Invigorating winter walks often leave one in need of sustenance ... and Robin McKelvie guarantees there’s a cosy hostelry at the end of each of these scenic routes

As the leaves turn and the mercury dips it’s tempting to join members of the animal kingdom settling down to hibernate. But don’t put your walking gear away so hastily, not when you can get all coorie and enjoy exercise as you go. This might not be the best time for tackling the high peaks of Torridon or the Cairngorm Plateau, but a smorgasbord of walks tempt with that most rewarding hiking prize of all – a cosy pub. 

There is nothing quite like bounding along breathing in fresh, crisp air with life-affirming vibes coursing through your mind and body; there is no appetite quite like one worked up on a walk. I recommend checking out menus in advance so you can dream of your prize as you hike; also make sure to book to avoid the ultimate walking disappointment.

Wander the East Neuk from Anstruther to Elie for the Ship Inn  
Start: Anstruther waterfront
Time: 3-4 hours

This walk is handily signposted as part of the Fife Coastal Path, a 116-mile epic, one of Scotland’s Great Trails. It works its way along the coast taking in a swathe of great beaches, historic sites and a flurry of those picture-postcard East Neuk villages – if you prefer your gables Flemish and appreciate postcard-pretty whitewashed houses this is the walk for you. Pittenweem is the quintessential East Neuk village, all orange-hued roof tiles and cobbled streets. 

Detour to take in St Fillan’s Cave, a stark reminder of what happened when local clergy stood up to the Norsemen. Best look but don’t dip in the impressively revamped Pittenweem Tidal Pool; do enjoy the views out to Bass Rock. Watch out for sea eagles too, even whales as they’ve been spotted along this walk. Also impressively revamped is St Monans Windmill, once used to pump water out of the salt pans. St Monans itself offers a busy working fishing harbour and the East Pier Smokehouse, whose cured beetroot-infused salmon is a joy. The sights continue on the last stretch to Elie: St Monans’ Auld Kirk, Newark Castle, Ardross Castle and the Lady’s Tower, where Lady Janet Anstruther used to enjoy a refreshing dip. 

The Ship Inn awaits, with all their fish and meat sourced from Scotland. Think proper fish ‘n’ chips and sweet langoustines landed in Anstruther. Their heart-warming array of ales includes tipples from the local St Andrews Brewing Company.


Escape Edinburgh along the Union Canal to the Bridge Inn 
Start: Lochrin Basin
Time: 3-4 hours

Long gone are the days when the Union Canal was more notorious for that most ubiquitous of Scottish aquatic interloper – the shopping trolley – than as a superb cycling route. This pancake-flat artery is not just for the two wheeled, though, as it’s brilliant for autumn and winter walking. Leave the busy streets of Edinburgh behind at Lochrin Basin – the basin lies handily within a short stroll of Haymarket Station. 

You pass the Leamington Lift Bridge, a legacy of the canal’s industrial past when it was the main transport route between Scotland’s two largest cities, opened in 1822.

Houseboats greet you as you ease along. You’ll soon see why people to choose to live on the canal: gone are traffic lights and honking horns and in their place swans whooshing into land and a guard of trees beckoning you on. Part of this route handily dovetails with the coast-to-coast John Muir Way, so you can work in your own detours too. 

Heading west the canal meets the Water of Leith on its way north to a rendezvous with the Forth. The Slateford Viaduct – one of the great engineering feats of the Scottish canal network – sweeps you across the river. You really shake off Edinburgh when the canal escapes the city’s bypass to move into the countryside. Views to the distant Forth Bridges accompany you as you walk ever west admiring the Pentland Hills rising to the south. More houseboats greet your arrival at the Bridge Inn. 

Reward yourself with a hearty Cullen Skink with Company Bakery sourdough, or the Bridge Inn pie of the day with chips, fries or mash. Pentland IPA is an apt local end of walk prize.


Follow the West Highland Way to the Oak Tree Inn
Start: Drymen
Time: 2-3 hours

The classic Loch Lomond pub walk shines in autumn and winter when the higher hills are trickier. You still get to ascend Conic Hill for a view over Loch Lomond that is hard to beat anyway. It’s easy to follow too as you’re on the West Highland Way as you ease out of Drymen towards Garadhban Forest, where contouring helps your knees. Note there is a bad weather alternative to Balmaha via Milton of Buchanan. 

