The Highlands and Islands have a majestic landscape of wild glens, mysterious lochs and proud mountains; there is scenery that stirs the very soul. The Highlands and Islands are filled with history and culture, from Loch Ness and the ever elusive Nessie to Culloden Battlefield, scene of the last pitched battle on British soil. From tartans to haggis to whisky, the area is comprised mainly of small towns and friendly people willing to welcome visitors and show them a slice of Highland life.
As the unofficial capital of the Highlands, Inverness is a great mix of Highland culture and city convenience. Its strategic location at the River Ness and the northern head of the Great Glen and as the converging point for roads from every direction often makes it the starting point for travelers lured to the Highlands.
The city center surrounds the River Ness with the bulk of the area lying on the eastern side of the river. Here lies
Southeast of the city center is mostly residential, as is the Raigmore/Inshes area although it also contains some more commercial ventures such as Raigmore Hospital, the largest and most equipped in the area, as well as a couple of business parks.
North of the city center is known for industry with car dealerships and merchants scattered throughout. Its space provides the perfect place for watching live soccer (football) at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium on the banks of the Beauly Firth. The Dalneigh/Ballifeary neighborhoods are situated to the west of the River Ness and run adjacent to the
The Loch Ness area is shrouded in mystery and lore, home of the Loch Ness Monster, an astonishing volume of fresh water, a foreboding castle, and a number of interesting towns. Loch Ness's depth has caused great speculation over the years concerning the presence of a “monster” of which numerous people claim to have seen. Take a cruise, visit
Nairn is a seaside village with a quaint, small town feel. Although it has fewer than 10,000 residents, Nairn's importance far outweighs its size. Home to world famous golf courses, one of the best known
Some of the most beautiful and tallest mountains in the United Kingdom can be found in the mountain range commonly called the Cairngorms, named for one particular mountain, Cairn Gorm. Cairngorms National Park is located in this area, and the larger towns in the area include Aviemore and Boat of Garten.
Beauly and Strathglass
Beauly is best known for the 13th century
The Islands of Scotland vary from the accessible Inner Hebrides to the remote Outer Hebrides, Shetland, and Orkney Islands. Almost 100,000 residents live on the Islands, and here you will find a greater number of Gaelic speakers as well as village life that often places great importance on the church. The Islands of Skye and Mull are mountainous and common vacation destinations for people all over the world.
Rural and remote northern Scotland is less densely populated than areas in the south. Furthest north is Caithness, and slightly south of that is Sutherland. Wester Ross lies south of Sutherland and has miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. All areas are known for both their scenic beauty as well as the Highland Clearances when thousands of inhabitants were brutally forced to leave their homes, changing the human landscape of the area forever.
The area surrounding the small town of Mallaig is known for its scenic roads, great for traveling to get a real sense of Scottish beauty. Mallaig itself is a small town from which it is easy to get a boat to some of the nearby islands.
What Inverness is to the eastern part of the Highlands, Fort William is to the western side. Now the largest town in the Highlands, Fort William is the go-to destination for shopping, eating, and as a base to explore the stunning landscapes in the western Highlands and Islands.
Locally made Scottish cuisine can be found all over the Highlands and Islands, so if you are looking for some good haggis or scotch, you will not be disappointed. Your best bet for more ethnic cuisine are the larger towns, but there is also delicious, comforting food to be had no matter where you roam.
Inverness is home to a diverse family of watering holes and establishments offering a variety of good food, refreshments and home-grown entertainment. Leave the car keys behind - you can do it all with a quick pair of heels.
The town center is a compact area with plenty of choice for diners and drinkers who don't need to spend a fortune to have a pleasant day or evening out. A popular stop for lunch or dinner is Bella Pasta, close to Inverness Castle, offering familiar Italian fare including pasta and pizza. This stretch of Castle Street is also close to several popular bars, including The Gellions, a traditional pub with a lot of local color. Live music is to be enjoyed some evenings, or you can take a right turn up Castle Street and pop into Number 27, a popular bar which serves great food. The atmosphere in No 27 is usually warm and welcoming, and a variety of specialist beer and lager can help it along, both Scottish and Continental. If you feel the urge to watch sport while you drink, then Lauders would be a good choice.
