Scottish Highlands Campsites
At 4406ft, Ben Nevis lS Britain’s highest mountain. The 2000ft high vertical cliffs of its north face can be tackled only by skilled climbers, but the gentler southern slope from the wooded valley of Glen Nevis offers a route to the summit that has actually been twice negotiated by car.Boat of GartenThis village on the River Spey gets its name from the ferry that served it before the bridge was built. The Strathspey Railway Association operates steam locomotives between Boat of Garten and Aviemore. Ospreys once believed extinct in Britain, now breed round Loch Garten; there is an RSPB observation point on the loch.
The Cairngorms, Which extend between Speyside and Braemar, are the highest mountain massive in the British Isles. Several of the granite peaks are over 4000ft high and the tallest is exceeded only by Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. In the 600-acre Cairngorm National Nature Reserve, golden eagles, capercaillie (a large species of grouse), ptarmigan, wild cats and deer are all to be found. Access may be restricted in the grouseshooting and deer-stalking seasons. Aviemore, Grantown-on-Spey and Carrbridge are the main ski resorts, and in the Glen More Forest Park there are fine walks, particularly around Loch Morlich. Cairngorm stones, translucent, yellowish quartz crystals, are found in the granite.
Shakespeare set King Duncan’s murder at Cawdor Castle, though it is more likely that Macbeth killed him in battle near Elgin. Cawdor Castle is a high walled, medieval fortress and certainly looks a suitable setting. Still the home of the Earls of Cawdor, the family treasures include some exceptionally fine tapestries.
Cromarty is a small seaport on the Black Isle – serving Easter Ross and guarding the entrance to the Firth of Cromarty. Much of the town is now devoted to North Sea oil. Hugh Miller, the geologist, was born here in 1802. The cottage in which he was born contains a collection of geological specimens. Seven miles west of Cromarty is Balblair, the home of the Rosses, who included Colonel George Ross, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.
A sad place this,a windswept ridge of moorland with a plantation of trees where cairns commemorate 1200 Highlanders who were slain in 40 minutes by the Duke of Cumberland’s forces at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746.
Macbeth, in real life, is said to have ruled Ross-shire from here before he captured the Scottish throne from King Duncan in 1040. Of the castle, ruined since 1700, only traces remain. Once a Royal Burgh and the county town of Ross and Cromatty, Dingwall lies near the mouth of the River Conon and is a popular Highland holiday centre. The harbour was built by Thomas Telford.
A crofting village in a beautiful mountain setting where Lochs Long and Duich meet. Eilean Donan Castle is strikingly situated just south of the village on a small island where the two lochs meet a third Loch Alsh. A 13th-century fortress of the Mackenzies, the castle was destroyed in 1719 by the English warships in their assault on the occupying Spanish Jacobites. It was restored in 1932.
This Royal Burgh and former county town of Sutherland was the site of Britain’s last recorded judicial execution for witchcraft. The town’s cathedral is a notable landmark, built originally in 1224. The golf course was first used in the early 17th century.
On ‘the west bank of Loch Ness, the village is a centre for monster-spotting. Here you can see the oflicial Loch Ness Monster Exhibition. Urquhart Castle, one of Scotland’s grandest ruins, overlooks Loch Ness from Strone Point.
One link in the Hanoverian chain of defences in the Great Glen (Glen More), Fort Augustus was built after the 1715 Jacobite Rising and named after the Duke of Cumberland. Its remains now share the site with a 19th century Benedictine abbey and a Roman Catholic school. General Wade extended Fort Augustus in 1730 and built his famous network of roads to open up the Highlands and control the clans: the present main road partly follows the line of the one he built through the Great Glen connecting Fort William and Inverness. The village of Fort Augustus, in wooded hill country at the south-west end of Loch Ness, near the entry of the Caledonian Canal, is an angling and tourist centre. The Great Glen Exhibition, in addition to its historical displays, gives the latest information on the search for the Loch Ness Monster.
