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With new, comfortable Caledonian Sleeper trains scheduled to enter service next spring on both ‘Lowlander’ (from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow) and ‘Highlander’ routes (from London to Fort William, Inverness and on to Aberdeen), there’s now another reason to plan an active break that will take in the majesty of Scotland’s great outdoors.
Tackle the Scottish version of the Coast to Coast
Best known for encouraging the establishment of the Yosemite National Park, Scotland has been rather slow to recognise its famous son – it wasn’t until 2014 that John Muir was honoured with a trail in his native land. The John Muir Way is a path that extends from Dunbar, on the southeast coast, to the seaside town of Helensburgh in the west, forming a Scottish coast-to-coast route.
Relive the legend of notorious Scottish outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor
Rob Roy MacGregor was a notorious outlaw and a folk hero, who escaped capture several times. The 80-mile Rob Roy Way takes you through classic Highland scenery and areas that were his old haunts. It begins in Drymen, whose Clachan Inn is the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland and would have been known by Rob Roy as it was run by his sister!
Find your favourite loch along the Great Glen Way
The Great Glen Way is an exhilarating long distance trail starting at Fort William and concluding at Inverness, Scotland’s northernmost city. Following mostly canal and loch-side footpaths, it passes by the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. Scattered along the shores of Loch Ness, the centuries-old forts and castles remain a silent witness to the country’s turbulent past.
Spot native wildlife as you cycle through the heart of the Scottish Highlands
The Scottish Highlands Cycle is a week-long trip that will see you cycling along scenic paths and quiet forest trails where you can spot native wildlife such as red deer, stag or golden eagles. At Fort William a day is set aside to rest, (or ascend Ben Nevis!), followed by a train journey that takes you across Rannoch Moor to Loch Rannoch. The trip concludes at the riverside city of Perth.
Discover the diversity of Scotland’s ‘Big County’
Enjoy majestic mountain peaks, shimmering lochs and pretty glens. On our Lochs and Bens trip, you’ll take Scotland’s backroads and country paths, explore peaceful villages and rural towns, take a forest walk and visit castles and ancient monuments found along the way. The trip focuses on Perthshire, known as Scotland’s ‘big county’ because of the wide variety of landscapes that can be found here.
Follow the old military roads of the West Highland Way
From the south of Loch Lomond to Fort William and Ben Nevis, the famous West Highland Way connects Britain’s largest lake with its highest mountain. The route is a step back into history - many stages follow military roads that date back to the 1700s and used to link the Highlands to the Lowlands, as well as hotels that originated from droving inns that operated for centuries.
Browse all of our Scotland holidays here.
Apart from the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the ‘father of national parks’, there are plenty of other reasons to walk what is known as Scotland’s Coast to Coast. The John Muir Way stretches for 134 miles (215km) from Helensburgh in the West of Scotland to Durban in the East making it one of Scotland’s best known long distance trails. With so much length to cover, you conveniently will walk past many fascinating sights that make the John Muir Way a truly interesting walk to undertake.
From John Muir’s hometown and a Roman wall to the heritage of famous war poets and the world’s biggest Northern Gannet colony, read on for a sneak preview of the fascinating sights you will encounter along the John Muir Way.
1. John Muir’s Port of Departure
Handsome buildings, wide elegant tree-lined streets, a long promenade and attractive parks & gardens create a pleasantly distinguished atmosphere in Helensburgh. It is from this town that the Muir family is said to have left to go to the USA. The town operated the world’s first steamship ferry service in 1812 and reputedly a quarter of Britain’s millionaires resided in this handsome holiday resort during Victorian times.
2. Carbeth Chalets
After World War I local land owner, Barnes Graham, gave land near Glasgow to returning soldiers. The idea was for them to be able to build summerhouses so they could get some fresh air away from the city. The scheme at the time attracted socialists and communists and during WWII it was here that many people took refuge at the time of the Clydebank Blitz. Today, the low-impact lifestyle that people at the Carbeth Chalets follow is highly-prized and protected.
3. Kirkhouse Inn
Originally built in 1601 as a stables and tavern, the Kirkhouse Inn has undergone several transformations over the years and has had its fair share of scandals and hidden treasures, even the sighting of a ghostly aberration! The Kirkhouse was the scene of secret correspondence between King James VI of Scotland and Queen Elizabeth I of England that eventually led to the Union of the Crowns.
