Scotland has so many great places to walk and what better way to experience them than with a furry friend at your side! With plenty of fantastic options it’s hard to choose where to go so we’ve asked our Scottish Natural Heritage team to suggest their favourite dog walking spots.
Meryl Carr, one of our Operations Officers in the Protected Places Team, has found a great spot to stop on her long drives between Inverness and Ullapool.
“As we often travel to Inverness from Ullapool my favourite “on the road to Inverness” walk is the Silver Bridge Circuit along the banks of the Black Water River Alltan Dubh. This is a Forestry Commission Scotland site with two parking places to choose from. One nestles in the forest at Little Garve, the other is convenient if you just want to park quickly off the main road and get walking, it is by the public toilets on the west side of the main road.
This is a beautiful part of the Black Water river. Waterfalls, pools and fascinating geology keep you occupied as you roam through a beautiful woodland of silver birch and Scots pine. Loads of blaeberry bushes grow on the woodland floor and in late summer spoil you with succulent, plump berries – guaranteed to give you a purple mouth by the time you have got around. The circuit takes you across the Black Water river at either end of the walk by way of two historic, beautiful stone built bridges from where you can look down on cascading falls. On the east side of the river Forestry Commission Scotland have recently completed a path upgrade giving a lovely walking surface, so if you do not want to take off your ‘about town shoes’ you can be guaranteed of a lovely walk without getting your footwear in a mess.
On the west side of the river the path is more natural (trainers, boots or wellies are best) and meanders through the Scots pine, close to the waterfalls, channels and small gorges. If you are there at the right time you might find Chanterelles or Hedge Hog fungus. In the meantime it is a doggy paradise of smells so both you and the dog return to the car feeling much more relaxed and ready to head to the city or head for home.”
Nature trails and paths can be busy places and attract a whole range of visitors. Approaching something new can be a daunting experience for you and your dog but we have lots of advice to how to safely pass other path users including cyclists, joggers and even those on horseback!
Another great waterside suggestion comes from Erica Knott, our Senior Casework Manager for Marine Energy, who loves her daily route along the River Tay.
“My black lab, Seula and I walk every day on the North Inch in Perth, along the banks of the River Tay. It’s a great spot and quite often we are able to spot, kingfishers, otters and seals.”
And, if you’re looking for some panoramic views of the river, Erica recommends a trip to nearby Kinnoull Hill in Perth – a perfect spot to watch the sunrise on a morning dog walk.
Beach walks are a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors and proved a popular dog walking option for our staff including our Activity Manager for Protected Areas and Surveillance, Andy Dorin, and his 11-year-old Border Terrier, Ivy .
“One of our favourite walks is Rosemarkie Beach on the Black Isle, north of Inverness and Ivy loves it from the very start when she’s let out the car. As a walk of the “there and back” variety, our route covers the beach that stretches for a mile or so up to an elegant curve of Chanonry Point with views across the Moray Firth to the historic fortification of Fort George and the chance to stop and watch bottle-nosed dolphins leaping after salmon close to shore. The walks heads north across a complex geology of sandstone and metamorphic rocks and there are often waders such as redshank, curlew and oystercatchers at the water’s edge. Sometimes we clamber up the local shaded dell which in spring is carpeted in garlic and other wild flowers for dogs to worm through but it’s a muddy scramble to follow the burn over the rocks. Although the beach is popular, it’s rarely crowded and it’s amazing how half-an-hour in nature brings a smile to everyone’s faces and makes them calmer and more content.”
Our Policy and Advice Officer for Marine Mammals and Benthic Ecology, Karen Hall, has found a fantastic local beach walk in Shetland that has plenty to keep dog Brodie entertained and out the muddy puddles!
“My favourite dog walking spot is Levenwick Beach, Shetland. It’s my local beach about 2 kilometres from my house and I can walk down the road passing the neighbours en route. Brodie loves it as he’s half seal/ half dog and has to go in the water wherever it is. Our alternative walks tend to end up with him wallowing in a muddy ditch or peaty pool so the beach is the cleanest option. He is quite happy swimming laps or trying to retrieve old kelp holdfasts that you throw for him (there tends to be a lack of wood on Shetland) whilst the seals watch on – the only thing we have to watch for is to make sure he’s not in the water when killer whales go by!”
