WHERE TO GO - Insight Guides: Pocket Scotland - Insight Guides

Insight Guides: Pocket Scotland - Insight Guides (2016)


Scotland’s spectacular and varied scenery and rich historical heritage make it a fascinating country to explore. The country is about 565km (350 miles) from north to south and stretches in some parts as wide as 258km (160 miles), not counting the many islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides. It is best to concentrate on a few areas, unless your time is unlimited. Scotland has a good network of roads in the Border country and motorways connecting major cities; however, the many winding roads in central Scotland and the single-lane roads in the Highlands can be slow going (for more information, click here). It’s easy to explore Scotland via its excellent bus system (for more information, click here) or on one of the many tours to places of interest (for more information, click here).


Statue of Greyfriars Bobby on Candlemaker Row

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In a country so rich in sights and experiences, only a selection can be presented below, but you’ll find worthwhile sights, unspoiled villages, and spectacular scenery wherever you go, as well as plenty of chances for outdoor sports and adventure.



The ancient, proud capital of Scotland is, of course, at its most lively during the Edinburgh Festival in August, but all year round it provides many sights and entertainments to enjoy - particularly when the sun is shining. Both the Old Town up against the rock of Edinburgh Castle and the New Town across the way are full of impressive architecture. And you’ll find a remarkably congenial atmosphere - an unexpected bonus in a city of just under half a million people.

Edinburgh’s seven hills 1 [map] look northward over the great Firth of Forth estuary or southward to gentle green countryside that rises into hills. Tour guides boast that Edinburgh is probably 1,500 years old and certainly it has been the capital of Scotland since 1437.

Despite all the echoes of the past, the city today seems decidedly young and vibrant. Most of the city’s principal sights are within easy walking distance of each other or can be reached by public bus.


Edinburgh’s elegant rooftops

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Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh’s landmark and Scotland’s most popular tourist attraction stands on an extinct volcano, high above the city. It is not known exactly how long ago the history of this great rock began, but there is archaeological evidence that there was human habitation here as early as the 9th century BC. A stone fortification was definitely erected late in the 6th century AD and the first proper castle was built in the 11th century.

The entrance to Edinburgh Castle A [map] (tel: 0131-225 9846; www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk; daily Apr-Sept 9.30am-6pm, Oct-Mar 9.30am-5pm) lies just beyond the Esplanade, which was once a site for the execution of witches, later a parade ground, and is now a car park and site of the famous Military Tattoo, performed during the annual Edinburgh International Festival.


The famous Military Tattoo

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Edinburgh Military Tattoo

In 1950 the city established a Military Tattoo at the same time as the Festival. The event features a highly polished show of military marching, pageantry, mock battles and horsemanship, accompanied by the sounds of pipe-and-drum bands from around the world. All this happens nightly (except Sunday) against the backdrop of the magnificently floodlit castle in an arena erected in the Esplanade.

Tickets (which sell out months in advance) can be bought from the ticket office at 33-34 Market Street (behind Waverley Station), or by phoning tel: 0131-225 1188 (credit cards only). They can also be bought online at www.edintattoo.co.uk.

The black naval cannons poking through the ramparts inside the gate have never been fired, but you’ll see the cannon that booms out over the city every day (except Sunday) at one o’clock.

Tiny St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest church in use in Scotland. Said to have been built by David I in the early 12th century in honour of his mother, it has survived assaults over the centuries that destroyed the other structures on Castle Rock. The chapel, which has been simply restored with a plain white interior, is kept decorated with flowers by Scotswomen named Margaret. Close by, in a niche overlooking the city, is the Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs, with the tombs of regimental mascots.

Further up the hill in Palace Yard is the Great Hall, claiming the finest hammer-beam ceiling in Britain. Built in 1503, the oak timbers are joined together without a single nail, screw or bolt. It is here that Scotland’s Parliament met for a century. In the State Apartments is Queen Mary’s Room, the very small chamber in which Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (later James I of England).

The castle’s greatest treasures - the crown, sceptre and sword of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny - are in the Crown Room, reached through a series of rooms with displays detailing Scottish history. The rooms are often extremely crowded. On a busy day, more than 10,000 viewers file through here to see the oldest royal regalia in Europe. The gold-and-pearl crown was first used for the coronation of Robert the Bruce in 1306. It was altered in 1540, and Charles II wore it for the last time in 1651. The sword and sceptre were given to James IV by popes Alexander VI and Julius II. The Stone of Destiny, on which Scottish monarchs were traditionally crowned, was only returned to Scotland from captivity in Westminster Abbey in 1996; it had been carried away from Scone in 1296 by English king Edward I, as a symbol of his conquest of Scotland (for more information, click here).

In the back vault of the French prisons is kept Mons Meg, a stout cannon that was forged in Mons (hence the name) in the 15th century. The 6.6-ton monster ingloriously blew up 200 years later while firing a salute to the Duke of Albany and York.

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile runs along the ridge from Edinburgh Castle downhill to the royal Palace of Holyroodhouse. The Old Town’s famous thoroughfare, its cobbles now mostly smoothed, is actually about 2km (1.2 miles) long (the Scottish mile was longer than the English). As it descends, the Royal Mile takes five names: Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand.


The Royal Mile

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In medieval times, this was Edinburgh’s main drag. Enclosed by the city walls, the town grew upwards. Edinburghers delight in recounting how residents of the high tenements and narrow ‘wynds’ (alleys) used to toss slops from windows after a perfunctory shout of ‘Gardyloo!’ (the equivalent of ‘garde à l’eau’). Today, it is lined with historic buildings, tourist shops, restaurants and pubs.

On Castlehill the Camera Obscura at the top of the Outlook Tower (www.camera-obscura.co.uk; daily Apr-Oct 9.30am-7pm, July-Aug 9am-9pm, Nov-Mar 10am-6pm) offers a fascinating 15-minute show - make sure to go when the weather is dry. After climbing the 98 steps to a darkened chamber, you can enjoy living panoramas of the city, projected on to a circular table-screen. From the rooftop you can view the city through telescopes.

Opposite the tower, in the Scotch Whisky Experience (www.scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk; daily Sept-May 10am-5.30pm, June-Aug until 6pm), you will be transported (in a barrel) through the history of Scotland’s ‘water of life’.

Further along, in James Court, Dr Samuel Johnson once visited his biographer, James Boswell, a native of Edinburgh. In Brodie’s Close the popular local story of Deacon Brodie is recalled: a respected city official and carpenter by day, he was a burglar by night (he made wax impressions of his clients’ house keys). Finally arrested and condemned, he tried to escape death by wearing a steel collar under his shirt. Unfortunately for him, the gallows, which he himself had designed, worked perfectly. His double life inspired fellow Scot Robert Louis Stevenson to write Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Gladstone’s Land (477B Lawnmarket; www.nts.org.uk; daily Apr-Oct 10am-5pm, July-Aug until 6.30pm) is a 17th-century merchant’s house, furnished in its original style, with a reconstructed shop booth on the ground floor.

A brief detour down George IV Bridge takes you to the statuette of Greyfriars Bobby. This Skye terrier allegedly waited by his master’s grave in nearby Greyfriars Churchyard for 14 years until dying of old age in 1872. Admiring the dog’s fidelity, the authorities made Bobby a freeman of the city.

Across the road in Chambers Street stands the National Museum of Scotland B [map] (www.nms.ac.uk; daily 10am-5pm; free), resplendent following the restoration of the old Royal Museum building. The National Museum pays homage to Scotland and its history, as well as ethnography, archaeology, technology and the decorative arts. New galleries devoted to science, technology and design are due to open in 2016.


The impressive interior of the National Museum of Scotland

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Window designed by Burne Jones, St Giles’ Cathedral

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Back along the Royal Mile, St Giles Cathedral C [map] (www.stgilescathedral.org.uk; May-Sept Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 1-5pm, Oct-Apr Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 1-5pm; free, but donations suggested), the High Kirk of Scotland, dominates Parliament Square. Its famous tower spire was built in 1495 as a replica of the Scottish crown. The oldest elements of St Giles are the huge 12th-century pillars that support the spire, but there was probably a church on the site since 854. John Knox preached here; he is thought to be buried in the rear graveyard. The soaring Norman interior of St Giles is filled with memorials recalling the great moments of Scottish history. The stained glass in the church dates from 1883 up to modern times. Most beautiful is the Thistle Chapel: dating from 1911, it is ornately carved out of Scottish oak. You’ll see a stall for the queen and princely seats for the 16 Knights of the Thistle, Scotland’s oldest order of chivalry.

Across the street lie the City Chambers, designed by John Adam in the 1750s. Beneath them is Mary King’s Close, one of the areas where, until the 18th century, people lived in crowded, unsanitary conditions that aided the spread of plague and disease.