The real treat, though, is pushing on up Conic Hill to a height of 358m. You are right on the Highland Boundary Fault, which is easy to make out as it works its way across Loch Lomond through a sprinkling of islands. You’ll want to stay a while to take it all in as a rich fold of lofty mountains tempt to the north, the Firth of Clyde back to the south. 

Balmaha’s Oak Tree Inn is celebrating a quarter of a century as a classic hiking pub. Reward yourself with a playful menu that offers ‘locally caught haggis’, battered haddock and chips, or one of the daily specials. If you fancy an alternative to a pint they boast over 100 whiskies, including sweet local malt Glengoyne. You’ll want to try a brew from Loch Lomond Coffee Co too as it’s roasted in Balmaha.


A hike back through time on Arran to a pub with a view
Start: Brodick Ferry Terminal
Time: 2-3 hours

I come to Arran every year and this is easily my favourite pub walk – it helps that it is to my favourite pub, the Drift Inn. Shaking off the ferry terminal detritus, you climb steeply towards Corriegills, where a solid track takes you south. When it runs out it’s up through Forestry Commission land, rising steeply towards Dun Fionn. 

This is also my favourite of the smaller Arran hills. The views back towards Goatfell and the Arran Hills proper are sublime; in the other direction the hulk of Holy Isle rises in welcome in Lamlash Bay. There is history too – man has appreciated this spot since time immemorial, its top reaches once part of a hill fort. Linger at the trig point before you start your descent, carefully working your way down the top of the cliffs until you reach the old World War Two bunkers. 

The wee offshore island you come to is one that even some Arran locals don’t know about. Hamilton Island is a bijou uninhabited isle home to seabirds and seals. The views now are sublime across to Holy Isle – owned by a Buddhist community - holding court in the wide bay. Follow the track towards the village, learning about Lamlash’s pioneering No Take Zone at the information signs. It faced a lot of opposition when it opened in 2008, but has been so successful it has been extended. 

The end of the hike comes by the water at the Drift Inn. If you’re lucky sit in the sunshine, or under the terrace roof that was added during Covid lockdowns. Enjoy one of the Belgian-influenced beers from the Seagate Brewery just next door, before enjoying Arran lamb or a the treat of Lamlash Bay lobster.


Along the cliffs with Dracula to the Kilmarnock Arms 
Start: Boddam
Time: 4-5 hours

This year marks 125 years since Dracula’s publication, but did you realise that Scotland’s northeast had such an influence on the creation of the world’s most notorious vampire? Bram Stoker escaped from London to Cruden Bay to seek inspiration on this bracing, shipwreck-strewn coastline.

It was reported Stoker “would sit for hours, like a great bat, perched on the rocks of the shore”, immersed in the Viking battles, pirates and drownings that have bloodied these waters. He penned the first chapters of Dracula staying at the Victorian beach resort’s Kilmarnock Arms. 

Your walk starts to the north – it’s not one for families or the fainthearted as the sinewy coastal trail works its way along the precipitous North Sea cliffs. 

Leave Buchan Ness lighthouse behind and red granite cliffs forge ahead: all caves, grottos and arches. The views are epic and the wildlife rich with more seals than fellow walkers and flocks of seabirds. The most striking section is the Bullers of Buchan, a spectacular collapsed sea cave sporting two voluminous rock arches. 

Then the most striking sight is Slains Castle – Dracula’s castle. Stoker was clearly inspired by it and its unusual octagonal room, which features in the novel. Look out too for the Watter’s Mou’, a smugglers’ hideaway that Stoker wrote a novel dedicated to.

Finally we come to Cruden Bay. Stoker said its natural drama was like “fangs rising from the deep water”.  

You can see that Stoker signed the visitors book at the Kilmarnock Arms and dine in the wee snug dedicated to the writer, complete with portraits of him. 

His eyes by now may seem to follow you as you sup a pint of Peterhead’s Brew Town craft beer and a hearty bowl of local seafood delight Cullen Skink.