Coastal areas are great places to explore with your dog and encompass much more than just sand! Our fantastic Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve has a great variety of habitats to explore so you can enjoy a morning on the beach and an afternoon on woodland walks and watching wildlife at the lochside. It’s also a favourite spot for our Outdoor Learning Officer, Penny Martin, and pet Pablo.
“Tentsmuir is a favourite walk, starting from the car park at Tayport. The walk along the forest edge and then on to the beach is magical because the light is always changing. Maybe, we’ll see a peregrine dashing among the whirling flocks of birds. The dunes are a rolling patchwork quilt of colour, a tapestry of plants. Here, there’s lots of space here for the dog to run when it’s quiet, plenty of scents to sniff out, and always wildlife to see. The downsides? Some people don’t clear up after their dogs especially near the busy Tayport end, and dogs can disturb wading birds particularly in winter. Amazingly though, by the time we’ve reach the beach it can feel empty, just ourselves and a dog under a big sky.”
Adding some variety to your route is a nice way to ensure the morning walk isn’t a slog but remember sometimes it’s important to change a little throughout the year to allow for wildlife seasons too. Our coastlines are important habitats for lots of species so it’s good to be wary of resident or seasonal wildlife. For ground nesting birds, make sure to follow any local guidance to avoid disturbing of nest sites. Dog walkers should also keep well back from seals with their dog on the lead keeping at least 150 metres away. These are beautiful animals to watch but if seals raise their heads when people are in the vicinity, then you are too close and best to continue on your dog walk via an alternative route.
Coastal exploring is also a favourite for Cathie Sunderland, our Unit Administrator for Argyll and Outer Hebrides.
“This is Scout on the hill above Ganavan Beach just outside Oban. It’s a popular spot for locals and visitors and a great place to catch up with some doggy friends and to let Scout have a little time running free. During our walk Scout even manages to find the odd ‘nice bit’ to have a good roll around in…which usually means a bath later. As well as great views across to Morven and Lismore, we also see plenty of rabbits on the walk as well as birds, including the odd Sea Eagle. When things are a bit warmer this is also a lovely spot for butterflies and moths.”
Local greenspace and country parks
Outdoor adventures with your pet are great no matter where you go and local greenspace and parks can also be fantastic places to exercise your four-legged friend. Communications Officer, Suzanne Downey, has a found her favourite route through a local country park.
“We are lucky living close to one of Scotland’s Great Trails, the popular West Highland Way. Set within the super country park in Milngavie (7 miles outside Glasgow) it has miles of footpaths and cycle routes to enjoy. My fave route takes you alongside Mugdock Reservoir, through Mugdock Wood, along Allander Water. The combination of peaceful woodland trails and waterside paths makes for a lovely cycle, run and of course walk with the family pet, fox-red Labrador Roxy.
The park also includes the remains of the 14th-century Mugdock Castle and the ruins of the 19th century Craigend Castle, a Gothic Revival mansion which might look familiar….The Last King was filmed here! I often run with my dog around the Milngavie Reservoirs (which is a 3 mile loop) on the eastern side of the park. It will take you around the Craigmaddie and Mugdock reservoirs with lovely views and woodland trails to enjoy.”
Having grown up in the area, my young family and I are well aware of the need to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code but it is striking how many visitors or indeed locals are not so knowledgeable or aware. There are many signs along the way during lambing times or at times of ground-nesting birds to kindly warn dog walkers of the need to put the dog on the lead – why would anyone risk the safety of their pet and other livestock? The rangers are not trying to spoil or interrupt your walk by advising this – so it is disheartening when many don’t follow these simple set of instructions. We all want to enjoy the countryside and trails together.”
Country parks and indeed local countryside can be great options for walking the dog but there are some guidelines to follow. As we head into spring remember that you might need to take extra care on your usual local routes as farms and small holdings head into the lambing season. During this time, look out for signs warning you not to enter fields and make sure to take note of animals before you head out. Remember to keep your dog at heel and under proper control around livestock to make sure everyone stays safe on a family dog walk.
The countryside afternoon walkies
Some other top options near Glasgow include around the Campsie Fells north of Glasgow. Our Non-Native Species Officer, Jenny Park, and dog Kelpie, have a few favourite spots around the area but, sadly, the walks aren’t always well looked after.
