Scotland is a favourite destination of ours, whether in the drifting snows of winter, the lightly dancing light of spring, the hot steamy summers or the burnt umber autumns. This time of year can be especially nice.
For an ideal holiday, take in some cities and towns and a big slice of countryside and lochs. With B&Bs everywhere and prices pretty reasonable, you can have a great time for remarkably little spent.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and is fast becoming one of the world’s top city break destinations (see Edinburgh City Breaks for more on that). It is a World Heritage site and enjoys the combination of rich history, fabulous position and street after street of excellent architecture. Our guide is intended to help you choose your walks and activities during your stay…
Edinburgh is a serene city not really trying to be in your face with all its history though there is a considerable amount of that to be overwhelmed. From the Royal Mile to Princes Street and the rest of the city centre Edinburgh is free of the big city bustle. The New Town with its solemn architecture and the Old Town with its great parks gives a delightful contrast to the city.
Edinburgh is one of the top places to be if you want culture, good food and of course a good drink. Over the years the shopping has improved with new shops opening all the time especially clothes shops like Cruise and Harvey Nichols see shopping.
The Highlands is the part of Scotland, which reflects perfectly most people’s romantic image of Scotland. The main towns are Inverness and Fort William, which lies in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain.
North from here stretches a dramatic shoreline of deep sea lochs and sheltered coves of pure white sand backed by towering mountains and looking across to numerous Hebridean islands (see Outer Hebrides Guide). West of Fort William, via the lyrical ‘Road to the Isles’, is Mallaig, now the main departure point for ferries to Skye. Further north is Ullapool, one of the main ferry ports for the Outer Hebrides and the ideal base from which to explore the wild and near-deserted far northwest.
North of Ullapool you enter a different world. The landscape becomes ever more dramatic and unreal – a huge emptiness of bleak moorland punctuated by isolated peaks and shimmering lochs. A narrow and tortuously twisting road winds its way up the coast, past deserted beaches of sparkling white sand washed by turquoise sea. There’s not much tourist traffic this far north and once you get off the main road and on to the backroads, you can enjoy the wonderful sensation of having all this astonishingly beautiful scenery to yourself.
The northeast coast holds some of Scotland’s best coastal scenery, particularly the Moray Coast from Spey Bay to Fraserburgh.
Here you’ll find some picturesque little villages clinging to the cliffs like limpets, and miles of windswept, deserted sandy beaches. Portsoy, Pennan, Gardenstown and Crovie are all well worth visiting, and there are great beaches at Cullen, Lossiemouth, Rosehearty and Sunnyside. Other highlights in the region include the beautiful Duff House, the working abbey at Pluscarden, and Findhorn, famous worldwide for its alternative, spiritual community.
The two largest towns along the coast are the hard-working, no-nonsense fishing ports of Peterhead and Fraserburgh, both linked by a regular bus service from Aberdeen. Fochabers, Elgin and Forres are all on the main Aberdeen-Inverness bus route and served regularly, and trains between Aberdeen and Inverness stop at Elgin and Forres. Otherwise, public transport is somewhat limited and it can be difficult getting to the more out-of-the-way places without your own transport.
Central Scotland is not a distinct region but rather the sum of disparate parts of other regions, including Perthshire, Stirling, the Trossachs, Loch Lomond and Fife.
The historically important regions of Perthshire and Stirling straddle the Highland Boundary Fault, the dividing line between the heavily populated Central Lowlands and the wild, remote Highlands. Just across this ‘border’ are the Trossachs, a beautiful area of mountains and forests eulogized by Sir Walter Scott that stretches west from Callander, and the glens of Perthshire, steeped in the rich broth of Scottish history and seasoned with lochs and mountains.
To the east, bounded by the Firth of Tay to the north and the Firth of Forth to the south, is the Kingdom of Fife, once isolated from the rest of the country. Even since the building of the Forth and Tay bridges, the region has managed to retain its own peculiar flavour. The small peninsula juts out into the North Sea like the head of a little terrier dog. Rather apt, given the proud Fifers’ fight to preserve the identity of their own ‘Kingdom’ when it was threatened by local government reorganization in 1975 and 1995.
As the main access route between the wild, remote Highlands and heavily populated Central Lowlands, Perthshire and Stirling have been at the very heart of the main events which have shaped the Scotland’s destiny. Many of the most important battles have been fought here and the region is littered with remnants of the past.
Northeast of Stirling is the town of Perth, whose surrounding glens are dotted with numerous castles. Nearby is Scone Palace, where every Scottish king was crowned – all 42 of them. Numerous castles are scattered around the glens of Perthshire, including Blair Castle, one of the country’s top attractions and home to the only legitimate private army in Britain.
The region has other attractions, not least of which is the spectacular and varied landscape, ranging from the rolling hills of Strathearn to the rugged peaks of the Grampian Mountains. There are Munros aplenty for the climbing, and in the far west of the region, on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond, is the West Highland Way, Scotland’s most popular long-distance hike. There are numerous cycle trails through the forests and glens, and a long-distance cycleway runs from Glasgow, through the Trossachs and along the shores of Loch Tay to Pitlochry.
There’s also skiing at Glenshee, salmon fishing on the river Tay, watersports on loch Earn and golfing at glorious Gleneagles, all within easy reach of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
And there’s much more besides. If you’re a whiskey lover or just curious, there are plenty of distilleries to visit. If you like crafts and home-crafts in particular, these are everywhere. Beautiful scenery, mountains to climb or just admire (do see Ben Nevis) and…the list goes on. A great country.
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