Across the road from the Railway Station is The Moray Bar, a traditional watering hole with plenty of seats and an atmosphere that is truly local. If you're still feeling hungry, lies Deep Pan Pizza Co. And if you're after more traditional Scottish fare, then slip across the river by way of the Grieg Street footbridge to The Riverhouse Restaurant. On the same side of the river you can find Johnny Foxes, offering an extensive menu and a wide range of beers and beverages. There is often live music but it can be extremely busy with people queuing to get in, so go early if you want a seat.
There are several Indian restaurants around town if you fancy a curry. Try the Cottage Tandoori Restaurant, Rajah International Restaurant, which lies behind the main post office. If it's Thai or Chinese that you have a fancy for, then Dickens Restaurant in Church Street or nearby Kong's Restaurant are good choices.
If it's a modern night spot you're seeking then you could try Bex Bar on Academy Street, G's Nightclubon Castle Street. Or perhaps you might need a rest at this point!
Two restaurants of note in the Loch Ness area include the Glenmoriston Arms Hotel Restaurant which uses local produce and emits a distinctly Scottish taste and feel. A more relaxed meal can be had at Fiddlers Café Bar on the banks of Loch Ness, open late and with a special children's menu.
While in the area, it would be foolhardy to miss dining at the Boath House Restaurant. Named as one of the ten best in Scotland, specialties include venison and seafood. In the center of Nairn, restaurants include the Havelock with a bar serving food during the day and local meats. Nearby is Kist Restaurant, a quiet spot with traditional food. Check out Jacko's at night where good music and drinks abound.
Dine with a view of spectacular mountains, this is a treat that many of the restaurants in the Cairngorms area offer. In Aviemore, check out Hambletts for a delicious breakfast or light lunch. Many of the restaurants are located in historic buidlings, the Scot House Hotel Restaurant was originally a manse and serves hearty meals in an elegant setting. In Kingussie, Cross Kingussie is located inside a converted tweed mill and uses local produce in a creative manner.
Far from major urban centers, food on the islands often features fresh and local produce. Fish are a major part of many of the meals at the Ullinish Lodge Hotel Restaurant to go along with its magnificent marine views. The Lochbay Seafood Restaurant is located in the fishing village of Stein, and serves up a seafood menu of which any restaurant would be proud. In Skye's largest town of Portree, the restaurant and the Cuillin Hills Hotel combines imaginative menus with local specialties, and the dining room at the Rosedale Hotel Portree boasts views of the harbor worth a visit.
Located near where all the action is, the Crannog Seafood Restaurant can be found on the town pier. Its delicious seafood is complimented by the converted bait shop atmosphere. Not too far away is Grog & Gruel, a popular pub with a wide selection of beers. More upscale dining spots include Salmon Leap Restaurant and the Moorings Hotel Restaurant, both found within elegant hotels and renowned for quality cuisine.
All cities and towns in the Highlands are contained enough to be navigated by foot, but some of the most exciting journeys involve traveling beyond town borders to experience the untamed beauty of the Highland scenery.
Modes of transport can vary as much as Highland weather. The intrepid traveler can make do with a good pair of walking shoes, take to the winding roads in a picnic-packed car, or board a boat and cruise the gentle waters of the Caledonian Canal. One could even even mark off the land traversed in the Highlands by a series of challenging golf courses, towering munros, spectacular lochs, ancient castles, or by the distinct and differing flavors of single malt whisky.
In Inverness, the Inverness Castle is not to be missed, a towering icon, guarding against an attack from marauders. Leaving the castle, as Castle Street meets the High Street, is old Town House, where it is worth pausing to see the Clachnacuddin where washerwomen would pause with their laden tubs of linen bound for the River Ness. The Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is close by so stop off at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery Cafe for some food and drink after perusing a varied selection of art exhibits and historical artifacts.
Your first stop in Beauly is likely to be the Beauly Priory where the ruins of Beauly's early history can be examined. For a great selection of tweed, you might want to check out the Highland Tweed House or Campbell & Co. Golf enthusiasts might want to check out the links at Aigas Golf Course for a game, or those with a more artistic side should visit Croft 7 with art for sale as well as an opportunity to see art being made.