Further down, John Knox House D [map] (45 High Street; Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, also July-Aug Sun noon-6pm), dating from 1450, is the oldest house in the city. Most interesting is the unchanged top storey with its stencilled beams. It contains an excellent exhibit on the life of John Knox (1513-72), leader of the Scottish Reformation and one of the most important figures in Scottish history (for more information, click here). It is also home to the Scottish Storytelling Centre.


John Knox House

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Across the High Street is the Museum of Childhood (www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk; Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm; free), with a display of children’s toys and games through the centuries. At Canongate Tolbooth, the People’s Story (163 Canongate; www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk; Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun during Aug noon-5pm; free) is a social history museum, telling the stories of Edinburgh’s ordinary people through reconstructions that capture the sounds, sights and smells of the past. Across the road is the Museum of Edinburgh (www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk; Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, also Sun noon-5pm in Aug; free), presenting local history exhibits from prehistoric times to the present.

The royal Palace of Holyroodhouse E [map] (www.royalcollection.org.uk; daily Apr-Oct 9.30am-6pm, Nov-Mar 9.30am-4.30pm; closed for Royal and State visits), at the end of the Royal Mile, began life in about 1500 as a mere guest house for the adjacent, now-ruined abbey. It was much expanded and rebuilt in the 17th century. Visiting monarchs have often resided here (for more information, click here).

The long Picture Gallery showcases many portraits, purportedly of Scottish kings, which were dashed off between 1684-6 by Jacob de Wit the Younger, a Dutchman. In King James’ Tower, up a winding inner stairway, are the apartments of Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots. A plaque marks the spot where the Rizzio, Mary’s Italian secretary, was stabbed with a dagger more than 56 times before the queen’s eyes.


Inside the state-of-the-art Scottish Parliament at Holyrood

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Above Holyroodhouse looms Arthur’s Seat F [map]; you can climb up to it through Holyrood Park. Back on Holyrood Road, you’ll see the Scottish Parliament building G [map] (www.scottish.parliament.uk; open Mon-Sat subject to Parliamentary business; tours free), a magnificent showpiece designed by the Catalan architect Enric Miralles. Nearby, also on Holyrood Road, is Our Dynamic Earth (www.dynamicearth.co.uk; Apr-Oct daily 10am-5.30pm, July-Aug until 6pm, Nov-Mar Wed-Sun 10am-5.30pm), a permanent exhibition with displays on the formation and evolution of the planet.

New Town

Until late in the 18th century Edinburgh was confined to the crowded, unhealthy Old Town, along the ridge from the castle or in the wynds beneath the Royal Mile. The population, which numbered about 25,000 in 1700, had nearly tripled by 1767, when James Craig won a planning competition for an extension to the city. With significant help from the noted Robert Adam, he created the New Town, a complete complex of Georgian architecture.


The Scott Monument

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At the centre of New Town is Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare, bustling Princes Street. Between the historic Balmoral Hotel and Waverley Bridge is the three-level Princes Mall, with the tourist information office at street level. Princes Street Gardens, the city’s green centrepiece, replaced what was once a fetid stretch of water called Nor’ Loch. Rising from the gardens is the Gothic spire of the Scott Monument, which was erected in 1844 and has a statue of Sir Walter with his dog and statuettes of Scott’s literary characters at its base. The gardens’ famous floral clock is planted with some 24,000 flowers.


National Gallery

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A sloping road known as the Mound passes through the gardens. Here, behind the Royal Scottish Academy, is the Scottish National Gallery H [map] (www.nationalgalleries.org; daily 10am-6pm, Thu until 7pm; free) a small but distinguished collection. Look for Van Dyck’s Lomellini Family, Rubens’ The Feast of Herod, Velázquez’s Old Woman Cooking Eggs, and a fine Rembrandt self-portrait. The English school is represented by Reynolds, Turner and Gainsborough. Don’t miss the many paintings by the city’s own Henry Raeburn, especially his well-known work, the Rev. Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch.

At the west end of Princes Street is Charlotte Square, the neoclassical centrepiece of the New Town, designed in 1792 by Robert Adam, Scotland’s most celebrated architect of the 18th century. The 11 houses on the north side of the square with their symmetrical facades are considered to be his finest work. At No. 7 Charlotte Square, Georgian House (www.nts.org.uk; daily Apr-Oct 10am-5pm, July-Aug until 6pm, Mar, Nov-Dec 11am-4pm) has been restored in period-style by the National Trust for Scotland. In the dining room is a splendid table setting of Wedgwood and Sheffield silver cutlery, and in the bed-chamber a marvellous medicine chest as well as a 19th-century water closet called ‘the receiver’.

The excellent Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (75 Belford Road; www.nationalgalleries.org; daily 10am-5pm, Aug until 6pm; free) is well worth a visit. Scotland’s national collection of modern and contemporary art is housed in two neo-classical buildings, Modern One and Modern Two, set in parkland dotted with sculptures by important artists such as Henry Moore. The gallery has an international collection as well as work by Scottish artists, and also hosts touring exhibits.

Along Inverleith Row extends the 30 hectares (75 acres) of the much-admired Royal Botanic Garden (www.rbge.org.uk; daily Mar-Sept 10am-6pm, Feb and Oct 10am-5pm, Nov-Jan 10am-4pm; gardens free, charge for glasshouses) with a huge collection of rhododendrons and a remarkable rock garden, as well as cavernous plant houses.

At the east end of Princes Street is Calton Hill, reached via Waterloo Place. Here you’ll find the old City Observatory now home to the Collective Gallery, and from the top of the Nelson Monument there is a fine panoramic view.


Calton Hill offers panoramic views of the city

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On the waterfront at Leith the Royal Yacht Britannia (tel: 0131-555 5566; www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk; daily July-Sept 9.30am-4.30pm, Apr-June and Oct until 4pm, Nov-Mar 10am-3.30pm) is docked.

Excursions in Lothian

From Edinburgh you can take several excursions by bus to points of interest in the countryside. One of the shortest is to the huge Hopetoun House near South Queensferry, 10 miles (16km) west of Edinburgh (www.hopetoun.co.uk; Apr-Sept daily 10.30am-5pm), a fine example of neoclassical 18th-century architecture. The house has fine original furnishings as well as paintings by Dutch and Italian masters and is set in 100 acres (41 hectares) of parkland with herds of red deer. Its gardens were designed in the grand style of Versailles.

Forth Rail Bridge

About 8 miles (13km) west of Edinburgh is one of the Victorian era’s greatest engineering feats, the Forth Rail Bridge. Completed in 1890, the bridge comprises three huge cantilevers joined by two suspended spans, for a total length of 4,746ft (1,447m). For many years it was the world’s longest bridge.


Forth Rail Bridge

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Nearby at Linlithgow, overlooking the loch, stand the ruins of Linlithgow Palace (tel: 01506-842896; daily Apr-Sept 9.30am-5.30pm, Oct-Mar 9.30am−4.30pm), which was the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1542. James V, Mary’s father, gave the fountain in the courtyard to his wife Mary of Guise as a wedding present. The Great Hall measures 94ft (28m) in length and enough of the enormous building still stands for the visitor to imagine what life must have been like here.

Situated alongside is the Church of St Michael, one of the best medieval parish churches in Britain and a fine example of the Scottish Decorated style, where a ghost is said to have warned James IV not to fight against England shortly before he and so many Scots were killed at the Battle of Flodden.

Golf courses, beaches, and pleasant villages make East Lothian a popular holiday destination. A pleasant coastal walk connects North Berwick and Gullane Bay. At Dirleton, you will find original stone cottages surrounding a large village green beneath a ruined castle. You can take a boat from North Berwick around the Bass Rock where you will see some of the 8,000 gannets which easily outnumber the other inhabitants such as puffins, shags, kittiwakes and cormorants.

Near Seacliff beach are the formidable reddish ruins of 600-year-old Tantallon Castle (daily Apr-Sept 9.30am-5.30pm, Oct-Mar 9.30am-4.30pm) high up on a cliff. Queen Victoria visited this fortress of the Black Douglas clan in 1898, and probably peered into the well, cut 89ft (27m) through sheer rock.

In the Pentland Hills, just south of Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel 2 [map] (www.rosslynchapel.org.uk; Mon-Sat 9.30am-5pm, Sun noon-4.45pm) in Roslin, Midlothian, is an unusual church. Built in 1446, it is richly decorated with carvings both pagan and Christian - biblical stories, ‘green men’, references to the Knights Templar, and plants of the New World that pre-date Columbus’s voyage of discovery.

The Apprentice

Contained within the small, 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel is the most elaborate stone carving in Scotland. The Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Cardinal Virtues and a dance of death are extravagantly represented in bas-relief, although interest tends to focus on the Apprentice Pillar with its intricate and abundant flowers and foliage.

The story has never been authenticated, but the pillar is said to have been carved by an apprentice while his master was away. The work was so fine that the master, on his return, flew into a jealous rage and killed the apprentice. Three carved heads at the end of the nave are alleged to depict the unfortunate youth, his grieving mother and his master.


