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By North Coast 500
Published: 4th February 2020

Spotlight on Wilderness Scotland

Offering a range of guided, self-guided and customised adventure holidays in the most remote and beautiful regions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, we wanted to find out more about the award-winning Wilderness Scotland, so we caught up with Paul Easto, who co-founded Europe’s No.1 Adventure Travel Company back in 2001…

Hi Paul, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at Wilderness Scotland?

So it all began back in 2000 when a uni friend and myself felt equally inspired to share the incredible adventures and experiences that we enjoyed so deeply with the wider world, and Wilderness Scotland was born.

I think over the years of running a startup and small business there’s not a role that I haven’t done at Wilderness but more recently I’ve been focused on continuing on the groundwork we put in to be recognised as a “Best Workplace” as part of the Great Places to Work scheme. Another area that I personally hold dear is our work around Climate Action. One of our founding values was “Sustainability”, and we’ve recently joined other tourism businesses across the globe in declaring a climate emergency. We have some key benchmarking and actions for carbon reduction to work through this year as we aim to make a positive impact on the planet.

Who are Wilderness Scotland?

At the heart of it, we are an adventure travel company, offering luxurious activity tours to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. That’s our bread and butter. We ran our first trip back in 2001 to the Knoydart Peninsula, enthralled and unbelieving that our clients had trusted us with their holiday. We learnt many lessons on that first trip, and we’ve come a long way since. We’ve evolved like any business does and should over that period of time. We are now a team of 30+ adventure-travel experts, and in the field, we have over 50 qualified and experienced guides.

It’s not just group holidays in the wild parts of Scotland that we offer. We also arrange private travel experiences, ranging from luxury tailor-made adventures to private departures of our existing holiday range.

Founded in 2014, we have our sister company Wilderness Ireland. Operating alongside Wilderness Scotland, our Ireland team work to create innovative and unique trips that bring visitors to the wild and lesser-known regions of the Emerald Isle.

In 2019 we decided to introduce an assortment of exciting, fully-guided women-only departures. These encourage women to build adventure confidence and partake in outdoor activities such as cycling, walking and kayaking – activities that have long been male-dominated. These trips have been well received and will continue to run and expand.

We are also very excited to announce that as of 2020 we are operating an all England walking trip, our first trip entirely south of the border.

What can Wilderness Scotland offer someone looking to visit the NC500 on two wheels?

What differentiates Wilderness Scotland from other tour operators or going at it independently is 100% our people. Both in the office and in the field, we’ve got extensive experience creating enriching adventure holidays in Scotland.

We believe that a fully guided trip to Scotland offers the best experience for travellers. Our guides introduce travellers to places and experiences they would never have uncovered themselves. It also means that travellers do not need to worry about any trip logistics, as our guides handle everything. Going with Wilderness Scotland means that you can enjoy the road freely; benefiting from catered breaks, route planning, and bike maintenance. In the evenings you can relax in comfortable hand-selected Highland hotels and guesthouses, knowing that everything is set in place for the following day.

You have an exciting new adventure this year with record-breaking round-the-world cyclist Mark Beaumont, how did this come about?

The North Coast 500 Challenge came about because Mark is a longstanding friend of both the NC500 and Wilderness Scotland. The route has really captured the imagination of touring drivers from across the world and cyclists have taken an increasing interest in riding it self-supported. Tom Campbell, Managing Director of the NC500 suggested a partnership with Wilderness Scotland to help raise the profile of the NC500 as a cycling route. It was a natural fit as I (Paul) was on the original team who created the vision for the route.

As a World Record Breaking Round the World cyclist and all-round adventurist and good guy, Mark Beaumont provides the inspiration for people to take on the challenge of a lifetime, and of course, if that’s a little out of your comfort zone then there are a range of fully supported tours that take the hassle and logistics out of arranging a cycle tour of the NC500 yourself.

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Wilderness Scotland has won a number of awards for Green Tourism, how do you put sustainable tourism at the heart of your NC500 trips?

All our trips are operated where possible on a low-carbon basis, the same goes for our NC500 trips. But what does this actually mean? First of all, we arrange pick-up and drop-off from public transportation points like train stations. This encourages people to travel by rail or road rather than by air.

All along the way we’ve done what we can to minimise the carbon footprint. We encourage the use of reusable water bottles by not providing a fresh bottle every day, but instead, our support vehicles come with an extra-large refillable water bladder.

We use local businesses who share the same green ethos as us for accommodation and supplies. This care has been taken from the type of energy supplying your hotel right down to the snacks given to you at the tea break, with energy bars and crisps produced locally and packaged in biodegradable wrapping.

Have you got anything planned for 2020 that you can share with us?

We launched 5 new trips for 2020; a new road biking itinerary, as well as new walking, mountain biking, photography, and wildlife trips. After spending some time developing great trips to the best bits of the north (the NC500), we thought we’d also show-off the beauty of the Scottish Borders. Our travellers will the rolling hills of the borders over 7 days, including a quick foray into England.

Our new photography trip to Islay really highlights the best of Scotland’s coasts and waters, perfect for the Year of Coasts & Waters! Based on the island itself, clients will spend 6 days shooting the beaches, coastlines, and islands that hallmark Scotland’s beautiful west coast.

Our new trips also include a mountain biking itinerary to the Cairngorms National Park. We’re very excited about this one as it’s on the home turf. Our office is based in Aviemore and we know the trails here like the backs of our hands.

The Big Picture Rewilding Retreat is the brainchild of Pete Cairns, local rewilding expert. Based from a lodge in the Cairngorms, travellers are shown prime areas of rewilding and nature restoration in Scotland.

The last trip is the aforementioned walking trip to Northumberland and the Lake District, our first England only based trip.

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And finally… do you have a favourite spot on the North Coast 500?

Oh come on, you’d expect me to say it’s too difficult to choose a favourite from many highlights and I must admit, it’s tough, however, it’s hard to beat the iconic Bealach na Ba for many reasons.

For starters, it’s a test piece for any cyclist venturing to the route and the region and you learn a lot about yourself as you battle gravity for the outstanding views out towards the Isle of Skye from the top. However, I’m a firm believer in effort and reward and it’s hard to beat the food and drink on offer in the friendly village of Applecross on the other side of the Bealach.

I know you asked me for a favourite but if you were to press me for another then I’d say Stac Pollaidh, the views from the top across Inverpolly towards the stand-alone mountains of Suilven and Cul Mor are timeless and breathtaking, while over your shoulder you can look out towards the Summer Isles and on a good day when the air is clear you’ll catch a glimpse of the Outer Hebrides. It’s an incredible vantage point from which you can spot so many of the wild places that our adventure holidays immerse you in. And you’re not too far from the best pie shop in Scotland.

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