The stone fort built in William III’s reign to help control the clans withstood Jacobite assaults during the 1715 and 1745 Risings, but met its match when, save for a gateway, it was demolished to make way for the railway. The town, known variously in the past as Gordonsburgh, Duncansburgh, and Maryburgh, and squeezed between loch and mountain, is now a well-known tourist centre for the West Highlands. The West Highland Museum dates from the 18th century and is famous for its secret portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, reflected on a cylinder. Two and a half miles south east of the Caledonian Canal, begun in 1803 by Thomas Telford, near Spean Bridge stands the Commando Memorial marking a World War II commando training area. An avenue of beeches known as the Dark Mile, was planted at Clunes, about 11 miles north east of Fort William, in 1745 for Bonnie Prince Charlie who is said to have buried a fortune in gold at Loch Arkaig, which spreads west from Clunes.
Savage peaks and ridges overlook the little whitewashed houses alohg the straight main street of Glencoe village. It is not the present village which Scotsmen think of when they hear the name however, but the starkly beautiful glen, a mountain wilderness ascending 1100ft in 10 miles to the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor. Known as ‘the Glen of Weeping’, it was the scene of the infamous massacre of 38 MacDonalds in 1692, when Campbell troops billeted in the glen turned on their hosts because of their failure to forswear the Jacobite cause. The heather-thatched Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum in the village houses among other items MacDonald and Jacobite relics, and the Glen Coe Visitor Centre at the north end of the glen is close to the site of the massacre. Red deer, ptarmigan, golden eagles and Wildcats inhabit the glen, which offers the hillwalker a splendid choice of routes.
In summer a car ferry crosses the Sound of Sleat from this scattered village, reached by the steep and winding Mam Rattachan Pass, to the Isle of Skye. To the north are the gaunt ruins of Bernera Barracks, where soldiers were quartered for 70 years following the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. Two miles south east, in narrow Glen Baeg, are the well preserved Glenelg Brochs, Dun Telve and Dun Trodden. These 30 ft high defensive towers were probably built by the Picts 2000 years ago.
This hamlet was the rallying point for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s clans after he landed from France. A statue of a kilted highlander tops a monument at the head of Loch Shiel, marking the spot where the prince unfurled his father’s standard in 1745 at the beginning of his doomed campaign to regain the throne for his father, the Old Pretender. There is also a V131tor’s Centre near the Monument.
Overlooked by lofty hills, culminating in 4406ft Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, this remarkable natural feature is better known as the Great Glen, short for the Great Glen of Albin. It divides the mainland of Scotland in two and stretches from Inverness down to Fort William. The chain of lochs along the glen, including Loch Ness, and Telford’s Caledonian Canal, enable boats to pass between the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
Britain’s largest and highest land mass, the Grampians incorporate the Cairngorm range. Many of the summits exceed 3000ft, and some, in the Cairngorms, top 4000ft. The mountain range stretches from the old county of Argyll in the west to old Aberdeenshire in the north east. Skiing is possible in some parts in winter, particularly around Glenshee.
The Inner Hebrides comprise Skye, Mull, Jura and Islay, plus a host of smaller islands, some well known, such as Iona, Eigg, Rhum, Tyree and Colonsay, some little visited, such as Canna, Raasay and Coll. Easily the most visited isle‘ is Skye.
The Gaelic name for Skye means ‘the Isle of Mist under the Shadow of great mountains’. The island is 50 miles long, and no place is more than 5 miles from the sea, yet Skye has over 1000 miles of craggy coastline, as well as some of Scotland’s wildest mountain scenery in the Cuillins. Nowhere in Britain are there better climbing peaks. The range is partly composed of black gabbro rock, one of the safest climbing rocks in the world owing to its rough surface; however, the peaks should only be attempted by experienced walkers and climbers. The island is bound up in myth and legend, and almost every place has tales of fairy bridges, fairy castles and fairy kidnapping associated with it. The richest store of local colour comes from the brief but well-known visit of Bonnie Prince Charlie. After their journey ‘over the sea to Skye’ from the island of Benbecula, Flora Macdonald brought the Prince, disguised as her Irish maid, to Monkstadt House two and a half miles north of Uig on the northern coast of Skye. There is a Flora Macdonald window in St Columba’s Church, Portree. Flora Macdonald’s grave is marked by a Celtic cross in Kilmuir churchyard.
