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Scotland Travel Guide

Best Places to Visit in  Scotland  - The Highlands and Skye

                                                             The Highlands  More Scotland

 

Map of the best places to visit in Scotland showing the Highlands

    Map Showing the Highland Region of Scotland

 

 

The Highlands    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When not driving the highways or major roads in the Highlands, you may come across single-track roads.  These are one-lane-roads that have bi-directional traffic. Periodically, you will find a turn-out, allowing for accommodation of cars traveling in different directions.

 

 









 









 

 

 

 

 

The Black Mount near Glencoe is majestic in winter or summer

 

The Highlands  -  Western

The Western Highlands are an incredibly beautiful section of Scotland.   This is one of the most scenic areas of Scotland and you will remember the area with fond memories of its dramatic landscapes and melancholy beauty.

Although the Highlands look compact when shown on a travel map, most destinations, even when seemingly near other attractions, seem far apart when driving between them.  Often, this is because the roads connecting many areas are small, curvy and difficult to drive.  At other times, you will find yourself driving slowly to appreciate the country's beautiful mountains, scenic valleys, lively rivers, and extravagant landscapes.  In other cases,  the relative lack of villages in the Highlands expands the distance between destinations.  However, there is no shortage of spectacular places to visit, as long as you love stunning landscapes

Glencoe Area 

  • The mountains and country surrounding in the Glencoe area  (east of the town of Glencoe on A82) are impressive and awe inspiring.  It is said by some that the Highlands symbolize the "rock spine" both of Scotland and the Scots.

    • In regards to weather in the Highlands,, it seems as if there either will be a good chance of rain or snow or that it is already raining or snowing.  In addition, the Highlands convey a feeling that they are "alive" and reflect a personality that varies from moody to brooding, or, perhaps, challenging.
    • In spring and summer the displays of rhododendrons, which grow wild here, are astounding.  The roadsides come alive with acres of blooming "rhodies" that are beautiful, bright and of amazing size.

    • There is a National Trust  Glencoe Visitors Center on A82 about 2 miles southeast of the town of Glencoe that provides good detail about the history of the Highlands with a section focused on the infamous 17th century massacre of the Mc Donald Clan by the Clan of Campbell.

    •     If you have an hour or so, drive the single-track (lane) road down Glen Etive towards Dalness and Loch Etive to experience a little bit of heaven. The road is signed and on the south side of A-82 east of the Pass of Glen Coe (several miles southeast of the Glencoe Visitor Center).  There are no facilities, services or food stops along this quaint lane and no attractions other than the scenery (mountains, greenery and rhododendrons).   The road dead ends at a farm at the head of Loch Etive, so you will have to turn around there, but each view along this scenic, little road is a delight.  Note that the road is a single-lane track with limited, small, turnouts for passing, so drive very carefully.

     

 Eilean Donan Castle

  • One of the most photographed sites in the Western Highlands is the Eilean Donan Castle, near the town of Dornie (on Highway A87). The Castle sits on a small islet and is now connected to shore by a narrow stone causeway  The site is majestic and has been marked by the construction and destruction of four different castles since the 13th century.  The present castle, which sits on a small peninsula near the joining of three sea lochs (a sea inlet), lay in ruins for over 200 years and was reopened to the public in 1932 after years of restoration work. 
    • The Eilean Donan castle was destroyed by British frigates in 1719.  At the time the Castle was in the possession of Spanish soldiers who were billeted there in support of the Jacobite Rebellion.  Unfortunately, the Spanish has stockpiled gunpowder in support of the Rebellion and the British used the explosive to destroy the parts of the castle that had not been damaged by naval bombardment.
    • The castle is open for touring.  We rate the interior homey and interesting, but not spectacular.  Eilean Donan is most famous for its setting and if you wander the area a bit, you will find some spectacular views of the castle, the lochs and the local mountains.  See the official website of the castle for more detail on visiting.

          

The Isle of Skye  

  • Skye, the largest island of the Inner Hebrides chain of islands, is the closest to the mainland.  It possesses a rugged beauty and a variety of impressive landscapes.  A bridge to the mainland has largely replaced the ferries that used to connect to the mainland.  Regardless,  Skye remains a "remote" location.

