The Scottish Highlands; raw wilderness, rugged horizons and untamed expanse. It’s an outdoorsy, photogenic playground, attracting hikers and wild swimmers and out-of-the-ordinary individuals. Lucky for us, we’ve managed to track down one such Highlander, the lovely Charlotte Riley, who’s ready to unveil the top reasons why she loves the Scottish Highlands. Well Charlotte, consider us convinced! If you want to get to grips with the remote, beautiful world of the Highlands, read on and find out why Charlotte thinks they’re more than worth the trip…
Unforgettable road trips
The promise of spectacular scenery is the main draw for many visitors to the Highlands. One of the best ways to experience the stunning views is by taking a drive along one of the many scenic tourist routes. One of the best is the drive across the Bealach na Bà to Applecross, in Wester Ross. This road is modelled on an alpine pass and is a single-track road made up of a series of hair-raisingly tight turns and blind summits. Once you reach the top of Scotland’s third highest road you are rewarded with truly inspiring views of the magnificent Cuillin mountain range and the Isle of Skye. The road eventually winds back down to sea level and to the village of Applecross. Here you can enjoy a drink on the shore edge at the famous Applecross Inn.
The Highland hospitality
Even in the wild and remote depths of the Highlands you can usually find a local pub. The UK’s most remote pub, the Old Forge, can be found on the Knoydart Peninsula. The Old Forge is only accessible by boat or via an eighteen mile walk from the nearest road. If this is a little too remote there are plenty of other options where you can enjoy a warm and lively welcome in a unique location. The Glenelg Inn offers a traditional and cosy atmosphere with panoramic views across the Sound of Sleat to the Isle of Skye. The Inn is located near the Glenachulish Ferry which is just a short five-minute crossing to Skye. Another favourite of mine is the Claichaig Inn. Nestled amongst the mountains of the West Highlands in Glencoe the Claichaig has been offering travellers a slice of Highland hospitality for three hundred years. Wherever you choose, stopping in a highland pub for a tipple or two is a good way to experience a slice of highland life.
A visit to the Highlands would not be complete without sampling one of its most popular exports. Each area in the highlands produces its own whisky with very distinctive features and different tastes. Most distilleries open their doors to the public to show them what goes into making the perfect ‘dram’ of Scotland’s famous fire water.
The local cuisine
The Highlands are a foodie paradise. Haggis is often regarded as a must try for any visitor to Scotland but there is much more on offer. The area is also famous for its venison, grouse, and fish and seafood. The West Highlands are famed for their seafood and if you are in the Argyll area then a good choice for dinner is the Loch Fyne restaurant, the original of the now well know chain. The Highlands is also home to the UK’s most northerly Michelin starred restaurant, The Albannach in Sutherland.
Spotting rare species
The plateau of the Cairngorms closely resembles Artic Tundra and as a such plays host to a variety of wildlife not commonly found in the UK such as the ptarmigan and the artic hare. Another rare species that visits the area is the osprey. One of the best places in the UK to see osprey is in the Cairngorm National Park near the village of Boat of Garten. Throughout the highlands red deer and birds of prey are common sights and if you are lucky you may catch sight the rare golden eagle.
Fantastic beasts and where to find them!
Nessie, the most elusive resident of Loch Ness, is pretty famous but the Highlands are home to a plethora of legendary inhabitants. Beinn Mac Duibh in the Cairngorms is reputed to be home to Fearlas Mor, also known as The Big Grey Man, who haunts the summit of the second highest peak in the UK. One of the most famous legends is that of the Kelpie. The Kelpie is a mythical creature which assumes the shape of a horse which lures its prey onto its back before drowning them in the watery depths of whatever loch or river they inhabit. Many of the larger rivers and lochs of the Highlands will have their own Kelpie legend.
Traditional Highland sportsmanship
The Highland Games are held in the spring and summer months throughout the Highlands. The Games usually feature traditional crowd favourites such as the Caber Toss (basically a man in a kilt attempting to throw a telegraph pole in a perfectly straight line) and Highland Dancing. They usually have an opening and closing ceremony led by a large pipe band which is often a highlight of the games. Many Highland Games feature events which are open to visitors but you may not be able to enter on the day so if you want to take part it is worth doing some research before you arrive.
Bagging a munro
In 1891 Sir Hugh Munro compiled a list of mountains he believed to be over 3000 feet and published it in the Scottish Mountaineering Club journal. This was the beginning of a craze famous in the mountaineering world called ‘Munro Bagging’. Unfortunately for Munro he never made it to the summit of all the mountains on his list and never earned the accolade of ‘completer’; that was given to a man called Reverend A. E. Robertson in 1901. There are 282 Munros in Scotland and most of them are to be found in the highlands.
Witnessing nature’s greatest light show
The north of Scotland lies on the same latitude as Stavanger in Norway so it is not surprising that it is possible to see the beautiful Aurora Borealis from the Highlands. Autumn and winter nights offer the best chance to see the lights, known in Scotland as the ‘Mirrie Dancers’, as it needs to be cold and clear. The lights can be best seen in areas with limited light pollution such as in the far north west like Ullapool or in The Cairngorms.
Dancing the night away at a local Ceilidh
Throughout the year most highland villages will have a local ceilidh or two. These are advertised in local press and vary with regards to the level of structure and organisation. These are a great place to mingle with locals and to enjoy fantastic traditional music and dancing.