From the ramparts of Dunvegan Castle, the seat of Clan MacLeod, the Hills of Harris in the Outer Hebrides can be seen. The castle was attacked by John Paul Jones in his raids on the Scottish coast. Among the treasures inside are a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair, MacLeod family portraits by Ramsay and Raeburn, the 4-pint drinking horn which the 13th chief, Rory More, could empty at a draught, and the Bratach Sith, or Fairy Flag. According to legend, the Fairy Flag was given to the clan in the 14th century, to be used only in the face of imminent defeat of the clan. Its three magical properties gave victory on the battlefield, ensured children in marriage and charmed herring into the loch. The silk flag was twice used in battle with encouraging results. At the Battle of Trumpan in 1597, only two Macdonald raiders escaped the wrath of the MacLeods who attacked after an entire congregation of,MacLeods were burned to death at worship.
Other places of interest on Skye include the Clan Donald Centre (OACT) at Armadale Castle, the Skye Black House Folk Museum, a restored crofter’s house at Colbost and the Skye Cottage Museum at Kilmuir.
Eigg and Rhum are bleak hut beautiful. Many wierdly formed hunted caverns punctuate Eigg’s coastline. In the cave of St Francis a group of 16th century Macleods ends is supposed to have killed 200 people by blocking the cave entrance with fire trapping them inside.
On Mull. much further south, the biggest burgh isTobermory. Duart Castle is the home of the Macleans. The Victorian Castle is set in magnificent gardens.
Iona lies across the water from Mull‘s most westerly community.Fionnphort. St Columba came here from Ireland in the 6th century to found a monastery. He is thought to have landed at Portna Curaich. Following Columba’s death in AD 597, lona became a place of pilgrimage and many early Scottish kings and chiefs were buried here. St Oran’s Cemetery is considered to be the oldest Christian burial ground in Scotland. King Duncan, said to have been murdered by Macbeth in 1040, was one of the 48 Scottish kings to be buried here. The cathedral was founded in the 13th century though the present building is more recent. Many interesting tombs survive, and the so called Columba’s Pillow is preserved beneath the East Window. Dr Johnson described Iona as Ithat luminary of the Caledonian regions’ when he visited in 1773. The island’s beauty and peacefulness enhance its continued importance as a place of Christian pilgrimage. The oldest building on lona is St Oran’s Chapel, said to have been founded by Queen Matgaret in 1080. Although largely restoted the church has a carved Norman doorway among its 11th century remains.
George Orwell lived on gum after World War II. It was here e wrote Nineteen Eighty Four. He left the island in 1950.
Known as the ‘capital of the Highlands’, Inverness is a historic burgh on the River Ness just inland from the Moray Firth. Scotland’s King David built the first castle here in the 12th century but of this and subsequent castles built on this site, little evidence remains today and the present castle dates from 1834. At Craig Phaorig are the remains of a fort where the Pictish King Brude was probably visited by St Columba in 565. Two other interesting fortresses are Castle Stewart, six miles east, and Aldourie Castle, seat of the Frasers for over 200 years, 7 miles south west on the northernmost tip of Loch Ness. The town’s clock tower is the only remnant of a fort built by Cromwell’s army during the Civil War.
Inverness was the terminal point for the system of metalled military roads built by the engineer and soldier George Wade during the period 1726-37, following the Rebellion of 1715. Fort George, the town barracks named after Wade, was blown up by Prince Charles Edward’s forces in 1746 but a new fort was subsequently built to the north east of the town. Abertarff House on Church Street dates from the mid-16th century; inside is a rare, early spiral staircase. The Town House in Castle Street was the scene of the first Cabinet meeting to be held outside London: Lloyd George, holidaying in Scotland in 1921, called an emergency meeting here to discuss a letter on the question of Irish independence from Eamon de Valera, the Irish politician who became the first President of the Irish Republic. Across the river is St Andrew’s Cathedral, a mid-Victorian edifice with notable carved pillars. Other interesting buildings include the library, museum and art gallery.