The many ruined castles and abbeys bear silent witness to the turbulent history of the Borders and Galloway area - centuries of conflict between the Scots and the English and also between Scots and Scots. Today this is a region of peaceful countryside, packed with literary associations, with historic houses, tranquil rivers and attractive market towns.

The Borders

Rolling green hills, woods and farmland run from Lothian into Scotland’s Borders region. The hilly countryside around Peebles 3 [map] is worth exploring, particularly the beautiful Manor Valley. Nearby there are two quite outstanding gardens: Kailzie Gardens (on B7062 southeast of Peebles) and Dawyck Botanic Gardens (on B712 southwest).

To the east along the River Tweed, near Innerleithen, is Traquair House (www.traquair.co.uk; daily Apr-Sept 11am-5pm, Oct 11am-4pm, Nov Sat-Sun only 11am-3pm), dating back some 1,000 years. In all, 27 Scottish and English kings have stayed here. It also sheltered Catholic priests and supporters of the Jacobite cause, and is full of curiosities like a secret stairway to a priest’s room and a 14th-century hand-printed bible. It is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland.

Melrose Abbey

The destruction caused by Edward II’s attack on Melrose Abbey in 1322 prompted Robert the Bruce to fund the abbey’s restoration. His heart is said to be buried near the abbey’s high altar, but subsequent excavations have failed to locate any trace of it.


Abbotsford House

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Abbotsford House (www.scottsabbotsford.com; daily Apr-Sept 10am-5pm, Mar and Oct-Nov 10am-4pm; visitor centre open all year), further down the Tweed, past Galashiels, was the home of Sir Walter Scott. He spent the last 20 years of his life here, writing frantically in an effort to pay his debts. Visitors may inspect rooms containing his personal belongings and collection of arms and armour.

The Border Abbeys

The Border abbeys were all founded in the 12th century during the reign of David I. Scotland’s four great southern monasteries stand in varying degrees of ruin today. All are worth a visit. Always vulnerable to invading forces from England, the abbeys endured frequent sacking, restoration, then new destruction, again and again.

The impressive ruins of Melrose Abbey (daily 9.30am-5.30pm, Oct-Mar until 4.30pm), built of rose-coloured stone, are set off by close-trimmed lawns. You can still see part of the original, high-arching stone church. You will find a small visitor centre and a museum crowded with relics opposite the entrance.


Dryburgh Abbey ruins

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Kelso Abbey was founded in 1128 and took 84 years to complete. Just one arcaded transept tower and a facade are all that remain to suggest the original dimensions of the oldest and once the richest southern Scottish monastery.

Closer to the English border on the River Tweed, Jedburgh Abbey 4 [map] (daily 9.30am-5.30pm, Oct-Mar until 4.30pm) is a more complete structure. The main aisle of the church, which is lined by a three-tiered series of nine arches, is nearly intact. There is an informative visitor centre and a museum. Also in Jedburgh is Mary, Queen of Scots’ Visitor Centre (Mar-Nov Mon-Sat 10am-4.30pm, Sun noon-4pm; free). The house was built around 1500 and was named after the queen following a visit in 1566. The centre contains exhibits including the queen’s death warrant and a death mask made just after her execution in 1587.

Dryburgh Abbey (daily 9.30am-5.30pm, Oct-Mar until 4.30pm) is probably the most beautiful of the four abbeys, and sits among stately beeches and cedars on the banks of the River Tweed. Some of the monks’ cloister survives, but little now remains of the church. The grave of Sir Walter Scott can be found here.

From Bemersyde Hill, which is reached from Dryburgh via Gattonside along a beautiful tree-tunnelled road (B6356), you can enjoy Scott’s View, a panorama of the three peaks of the Eildon Hills and the writer Sir Walter Scott’s favourite scenic spot.

Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway

Ayrshire is Burns Country. Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, was born in 1759 in Alloway, just south of the thriving coastal town of Ayr, and he lived in this area most of his very full 37 years. Here are all the echoes of his narrative poem ‘Tam o’Shanter’ and the ‘Auld Brig o’ Doon’ which has spanned the River Doon in Alloway for 700 years. Burns’ liking for his wee dram and bonnie lassies seems to have enhanced his already monumental reputation.


Burns National Heritage Park

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In Alloway you can visit the Burns National Heritage Park 5 [map] (tel: 01292-443700; www.burnsmuseum.org.uk), with his carefully preserved birthplace, Burns Cottage (daily Apr-Sept 10am-5.30pm, Oct-Mar 10am-4pm). In this whitewashed cottage with a thatched roof you’ll see the box bed where Burns and three of his brothers used to sleep as children; even his razor and shaving mirror are displayed. The park also features the award-winning Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (same hours as Burns Cottage), devoted to the life and times of the iconic poet, the Alloway Auld Kirk, the setting for Burn’s Tam O’ Shanter, and the Burns Monument and gardens.


The Brig o’ Doon features in Burns’ poetry

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You can follow the Burns Heritage Trail down to Dumfries where he died in 1796. The Burns Centre in Dumfries focuses on the years he lived in the town; he is buried in a mausoleum in St Michael’s Churchyard.

It is well worth making a detour to visit 17th-century Drumlanrig Castle (www.drumlanrigcastle.co.uk; grounds: Apr-Sept daily 10am-5pm; castle: July-Aug daily 11am-5pm, regular guided tours) near Thornhill. Of all the priceless treasures in this pink sandstone mansion, you’ll linger longest over Rembrandt’s Old Woman Reading on the main stairway; there are also paintings by Holbein and Gainsborough. Napoleon’s dispatch box is also here, a gift from Wellington to the owner of the castle, as well as relics of Bonnie Prince Charlie (for more information, click here).

South of Dumfries you will find the lovely red sandstone ruins of Sweetheart Abbey (Apr-Sept daily 9.30am-5.30pm, Oct-Mar Sat-Wed 9.30am-4.30pm), which was founded in the 13th century by the pious (and rich) Devorgilla Balliol, Lady of Galloway. She dedicated it to her husband, John Balliol, who died at a young age and whose embalmed heart she carried around with her in a silver box until her own death in 1289. Also south of Dumfries, do not miss the moated fairytale Caerlaverock Castle with red sandstone walls which was built around 1270.

Gretna Green

Just over the border from England is the small town of Gretna Green, which became celebrated for celebrating marriages. It was the first available community where eloping couples from England could take advantage of Scotland’s different marriage laws. Many a makeshift ceremony was performed at the Old Blacksmith’s, now a visitor centre, and many romantic couples still choose to be married at Gretna Green today.

On the other side of the River Nith, Ruthwell Cross, named after its hamlet, is kept in a pretty church surrounded by weathered tombstones. This great monument was carved out of brownish-pink stone some 1,300 years ago. Standing 18ft (5.5m) high, it is covered with sculpted figures and runic inscriptions. If the church is locked the key is in a box at the manse next door.

Southwest Scotland has beautiful shorelines, moors and forest scenery. It also claims milder weather than any other area. Just north of Newton Stewart is Galloway Forest Park, where you can walk through wild hill country. To the extreme southwest is the peninsula called the Rhinns of Galloway. The Logan Botanic Garden (mid-Mar-Oct daily 10am-5pm) has Scotland’s best collection of tree ferns and, among many palms and other warm-weather species, superb magnolias from western China.

South of the gardens is the most southerly point in Scotland, the high-cliffed Mull of Galloway, where you can see the Isle of Man on a clear day.

On a pastoral hill midway up the peninsula is a stone chapel which contains several of Scotland’s oldest Christian relics: the Kirkmadrine Stones, which consist of three stones and various fragments dating back to the 5th century.


Culzean Castle

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Culzean Castle

One of Scotland’s top attractions, Culzean Castle 6 [map] (www.nts.org.uk; daily Mar-Oct 10.30am-5pm, guided tours daily 11am and 2.30pm; country park daily year-round 9.30am-sunset) towers above the sea on a rugged stretch of the Ayrshire coast. It stands in an estate of over 500 acres (202 hectares) of parkland and stately formal gardens. Now a National Trust property, the castle dates mostly from the late 18th century when it was transformed for the Kennedy family from a 16th-century tower house by the architect Robert Adam. The oval staircase is considered one of Adam’s finest designs; the best room is the circular drawing room with its ceiling in three pastel shades, a perfect example of Scottish Enlightenment, its windows overlooking the waves of the Firth of Clyde breaking on the rocks 151ft (46m) below. The grounds have much to offer, from the Fountain Court with its orangery and terraces to the walled garden with a stone grotto and fruit-filled greenhouses and the quirky follies dotted around the estate. In the summer on Sunday afternoons, a pipe band performs on the large sunken lawn of the Fountain Court just below the castle.