“Campsie Glen is a steep walk so good for a cardiovascular work out with the dog and the waterfall there creates deep clean pools for doggy paddling. As a popular spot, the only problem with this route is during summer there are a lot of day trippers that do not follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Many camp and leave their litter (and even whole tents!) behind them – as well as remains of food which dogs will make a bee line for and gobble no matter whether it’s harmful to them or not.
Another option is Fin Glen, previously a hill sheep farm but purchased by Forestry Commission Scotland a few years ago so now great for dog walkers! This walk is less well known than neighbouring Campsie Glen so isn’t spoiled by litter the way that Campsie Glen can be. It also features a waterfall and pool for doggy (or human) paddling but you have a bit of a hike before you reach it – the reward is that you’ll probably get it to yourself. Fin Glen has a wilder feel to it so worth the extra hike. There are plenty pheasant and roe deer in some areas as well as the occasional stray sheep from neighbouring farms so I do need to keep Kelpie on a lead in parts.
There are bins at the start of these walks but not along them so you have to be prepared to carry dog poo with you. “
Sadly, Jenny and Kelpie’s experience of litter isn’t unique to this spot! Scotland has fantastic access rights which extend to hiking and wild camping but key to this is being responsible and clearing up after your visit. If you plan to camp in a natural area make sure to check the Scottish Outdoor Access Code guidelines on camping. Important things to remember include taking away all your litter, removing all traces of your tent pitch and not causing any pollution in the local area.
Hillside hikes and mountain adventures
For those that want to head out on something a little more strenuous there are also a few uphill suggestions from our Scottish Natural Heritage cohort. If you’re in Aberdeenshire, Katie Bain, one of our Planning Advisers, suggests the Bennachie Range as a great spot to explore and is a firm favourite to walk with her dog Mallie.
“This image was taken at sunrise from the top of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire. This is home for me so will always be my favourite spot! There are four official paths to the top. The steepness of these varies so there is something for everyone – the gradual path up from the Rowantree car park is very popular. We also walked up to the top for Hogmanay and there were loads of people up there with their head torches including a bagpiper! Another bonus is that Bennachie also has a great swimming spot nearby.”
This route is also one seconded by our Landscape Advisor, Sarah Fletcher, but she also has a few other great hill paths for those in the area.
“I live in Insch, Aberdeenshire with some top walks right on my doorstep including up to Dunnydeer Hill and around the woodlands to Drumrossie House, Insch. Plus some more just a short drive too such as Bennachie, Tap o’Noth and Boyndie Bay – a beach west of Banff.”
If you are heading on a hill or mountain path remember to be prepared for your journey with suitable resources – and that includes for your furry friend. Long trails are unlikely to have many bin options so remember the poo bags and take them with you. If you can’t find a bin please don’t leave a full poo bag along the route even if it is to collect later as these are rarely picked up again. Need something more suitable for longer walks? Our Non-Native Species Officer, Jenny Park, recommends neoprene bags designed to clip onto belts or rucksacks. You can also find more about these and how to deal with dog poo when out and about in our free dog training resources.
If you are closer to the North-West, our Chief of Staff, Graham Boyle suggests the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail as a top option to take your pet on an outdoor adventure. This route includes woodland areas including ancient Scots pines, amazing views from high peaks and fascinating glacial geology. Look out for dippers splashing in the cascading burns, golden eagles soaring above the ridges and alpine plants clinging to the higher slopes.
Scotland’s nature reserves are great places to visit but remember these areas are carefully managed for nature conservation and to safeguard rare animals and plants. If you are planning to visit one of our reserves take care to avoid damaging the site or disturbing its wildlife by ensuring you follow responsible access guidance.
Want to ensure you’re exploring responsibly with your dog? Check out our free online course on Responsible Dog Walking in Scotland’s Great Outdoors or if you need to know more about getting out and about check out the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Why not show us your latest adventures and how you are putting our course or the Scottish Outdoor Access Code into practice using our #TakeTheLead hashtag on social media!
Our team have some great suggestions from up and down the country but we’d love to know your favourite dog walking spots! Share them in the comments below.