IN a straw poll of friends everyone knew Scotland has Unesco sites, but no one had heard of the Unesco Trail, launched recently in a world first. The beauty of the trail is that it is drawing attention to sites people didn’t even know about, encouraging us to visit a few even if you don’t have time to squeeze them all in.

Visiting all of Unesco’s delights properly in one trip would be a mighty task that would take at least a month. Visit Scotland, who are always keen to stress low environmental impact tourism, suggest checking out the whole trail digitally, then choosing places to visit using sustainable transport.

Scotland is a pioneer with a national trail bringing all its Unesco attractions together. Our 13 Unesco designations are split between World Heritage sites, Biospheres, Global Geoparks and Creative Cities; these distinct categories have evolved since Unesco first started recognition in 1972.

Let’s kick off with the Unesco World Heritage star attractions. Both Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns bring their ridiculous wealth of history and architecture. They were joined recently by Queensferry’s Forth Bridge. This remarkable iron leviathan rose from the Forth when Queen Victoria was monarch. For a sustainable day walk from Edinburgh follow the John Muir Way, across Corstorphine Hill and through the Dalmeny Estate to the Hawes Pier – the Maid of the Forth awaits to cruise under the remarkable triple cantilever span.

Until Covid, I hadn’t really explored Scotland’s very own Hadrian’s Wall. The wall sweeps 37 miles from Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde in the west across to near Bo’ness on the Forth. Work on Rome’s northern frontier began in 142AD, taking 12 years. Handily, you can walk much of its route. I caught a train to Croy and followed it east to the Rough Castle Fort at Falkirk, the most impressive stretch, where information boards tell its stories.

Also in the Central Belt, New Lanark takes us back in time into the Industrial Revolution on the upper reaches of the Clyde. Forget the harsh workhouses of Dickens – this 18th-century pioneer cotton mill opened eyes around the world. Robert Owen became a famous philanthropist and social reformer, showing how workers thrived with improved working and social conditions.

Heading north to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, which makes Stonehenge look like IKEA given the age of its sites. Journey back more than 5000 years at the brilliantly preserved village of Skara Brae, delve down the dark tunnel at Maeshowe if you dare, and fill up your phone with photos at the Ring of Brodgar. Don’t miss the less-explored Standing Stones of Stenness too.

The National: Ring of BrodgarRing of Brodgar (Image: NQ)

For me the most dramatic World Heritage site was the planet’s first to gain a dual listing; for its human heritage and again for its incredible natural value. St Kilda’s old main street lets you into the world of the islanders who somehow survived in this remote archipelago until 1930.

Day trips sail from the Outer Hebrides, enjoy a live aboard cruise with Hebrides Cruises, or just learn more at the Seallam! Visitor Centre on Harris, Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre in North Uist and Museum nan Eilean in Lews Castle in Stornoway.

Unesco describes Biosphere Reserves as “learning places for sustainable development”, where people are encouraged to live in a sustainable way with nature. The Wester Ross Biosphere is a wild and wildly beautiful oasis, home to 8000 inhabitants spread across more than 5000 square kilometres.

A thrilling introduction is the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail, one of Scotland’s few waymarked mountain trails. Communities like Applecross, Ullapool and Gairloch offer windows into a world where efforts are being made to preserve both Gaelic language and culture.

Head for the Gairloch Museum and nearby Achtercairn project; everyone is welcome in the GALE Centre community hub and cafe.

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere down south boasts highlights like the National Nature Reserve (NNR) at Cairnsmore of Fleet and Silver Flowe, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). To tackle the National Cycle Network’s routes seven and 73 hook up with Biosphere Bikes.

The hiking is superb too – I’ve swept right through on the Southern Upland Way and it was a life-affirming joy. This biosphere covers 5268 square kilometres of south-west Scotland so there is plenty to explore in a reserve with a population of 100,000.

Unesco Global Geoparks meanwhile are sites of geological significance managed “with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development”. Shetland Geopark covers the whole of the remarkable archipelago, three billion years in the making. The Shetland Amenity Trust are “catalysts for community enterprise, innovation and business for the benefit of everyone”.

My favourite spot is the Hermaness National Nature Reserve on Unst. A tour with Island Vista makes sure you don’t miss the island’s unique geology.

The Unesco Creative Cities Network puts creativity and culture at the heart of development and tourism. Scotland again pioneers. Dundee was named the first City of Design. Drawing on its textile and shipbuilding heritage, the first V&A design museum outside London is the obvious focus. But design also weaves into the Wasps Studios, the DCA and Verdant Works.

Edinburgh meanwhile was named Unesco’s first City of Literature. The city of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and JK Rowling is awash with attractions – the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Scottish Poetry Library and the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum.

The Literary Pub Tour is a fun and rewarding way to engage with the spirit of Burns and Stevenson.

Indeed, all of Scotland’s Unesco sites offer both enjoyment and a rewarding experience.

Scotland’s Unesco Trail –