  • Skye's landscapes and people are the main attractions and most visitors use their time hiking, shopping, or driving to see  the island's beautiful vistas. 

  •  If you plan on staying overnight or longer in Skye, we recommend you consider taking a B & B. You will find many scattered around the island, mostly near the shore and many in scenic settings.

    • If you stay at a B&B , the likelihood is good that most of your fellow guests will be Scots from other parts of the country who have come to enjoy the beauty of Skye. Usually this is great opportunity to mix and make new friends, as many B&Bs have a communal dessert and coffee after dinner.

  • Portree is Skye's main village and a good place to stay on a quick trip.  Along the colorful harbor, you will find some several stands selling tasty fish and chips (although you might have to fend off the seagulls who seem to have developed a taste for chips).

  • Skye has always been attractive to artisans and the island has a number of shops featuring the fine and decorative arts. Touring these shops will fill an afternoon and provide a good opportunity to purchase unique Scottish trinkets for those back home.

  • If your name is McDonald, or you belong to the Clan Donald, you might be interested in visiting the Clan Donald Visitor Centre sixteen miles south of Broadford on the A-86 (near Armadale).

  • If you are a fan of Scotch Whiskey, you might want to make a trip to Carbost on Loch Harport in the northwest of the island to visit the small, but well-known, Talisker Distillery .  Follow the A87 south from Portree, turn right on the A863 and left at the B8009, which heads up the west side of the Loch to the distillery.

  • Skye is accessible by ferry from Malaig or by driving across the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh on the A86. The bridge provides the only year round access to Skye.

  • Visit the Sky website for more detailed information on the area


Fort William

  • Fort William is considered the "Gateway to the Western Highlands".  The town is not particularly interesting as a tourist attraction, but it provides  a choice of places to stay and a number of restaurants, something that you will not find in many areas of the Highlands. 

    • There area many smaller towns with comfortable Bed and Breakfasts in the area, but make sure you are the B&B sort, before you make a reservation. 

    • There are several attractions that might be of interest while you are in the Fort William area.

      • If you like to hike or climb, you might be interested in visiting Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles.

      • To the west, along route A830 is the Glenfinnan Monument  where Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) raised his standard marking the start of the Jacobite Rebellion (1745) and his attempt to restore the Stuarts to the throne of Scotland.  The Monument dates from the 19th century and is at the north end of Loch Shiel. There is a modest National Trust Visitor Centre at the location.

      • Further to the west  at the terminus of A830 (known as the Road to the Isles) is the town of Mallaig. Once a prosperous fishing center, it now serves as a popular ferry route to Skye and other smaller islands.  The drive between Fort William and Mallaig is gorgeous, but the trip will likely only be interesting to those wanting to see more dramatic landscapes. 

        • If you are interested, the journey between Fort William and Mallaig can be made on the Jacobite Steam Train. 

        • Those of you who are fans of the Harry Potter films may be interested to know that portions of this route  were used to film several scenes of Hogwart's Express chugging its way to the Academy.  For more information on this connection see the website of West Coast Railways.

 

 

          


The Highlands  - Eastern

 

The Great Glen, a series of valleys running from Fort William to Inverness nearly splits Scotland in half and its waters connect the country's two coasts.  Inverness, on the Moray Firth, is near the north end of the Great Glen.   Just to the south of Inverness is Loch Ness, which is  the largest of the lochs in the Great Glen.  The other lochs "connecting the chain" in the Great Glen are Loch Lochey and Loch Linne).

Inverness 

  • Inverness is the capital of the highlands and serves as a comfortable jumping off point for several attractions in the area. There are few attractions in  Inverness, but it offers a choice of places to stay  and provides access to more restaurants than one will find in smaller towns in the area.

  • Loch Ness is the most famous attraction in the vicinity of Inverness and, aside being reputed as the home of the mysterious and presumably prehistoric creature known as "Nessie", the loch is a scenic wonder. You should be warned  that the elusive "Nessie" will have been spotted just before your arrival, but, unfortunately, it is likely that she will be "on vacation" during your visit.  

    • Head for Drumnadrochit, 15 miles south of Inverness on A-82, as it is the center of all things Nessie. 

