Best places to ride in Scotland: from the mighty Highlands to the famous lochs

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  • Unparalleled access rights, dramatic mountain vistas and white-sand beaches offer the best places to ride in Scotland. Here’s a pick of the hotspots to visit on horseback, from those in the know.

    “I’ve travelled the world and been to some beautiful places, but never have I had my breath taken away like in Glenfeshie in the heart of the Cairngorms,” says Claire Scott. And she should know. Claire’s a long-distance rider who has been navigating the Highlands for more than a decade. And while Scotland’s unpredictable weather means its gems are often shrouded in the ubiquitous mists, its hills, lochs, beaches and glens make for spectacular riding country.

    Places to ride in Scotland: long-distance rider Claire Scott at Glencoe in the Highlands

    Long-distance rider Claire Scott takes a breather in Glencoe in the Highlands

    Moreover, Scotland’s access rights make the countryside a haven for equestrian explorers. Claire cites the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 as liberating.

    “With horses we enjoy the right to responsible access – the same as walkers and cyclists – meaning we can ride almost anywhere,” says Claire, currently in the middle of a 1,000-mile trek through the Highlands. “Numerous hill trails are suitable for equines, you just have to be careful regarding the infamous Scottish bog. You may still come across cattle grids and locked gates, but thankfully these are few and far between. There are no bridleways, so we can use any trail marked on a map, providing we do so responsibly. It’s possible to form a two- to three-week trek without going on many roads at all.”

    With just 70 people per km² compared to 483 in the south-east, there’s a whole lot of unspoilt countryside to enjoy: “Sometimes I don’t meet another person for days,” says Claire.

    Here’s how to visit some of the jewels in Scotland’s 78,000km² on horseback – just be equipped for what the Scots simply call “a bit of weather”, challenging terrain and patchy phone signal.

    Best places to ride in Scotland

    The lochs

    Famous for whisky and monsters, the two iconic lochs, Ness and Lomond, are situated against the stunning backdrop of the Highlands. Candy Cameron runs Loch Ness Riding, near Inverness, which besides formal instruction offers hacks up to three hours as well as bespoke riding holiday packages on well-schooled, advanced horses – or you can bring your own.

    “The range of scenery is very diverse – moorland, farmland, forestry tracks and small paths winding around trees,” says Candy. “Keep your eyes open for vestiges of history of this area – hut circles from the bronze age, forts from the iron age, remains of crofting communities long gone, castles, lochs and fabulous views. And did I mention the 22-mile long Loch Ness – the largest body of freshwater in the UK? We have miles of riding – I know just about all the tracks of south Loch Ness and am active in local access work.”

    Find places to stay near Loch Ness at booking.com

    Places to ride in Scotland

    At Loch Ness Riding in the valley of the famous lake, riders can have formal instruction or enjoy pacy hacks amid stunning scenery

    Suzanne McCall runs Loch Lomond Pony Trekking near Balloch, which provides two-hour treks “high up on to the moors overlooking Loch Lomond”.
    “The emphasis is on enjoying the splendour of one of the most impressive and iconic views in Scotland while on horseback,” Suzanne says. “You’ll experience unforgettable views of the landscape, whatever the season.”

    Find places to stay near Loch Lomond at booking.com

    The coast

    Azure seas and white beaches aren’t automatically associated with Scotland, but Claire’s experience of her local area is just that.

    “The Moray coast has endless forestry tracks, beautiful sandy beaches and on a sunny day the sea is as turquoise as you’d find anywhere abroad,” she says. “It’s magical to have the salty sea on one side and sweet-smelling pines baking in the sun on the other. You can choose the shade of the forest or have a blast along the sandy shores.

    “It’s possible to ride the coastal trail from Cullen to Findhorn or link this up to the Speyside Way at Spey Bay – right into the Cairngorms. If you are lucky, you’ll be able to watch dolphins from the back of your horse like I did last year.”

    The west coast is typically dramatic, remote, and challenging, though Claire recommends the more straightforward “route from Ullapool to Bonar Bridge, which gives a coast-to-coast route across Scotland in only a few days”.