The unspoilt Isle of Arran 7 [map] in the Firth of Clyde has been called ‘Scotland in miniature’. Car ferries ply regularly between Arran’s capital, Brodick, and Ardrossan on the Ayrshire coast; the journey takes 55 minutes. In summer a smaller ferry links northern Arran to Claonaig in Argyll; in winter it links to Tartbet (Loch Fyne). Brodick village nestles on a bay in the shadow of Goatfell, which, at 2,867ft (874m), is the highest peak on Arran. On Brodick Bay, Brodick Castle (www.nts.org.uk; daily May-Sept 11am-4pm, Apr and Oct 11am-3pm; country park open daily year-round 9.30am-sunset), containing a wealth of treasures, is surrounded by magnificent gardens.


Glen Rosa, Arran


Red deer roam the island’s beautiful mountain glens and can often be seen in North Glen Sannox between Lochranza and Sannox. Arran is above all an island for hill walkers or climbers. The most dramatic scenery is in the north of the island. There are ten summits over 2,000ft (610m) and dozens of ridge routes. In the south the topography is gentler, with pleasant hills around the villages of Lamlash and Whiting Bay.

Among the hundred or so species of birds known to frequent Arran are peregrine falcons and rare golden eagles. Seals like the rocks around Arran’s 56 miles (90km) of coast. In addition, basking sharks can be seen offshore in the summer.

Arran has some outstanding archaeological sites. There are Neolithic chamber tombs, such as the one at Torrylinn, near Lagg, and Bronze Age stone circles around Machrie on the west coast. Towards the island’s southwest corner on a wild, cliff-backed coast are the King’s Caves, where Robert the Bruce is said to have taken refuge in 1307. The caves are a 20-minute walk from the car park.


Be prepared for a pleasant surprise. In recent years, Glasgow 8 [map] has undergone major changes, and has not only cleaned its splendid Victorian buildings and generally polished up its act, but now proudly presents itself as one of Europe’s major centres for culture and the arts. The city is home to the Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and it stages an annual comedy festival in March, as well as a jazz festival in June.


Glasgow Stock Exchange

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At the heart of Glasgow lies George Square, overlooked by the impressive City Chambers, opened by Queen Victoria in 1888 (a statue of her on horseback is on the west side of the square). Free tours are given Mon-Fri at 10.30am and 2.30pm. On the south side at No. 11 is a tourist information centre. Glasgow’s sophisticated main shopping area is the Buchanan Quarter, which is a block northwest of George Square.

Traces of Mackintosh

The city is closely connected with Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Almost forgotten by his native city at the time of his death, he has become world famous, and today his unique vision is a prominent feature of Glasgow’s art scene. The Glasgow School of Art (www.gsa.ac.uk; tel: 0141-353 4256; 167 Renfew Street; tours given daily at 11am, 2pm and 3.15pm, also 11.30am July-mid-Sept; reservations recommended), was seriously damaged by fire in 2014 and is due to undergo restoration. The Mackintosh at the GSA Tour can be taken from the visitor centre opposite the damaged building.

The Glasgow Boys

The late-19th and early-20th centuries were a time of artistic ferment in Glasgow, but because of the hide-bound local arts establishment, Glasgow artists often had to look for recognition outside Scotland. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a leading figure in the Art Nouveau movement on the continent, and influenced designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright as far afield as Chicago, but was not admired at home.

Others who suffered the same fate were painters Sir James Guthrie, Robert MacGregor, William Kennedy, Sir John Lavery and Edward Arthur Walton. After a successful London exhibition, the ‘Glasgow School’ was born, but the artists always called themselves the ‘Glasgow Boys’. More recently, a new generation of Glasgow Boys began to emerge from the School of Art in the 1970s and 1980s. The works of Glasgow Boys of both generations can be seen in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art on Queen Street.

Opened in 1996, the House for an Art Lover (Bellahouston Park; www.houseforanartlover.co.uk; times vary, check website for details; café and shop open daily 10am-5pm) was created from a portfolio Mackintosh submitted for a design competition in 1901, following a brief to ‘design a house in a thoroughly modern style, where one can be lavishly entertained’.

There is also an exhibit on Mackintosh at The Lighthouse, on Mitchell Lane, and the evocative rooms of Mackintosh’s own house have been preserved in the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery A [map] at Glasgow University (www.gla.ac.uk/hunterian; Tue-Sat 10am-5pm; free, charge for special exhibitions). On Sauchiehall Street, stop off at No. 217 for the Willow Tea Rooms (tel: 0141-332 0521; www.willowtearooms.co.uk; Mon-Sat 9.30am-5.30pm, Sun 10.30am-5.30pm, last orders 4.30pm), a survivor of a series of tearooms designed by the architect. For more information on Mackinstosh attractions in the city contact the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society (tel: 0141-946 6600; www.crmsociety.com).



Burrell Collection

Mockford & Bonetti/Apa Publications

Major Museums

Glasgow’s most important museum is the Burrell Collection B [map] (www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums; 2060 Pollokshaws Road; Mon-Thu and Sat 10am-5pm, Fri and Sun 11am-5pm; free) in Pollok Country Park to the southwest of the city centre. Opened in 1983, it holds the thousands of pieces amassed by shipping tycoon Sir William Burrell. The collection has everything from ancient Greek statues to Impressionist paintings, medieval tapestries to stained glass. Also in the park is Pollok House with a fine collection of Spanish art.

In Kelvingrove Park is the city’s splendid Art Gallery and Museum (Argyle Street; www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums; Mon-Thu and Sat 10am-5pm, Fri and Sun 11am-5pm; free). On display are a collection of 17th-century Dutch paintings, including Rembrandt’s masterpiece A Man in Armour, as well as some French Impressionists, 19th-century Scottish paintings and works by the Glasgow Boys. Other highlights include the Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Glasgow Style Gallery and a living bee exhibition.

Also giving a fascinating look into Glasgow’s past is the Tenement House (www.nts.org.uk; 145 Buccleuch Street; Apr-Oct daily 1-5pm). Miss Agnes Toward, who lived here from 1911 until 1965, never threw anything away, nor did she ever attempt to modernise the flat; the result is a fascinating glimpse into early 20th-century social history.

Old Glasgow

Cathedral Street, located northeast of the city centre, brings you to the city’s fine Cathedral C [map] (www.glasgowcathedral.org.uk; Apr-Sept Mon-Sat 9.30am-5.30pm, Sun 1-5pm, Oct-Mar Mon-Sat 9.30am-4.30pm, Sun 1-4.30pm; free), the only medieval cathedral in Scotland that has survived intact. Parts of it are almost 800 years old, and it has an unusual two-level construction. The lower church contains the tomb of St Mungo (Kentigern), the city’s patron saint. Above the church is the Necropolis, filled with the extravagant tombs of the city’s late, great Victorians.


SSE Hydro arena in Finnieston

Mockford & Bonetti/Apa Publications

Across the street is Provand’s Lordship D [map] (www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums; daily Tue-Thu and Sat 10am-5pm, Fri and Sun 11am-5pm; free), the oldest house in Glasgow. Originally, the 15th-century house was home to the cathedral administrative clergy. With its thick stone walls, it is a rare example of Scottish domestic architecture. Opposite is St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art (Tue-Thu and Sat 10am-5pm, Fri and Sun 11am-5pm; free).

Head south down High Street to London Road to reach Glasgow Green, one of the city’s many public parks and the oldest in Britain. Here you can learn about the working life of Glaswegians throughout history in the People’s Palace (www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums; Tue-Thu and Sat 10am-5pm, Fri and Sun 11am-5pm; free). The nearby Barras indoor market, open weekends, will give you the chance to rub shoulders with local people and perhaps even pick up a bargain or two.

The Old Docks

More contemporary developments can be seen by the old docks to the west of the city centre. On the north bank of the Clyde is the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, its distinctive ‘Armadillo’ building designed by Sir Norman Foster. Almost opposite, on the south bank, is the stunning, titanium-clad Glasgow Science Centre E [map] (www.glasgowsciencecentre.org; daily 10am-5pm). This comprises three separate buildings: the Science Mall which contains educational exhibits and a planetarium; the revolving 120ft (400m) Glasgow Tower with views as far as Ben Lomond; and an IMAX cinema. To the west, beyond Stobcross Quay and adjacent to Glasgow Harbour, the futuristic interactive Riverside Museum (www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums; Mon-Thu and Sat 10am-5pm, Fri and Sun 11am-5pm; free) is dedicated to transport. The Tall Ship, a three-masted Clyde-built barque from 1896, is moored nearby.



With its proud Renaissance castle commanding the major route between the Lowlands and the Highlands, Stirling 9 [map] for centuries saw much of Scotland’s worst warfare. Guides at the castle regale visitors with tales of sieges, intrigue, dastardly murders and atrocities, and an audio-visual presentation just off the castle esplanade brings the savage saga vividly to life. In contrast to sober Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle (www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk; daily 9.30am-6pm, Oct-Mar until 5pm) has a facade covered with all sorts of carvings. Most of the castle dates back about 500 years, though the rock was fortified at least four centuries earlier. The Palace was built by James V in Renaissance style, and of interest here are the Stirling Heads, carved roundels that are possibly portraits of members of the court. Mary, Queen of Scots spent her early childhood here, and she was crowned as an infant in the Chapel Royal. The Great Hall, which faces the upper square, was once the greatest medieval chamber in Scotland, suitable for holding sessions of Parliament, but it later suffered through two centuries of use as a military barracks. Restoration has returned it to its original grandeur. The Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders contains banners, regimental silver, and artefacts that go back to the Battle of Waterloo. A statue of Robert the Bruce is on the Esplanade.

