After spending most of last year hiking above 3000m; struggling to breathe, suffering from altitude sickness, carrying a 20kg bag and sleeping in tents when it’s far too cold to be outside… a walking holiday in the hills of Scotland with the luxurious Gartmore Estate was exactly what I needed. If you love walking, but also love a little comfort and luxury at the end of a tough day, then this will be the holiday for you, too.
Gartmore House was built in the mid-18th century for the Graham family but was eventually bought by the Cayzer family in 1900. It was commandeered by the Army in the 1940s and after the war was sold off in pieces. In 1953 it was turned into St Ninian’s, a school run by a Roman Catholic religious order. In 1980 it was sold off again and changed hands multiple times, until 2000 when it ran as a charitable trust and grew as a conference and activity centre.
To get there, you can take a 40-minute train from Glasgow or Edinburgh to Stirling. They offer free transfers from here and it’s a beautiful 40-minute drive into the countryside. As you pull up to the rear of this imposing manor house with a backdrop of moody skies you might start to wonder if you’re starring in your own horror movie, but as soon as you walk through the front doors, you’ll feel like you belong in a period drama.
You’re greeted by smiling staff, wonderful decor and a crackling fire. The rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable, with incredible views of distant hills. The food is delicious and plentiful, with different choices every day. A fry up for breakfast was the best way to start the day, a packed lunch to take hiking and a three-course meal in the evenings was exactly what we needed after burning so many calories. I can’t remember the last time I ate and slept so well!
The Walking Holiday
Now don’t get lulled into a false sense of security by the term “walking” holiday. It should be called “hill walking” but more accurately, a “hiking holiday”. I was expecting gentle strolls through forests or around lochs, but three days out of four involved some pretty serious hill climbing and it was fantastic!
What made it even better is getting to share it with fellow bloggers The Budget Savvy Travelers. Audrey and Harry were so much fun and they make awesome travel vlogs using a 360° camera so you feel like you’re right there with them, be sure to check them out! Connect with them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and follow their 360° adventures on YouTube!
Our professional guide Gavin Clarke was wonderful. He looked after us and kept us safe out on the hills, always had a great story or a piece of history about the local area, and kept us laughing with some pretty corny (very Scottish) dad jokes. He knows the area well and can alter your walks to suit your mood, it was great to get to know him and have a local guide for our first Donald, Marilyn, and Graham.
Day 1: Stuc Odhar (pronounced Stuc Urr)
9km, 5 hours, +1800ft ascent
Our first day was spent climbing Stuc Odhar, a 2093ft hill and our first “Donald” (a hill over 2000ft). The sun was shining, and what started out as a pleasant uphill walk through a forest soon turned into a mad scramble through surprisingly deep snow as we tried to make our way to the summit.
Unfortunately, the ice was too dangerous for us to reach the top, but we were very close and the views were just as stunning. It was an easy descent through knee-deep snow and then bog, and we eventually ended up in the tiny village of Brig O’Turk at an adorable pub for a well-deserved pint.
Day 2: Craig of Monievreckie
14km, 6 hours, +1300ft ascent
Our second day was just as sunny as the first, which was a huge surprise because it’s Scotland, and made our lives easier as the snow had started to melt. We made our way to the Menteith Hills and had a lovely hill walk through lush forest and towering trees. It was a very pleasant climb to the top of Craig of Monievreckie, our first “Marylin” (a hill of any height with a drop of 500ft or more on all sides) along the Highland Boundry Fault.
It was an easy walk back down into the forest where we followed the tracks of a wildcat (badger doesn’t sound as exciting) through the snow, walked along the shores of Loch Venachar, crossed into farmland where we met two very cute and hairy highland cows, and conveniently ended up at the pub again! It was my favourite day of the week because the weather was great, the hike wasn’t too hard but rewarded us with amazing views, and I got to meet a highland cow!
Day 3: King’s Seat Hill
9km, 5 hours, +1800ft ascent
Our third day started out nicely but the clouds soon rolled in. It didn’t stop us, we just donned our waterproof gear and made our way to the well-hidden but very dramatic Campbell Castle, tucked away in Dollar Glen. We decided to shorten our hike because of the weather, which meant we even had time to visit the gothic Wallis Monument in Stirling at the end of the day.
We climbed to the top of King’s Seat Hill, our first “Graham” (a hill between 2000 and 2499ft high with a drop of at least 150 meters on all sides). It was a steady climb to the very top, over patches of snow and battling strong winds with very poor visibility, but we felt a great sense of achievement once we reached the summit! The walk down was easy in comparison, although it got a little slippery in places, and we took the scenic route all the way down to the village of Dollar to warm up with tea and hot chocolate.
Day 4: Loch Ard
11km, 5 hours
On our fourth day we all woke up feeling tired and sore, and because the weather forecast was terrible we decided to take an easy stroll around the gorgeous Loch Ard. We started in the village of Aberfoyle and walked through the pine forest along the River Forth, eventually coming to Lochan Spling, where we found three sculptures around it to signify the local food chain: a dragonfly, a trout and an osprey.
The views along Loch Ard were lovely; snow-covered hills in the background and magnificent mansions along the shore reflecting in the still water. We climbed a very small hill to get great views of Ben Lomond before making our way back to the tiny village of Kinlochard. We arrived an hour before schedule and had no phone signal to call our bus, so a lovely local man drove us all the way back to the house!
Every day we spent outside was great fun, exciting but not too difficult, and the scenery in Scotland is just stunning. But without a doubt, the icing on the cake was being driven back to Gartmore House to have a hot shower, slip into our pyjamas and have a three-course meal waiting for us. It was the perfect holiday, mixing luxury with adventure!
The walking holiday is running over two weekends this year, Sunday 6th – Friday 11th May and Sunday 7th – Friday 12th October. The price is £499 per person which may seem like a lot to the budget traveller, but here’s what you get for that:
- five nights in your ensuite room in Gartmore House (usually £60 – £70 per night)
- three meals a day (with multiple options every day so you never eat the same thing twice)
- transfers to and from the Stirling train station
- transfers at the start and end of every hike
- a professional guide to take you out each day
- a welcome meeting to talk about your fitness levels, goals and any questions you might have so you can tailor the holiday to fit your own needs.
- a final dinner in the fancy Cayzer room with champagne to celebrate
- a certificate to prove how awesome you are
- a very Scottish surprise on your last night!
If this is something you’d be interested in then visit their website and see what other great experiences they have to offer. Don’t fancy hiking? Try a craft holiday like quilting or painting, learn a new skill, like foraging or jewellery making, or take your dancing or photography hobby to the next level. You can view the event calendar here, and download the Activity Holidays brochure for 2018 here.
No matter how easy or difficult the walking is, there are a few things you need to bring with you; after all, it is Scotland. It rains here, a lot. We got incredibly lucky with the weather, but even when I visited the Isle of Skye in August it still rained every day!
Hiking Check List:
- waterproof hiking boots (trainers don’t provide enough ankle support)
- comfortable hiking trousers (think yoga pants, not jeans)
- waterproof hiking trousers (I got mine from Hawkshead for £9.99)
- gaiters (if you’re hiking in snow, these will keep your feet dry)
- hiking poles (not essential, but they help on uneven ground)
- thin layers, a puffy jacket, gloves, hat, etc (whatever you need to keep warm)
- a waterproof and windbreaking jacket (I use NorthFace HyVent and it’s amazing)
- a backpack to carry your gear (with a waterproof cover)
Don’t forget to visit the Gartmore Estate website for more information, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on 01877 382 991. You can also follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!
View the full “Gartmore Experience” album here!