    Emma France moved from Cambridgeshire to Scotland’s west coast and cherishes her rides up her local hill Ben Bowie with her veteran mare.

    “On a sunny day you can see the stunning scenery of the Clyde Estuary, the Arrochar Alps and Loch Lomond itself. But my favourite is a winter morning, when the frost is soft and evaporating off the forest, creating a layer of fog that makes it appear like you are sitting above the clouds,” she says.

    Find places to stay in Cairngorms National Park at booking.com

    Emma France enjoys the views on the West Coast of Scotland

    The islands

    Scotland has more than 900 offshore islands, some giving rise to their eponymous ponies – Shetland and Eriskay. If you’re after remote riding, this is as far-flung as Britain can offer. Due to an island’s natural boundaries, long-distance exploration is limited, but the beaches are wild and wonderful.

    Tràigh Mhòr Pony Trekking offers beach rides for all abilities on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

    “Tràigh Mhòr is Gaelic for big beach, which is exactly what the two miles of golden white sands, cradled by 300ft cliffs, pristine crystal-clear waters and the machair flowers in full bloom have to offer,” says manager Leigh Minion. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, whether you are a beginner wishing to ride along the beach for the first time or an experienced professional looking for a busman’s holiday.”

    Find places to stay in the Outer Hebrides at booking.com

    From Lewis, Scotland’s largest island, some 200 miles south lies Tiree, a 12-mile long isle in the Inner Hebrides. Tiree is known to have the most sunshine hours of anywhere in the UK and benefits from the warming air of the Gulf Stream. With its white sandy beaches, it boasts a coastline that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean.

    Tiree Equestrian offers options from lead-rein to one-hour treks, sunset and picnic rides for all levels along Balinoe beach.

    “Cantering along white sandy beaches, and splashing through crystal-clear water under the watchful gaze of the resident seals and porpoises are the highlights,” says the centre’s Rosie Garrigan. “We are truly lucky to be able to ride on Tiree and love sharing its magic with others.”

    Find places to stay in Lewis at booking.com

    Places to ride in Scotland: the beach at Tiree

    The magic of sunny Tiree island: turquoise seas and white sandy beaches

    The Highlands and Lowlands

    Thanks to the access rights, virtually all of the Scottish countryside holds an appeal for riders. While much of the land is wild and challenging, the central Scottish lowlands offer gentle rolling hills and picturesque scenery.

    Anna Black runs two-time “luxury holiday provider of the year” Lindores, an 85-acre equestrian facility for training and DIY holidays with accommodation for both horse and human. There are 150 cross-country jumps, grass and all-weather arenas, as well as off-road hacking.

    “We have top eventers training here all the way down to adults wanting to get back in the saddle or five-year-olds on fluffy ponies,” says Anna. “Some people come with their family and animals, and enjoy the hot tub or restaurant-style lunch overlooking the River Tay.”

    “Luxury holiday provider” Lindores is an 85-acre equestrian facility offering training and DIY holidays with accommodation for horse and human

    The raw, remote Highlands are at the opposite end of the scale. The last word should belong to Claire Scott, who cites the Cairngorms – Britain’s largest national park – as her favourite place to ride.

    “There are endless trails that link through beautiful glens and it’s possible to ride your horse to the top of a Munro or two [mountains over 3,000ft in height],” she says, detailing the moment that took her breath away in Glenfeshie. “As we rounded the corner at the end of the glen, it happened – I struggled to breathe for a moment or two. The sheer cliffs rising up on either side, the sparkles of the river beside me, the young silver birch waving their leaves like bunting along either side of the trail supported by the mature Scots’ pines behind.

    “It was this combined with the feeling of being so remote but content with my two equine companions that made it a totally breathtaking experience.”

    Places to ride in Scotland: long-distance riding in the Cairngorms

    “Remote but content”: long-distance rider Claire Scott with one of her two horses enjoying the Cairngorms

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