The Falkirk Wheel

In 2002 Scotland re-asserted itself in the world of engineering by unveiling an iconic landmark, the Falkirk Wheel. Named after the nearby town in central Scotland, the wheel is the world’s only rotating boat lift. Built at a cost of over £17 million, the structure connects the Forth and Clyde Canal to the Union Canal, re-establishing the link between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is part of a larger project to restore the waterways between the east and west coasts.

The site includes a visitor’s centre containing a shop, café and exhibition centre (www.thefalkirkwheel.co.uk; daily Mar-Oct 10am-5.30pm; free, charge for boat trips; café and shop open year-round).


Stirling Castle

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Seven battlefields can be seen from the castle. In 1297, William Wallace defeated the English at Stirling Bridge. The Wallace Monument is at Abbey Craig, east of the town centre. The battlefield of Bannockburn is visible to the south of the castle. Here you’ll find the Battle of Bannockburn Experience (www.battleofbannockburn.com; daily Mar-Oct 10am-5.30pm, Jan-Feb and Nov-Dec 10am-5pm), where the National Trust presents a 3-D visual show (booking essential) bringing to life Robert the Bruce’s epic victory over the English in 1314. Commemorating this triumph is an equestrian statue of Robert the Bruce with the inscription of his declaration: ‘We fight not for glory nor for wealth nor for honour, but only and alone we fight for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life’.

The medieval Church of the Holy Rude (St John Street, Castle Wynd; May-Sept daily 11am-4pm; admission by donation) has a notable medieval hammerbeam oak roof. The infant James VI was crowned here in 1567.

Just north of Stirling, 700-year-old Dunblane Cathedral is one of the finest examples of Gothic church architecture in Scotland. It is about a century older than Doune Castle (daily Apr-Sept 9.30am-5.30pm, Oct-Mar 9.30am-4.30pm) just to the west. A fortress-residence and once a Stuart stronghold, it is one of the best preserved castles of its period. It has a central courtyard and Great Hall with an open-timbered roof and a minstrel’s gallery.

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Romantically connected with the legend of Rob Roy, Scotland’s folk hero, the Trossachs is a region of lovely lochs, glens and bens (mountain peaks), and craggy hills. ‘Trossachs’ probably means ‘bristly places’, after the area’s wooded crags. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park opened in 2002. Callander is a good centre from which to explore the Trossachs; information is available at the Rob Roy Visitor Centre. You can take a cruise on Loch Katrine, the setting of Sir Walter Scott’s poem The Lady of the Lake, on the Victorian steamer Sir Walter Scott, which leaves from Trossachs Pier. Salmon may well be leaping up the easily accessible Falls of Leny below Loch Lubnaig. Between Callander and Aberfoyle, the Duke’s Pass has some fine views. To the south is the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, whose woodland walks offer a chance to spot wildlife.

Loch Lomond ) [map], the largest freshwater expanse in Great Britain, runs about 24 miles (39km) north to south. Ben Lomond (3,192ft/973m) and companion peaks look down on the sometimes choppy water at the north end of the loch, while to the south the landscape is tranquil and rolling. Luss is the prettiest of the little lochside villages. In Balloch, stop at the Lomond Shores, Sea Life Aquarium and National Park Visitor Centre. A number of cruises set sail on Loch Lomond from Balloch, Tarbet, and Luss. The West Highland Way provides a scenic footpath along the east bank of Loch Lomond.


Loch Lomond

Mockford & Bonetti/Apa Publications

To the west of Loch Lomond at the northern end of Loch Fyne, Inveraray Castle (www.inveraray-castle.com; daily Apr-Oct 10am-5.45pm), with its pointed turrets and Gothic design, contains a wealth of treasures. Home of the Dukes of Argyll, it has been the headquarters of Clan Campbell (called ‘uncrowned kings of the Highlands’) since the 15th century, although the present building dates only from between 1740 and 1790. The impressive interior holds a collection of Regency furniture; Chinese porcelain; portraits by Gainsborough, Ramsey, and Raeburn; and an armoury with an amazing array of broadswords, Highland rifles, and medieval halberds. The guides point out with pride the portrait of the sixth duke, said both to have gambled away a fortune and to have fathered 398 illegitimate children.

Further south along Loch Fyne are the delightful Crarae Garden ! [map] (daily 9.30am-sunset), with many unusual plants, such as the Himalayan rhododendrons, and plants from Tasmania and New Zealand. The gardens are at their best in late spring. You can choose from several walks over the 50 acres (20 hectares) of hillside, all within earshot of a plunging brook.


Dunfermline is dominated by the ruins of the Abbey and Palace of Dunfermline. King Malcolm Canmore made Dunfermline his capital around 1060, and his pious queen, St Margaret, founded the Benedictine abbey. Of the great abbey church, only the nave with its massive Norman arches survives. Nearby, the 14th-century Abbot House has an interesting historical display. Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was born here and his birthplace cottage and museum is open to visitors (www.carnegiebirthplace.com; Mar-Nov Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm; free).

Also in this area is Culross, thought to be the birthplace of St Mungo. It is a wonderfully preserved 17th- and 18th-century village restored by the National Trust for Scotland. Among places of historic interest are Bruce’s Palace from 1577 and the ruined abbey and Abbey House. The Trust runs guided tours departing from the palace reception.

The most famous place on the Fife coast is St Andrews @ [map], where golf has been played for 500 years. It’s possible, if you are an experienced golfer, to tee off on the Old Course (for more information, click here). At the 18th hole is the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which maintains the rules of the game. This pleasant seaside resort is also home to Scotland’s oldest university (founded in 1413); its buildings are dotted all over town. Here also is the ruin of what was Scotland’s largest-ever cathedral, an enormous structure built in the 12th and 13th centuries, where the marriage of James V and Mary of Guise took place. Learn more about golf at the British Golf Museum (www.britishgolfmuseum.com); and for culture the local theatre, The Byre, is well-regarded.


St Andrews’ famous golf course

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

The picturesque East Neuk fishing villages on Fife’s southeastern coast are more dependent on tourism than fishing nowadays. Crail is a little port with a Dutch-style tolbooth (court-house jail) and restored buildings: a photographer’s delight. Anstruther (which the locals pronounce ‘Anster’), once the herring capital of Scotland, is worth a stop for the Scottish Fisheries Museum (www.scotfishmuseum.org) with its realistic fisherman’s cottage of about 1900, magnificent ship models, whale tusks, and a display about trawlers. From here you can go to the Isle of May, a bird sanctuary with cliffs that measure 249ft (76m). Pittenweem’s venerable harbour is still the base for what’s left of the East Neuk fishing fleet, which specialises in prawn fishing.


The RRS Discovery

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Across the Firth of Tay, which is spanned by one of the world’s longest railway bridges as well as a road bridge, lies Dundee, famous maritime and industrial centre. Docked in the harbour is the Royal Navy’s oldest ship, HMS Unicorn, and Captain Scott’s ship, the RRS Discovery, built here at the turn of the 20th century and used in his polar expeditions.

Three Js

The industrial history of Dundee is often described by ‘the three Js’ - jute, jam and journalism. The city’s rapid growth in population during the 19th century was due in large part to the jute industry, now completely gone. The only ‘J’ still thriving is journalism - newspaper and comic publisher D.C. Thomson & Co have been in busy for over a century.

Perth and Scone Palace

Perth £ [map] was Scotland’s medieval capital, and has many reminders of its historic heritage. John Knox preached in the Church of St John, founded in 1126, inspiring his followers to destroy many monasteries in the area in 1559. Just 2 miles (3km) north of Perth, the pale red sandstone Scone Palace (daily Apr-Oct 9.30am-5pm, Nov-Mar grounds only Fri-Sun 10am-4pm) was built on the site of one of these monasteries. From the 9th to the 13th century, Scone (pronounced ‘Scoon’) guarded the famous Stone of Destiny, on which the kings of the Scots were crowned. Edward I, believing in the symbolic magic of the stone, carried it away in 1296 and took it to London where, until 1996, it rested under the chair on which the English kings were crowned in Westminster Abbey. Romantics, however, believe that the stone, now on display in Edinburgh Castle (for more information, click here), is not the original stone, but a replica produced by the Scots to fool Edward, and suggest that the real stone (which they think was covered with carvings) is still hidden in Scotland.