The village of John O’Groats takes its name from a Dutchman, Jan de Groot who arrived in Scotland in the early 16th century, with his two brothers. Eventually there were eight families and Jan built an octagonal house with a door in each side so that they could all live peaceably. Although the house no longer exists, the site is marked by a mound and a flagstaff. John O’Groats looks out to the waters of Pentland Firth and the fine views include those of the Orkney Islands, Stroma and South Ronaldsay. To the east is Duncansby Head with the three Stacks of Duncansby jutting out of the sea. John O’Groats is the most northerly settlement on the British mainland. Land’s End, at the tip of the Cornish peninsula, is 877 miles away by road. Dunnet Head, to the west of John O’Groats is the most northerly point.
Kingussie, the so-called ‘Capital of Badenoch’, stands on the wooded slopes of Strath Spey with clear views across to the Cairngorms. The district of Badenoch is sometimes called ‘the drowned land’ because the Spey floods so often, in spite of its banks having been heightened and reinforced. The Highland Folk Museum, which was originally founded in Iona and maintained by four Scottish universities, covers 200 years of farming and local craftsmanship and includes an old cottage, a reconstructed Hebridean mill and a primitive ‘black house’.
The small village of Kinlochewe lies two and a half miles beyond the southern end of Loch Maree, amid magnificent scenery dominated by the 3217ft ‘spear’, Slioch. It is a base for climbing and hillwalking and offers excellent fishing for sea trout, brown trout and salmon. To the west stretches the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, the first of its kind in Britain; it covers over 10,000 acres, preserving the remains of ancient Scottish pine forests and protecting such species as deer, wild cats, pine martens and golden eagles. Beinn Eighe itself is of interest geologically, being formed of 750′ a million-year-old red sandstone topped with 600-million-year-old white quartzite.
Kincraig stands on the north side of Loch Insh, through which the River Spey flows to be joined by the Freshie. Nearby is the Highland Wildlife Park, which displays native animals of Scotland including species no longer found in the wild.
Kyle of Lochalsh
Kyle of Lochalsh, the end of the romantic ‘Road to the Isles’, is a busy fishing and shipping village at the western end of Loch Alsh. It is the traditional ‘Gateway to Skye’, which lies only a short distance away across the waters of Kyle Akin. The railway line from Inverness terminates here, and steamers ply to Mallaig (passenger) and Skye (vehicle).
Kylesku is one of the most remote places in Britain and also one of the most beautiful. It stands on an inlet of Eddrachillis Bay in an area of coastline often compared with the Norwegian fjords. Five miles south east and reached only by boat, Eas-coul-Aulin is the highest waterfall in Britain, with a sheer drop of 658ft.
Lairg is a market village where important lamb sales are held, but its beautiful setting in wild countryside at the end of Loch Shin makes it popular with anglers and holidaymakers, whilst archaeologists are drawn to the area by the presence of prehistoric circles and tumuli. In woodland about three miles south of the village are the spectacular waterfalls of the River Shin, where salmon can be seen leaping at certain times of the year.
Bonnie Prince Charlie’s treasure is said to have been buried by the jacobites here. The surrounding countryside is the traditional home of the Clan Cameron, strong supporters of Charles Edward. Achnacarry House at the head of the Loch replaces the original castle burned in 1746, as a punishment of the chief’s support of the ’45 Rising. Among the tree-lined avenues on the estate is the Dark Mile, planted for the Prince, who wandered the rugged hill country after the Rising.
Loch Lochy is the second largest of the chain of inland lakes that runs along the Great Glen, forming part of the Caledonian Canal. The hilly shores, wooded in many places, reach their greatest height in Glengarry Forest to the north east. The Laggan Locks, at the north end, allow vessels using the Canal to be raised from the level of Loch Lochy to that of its highest section. Loch Oich. The Letterfinlay Inn on the eastern shore of Loch Lochy was used as a hostel by General Wade‘s soldiers while they built the Inverness to Fort William road in the 18th century. Later Wordsworth and his sisters were visitors.