As if you need any ideas of things to do while at Loch Ness, the number one attraction is the old girl herself, Nessie. Scour the Loch with the help of Cruise Loch Ness or another of the numerous touring companies ready to take you out on the water. Learn all about Nessie from the Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition covering all the theories and happenings related to the unseen monster. Urquhart Castle overlooks the loch and the history of the ruins are a quite a site. If you are hungry or in need of some liquor, the Moriston Bar carries over a hundred single malts as well as great food for the whole family.
Not to be missed in the Fort William area is Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain. Stop off at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre before beginning your ascent, once you get to the top you will see the ruins of an observatory, as well as a spectacular view. Learn more about the country you just saw at the West Highland Museum or grab a well-deserved bite to eat at the Crannog Seafood Restaurant on the pier with views of Loch Linhe. If you have ever been curious about aluminum, take some time to visit Aluminium Story, a center offering information about aluminum. Throught the town you will find cute shops from which to buy trinkets to remember your trip, one such store is Country Trader which carries everything from tartans to fudge.
Isle of Skye
By far the best part of the Isle of Skye is walking, riding, or driving around the Island and getting a sense of the beautiful majesty that is at your disposal. But there are plenty of things to see and do besides hike. The Staffin Museum shows off Scotland's colorful past with dinosaur bones and other artifacts. Depending on the time of year you visit, Skye hosts a number of exciting festials including the Silver Chanter Piping Competition, Isle of Skye Highland Games, and Skye Agricultural Show. Bring a piece of Skye home with you from Skye Jewellery, with lots of Celtic rings and other things to choose from.
If you prefer the help of professionals, some great resources for seeing all you can of the Highlands include:
Terror Tours (+44 77717 68652) Albannach Holidays (http://www.scotland-info.co.uk/albannach.htm/ +44 1381 621 851) HIghland Journeys (http://www.highlandjourneys.com/ +44 7778 499307)
Puffin Express (http://www.puffinexpress.co.uk/ +44 1463 717181) Loch Ness Travel Co. (http://www.lochnesstravel.com/ +44 1456 450550)
Whether you are cruising the Caledonian Canal or watching for dolphins, the abundance of water makes Scotland a great place to tour by boat.
Jacobite Cruises Ltd (http://www.jacobite.co.uk/ +44 1463 233999) Inverness Dolphin Cruises (http://www.inverness-dolphin-cruises.co.uk/ +44 1463 717900) Loch Ness and Great Glen Cruise Co (http://www.highlanderweb.co.uk/spirit_of_loch_ness/book.htm/ +441463 711913) Cruise Loch Ness (http://www.cruiselochness.com/ +44 1320 366277) Loch Ness Cruises (http://www.lochness-cruises.com/ +44 1456 450395) Caledonian Discovery Ltd (http://www.lochaber.co.uk/fingal/ +44 1397 772167) Loch Shiel Cruises (http://www.highlandcruises.co.uk/ +44 1687 470322)
Fishing Scotland (http://www.Fishing-Scotland.co.uk/ +44 1397 712812) Train
Jacobite Steam Train (http://www.steamtrain.info/ +44 1524 737751) West Highland Line (http://www.railbrit.co.uk/West_Highland_Railway/frame.htm)
Distilleries abound in Scotland, but the real single malt enthusiast will probably have his or her sights set on Moray in the Grampian Highlands, a couple of hours southeast of Inverness by car. Moray is Scotland's Malt Whisky Country, with its fifty distilleries in the area representing the greatest concentration anywhere in Scotland - and certainly anywhere in the world. There is a signposted Malt Whisky Trail, which encourages visitors to explore six working distilleries (Strathisla, Glen Grant, Cardhu, Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet, and Glenfarclas), plus a preserved distillery (Dallas Dhu), and the Speyside Cooperage, which demonstrates the craft of traditional barrel-making.
