Hiking Scotland

By Matt Stirn

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Green hills and mountain lakes dot the landscape of the Quiraing, a popular hiking and camping destination on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Stemming from Old Norse word for “sloping place,” the Quiraing is a nod to the region’s Viking history, where it is rumored that locals hid livestock in the nooks and crannies of the exposed rocks during raids.   

As I stood on top of the ridge, being blasted by 40 mph winds, nature surrounded me in every direction. In front of me, the rocky outcrops of the Trotternish mountains stretched into the horizon, and behind me, the waves of the North Sea crashed into the beaches far below.

Wyoming Truth photo by Matt Stirn.

Earlier this fall, I traveled across the Scottish Highlands and Isles, leading a group of photographers interested in learning more about photographing nature, culture and history. Throughout the majority of our trip, I was entranced with the Scottish landscape, but this particular view over the great Quiraing kept my attention after I returned to my home near Jackson, Wyoming. A fascinating aspect of hiking in Scotland is exploration is permitted virtually everywhere. In 2003, the Scottish government passed the Land Reform Act (known colloquially as the “Right to Roam” act), which made access to wild land a legal right for everyone. Having grown up in Wyoming, where private property rights are seemingly treated as scripture and trespassing can rapidly land someone in jail, it amazed me that everywhere I could see from this vantage was accessible to anyone – every forest, every field and every estate. While there are always exceptions, the open access of nature in Scotland seems to work: visitors respect the places they visit, and landowners welcome outsiders onto their land. The result is a mutual admiration of the land and a combined effort to preserve it.

Even though I was only a momentary visitor in this ancient land, knowing that I could walk or camp anywhere made me feel more connected to it. As I watched a group of campers share tea with a shepherd on the green hillside below, I briefly wondered if such a relationship between people and open spaces could ever exist in the Western U.S. and what impacts it could have on conservation.

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