of crushed pine intermixed with the bold, raw hues of the westerlies. Details found here.


Bus 201 | Travel time ≈2 ¾ h | Walk time ≈4-5h

Braemar, another town next to the Dee, sits right in the heart of the Cairngorms. The soft slopes of Morrone, tower right next to the town, calls the walker to wander and wonder. The bare plateaus that stretch across the summit provokes a silence profound and a joy that resounds. The clouds roll low above one’s head–just beyond reach. Definitely worth the slightly long bus ride along the Dee. Pack food, water, and warmth. Refreshed feeling guaranteed–details here.

#1––Loch Nagar

 Bus 201 | Travel time ≈2 ¾ h | Walk time ≈6-7h

While not the highest and most strenuous summit out there–topping off at about 1,155m–Loch Nagar has a mercurial temperament. A calm spell with blue skies can suddenly invite ridiculous gusts of wind, making one latch to the rocks like the orange-green lichen that dress the boulders of this munro. Keep an eye on the weather and wind when deciding to tackle this ‘ole fella. Loch Nagar will test you, and it will reward you accordingly; the more you give, the more you get. If you can’t get a car for this one, you’ll will probably have to hitchhike to the parking lot at Loch Muick from Ballater. Don’t worry, outdoorsy people will be happy to share a ride (usually)–just stick that thumb out.

Also, there’s an option of tackling the munro via Balmoral and a bothy. If you haven’t experienced a night over in a bothy here’s your chance. Just respect the code.

Pick your option, get out there, and be ready to enjoy another great season in the outdoors. It is one habit worth forming. If you have any queries or questions, please feel free to contact me on g.kolanen.15@aberdeen.ac.uk Enjoy, and most importantly, stay safe–take some friends with you. If you’re going alone, do inform someone of where you are going and when you are coming back.


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