A Slow Adventure in the Highlands: A New Laidback Vacation to Benefit People and the Planet | Holidays in Scotland


“We can take the high ground and possibly avoid the bog and stream or take the easier low ground and probably end up in both,” says our mountain guide Anna Danby as we contemplate our route along the Abhainn Rath – a stream that flows below the Ben Nevis Range. Rain and sun come and go, leaving a patchwork of changing colors on the valley floor below.

We opt for the heights, weaving our way along the contour lines and admiring six deer that watch us silently from a ridge 20 meters away. Once at the bottom of the valley, petrified tree trunks, the remnants of a forest preserved in the bogs that filled this landscape 7,000 years ago, spring from rust-red and peat-black ravines. The baby frogs are jumping around. Away from the main hiking trails, there is no one else in sight.

Twenty-four hours earlier, I had watched the UK go by on the train from Brighton to Edinburgh and on to the Highlands. In Spean Bridge, an unassuming village often overlooked by visitors to Fort William down the road, I meet Sara Mair Bellshaw, founder of new tour operator Slow Adventure, whose maiden voyage I’m here to sample. “It’s our first trip, and it’s also my hometown,” she says. “We’ve all enjoyed the people and experiences on our doorstep much more during Covid-19, and now I can share my local discoveries with visitors.”

A tasting at Great Glen Charcuterie

The first part of the adventure includes three days of hiking and wild camping with Anna (who runs wild roots guidance), departing from Spean Bridge towards Corrour – a sprawling regenerating estate home to the UK’s most remote railway station. After that, windswept and a little euphoric, we return to Spean Bridge by train for part two, which focuses on hyper-local food and beer experiences, with Tirindrish House B&B as our base. A visit and tastings at Glen Spean Brewery with co-founder Ian Peter, and a feast of sustainably sourced venison and garden produce at Great Glen Charcuterie founder Anja Baak are highlights.

Wild camping and wine tasting in a gorgeous Georgian mansion might not seem like natural companions, but these experiences share a slow-travel ethos – a deep, thoughtful dive rather than a box-checking exercise, featuring local organizations from different sectors.

After their plans were cut short by Covid, Sara launched Slow Adventure with Jane Stuart-Smith (who previously owned the White House slow food restaurant on the west coast of Scotland) in late 2021 and launched it this summer . The goal is to help people explore lesser-known destinations, including Jämtland Härjedalen in Sweden and Valtellina in northern Italy, spend money on local and micro experiences, and get immerse in nature and community. The company was inspired by the EU-funded university SAINT (Slow Adventure in the Northern Territories) project (which Sara managed): he worked with small businesses across Northern Europe to develop slow adventure experiences that improve the well-being of communities, nature and visitors.

walk on the domain of Corrour
Guided walk on the Corrour domain

Jane was keen to get involved, having seen firsthand the damage tourism can do to small rural communities. “In Morvern, where I live, on the west coast of Scotland, there has been an increase in visitors staying in a campervan or self-catering accommodation for one night and then leaving again, contributing nothing to the area, except sometimes by leaving their garbage. ,” she says. Sara adds that what has happened to places like Skye and the North Coast 500 route in Scotland, where destinations have been marketed without the proper buy-in from the local community, causing significant strain on infrastructure local, is a motivating factor.

“We want to empower rural communities to shape nature-based tourism and adventure travel in their region so that it’s a thriving place for everyone,” Sara said. Rather than “providers”, local Slow Adventure hosts are known as members, to reflect their role in shaping the overall experience. Connecting local small businesses and travelers looking for a meaningful connection is central to the plan.

Slow Adventure isn’t the only travel company embracing the growing trend of slower experiences. Recognizing that much of tourism was unsustainable before the pandemic, due to carbon emissions and overtourism, embracing the slow ethic offers businesses the opportunity to have a more positive impact on the ground. According to Hospitality Insights, slow travel will increase by 10% year-on-year, and a recent survey by publisher Hidden Scotland found that 83% of people traveling to Scotland are looking for slow travel experiences. Sales of BradtSlow Travel’s guides have doubled in the past year as more people seek local, responsible and “experiential” travel, according to boss Adrian Phillips.

This summer, Much Better Adventures (MBA) will organize its first hut-to-hut hike in northern Spain. Peaks of Europe, with a local mountain guide who takes hikers to visit small cheese factories and cider houses, focusing on the less-visited south of the region. MBA co-founder Sam Bruce says, “Taking part in local guided tours is one of the best ways to explore beyond the surface of a place. This leads to a much better understanding and appreciation of the details of culture, history and traditions.

glass of craft beer
Carefully brewed craft beer is perfect for quenching a thirst for slow adventure

There in the Balkans, Intrepid also developed a group travel itinerary focusing on traditional and local products in the mountain villages and towns of Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Managing Director Zina Bencheikh says, “By visiting fantastic local cooks and producers, you are essentially extending the benefits of tourism to those who need it most. These hyper-local experiences are not always easy to find, but they are most authentic and enriching.

Tourist offices are also involved. Visit Sweden promotes the new 44-mile Gotaleden hiking trail between Gothenburg and Alingsås in western Sweden. A “meet the locals” project connects hikers to local experiences, such as horseback riding and farm stays, and local producers offer fika (coffee, cake and chat) stops along the way. Last year Visit Scotland launched an international post-Covid campaign to encourage visitors to “slow down, recharge your batteries, escape and live immersive and sustainable tourist experiences”.

Slow Adventure certainly seems to do just that. I had never heard of Spean Bridge, but by the end of the trip I had criss-crossed the village several times, explored the landscape with a local mountain guide and been welcomed into several homes. I left guests hugging like old friends, hoping our paths would cross again. It is hospitality in its most authentic form, that is to say, to go slowly.

Scotland’s Hiking and Food Culture Trip costs £772 for five days.


About Author

Comments are closed.