Loch Maree is probably Scotland’s most beautiful inland loch, its southeast shore dominated by the huge mass of Slioch and the south-west lyingwithin the Ben Eighe National Nature Reserve. Tiny Ilse Maree still bears oaks the sacred trees of the Druids who once worshipped here.
Loch Ness is the largest of the Great Glen lochs. Its waters, dark with peaty soil washed down by the rivers and streams that feed it, are over 900ft deep in places and have never been known to freeze. The view to the west is particularly beautiful, with the ruins of Urquhart Castle guarding the entrance to Glen Urquhart. The loch’s legendary monster is world famous, and tales of sightings go back to the 7th century. Many modern sightings seem well authenticated, and it is now being suggested that unknown fish, giant slug-like creatures, or even fish-eating dinosaurs could exist in the depths. Similar claims have been made for other lochs, and for deepwater lakes in Ireland, Norway and Canada.
Loch Shiel is one of the finest freshwater lochs in the Highlands, with wonderful mountain scenery at its north end and 2895ft Bheinn Odhar Bheag rising from its west shore. No more than a mile wide at any point, it stretches from Acharacle to Glenlinnan Monument, the tribute raised to the Highlanders who died for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the ’45 Rising. The loch is touched by public roads only at its head and its foot; none runs along its shores.
The village of Lybster stands on Lybster Bay, on the wild and rugged coastline south west of Clyth Ness, and has a small fishing industry. The church has a west door and chancel entrance of ancient local design and is built of locally dressed flagstones. The Grey Cairns of Camster, two megalithic chambered cairns almost 5000 years old, lie about 5 miles north of the village.
The Castle of Mey was the Queen Mother’s personal residence in Scotland, purchased in 1953. Overlooking the Pentland Firth, and not far from John o’Groats, the setting is bleak. Nevertheless, the gardens are magnificent and the Queen Mother has carried out a great deal of renovation.
Nairn has sometimes been called the Brighton of the North. As this suggests it is a popular seaside resort – with three golf courses, a climate that shows a surprisingly sunny disposition and an annual Highland Games. The harbour was made to a plan by Thomas Telford. About three miles to the south, Rait Castle, a 14th-century ruin, was the scene of a massacre of the Comyns by the Mackintoshes.
Newtonmore is the most southerly of the Speyside resorts: a base for skiing and pony-trekking. It was, indeed, here that in 1952, the latter activity was introduced to Britain. There are some good rides into the black Monadhliath Mountains and some fine views of the Cairngorms. The exhibits in the Clan Macpherson House and Museum include a gift from a fairy to the clan, known as the Black Charter.
Mainland, once more romantically called Hrossey (‘the horse island’) when Orkney was a Viking kingdom, is the largest of the 67 islands in the group which lies off the northernmost tip of the Scottish mainland. There are regular flights from the mainland and a ferry from Scrabster. Unlike the Western Isles, Orkney is a fertile place with low, rounded hills and a surprisingly mild climate which favours farming. The exception is Hoy – ‘the high island’ -with its towering 1000ft cliffs and the dramatic, wave lashed rock stack known as the ‘Old Man of Hoy’.
The early settlers of Orkney were Picts and Celts, and from these times the islands are rich in monuments and remains, an archaeologist’s paradise. The great chambered tomb of Maes Howe near Finstown on Mainland, is the finest megalithic tomb in West Europe. Nearby is the slightly later Ring of Brogar, another of the many relics of Orkney’s distant past. The Vikings ousted the native Picts in the 9th century, and Orkney remained a part of Norway and Denmark, until 1468 when the islands were given to Scotland as part of the dowry of Margaret of Norway on her marriage to James III of Scotland. Nordic traditions are still evident in the speech and customs of the Orcadians. The peaceful, timeless quality of Orkney is now threatened by the booming North Sea Oil industry: the little island of Flotta, in the World War II harbour of Scapa Flow, is now a terminal for North Sea Oil.