In the palace, the ancestral home of the Earls of Mansfield, are many treasures, including early Sèvres, Derby, and Meissen porcelain, and artefacts such as the embroideries of Mary, Queen of Scots. In the Long Gallery are more than 80 Vernis Martin objects, which look like lacquered porcelain but are in fact papier mâché. This unique collection will never be copied: the Martin brothers died in Paris in the 18th century without disclosing the secret of their varnish. Before leaving Scone, stroll through the grounds to the Pinetum, an imposing collection of California sequoias, cedars, Norway spruces, silver firs, and other conifers in a gorgeous setting.


Glamis Castle (www.glamis-castle.co.uk; daily Apr-Oct 10am-5.30pm, last admission 4.30pm) lies northeast of Perth towards Forfar. It was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, and the birthplace of the late Princess Margaret. Visitors can take guided tours through the magnificent rooms. On the way to Glamis Castle, enthusiasts of archaeology will want to stop to look at the elaborately carved early-Christian and Pictish monuments in the museum at Meigle.


Glamis Castle

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Northwest of Perth is Dunkeld, with its restored ‘little houses’ from the 17th century. They lead to a once grand cathedral, now partly ruined, although the choir of the cathedral was renovated in the 17th century to serve as a parish church. The cathedral stands amid tall trees, lawns, and interesting gravestones beside the River Tay. The site was an ancient centre of Celtic Catholicism, and St Columba is said to have preached in a monastery on this site. Also note Thomas Telford’s arched bridge (1809) over the Tay.

Binoculars are provided at a fine wooden hide at the Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve, two wooded miles (3km) from Dunkeld. Here you can scan all kinds of water-bird life and study trees where ospreys nest after migrating from Africa.

At the hamlet of Meikleour, one of the arboreal wonders of the world lines the road: a gigantic beech hedge, which at about 100ft (30m) is the highest anywhere, planted in 1746 and still thriving.

Near Aberfeldy, once a Pictish centre, is the delightful little village of Fortingall on Loch Tay, with probably Scotland’s finest thatched-roof cottages. It boasts the ‘oldest living tree’ in Europe, the Fortingall Yew, although there are other contenders. This ancient yew tree, surrounded by a rusty iron and stone enclosure in Fortingall’s churchyard, is still growing and certainly doesn’t look its presumed age - 3,000 years. The hamlet is in Glen Lyon, the ‘longest, loveliest, loneliest’ glen in Scotland, according to the locals. Tranquillity reigns. Tradition has it - without scholarly confirmation - that Pontius Pilate was born in a nearby military encampment while his father was a Roman emissary to the Pictish king in the area.

Centrally located, the crowded summer resort of Pitlochry $ [map] is surrounded by dozens of attractions, both scenic and manmade. In the town itself, you might visit the Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder, where each year between 5,000 and 7,000 salmon are counted electronically and watched through a windowed chamber as they make their way towards their spawning grounds. Pitlochry also has a Festival Theatre.



David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

A short drive west will bring you to the Pass of Killiecrankie, where you will want to walk along wooded paths to the spectacular parts of the gorge. A National Trust centre here describes a particularly bloody battle between Jacobite and government forces in 1689. Just south, a roadside promontory known as the Queen’s View commands a glorious sweep down along Loch Tummel and over Highland hills. On a good day this is among the best panoramas in Scotland.

North of Killekrankie, the white-turreted Blair Castle (www.blair-castle.co.uk; Apr-Oct daily 9.30am-5.30pm), seat of the Earls and Dukes of Atholl, is a major tourist destination. The present duke commands Britain’s only ‘private army’, a ceremonial Highland regiment of about 60 local riflemen and 20 pipers and drummers who march in their regalia very occasionally. Part of the castle dates back 700 years, but it has been much reconstructed and restored. It’s crammed with possessions amassed by the Atholl family over the centuries: an extensive china collection, swords, rifles, antlers, stuffed animals and portraits. Look in particular for two rare colonial American powder horns, one with a map carved on it that shows forts and settlements around Manhattan Island, Albany, and the Mohawk River.


Blair Castle, seat of the Earls and Dukes of Atholl

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Further west from Pitlochry is the long and thickly forested Glen Garry, one of Scotland’s most wonderful mountain valleys. Be sure not to miss the Falls of Bruar cascading into the River Garry near the lower end of the glen.



The term ‘granite city’ is self-explanatory when you see the buildings sparkling in the sunshine at Aberdeen % [map]. Surprisingly, however, this solid metropolis, further north than Moscow, is anything but sombre: roses, daffodils and crocuses flourish in such profusion that the town has repeatedly won the Britain-in-Bloom trophy.

Scotland’s third city is Europe’s offshore oil capital, and was one of Britain’s major fishing ports. The traditional fishing industry now has a small role to play in the economic life of the city and is mainly reduced to processing fish, while the actual fishing is centred round the port of Peterhead to the north. Most of the boats arriving in the harbour service the great oil rigs and platforms out at sea beyond the horizon. Aberdeen is Scotland’s boom city, and its facilities have expanded to accommodate the influx of North Sea oil personnel, creating something of an international atmosphere for the many tourists who visit in the summer.


Aberdeen’s harbour

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

In the heart of the town, Marischal College is the second-largest granite building in the world after the Escorial in Spain. Built of a lighter-coloured variety known as ‘white granite’, it forms part of the complex of Aberdeen University. The city’s first university, King’s College, was founded in 1495. Dominating the pleasant quadrangle is the beloved local landmark, the Crown Tower of King’s Chapel. Knocked down in a storm in 1633, the structure was rebuilt with Renaissance additions. Inside the chapel, look for the arched oak ceiling, carved screen and stalls and Douglas Strachan’s modern stained-glass windows.

Marischal Square is the latest area of central Aberdeen to be redeveloped, incorporating some of Aberdeen’s historical buildings into a modern setting providing office space, coffee shops and restaurants.

Nearby is the crowded graveyard of the oldest cathedral in Aberdeen, St Machar’s Cathedral, first built in 1357, and rebuilt in granite in the 15th century. It is the oldest granite building in the city. Capping the marvellous stone interior with its stained-glass windows is a wonderful oak ceiling, bearing seals of kings and religious leaders.


Aberdeen, the granite city

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

One of Aberdeen’s most interesting sites is Provost Skene’s House (Guestrow, off Broad Street; closed until the completion of the Marischal Square redevelopment), which was built in 1545 is among the oldest houses in Aberdeen. Its rooms span 200 years of period design. In the Painted Gallery is an important cycle of religious art, painted by an unknown 17th-century artist.

The 17th-century Mercat Cross, which is ringed by a parapet on which are engraved the names of Scottish monarchs from James I to James VII, is claimed to be the finest example of a burgh (chartered town) cross to survive in Scotland. Aberdeen’s charter dates back to 1179.

Dunnottar Castle

South of Aberdeen, near Stonehaven, the vast ruins of Dunnottar Castle rise above the sea. The fortress has had a rich and varied history. Here, in 1297, William Wallace burned alive an English Plantagenet garrison. Much later, in 1650, the Scottish Crown Regalia were kept here during a siege by Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads. More recently, not to mention more peacefully, the film director Franco Zeffirelli used Dunnottar as the location for his film of Hamlet. Note: the steep steps down to the castle may be difficult for less mobile visitors.


Dunnottar Castle

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Royal Deeside

The long, picturesque valley of the River Dee, extending inland from Aberdeen to the high Cairngorm Mountains, has been called Royal Deeside since Queen Victoria wrote glowingly about the area. Her ‘dear paradise’, Balmoral Castle, was purchased by Prince Albert in 1852. He refashioned the turreted mansion to his own taste in the Scottish Baronial style; the granite is local, and lighter than Aberdeen’s. Balmoral is about 41 miles (66km) west of Aberdeen. If the royal family is not in residence, the grounds are open daily to the public (late Apr-July 10am-5pm; www.balmoralcastle.com). Across the road, modest Crathie Church is attended by the royal family.

Along the Dee near Aberdeen, Crathes Castle (www.nts.org.uk; Apr-Oct daily 10.30am-5pm, Nov-Mar Sat-Sun 11am-3.45pm; garden daily 9am-sunset) has some of Scotland’s most dramatic gardens, with giant yew hedges that are clipped just once a year. The views from within the 16th-century tower-house over these remarkable hedges are in themselves worth the visit. Look also for the three rooms with painted ceilings, the carved-oak ceiling in the top-floor gallery, and the 14th-century ivory Horn of Leys, above the drawing-room fireplace. The grounds are also home to the Go Ape tree-top adventure.


No longer really remote, the sparsely populated north of Scotland offers, above all, superb scenery as well as the country’s most mysterious monster and most important distilleries.

The River Spey and the Malt Whisky Trail

For salmon and whisky, Scotland can offer you nothing better than the River Spey. Along this beautiful valley of ferns and old bridges, you’ll want to stop to watch anglers casting their long lines into this fastest-flowing river in the British Isles. Nestling among the trees are slate-roofed buildings with pagoda chimneys. Here they produce the finest of all the fine Scotch whiskies, or so the local enthusiasts insist.