4. The Antonine Wall
The northern-most limit of the Roman Empire stretched all the way to present-day Scotland. Like the better-known Hadrian's Wall to the south, it formed a solid barrier right across the country. The northern boundary can still be seen today when walking the John Muir Way and passing the Antonine Wall and Kirkintilloch fort. This is now a designated World Heritage Site. The Wall's location is prominently shown. A high mound in the park marks the site of a mediaeval castle whose moat still survives.
5. Falkirk Wheel
Opened in 2002 this is the world’s only rotating boatlift and an ‘engineering icon throughout the globe.’ Falkirk Wheel reconnects the canal of Forth and Clyde with the Union Canal for the first time since the 1930s and is part of the Millennium Link project. Inspirations for the design include a double-headed Celtic axe, the propeller of a ship and the ribcage of a whale.
6. The Ship that Never Sailed
Blackness Castle is one of Scotland's most impressive strongholds. It was built in the 15th century by one of Scotland's most powerful families. Since it became crown property in 1453, the castle on the John Muir Way served as a state prison, one of the most advanced artillery fortifications of its time in Scotland, and ammunition depot. Because of its site and shape, Blackness Castle has been characterised as "the ship that never sailed".
7. The Kelpies
Created by Scotland’s leading sculptor Andy Scott, The Kelpies are a monument to horse powered heritage across Central Scotland. They stand 30 metres tall and as such are the largest equine sculptures in the world. The Kelpies form a dramatic gateway to the canal entrance on the east coast of Scotland and you can take a tour to experience the horses from the inside.
8. Bass Rock
This is the biggest Northern gannet colony in the world, home to over 150,000 gannets at the peak of the season. The gannets spend most of the year on the Bass Rock, until the end of October. The lower ledges of the Bass are home to shags, guillemots and razorbills, with seals hauling up on the rocks below. All in all, a unique spot to take in on your John Muir Way walking trip.
9. The Haar
Along the Firth of Forth and down the coast to Dunbar, you may have to contend with ‘The Haar’. In good weather and low winds, it can give the impression that you are suddenly having terrible weather with fog banks and grey drizzly cloud. It is not an optical illusion; The Haar is a cold sea fog and usually occurs on the east coast Scotland between April and September.
10. Craiglockhart War Hospital
Fans of war poets will be interested to know that when taking a little extra walk on the John Muir Way, you can end up at ‘Edinburgh Napier University.’ This was the famous Craiglockhart Psychiatric Hospital where Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon met in the First World War. Their poems appeared in the hospital's own magazine called ‘The Hydra’ and were the inspiration for several books and a movie.
For more information on walking the John Muir Way, the exact route and inclusions, please have a look at the trip page or get in touch with our team of travel experts in London.
Linking Scotland’s east and west coasts, the recently added John Muir Way trip offers an alternative to the most famous coast to coast walk in the UK: Wainwright’s Coast to Coast. We compare this ever-popular classic walking route in England with the new walk that takes you from coast to coast in Scotland.
Before we get to the actual comparison of both walking trails, let us introduce you to two of the most iconic walking tours in Scotland and England.
John Muir Way: Coast to Coast in Scotland
John Muir was born in 1838 in Dunbar, on Scotland’s southeast coast, and as a child developed a deep love of the natural world around him. Best known for encouraging the establishment of the Yosemite National Park in the USA, Scotland honoured its famous son in 2014 with the John Muir Way, which symbolically links Dunbar with Scotland’s first national park (Loch Lomond and the Trossachs) and the seaside town of Helensburgh in the west, forming a Scottish coast-to-coast route.
England’s Coast to Coast Walk by Wainwright
Described by Alfred Wainwright in 1973 as “one of the world’s great walks” and becoming more and more popular every year, the idyllic Coast to Coast in England is widely considered as the most classic of all UK hiking trails. Starting on the Irish Sea coast of Cumbria near the huge red sandstone cliffs of St Bees Head, it crosses three national parks before reaching the North Sea at the pretty fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay on the rocky coastline of the North York Moors.
Now that you have a good understanding of the origin of both long-distance walking routes in the UK, we can start to make some comparisons to hopefully help you choose which coast to coast walk you like to take, or tick off your list first.
Where Wainwright’s Coast to Coast in England is 192 miles, the John Muir Way is ‘just’ 134 miles. The latter can be walked in 12 days on a self guided trip and we offer opportunities to walk the coast to coast trip in England in 14-18 days on escorted or self-guided walking holidays.
Coast to Coast Scotland: leads you from Helensburgh in Firth of Clyde in the west of Scotland, just south from Loch Lomand and the Trossachs National Park, via lively cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh to Dunbar on the east coast at the North Sea.