Kirkwall on mainland is the capital of Orkney, a charming old city of high, gabled houses and narrow streets. The beautiful St Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137, commemorates an early Norse ruler of Orkney, murdered by his cousin in 1115. Nearby are the ruins of two palaces; the 13th-century Bishop’s Palace and the 17th century Earl Patrick’s Palace built for the tyrannical 2nd Earl of Orkney. Tankerness House, a 16th century town house, is now a museum of Orkney life, and at the little settlement of Harray in the island’s interior, is a restored Orkney farmstead, the Corrigall Farm Museum. Near Dounby are other historic relics: Skara Brae, a remarkable survival of incredibly wellpreserved Stone Age houses; the Brough of Birsay, ruins of a Romanesque church and early Viking dwellings, and Click Mill, a rare Orcadian horizontal water-mill. Stromness is also an attractive township, with distant views of Hoy. It has an interesting maritime museum, and a modern arts centre housed in an 18th-century warehouse. On Mainland is Login’s Well, associated with Captain Cook and Sir John Franklin, explorer of the North-West Passage. North of Marwick is the Kitchener Memorial. The cruiser Hampshire was sunk off the coast in 1916 while taking Kitchener to Russia.
South of Mainland and connected to it by the Churchill Barriers, causeways built to guard the approaches to Scapa Flow during World War II, are the islands of Burray, South Ronaldsay, Glimps Holm and Lamb Holm. Italian prisoners of war built the causeways, and also built themselves a chapel on Lamb Holm, elaborately and beautifully painted, which still stands as a memento. On the west side of Scapa Flow is mountainous Hoy, legendary home of many a troll and giant in Orcadian folk tales. The composer Peter Maxwell Davies has made his home here, and the crofters are beginning to return to the long abandoned village of Rackwick.
North of Mainland, Rousay is said to have the loveliest scenery, and Sanday is another popular holiday island. The other major islands are Stronsay, Eday, Westray and Papa Westray, and the most northerly of all, North Ronaldsay, with its unique flocks of sheep, who feed on seaweed.
From the windswept headland of the Butt of Lewis in the north to Barra Head Lighthouse on the tiny island Berneray in the south, the ‘Long Island’ or the ‘Western Isles’ as they are also known, stretch for 130 miles. The main islands are Lewis and Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Barra and Eriskay. Causeways and bridges now link the Uists and Benbecula. Ferry services run from the mainland from Ullapool to Lewis; from Uig to Harris; and from Oban to South Uist and Barra.
The Western Isles are one of the last outposts of the Gaelic way of life, and the crofters are resistant to change, as two well-intentioned improvers, Sir James Matheson and Lord Leverhulme discovered. Matheson bought the islands in the 19th century and spent a fortune on building roads and bridges. He built himself the Castle of Lews, now a technical college, at Stornoway, importing tons of soil from the mainland to establish the lovely gardens where he planted the islands’ only extensive woodlands. After World War I Lord Leverhulme bought Lewis and Harris, improved the harbour at Stornoway and tried to set up commercial fisheries, but the crofters did not take kindly to working in factories and his schemes came to nothing. The product for which the islands are mainly known is Harris Tweed. Throughout Harris and Lewis the tweeds, 28% inches wide and 80ft long, are woven on handlooms from ‘virgin wool spun, dyed and finished in the Outer Hebrides, and handwoven by the islanders in their own homes’. The various island tourist offices give details of weavers’ workshops which can be visited.
The traditional home of the island crofters was the ‘Black House’, a low, thatched, windowless building with an open central fire, and one room in which both humans and animals sheltered. Two of these, at Arnol on the north-west coast of Lewis, and at Eochar on South Uist have been restored as crofting museums.
The islands, despite their inhospitable climate and infertile soils, have been inhabited since prehistoric times, as the wealth of prehistoric monuments shows. Most impressive of all is the great stone circle and avenue of Standing Stones occupying a bleak moorland site at Callanish, overlooking a remote inlet of the western coast. Not far away is another impressive relic, Carloway Broch, a massive Iron Age stone tower, still standing 30ft high.
Harris is the most mountainous of the Western Isles, and has some lovely beaches in the south west, although only the hardy would bathe in the chilly Atlantic waters. The main settlements are Tarbert in the north, and Rodel in the south. The wild, remote promontory of Toe Head is one of the few British breeding grounds of the Golden Eagle.
