Introducing Northern Highlands & Islands
Scotland's extremities encourage superlatives; from Britain's deepest lake (Loch Ness) to its highest peak (Ben Nevis), and all the way out to the Shetlands where they're not even sure if they're part of Scotland or Britain. There's a rich history of bloody battles on heather-softened moors and defence of now-crumbling castles, while Viking ruins hark back to another history preserved by the isolation of the outer islands. Buried even deeper in the past are the mystical standing stones that lift megalithic profiles across the Hebrides and Orkneys, their meaning blurred by time. And then there are the stories of prehistoric monsters puddling around in the lochs…
It's not all spooky though, with gutsy Fort William earning the title of UK's Outdoor Capital for its exciting walks, challenging skiing and burgeoning mountain-biking scene. Then there's the surprise of golden-sand beaches on remote Harris, and of watching the playful stumblings of puffins on a sheer cliff turn suddenly into flight. The absence of humans has meant that the isolated areas thrive with seals and whales, and birds you've never seen before.
Speaking of rare specimens, there are the locals; tougher than their shaggy highland cows and best encountered by the warm hearth of a highland pub. Folk might start with a chat as they warm their hands, but by the end of the night they'll be buying you a dram for the road if they're not inviting you for a lock-in.
For outdoor-lovers, especially walkers, the Highlands are heaven. Regional tourist offices stock free leaflets, plus maps and guides covering walking, cycling and other activities.