The Malt Whisky Trail (www.maltwhiskytrail.com) takes in seven distilleries, which includes one historic distillery and a cooperage, where you can watch malt being distilled by a process that has remained basically unchanged for 500 years. You will usually be invited to enjoy a free wee dram. Contact the local tourist offices to check when the distilleries accommodate visitors and when they’re closed. If you’re lucky, at the Speyside Cooperage (www.speysidecooperage.co.uk; Mon-Fri 9am-4pm) you’ll see a cooper (cask maker) fashioning oak staves into a cask: by law a spirit can’t be called ‘whisky’ until it has been aged in oak for three years. According to the experts, the best maturity for Scotch is about ten years.

Around the malt centre of Dufftown they still like to quote the saying: ‘Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown stands on seven stills’ - although at a recent count there were in fact eight distilleries. Some distilleries to visit are Cardhu Distillery in Knockando, Glenfarclas in Ballinalloch, Glenfiddich in Dufftown, Glen Grant in Rothes, Glenlivet in Glenlivet, and Strathisla in Keith.

The Northeast Coast and Inverness

The northeast coast consists of a fertile coastal plain, shielded to the south by the Cairngorm Mountains. In the 19th century, this area was the centre of a fishing industry, and is dotted with many attractive fishing towns and villages, such as Buckie, Cullen and Portsoy. Just south of Lossiemouth, a fine fishing town and port, lies Elgin, a picturesque town that retains much of its medieval layout, with a cobbled marketplace and winding streets. The 13th-century Elgin Cathedral was once known as the ‘Lantern of the North’, and its ruins are still impressive.

In the Highlands, all roads lead to Inverness ^ [map], capital of the Highlands since the days of the ancient Picts. It is worth stopping in this busy town to tour the small, modern Museum and Art Gallery (www.highlifehighland.com; Castle Wynd; Tue-Sat 10am-5pm; free). In a fascinating exhibition of Scottish Highland history dating back to the Stone Age, you can brush up on your clan lore as well as inspect the dirks and sporrans, broadswords, and powder horns.



David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Loch Ness

Strategically situated where the River Ness joins the Moray Firth, Inverness is not at all shy about exploiting the submarine celebrity presumed to inhabit the waters of Loch Ness & [map] to the south. Nessie T-shirts and all kinds of monster bric-à-brac are on sale. Excursion boats do regular monster-spotting cruises. You can cruise Loch Ness itself, and there are cruises from the Caledonian Canal into Loch Ness. Contact Jacobite Cruises, tel: 01463-233999; www.jacobite.co.uk.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle (daily Apr-Sept 9.30am-6pm, Oct until 5pm, Nov-Mar until 4.30pm) sits by Loch Ness between Fort William and Inverness. Dating back to the 13th century, the castle played a key role in the Wars of Independence, being taken by Edward I and later by Robert the Bruce. Part of the building was blown up in 1692 to prevent it falling into Jacobite hands.

Sonar and underwater cameras have been used by experts to close in on the mystery of the frequent Nessie sightings, and most involved seem to agree that not one, but several large aquatic creatures might roam the very murky depths of Loch Ness, surviving by eating eels and other fish.

Seven rivers feed this loch, bringing in millions of peat particles which reduce visibility to zero below 39ft (12m). At 23 miles (37km) long and about 1 mile (1.5 km) across, Loch Ness is generally about 699ft (213m) deep - though in one area the silted bottom is nearly 1,001ft (305m). That means enough space for a large family of the monster that has intrigued people ever since it was first reported in the 6th century - by no less revered a traveller than St Columba.

On the busy A82, after leaving the loch, it is virtually impossible to miss the dramatic ruins of Urquhart Castle * [map] (for more information, click here).

East of Inverness

About 5 miles (8km) east of Inverness is Culloden Battlefield (www.nts.org.uk; visitor centre daily June-Aug 9am-6pm, Apr-May, Sept 9am-5.30pm, Feb-Mar and Nov-Dec 10am-4pm; site daily year-round), where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highlanders and the Jacobite cause were defeated by ‘Butcher’ Cumberland’s redcoats in 1746. Jacobite headstones, a visitor centre and exhibition, a 4-minute battle immersion film and a roof-top viewing recall this last major battle fought on British soil. Near the battlefield is the impressive archaeological site of Clava Cairns. Three once-domed tombs are encircled by standing stones. To stand in a silent burial chamber dating back to 1800 BC or 1500 BC is a slightly eerie experience.


The impressive Clava Cairns

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Between Inverness and Nairn is Cawdor Castle (www.cawdorcastle.com; May-early-Oct daily 10am-5pm), a popular site set up to keep the visitor entertained. ‘Three out of four Ghosts prefer Cawdor Castle’, proclaims the sign at the castle’s authentic drawbridge entrance. This fortress home of the Earls of Cawdor is the setting Shakespeare used for the murder of Duncan by Macbeth, although it was actually constructed two centuries after Macbeth’s time. The castle has all the features to make it a romantic focus: a drawbridge, an ancient tower and fortified walls. The 1454 tower’s Thorn Tree Room is a stone vault enclosing a 600-year-old holly tree. The castle grounds have outstanding flower and kitchen gardens, nature trails, and even a putting green. When you’ve seen the castle, head for nearby Cawdor village, with its delightful stone cottages set in beautifully tended gardens.

At Carrbridge the Landmark Forest Adventure Park (www.landmarkpark.co.uk) provides a wide range of outdoor activities for all the family.

Set against the spectacular backdrop of the Cairngorm Mountains, Aviemore ( [map] (for more information, click here) is one of the most elaborate holiday centres in Scotland, its facilities open all winter for skiing. On a clear day, take a ride up into the mountains on the Cairngorm Mountain Railway. In 2003, the Cairngorms became a National Park, one of only two in Scotland - the other being Loch Lomond and the Trossachs (for more information, click here).

Some 7 miles (11km) south, the excellent Highland Wildlife Park (www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk; daily Apr-Oct 10am-5pm, July-Aug until 6pm, Nov-Mar 10am-4pm) at Kincraig has a drive-through area (if animals approach, close the windows and remain in your car). You should see the following animals: red deer, yak, musk ox, Przewalski’s wild horses, European bison and vicuña. Stars of the walk-through section include arctic foxes, bears and wildcats. Don’t miss the polar bears, two males and a female, who arrived in 2015.


Resident tiger, Highland Wildlife Park

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Ben Nevis and Glen Coe

The Great Glen, which follows the path of a geological fault, makes a scenic drive from Inverness south to Fort William. Near Fort William rises Ben Nevis, Great Britain’s highest mountain, at 4,406ft (1,344m). More often than not, clouds obscure its rounded summit. The best view of the mountain is from the north, but it is most easily climbed from the west, starting near the bustling Highland touring centre of Fort William. Caution is advised here, as bad weather closes in quickly at the top of Ben Nevis and you can easily get lost.

From Loch Leven, historic Glen Coe cuts east through an impressive mountain range. Geology, flora, and fauna are illustrated at a visitor centre (www.nts.org.uk; Apr-Oct daily 9.30am-5.30pm, Nov-Dec Thu-Sun 10am-4pm; site open year-round). In the steep valley, you’ll find a memorial to the 1692 massacre of the MacDonalds by the Campbell clan.


A steep hike in the Cairngorms

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

From Glen Coe and Fort William, you can take the famed ‘Road to the Isles’, with thoughts of Bonnie Prince Charlie in mind. The route goes past Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight lochs, designed by Thomas Telford as part of the Caledonian Canal. The road turns west to Glenfinnan (site of a memorial to fallen clansmen at the Battle of Culloden; for more information, click here) and north along the coast to Morar, with its white sandy beaches. One of Scotland’s deepest lochs, Loch Morar, like Loch Ness, has its own monster, Morag. The end of the road is Mallaig , [map], a little town with a picturesque harbour, where the ferry departs for Skye and other Hebridean islands.

The Northwest Coast

Near Dornie on the road towards Kyle of Lochalsh is the romantic and much-photographed Eilean Donan Castle (www.eileandonancastle.com; Apr-Oct daily 10am-6pm, Nov-Dec 10am-4pm, Feb-Mar 10-5pm), connected to the land by a causeway. A Jacobite stronghold, it was destroyed by British warships, but was rebuilt in the 19th century. Today it is a popular tourist destination and has often been used as a film set; Highlander was filmed here. It contains a number of Jacobite relics.

West from Inverness towards the coast, the dramatic Loch Torridon area is well known for its mountains of red-brown sandstone and white quartzite. These are some of the world’s oldest mountains, probably 600 million years old. The Torridon Countryside Centre in Torridon (Apr-Sept daily 10am-5pm) offers guided walks in season.

