What better way to start a trip than by climbing a mountain? The first stop on my Summer 2016 adventure was in Scotland – I landed in Glasgow and took the train straight to Pitlochry, a town I had chosen basically on the premise that there was a mountain I could climb. I didn’t have time to make it farther into the Highlands, and Pitlochry had the winning combination of small town charm, a short train ride, and the aforementioned mountain.
I used to hate hiking, but travelling opened my eyes to the draw of the natural world. After this trip, where I hiked in Scotland, Norway, Austria, Turkey, Romania, and Iceland, most of the destinations on my must-see list are on the list because of the hiking. A very drastic change, but one that has infinitely improved my travelling experience. This hike took me through hail, extreme wind, rain, and gorgeous sunshine. Through moorlands, past a picture-perfect loch (lake), and finally up to a summit that I couldn’t even believe was real.
If you’re interested in hiking Ben Vrackie (and you should be), know that it’s incredibly easy to do independently. I kind of used the mountain as an alternative to hiking Ben Nevis, since I didn’t have time, and the weather is always questionable for that summit anyway. If you’re staying in Pitlochry, I recommend the one and only hostel – Pitlochry Backpackers – it”s right by the train station and the staff are very friendly. I had the best nap here after a sleepless overnight flight. The hostel can also give you a map to make the hike even clearer.
It seems like Ben Vrackie is just popular enough that you pass a few hikers to chat with, and there’s someone to take your picture on the summit (#solotravelproblems), but not crowded enough that you ever feel like it’s busy. Almost everyone I met was Scottish and very friendly. The hike starts with a gentle walk through Pitlochry and along the town streets to Moulin, with signs along the way. Once you arrive in Moulin, it’s pretty clear where the trail begins. The first part is a woodland trail, with typically beautiful Scottish trees. You also walk by fields of sheep and they were SO Scottish and adorable.
Then comes the beautiful moors. I loved the Secret Garden as a child, and never really knew what a ‘moor’ was, but was always totally obsessed with going to one. Now I have lived my dream and pretended that I was Mary Lennox discovering the magic of nature.
After the initial climb comes the most perfect lake ever. Then the actual difficult part came, and it was certainly difficult. Note to self: bring a day pack so you don’t have to hike with a tote bag. My legs were also sore for days.
Finally, the summit. I could barely breathe from the climb, and also the wind was so strong that I was unsure if my face even EXISTED anymore it was so numb, but it was such an amazing view. I couldn’t stay at the top for longer than a few minutes but the few minutes I spent up there were worth the whole climb.
This hike certainly isn’t very well known, and I’m so glad I stumbled upon it. It was certainly a highlight of my time in Scotland, and possibly of my whole trip. If you’re in this neck of the woods – head up Ben Vrackie!