Once you’ve been to the Highlands & Islands of Scotland you’ll simply have to go back, because there’s so much to experience you’ll only have whetted your appetite for more. The region is celebrated for the timeless beauty of its mountains, lakes, glens and coast, diverse wildlife, outdoor sports and unique culture.
You’ll find here some of the iconic landmarks of the country; Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK; Loch Ness, which contains more fresh water than all the lakes of England and Wales put together and harbours a certain well known monster; the Caledonian Canal, 62 miles of shipway constructed by engineering genius Thomas Telford following a geological faultline and the Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness; Glenfinnan Viaduct, with its magical 21 arches immortalised by Harry Potter.
Fort William has a reputation for being the outdoor capital of the UK, the vibrant centre for all things adventurous, from climbing to kayaking. At Ice World, people can tackle the biggest indoor ice wall in the world, practising their moves without having to wait for winter.
Also in the vicinity of Fort William is Treasures of the Earth in Corpach, displaying the biggest private collection of crystals and minerals in Europe, along with a great many marine fossils. The stash housed in mock caves and mines includes many impressive and rare pieces. It is a great place, too, to learn about the Scottish gold rush.
When visiting these parts, people frequently pay homage to heroism at the Commando Memorial about a mile west of Spean Bridge, the ‘Crossroads of the Highlands’. It commemorates the elite soldiers of World War Two who earned their Green Berets through gruelling survival and combat training at Achnacarry, a private estate with a castle and terrain known as the Dark Mile.
From Fort William it is common to take the picturesque A830 Road to the Isles, but many people choose to travel on the Jacobite Steam Train, offering what is described by devotees as ‘the greatest railway journey in the world’.
The 84 mile round trip starts near Ben Nevis, visits Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig; passes by Loch Morar, the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, and River Morar, the shortest river in Britain, before finally arriving by the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis. The train stops at various beautiful places from which passengers may glimpse islands they might subsequently ‘hop’ to, such as Skye – the largest of the Inner Hebrides – and the ‘small isles’ of Eigg, Canna, Muck and Rum.
All the islands are rich in wildlife, mythology, archaeology and rural culture expressed in traditional music, arts and crafts. Passenger ferries run from Mallaig all year round and day trips also operate from Arisaig.
Skye is a world class destination for walkers and climbers. The Cuillin mountain range and Trotternish Ridge offer the sort of challenges that excite experienced climbers, including 12 Munros – peaks over 3000 feet – while there are many choices for leisure walkers.
Visitors often head for Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, the ancestral home of Clan MacLeod for the past 800 years and the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. They also visit the ruins of Armadale Castle, spiritual home of the rival Clan MacDonald, together with its award winning Museum of the Isles.