England’s Coast to Coast: this route also goes from west to east and starts in St Bees on the Irish Sea and takes you via the famous Lake District and Yorkshire Dales to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea.
England's Coast to Coast walk
There are three national parks that you will get to fully appreciate on Wainwright’s coast to coast, these are some of England’s most famous parks and include the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. For those with less time available, ask for our separate walking trips in these national parks.
Over in Scotland you pass through the very bottom of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
Grade of Walking
Walking from coast to coast in Scotland means you will have easy to moderate walking days, with hilly, undulating and flat sections.
In England, the coast to coast walk is graded challenging. When the weather is poor as you have to be able to navigate the high mountain and moorland sections.
Overall the John Muir Way is very well waymarked throughout with the new, purple colour John Muir Way logo.
Despite its popularity, the Coast to Coast in England is not classified as a National Trail so there is no official way marking; however, a number of signs can be found in many villages and lowlands.
John Muir Way, Scotland
What to Expect
Coast to Coast Scotland: A lot of history – in capital Edinburgh and not only! The Antonine Wall dates back to Roman times, many historical battle sites are associated with William Wallace, The Jacobites and Henry VIII's ‘Rough Wooing’. The city of Helensbugh had the world’s first steamboat ferry service, while Loch Lomond’s canals are closely linked to the industrial heritage.
England’s Coast to Coast: Lots of contrasting landscapes, as each National Park has its own character. The walk is a mix of forest tracks, mountain trails and paths through fields and pastures (you will be crossing many gates!), interspersed with coastal cliff and village walking.
What You May Not Expect
Many parts of the walking tour in Scotland involve ‘urban walking’ through big towns and cities, such as Falkirk, Mussellburgh and, of course, Edinburgh.
The route leading through England’s Lake District and Yorkshire Moors is extremely rural – you will find only one settlement with a population of more than 2,000, the market town of Richmond (population: 8,413).
With the new John Muir Way, or known as Scotland’s Coast-to-Coast trail, launching in spring 2017 – and while Wainwright’s walking route remains more popular than ever before – we hope that this list of how the two trails compare to each other will be able to help you decide which of these coast to coast walks in the UK is the right one for you.
For assistance from one of our travel experts or for booking requests, contact us by email or phone.
Scotland's Coast to Coast Walk
Head into the High Street of Dunbar and you’ll reach a white terraced house that was the birthplace of John Muir. Born here on April 21st 1838, Muir moved to the United States at 11 years old, and today is best known for his nature conservation work.
John Muir’s birthplace nowadays is a museum and marks the finish of our new 12-day walking holiday on the recently established long distance trail of the John Muir Way. When you arrive here, it will have been a 130 mile (215 km) hike across Scotland. Your walking trail would have started in Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and led via Linlithgow Palace and Edinburgh all the way to Dunbar on the North Sea coast. Because of this route, the John Muir Way is also known as Scotland’s coast to coast walk. The reason for starting the walk in Helensburgh is that it was the port that John Muir emigrated from to the United States.
John Muir, Naturalist & Preservationist
John Muir, the great bushy bearded man, was born into a strictly religious household. As a child, he developed a deep love for the natural world around his home. He was known to escape from his bedroom window into the Dunbar countryside to enjoy volcanic deposits and dykes, raised beaches, and the glacial-isostatic uplift that has occurred here in Scotland.
Years later and while in the United States, the grown-up John Muir founded the Sierra Club, convinced politicians to create the Yosemite National Park, and raised the cry for conservationism and environmentalism decades before it was fashionable to do so.
John Muir Way
You may have heard of the famous John Muir Trail in California’s Yosemite Park? Since 21 April 2014 he is also honoured in his native Scotland with the John Muir Way long distance walk (it replaced a shorter walk under the same name). The trail offers a historical journey across Scotland from the seaside coast of Helensburgh on the river Clyde, then around the southern end of The Highland Fault, undulating through the Scottish Lowlands of farms, canals and former industrial towns to track along the Firth of Forth, threading through Edinburgh and then down the North Sea coast, passing golf courses and bird reserves down into Dunbar.
Walk This Way
We are excited to be able to offer you this trip from 2017 onwards and believe it will be an enjoyable and varied walk. Altogether, the John Muir Way walk links together some fine landscapes, countryside and places of historical and natural interest. It is clearly well marked, with routes for walkers and cyclists which converge and diverge at various points.
To find out more about this new walking holiday in Scotland and to download the trip notes, please have a look at the 12 day John Muir Way walking holiday or contact our team of travel experts with your queries.