The Gulf Stream works its magic at Inverewe Garden ⁄ [map] (www.nts.org.uk; gardens daily all year 10am-3pm, extended hours May-Oct, visitor centre June-Aug daily 10am-6pm, May and Sept 10am-5.30pm, Oct 10am-6pm), a subtropical oasis overlooking Loch Ewe, on the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska. The garden was started in 1862 by 20-year-old Osgood Mackenzie on 12,000 acres (4,860 hectares) of barren land, and is one of the world’s great plant collections. Late spring and early summer are the best seasons to visit; highlights include giant magnolias and the exotic Himalayan Hound’s Tooth.


Subtropical Inverewe Garden


If you have time for a leisurely tour of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery, turn north towards Ullapool. At a fine wooded spot just a minute’s walk off the road below Loch Broom are the spectacular Falls of Measach, plunging 200ft (61m) into the Corrieshalloch Gorge.

Some of Scotland’s most memorable scenery is along the jagged northwest coast above Ullapool ¤ [map], a fishing port and the ferry terminal for the Outer Hebrides. The secondary roads closest to the shore wind through beautiful country filled with mossy rocks, ferns, and hundreds of tiny lochans (small inland lochs). The first section goes through the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve. Near Lochinvar, strange stories gather around Suilven, the mount looming over the wild landscape (why don’t animals graze on its slopes?). During the summer an excursion boat sets out from tiny Tarbet to Handa Island, a teeming bird sanctuary with huge sandstone cliffs and sandy beaches.


Ullapool, one of the prettiest villages on the west coast

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Along Scotland’s northern coast near Durness is Smoo Cave, which can be found in a beautiful setting at the end of a dramatic sea inlet. The ‘gloophole’ through the cathedral-like limestone roof of the large outer cavern gets its name from the noise made by air rushing up through it at high tide. Inside the second cave is a 79ft (24m) waterfall. Short boat trips into the cave are available in summer.

A lighthouse stands on Dunnet Head, a windy promontory on the northernmost point of the Scottish mainland, overlooking a forbidding sea. If there’s no mist, Orkney is visible on the horizon. Nearby John o’Groats is far better known, although it isn’t quite the most northerly tip of Great Britain. The sign here declares it is 874 miles (1,406km) to Land’s End in Cornwall, the greatest overland distance between any two points in Britain. From John o’Groats, you can take a ferry (May-Sept) to the Orkney Islands, which have fascinating archaeological remains - including the Neolithic village of Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar.


The Stacks of Duncansby


Offshore from Duncansby Head, with its clifftop lighthouse, are the unusual pillar-like Stacks of Duncansby. Inland and to the south, make a short detour from the angling centre of Lairg to the Falls of Shin where, with luck, you will see sizeable salmon leaping up low, churning falls along the river.



Peaceful moorland glens, sombre mountains, appealing shorelines and one of Scotland’s prettiest ports are among the attractions of the large western island of Mull. From Oban ‹ [map], the regular ferry takes 45 minutes to Craignure on Mull, and there is also an 18-minute ferry link between Fishnish Point and Lochaline across the Sound of Mull. In the summer, excursions go from Mull to several smaller islands.


An early evening boat trip in Oban

David Cruickshanks/Apa Publications

Tobermory › [map] (pop. 700), the island’s delightful little capital, fits snugly in a harbour ringed by forested hills and protected by flat, green Calve Island. Regattas are held here and golfers enjoy a splendid seascape from the links just above Tobermory. In 1588 a gold-laden galleon from the Spanish Armada sank here, but salvage efforts ever since have failed. Calgary, to the southwest, which has probably the best of Mull’s sandy beaches, inspired the name of the Canadian city about a century ago.

If you’re driving and not in a rush, take the coastal road bordering Loch Na Keal. It’s slow-going but scenic, along a single track beneath lonely cliffs and hills that are mauve with heather. Dozy sheep get out of your way reluctantly. Gaelic is still spoken here, particularly by the older generation. At the eastern point, visible from the Oban ferry, stand Mull’s two castles, both open to the public.

Duart Castle (www.duartcastle.com; Apr Sun-Thu 11am-4pm, May-mid-Oct daily 10.30am-5.30pm), on its promontory, guards the Sound of Mull. Dating back to the 12th century, Duart Castle is the home of the chiefs of clan Maclean. The Maclean clan was once a formidable sea power.


The sacred island of Iona fi [map] lies just off the southwestern tip of Mull. St Columba and about a dozen followers came from Ireland to Iona in 563, bringing to Scotland the culture and learning of the Celtic church, which spread through all of Europe. Some 60 Scottish, Irish, French and Norwegian kings are buried on this sacred island. Centuries of onslaughts by Vikings and others have left no trace of the earliest communities.

Johnson’s verdict

When he visited Iona in the year 1773, Samuel Johnson wrote: ‘That man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona’.

Iona is reached via a one-track road and a 10-minute passenger ferry. Iona’s 15th-century abbey has been reconstructed and restored. While the ideals of the abbey community cannot be faulted, modernism introduces a jarring note. Other sights are St Martin’s Cross, carved in the 10th century; a small Norman chapel, built probably in 1072 by Queen Margaret; the attractive ruins of a 13th-century nunnery; and Reilig Odhrain, the graveyard where royalty, Highland chiefs, and more recent islanders are buried. Most of the older stones have been moved inside to preserve them from weather.


St Martin’s Cross on Iona


On a fine day, take a walk from here to North End where there are beaches of sparkling sand. Most of Iona’s inhabitants (around 170) live in the stone houses by the ferry landing. Sheep, cattle and a few fishing boats indicate occupations, but in the summer most islanders are involved with the throngs of visitors and pilgrims that arrive each year. From Iona you can take a boat trip to nearby Staffa island, which is home of the dramatic Fingal’s Cave, a natural wonder which inspired part of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. You can also get to Staffa from Mull or Oban.


This best-loved Highland island is outrageously beautiful - whether the sun is shining or mists are swirling around its startling hills and idyllic glens. Skye is a 5-minute ferry trip from Kyle of Lochalsh, or 30 minutes from Mallaig. The Skye Bridge (toll free) links Kyleakin on Skye with Kyle of Lochalsh. Portree fl [map], with its colourful harbour, is the island’s main town. Together with Broadford, these are the most popular centres for touring, but the island has many quieter places to stay.

The interesting Clan Donald Centre and the beautiful Armadale Castle Gardens ‡ [map] (www.clandonald.com; daily Apr-Oct 9.30am-5.30pm) are 16 miles (25km) south of Broadford, near the ferry terminal from Mallaig. For centuries the Macdonalds had styled themselves ‘Lords of the Isles’ and the museum has an exhibit detailing the history of the Highlands. The gardens and nature walks are outstanding.

Two remarkable ranges of peaks, the Black Cuillins in the south and the Quiraing in the north, make the island a hiker’s or rock-climber’s paradise (for more information, click here). Inside the wild and jagged Cuillin Hills is Loch Coruisk, which can be reached by boat from Elgol. Isolated by high peaks all around, the blue-black water of Coruisk has an eerie beauty. The hamlets of Ord and Tarskavaig are worth visiting on a clear day for their splendid views of the Cuillins.


Cuillin Hills viewed from Kyle of Lochalsh


Dunvegan Castle ° [map] (www.dunvegancastle.com; Apr-mid-Oct daily 10am-5pm, mid-Oct-Mar group appointments only), northwest of Portree, has been the stronghold of the chiefs of MacLeod for more than seven centuries and is still the home of the chief of the clan. On display within this sturdy loch-side fortress is the Fairy Flag, a fragile remnant of silk believed to have been woven in Rhodes during the 7th century. Supposedly it saved the MacLeods in clan battles twice, and still has the power to do so one more time. Rather more down-to-earth is a pit dungeon - 13ft (4m) deep - into which prisoners were lowered from an upstairs chamber, though the grim aspect of the dungeon is somewhat diluted by a ‘prisoner’ and an audio of his groans. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell were entertained here in 1773, and supplied with fresh horses to continue their journey.

From Dunvegan pier small boats make frequent half-hour trips to offshore rocks and islets to get close to the seals. The seals also appear, though less regularly, all around Skye’s 998 miles (1,609km) of coastline.

The dramatic collection of rocks known as the Quiraing, accessed more easily than the Cuillins, dominates the landscape north of the secondary road between Staffin and Uig, the ferry port for the Outer Hebrides. Reached by foot, the various rock features here include the castellated crags of the Prison, the slender 100ft (30m) Needle and the Table, a meadow as large as a football field.

Far north at Kilmuir are the grave and monument to Skye’s romantic heroine, Flora MacDonald, who smuggled fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as her female servant, to safety. On the picturesque coast of Staffin, the Kilt Rock is a curiously fluted cliff with a waterfall that plunges down to the sea. Be extremely careful on this lofty ridge.

A mile futher on, the Lealt Falls tumble down a long and accessible ravine into the sea at a pretty little cove. Salmon can sometimes be seen leaping here. Closer to Portree you will see a giant rock pinnacle called Old Man of Storr; there is a forest walk in the vicinity.


Old Man of Storr