Northern Highlands & Islands
Scotland’s vast and melancholy soul is here: an epic land with a stark beauty that indelibly imprints the hearts of those who journey through it. Mist and mountains, rock and heather; long, sun-blessed summer evenings are the pay-off for so many days of horizontal rain. It’s simply magical. Stone tells stories throughout.
Orkney & Shetland
Up here at Britain's top end it can feel more Scandinavian than Scottish, and no wonder. For the Vikings, the jaunt across the North Sea from Norway was as easy as a stroll down to the local mead hall and they soon controlled these windswept, treeless archipelagos, laying down longhouses alongside the stony remains of ancient prehistoric settlements.
The Central Highlands
From the subarctic plateau of the Cairngorms to the rolling hills of Highland Perthshire and the rugged, rocky peaks of Glen Coe, the central mountain ranges of the Scottish Highlands are testimony to the sculpting power of ice and weather. Here the landscape is at its grandest, with soaring hills of rock and heather bounded by wooded glens and rushing waterfalls.
Though wise folk are well aware of its charms, for many people southern Scotland is just something to drive through on the way to northern Scotland. Big mistake. But it does mean you'll find breathing room here in summer, and peaceful corners. Proximity to England brought raiding and strife; grim borderland fortifications saw skirmishes aplenty.
The country's historic roots are deeply embedded in central Scotland. Key battles around Stirling shaped the nation's fortunes; significant castles from the region's history pepper the landscape; and Perth, the former capital, is where kings were crowned on the Stone of Destiny.
There’s a magic to Orkney that you begin to feel as soon as the Scottish mainland slips astern. Only a few short miles of ocean separate the chain of islands from Scotland's north coast, but the Pentland Firth is one of Europe’s most dangerous waterways, a graveyard of ships that adds an extra mystique to these islands shimmering in the sea mists.
The impossibly tortuous coastline of the mainland and islands of South Argyll would confuse the most adept geographer. Sea lochs slice the rugged land into peninsulas that offer some of Scotland's most spectacular coastal scenery. The archipelago of islands includes the whisky shangri-la of Islay, the brooding hills of lonely Jura and the retro charms of Bute.
Oban & Mull
The Victorian harbour town of Oban is a pretty town in its own right, with an excellent seafood scene, and is also a major gateway to the Hebrides. The big island drawcard is Mull, whose majestic scenery, birdlife and pretty capital Tobermory are complemented by the enchanting holy island of Iona just offshore.
North & West Coast
Quintessential Highland country such as this breathtaking emptiness and a wild, fragile beauty, marked by single-track roads, is a rarity on the modern, crowded, highly urbanised island of Britain. You could get lost up here for weeks – and that still wouldn’t be enough time.
Close enough to Norway geographically and historically to make nationality an ambiguous concept, the Shetland Islands are Britain’s most northerly outpost. There’s a Scandinavian lilt to the local accent, and streets named King Haakon or St Olaf remind that Shetland was under Norse rule until 1469, when it was gifted to Scotland in lieu of the dowry of a Danish princess.