Distilleries open for visitors include but are certainly not limited to:
Clynelish Distillery (http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/clynelish/ +44 1408 623000) Glenmorangie PLC (http://www.glenmorangie.com/ +44 1862 892477) Tomatin Distillery (http://www.tomatin.com/ +44 1808 511 234) Ben Nevis Distillery(http://www.bennevisdistillery.com/ +44 1397 700200)
Cairns and Duns
Evidence has been found of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers making their home 7500 years ago near Inverness. But there is more visual evidence still standing of those who peopled the region in 3000 BCE, when Neolithic farmers constructed burial-cairns. One of the most impressive is the Clava Cairns, east of Inverness. Skulls examined from such tombs, reveal folk with dainty features, narrow faces and upturned noses, who, it is supposed, lived relatively peaceful lives since there is no evidence of stone forts or weapons of battle dating back to the period. However, those to follow in later years more than made up for it. The first stone duns (Gaelic for fortress) in the area date back to around 700 BCE.
In the first millennium CE, the Picts dominated the region, and their standing stones are best viewed in the coastal villages of Easter Ross. But they were eventually subsumed by Gaelic-speaking Scots who headed for the region from Ireland in the sixth century, while the Vikings dominated the region of Caithness in the ninth century.
Battling Clans and Barren Glens
From such colorful and diverse origins, the great clans of the Highlands were eventually born: MacDonalds and MacKenzies, Camerons and Campbells - names that shaped the history of the land and gave rise to bloody clan battles through generations of Scots. Although men fought for the title of the King of Scotland, the ruler only had control over a small fraction of towns in the area. In 1237 CE, the Treaty of York was signed establishing a border between the sovereign states of England and Scotland, and in 1266, Scotland and Norway established the Treaty of Perth, where the Hebrides and the Isle of Mann were determined to be under Scottish rule.
Soon Scotland began to define itself in opposition to the English, thus forming a more coherent national identity. But in 1295 England invaded Scotland, and William Wallace, of Braveheart notoriety, raised and army and drove the English out. A series of wars within Scotland and with England occurred and in 1707, the two countries joined together creating Great Britain.
Bonnie Prince Charlie
In 1746 the Jacobite defeat at Culloden presaged the end of the old clan society. Here, two cousins - Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), supported by the majority of Highland Scots, and William Augustus Duke of Cumberland - went into bloody battle in the last life-and-death struggle for the British throne, at the climax of the Jacobite Uprising. In just one hour, 1500 men were slaughtered - shot to pieces or bayoneted as they charged into battle, hungry, tired, ill-clad and poorly-armed. To this day, their bodies lie buried on the field where they fell.
After defeat at Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie fled and took to the hills. A reward was put on his head amounting to £30,000. Thousands of British troops scoured the glens searching for Britain's most wanted man, but he evaded capture through cunning, luck, and the loyalty of his followers. One brave woman disguised the fugitive prince as her Irish maid and transported him to the Isle of Skye. On one occasion, with government troops closing in, Bonnie Prince Charlie swapped clothes with a young Edinburgh merchant, loyal to his cause who bore a resemblance to the prince. Mackenzie was found and shot as the prince fled, uttering his dying words, “You have killed your Prince.” This act of bravery further convinced government troops that they had their man.
The fugitive prince was saved through a different kind of sacrifice by the Seven Men of Glenmoriston.' Despite the temptation of claiming the £30,000 reward, the Seven Men of Glenmoriston protected Bonnie Prince Charlie, transporting him to a cave in the hills. Here he was fed and sheltered, sleeping on a bed of heather until he was smuggled onto a French frigate. Prince Charlie set sail swearing to return with a French army - but he never again set foot in Scotland. His name still embodies a defiant image of bravery, honor and fighting spirit in Scotland today.
Scared by the power of the clans, the government took steps to curb their power. This was followed in 1785 by the Highland Clearances, forcing a large number of residents off their land. Subsequent large scale emigration to the New World followed leaving deserted glens, abandoned crofts and lochs veiled in silent mists - but for the bleating of the Cheviot sheep, who replaced the rightful inhabitants of this land.
The Clearances forever changed the human landscape of the Highlands, diluting the language and culture which was once such a powerful force in the area. Today, much of this still remains, but English has become the dominant language and the population in the Highlands is only now beginning to recover.