eastern seaboard between Nairn and John o' Groats is well worth discovering.
The Moray Firth town of Nairn is noted for its mild climate and low rainfall,
as well as its superb beaches. At Cromarty on the Black Isle (really a
green and wooded peninsula), the Courthouse of former days
tells the fascinating story of this historic Scots burgh. The attractive
little town of Tain was a place of pilgrimage in medieval times - a story
told in the visitor centre Tain through Time, while the
Glenmorangie Distillery and Visitor Centre is also close
by. A little further on, Dornoch, famed for its golf course, is a picturesque
old town with colourful gardens in the streets around its cathedral.
portrait of time past is painted at the Timespan Heritage Centre
in Helmsdale, using sound effects, models and historic artifacts. With
fine seascapes and many opportunities to explore the dramatic coastline
along the way, the main road leads to Wick, where the Wick Heritage
Centre tells of the heyday of this fishing port. Many visitors
continue to John o' Groats, though the most northerly mainland point is
at Dunnet Head, to the west, while to the east, three spectacular stone
"needles" stand in the sea at Duncansby Head.
Scotland's most northerly mainland town, a base for excursions into the
typical countryside of Caithness, with open pastures and endless loch-studded
moorland rolling down to a rugged coastline. On the way west, the north-facing
coast has its own special qualities - cool, clear light, rugged headlands
and dazzling white beaches. West of the Kyle of Durness is the lighthouse
at Cape Wrath (access to the area is by ferry and minibus), while nearby
lie the highest mainland sea cliffs in Britain.
On the western
coast, the island of Handa has spectacular seabird colonies
while back on the mainland, Eas Coul Aulin is the highest
waterfall in Britain. These are just two of the natural attractions for
lovers of wild places. Between the fishing port of Lochinver and the town
of Ullapool lies a choice of routes. The coastal route offers sublime
sea views across a pattern of rocky islands, while the faster main road
reaches Ullapool via the dramatic mountainous landscapes of the Inverpolly
National Nature Reserve.
by the shores of Loch Broom, is a ferry port for the Western Isles and
a touring centre for the northwest, while the town itself has a good range
of services and various local museums. Continuing southwards, the main
road passes close to Corrieshalloch Gorge, a deep wooded
ravine. Inverewe Garden at Poolewe is in the care of the
National Trust for Scotland. Here, a once barren headland has been transformed
with exotic plants and trees offering an almost continuous display of
colour throughout the year, because of the frost-free, gentle climate,
warmed by the Gulf Stream.
Gairloch offers a range of accommodation and places to eat as well as
a Heritage Museum. The road then leads on to the beauties
of Loch Maree, where fragments of ancient natural pinewoods survive in
the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. The mountainous
scenery around Glen Torridon is spectacular, partly in the care of the
National Trust for Scotland, who also look after Kintail, to the south.
Nearby on the shores of Loch Duich, you will find the picturesque Eilean
STRATHSPEY AND THE GREAT GLEN
River Spey, from Grantown-on-Spey westwards, lies a good range of attractions.
Landmark Visitor Centre at Carrbridge combines indoor Highland
history presentations with outdoor enjoyment of the forests by way of
trails and a nature centre. The Strathspey Railway offers
a nostalgic return to the days of steam. Also near Boat of Garten is the
Loch Garten Nature Reserve, where one can view the domestic
life of nesting ospreys from a special observation hide. Nearby is the
Speyside Heather Centre, taking the theme of this characteristic
Highland plant and its past uses, which includes rope-making, thatching
and even beer-making.
offers plenty of choice for shopping, eating and overnight stays. Close
by, you can sample life on a Highland estate starting from the Rothiemurchus
Visitor Centre or take a trip to see the reindeer, which thrive
on the slopes of the Cairngorm Mountains. Further up the River Spey, Newtonmore
is home to the Clan MacPherson Museum.
the west, the Great Glen is a coast-to-coast valley formed in ancient
geological times. Today it holds the main Inverness - Fort William road
as well as the string of lochs connected to form the Caledonian Canal.
Visitors taking the main road to the north of Loch Ness can visit two
exhibitions in Drumnadrochit exploring the theme of the Loch Ness
Monster. Alternatively, the road down the south side of Loch Ness
offers fine forest walks near Inverfarigaig, a spectacular waterfall at
Foyers, plus outstanding views over Loch Ness itself. Both routes converge
at Fort Augustus.
at the southern end of the Great Glen has a wide range of shops, places
to eat and accommodation. Down by the waterfront, is one of Scotland's
many high quality seafood restaurants with its own fishing boat unloading
its catch directly into the kitchen. The town's West Highland Museum
has a number of items associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie, while Britain's
highest mountain, Ben Nevis, standing at 4,406 feet, overlooks
the town. Superb views of the surrounding hills can be enjoyed from the
gondola system (operating all year) on the Nevis Range ski area, a few
minutes drive northwest of the town on the slopes of Aonach Mor.
is also a natural touring centre. The Corran Ferry to the south of the
town is just one gateway to the peerless landscapes of Ardnamurchan. It
is well worth exploring the peninsula all the way to the tip, the most
westerly point on mainland Britain, for the dramatic landscapes and seascapes.
These include some superb sandy beaches with panoramic views to the Isle
of Skye. Another option is to join the scenic route, sometimes described
as "The Road to the Isles" running from Fort William westwards
to Mallaig via Glenfinnan, where a monument stands on the
site where Bonnie Prince Charlie rallied the Highland clans for his ill-fated
rebellion of 1745. The impressive viaduct at Glenfinnan carries the famous
Fort William - Mallaig Railway, one of the great railway journeys of the
AND THE SMALL ISLES
of Skye has a bridge linking it to the mainland, giving a useful round-trip
option using the ferry service from Mallaig to Armadale in the south of
the island. Skye offers some of Scotland's most dramatic landforms, the
best known of which are the Cuillin Hills. Beyond the main
town of Portree, with its choice of accommodation, the dramatic geology
continues with the rock formation known as the Old Man of Storr.
The Quiraing, an extraordinary assembly of pinnacles, rock
towers and secret places is yet another example of Skye's spectacular
of the Clan Macleod at Dunvegan Castle is a favourite excursion,
while the Skye Museum of Island Life recalls the past ways
of the local people. The Clan Donald Centre at Armadale
explores the theme of the powerful clan whose chiefs were the Lords of
the Isles. Also important for its perspective of Skye, is the Aros
Heritage Centre in Portree, telling the story of the island since
1700 from the point of view of the ordinary islanders. There are also
island crafts, including souvenirs in Skye marble.
the dramatic skyline of Skye on a smaller scale, Rum is the most spectacular
of the Small Isles, which also include Eigg, Muck and Canna - a scattering
of green islands, tiny communities reached by boat from Mallaig or Arisaig
- the ultimate in getting-away-from-it-all excursions.