     

    The Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition Experience is fun to tour

     

    The Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition Experience (formerly "Loch Ness 2000)") in Drumnadrochit, is a fun exhibition covering "Nessie", the Loch, the sightings of the beast through the ages and the modern, scientific hunt to prove whether the creature exists. 

    • The Loch Ness Centre has been awarded a five star rating by the Scottish Tourist Board and has been significantly upgraded over the past few years.  In addition to the focus on the Loch, you will find a Nessie Shop for souvenirs. The Centre can arrange boat trips on the "Deepscan", so you can join the search for Nessie.  See the Centre's official website for more information on visiting.

    • Castle Urquhart, a scenic ruin on the shores of Loch Ness, is a  few miles south of Drumnadrochit and worth a quick visit.  The castle was destroyed in the late 17th century to deprive the Jacobites a position of powerful base of operations as they attempted to expand the scope of their rebellion.


Culloden 
  • History fans will relish a trip to the Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, 5 miles east of Inverness.  In 1746, Culloden, a barren moor, was the site of the last major battle in Britain.  The battle ended the Jacobite Rebellion (in support of the return of the exiled Stuart dynasty) and crushed Bonnie Prince Charlie's (Prince Charles Edward Stuart) attempt to regain the throne.
  • The battlefield is a large, flat moor that appears not to have offered the Scots any tactical advantage in the skirmish.  The Scots fought bravely but were outnumbered by an English army led by the Duke of Cumberland.  The battle lasted less than an hour before the British declared victory.
  • For more information on visiting this historic battlefield, visit the official website of the National Trust for Scotland. .

Clava Cairns
  • Just to the east and "around the corner" from Culloden you will find the Clava Cairns (a Bronze Age burial site). Those looking for "Jaime" from  Diana Gabaldon's epic novels of Scotland might consider a visit to see if they, too, will be whisked into the past. We offered ourselves up, but apparently were judged unworthy.  Ah, the despair of travel writers.

    • There are three cairns at the  Clava Cairns site.  To the untrained eye, they appear to be large rock piles.  However, this site is a well-studied  cemetery dating from the Bronze Age.  The cairns and standing stones that can be seen today are thought to have been erected around 2,000 BC.  More detail can be found at this official website from Historic Scotland.

Cawdor Castle 
  • A little further east of Culloden, on B9090, is Cawdor Castle , which  has three lovely gardens that are well worth seeing in spring and early summer.  The Castle, which can be toured, is the working home of the Lord and Lady Cawdor.

  •     If you continue west on A96 thought Nairn, and head south on A941 at Elgin, you will eventually arrive at the Glenfiddich distillery (1/2 mile south of Dufftown) and a number of other distillers of Scotch are in the immediate area.

  • See the official Glenfiddich website  for information on reserving a tour during your visit to Scotland

  • In addition, you will have left the Highlands and entered another of Scotland's mountainous regions, the Grampians.

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There is no shortage of greenery, water or beautiful scenery in the Highlands Water and greenery are the hallmarks of  the Highlands.  Bring rain gear or be prepared for a soaking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eilean Donan Castle in the Western Highlands Eilean Donan Castle on the Road to Skye is one of the most famous scenes in the Highlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dramatic escarpment at Storr on the Isle of Skye The dramatic escarpment at Storr on the  Scotland's lonely Isle of Skye

 

 

 
Crofting is a land tenure system that exists in the Highlands. A croft is a unit of land and the crofter is a tenant of a croft.  Many of the crofters are farmers, others seek seasonal work and some are artisans.

 

 

 
Links to the Best Places to Visit in Scotland

Overview

Edinburgh
Borders
Grampians
Glasgow and the Trossachs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ruins of Castle Urquhart on Loch Ness are rumored to be where Nessie consumes tourists distubing her sleep. The ruins of Castle Urquhart at Loch Ness seem positioned to await a visit from Nessie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A monument marking the defeat of the Scottish Jacobites during the historically important battle of Culloden A monument marking the defeat of the Scottish Jacobites at Culloden and the end of their rebellion

 

 

 

 

 

Cawdor Castle, viewed from one of its beautiful gardens

Cawdor Castle has an interesting interior, but it is eclipsed by the beauty of its gardens

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