North Uist and Benbecula are watery islands, the land mass broken up by a confusing maze of lochans, inlets and islets. Arrny rocket ranges on Benbecula add a touch of the surreal to this almost deserted landscape. The island of Eriskay was the setting for Sir Compton Mackenzie’s novel, later filmed, Whisky Galore, based on the wreck of the SS Politician with its cargo of 20,000 cases of whisky in World War II. Eriskay, where Bonnie Prince Charlie first set foot on Scottish soil when he came from France, and Barra, are noted for their Gaelic folk songs.
Now safely in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, this delightful village on the shores of Loch Carron, set in beautiful mountain scenery, has had a chequered history. In 1801 most of the existing crofters were evicted to make way for a sheep-farming settlement planned by the new landlord, Hugh Innes. His plans did not get far, but his descendants tried to improve the fishing and the harbour. In 1850 Sir Alexander Matheson bought the area and built himself a castle, before moving on to grander projects on Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Finally the estate was acquired by Sir Daniel Hamilton, who gave it to the Scottish National Trust. The village is sheltered by its surrounding hills, and the Gulf Stream causes palm trees to flourish.
Despite the fact that it lies on a more northerly latitude than Moscow, subtropical plants flourish in the remarkable gardens of Inverewe House, created by Osgood MacKenzie in 1862. He imported soil specially, planted extensive woodlands to shelter his more delicate plants, and the result is a maze of winding woodland walks where the flowers are at their best in spring and early summer.
Sand dunes separate the village from the sandy beach of Sandside Bay: in the 18th century they engulfed an earlier settlement. Two miles north east a farm contains the remains of Dounreay Castle, including a 16th century tower. A 135ft sphere marks the site of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority; There is an exhibition relating to fast reactors and nuclear energy.
The Shetlands comprise more than 100 islands, some little more than isolated rocks, but only 17 are inhabited, Muckle Flugga, an islet off Unst, is the most northerly point in the British Isles and lies 170 miles north of John o’Groats and only 300 miles from the Arctic Circle. Mainland, the largest of the Shetlands, has the islands’ capital, Lerwick, a bustling little place of distinctly Scandinavian character. Ferries run from Aberdeen on the mainland, and there is an airport at Sumburgh, in the south of Mainland. The most powerful presence on the island nowadays is the gigantic North Sea Oil terminal at Sullom Voe, although now, having radically changed the islanders’ traditional crofting and fishing way of life, North Sea Oil is offering less and less employment.
The first settlers were probably Picts followed in the 9th century by the Norsemen. The Shetlands remained part of Scandinavia until the marriage of the king’s daughter Margaret to James III of Scotland in 1469 when Christian I ceded them as part of her dowry. Norse infiuence remained strong and the old Norn dialect survived for centuries. Remains of medieval, Viking, and earlier Pictish settlements can be seen at Jarlshof sear Sumburgh. Near Scalloway are the Tingwall Agricultural Museum, and ruined Scalloway Castle. Remains of Pictish brochs are common, but the best example is on Mousa, an attractive little island off the south east coast of Mainland. Other islands to visit are Bressay, not far from Lerwick; East and West Burra, and Trodra, linked by bridges to each other and to Mainland; Muckle Roe is also linked by bridge to Mainland; Unst, the northernmost of the inhabited islands; Whalsay, and Yell. Fetlar and Foula are noted for their birdlife; Papa Stour is honeycombed with spectacular caves. Remote from the main group of islands are the Out Skerries. Fair Isle, halfway between the Orkneys and the Shetlands, is famous not only for its knitwear but also for the richness of the birdlife: the island is run by the National Trust for Scotland. Wild life also abounds on the Shetlands; seals and otters are a familiar sight, in some parts almost as familiar as the small, sturdy Shetland ponies, once the mainstay of the crofters, which are now so highly prized as pets.
The journey to this pleasant crafting and fishing village on an inlet of Loch Torridon is well worthwhile. The road linking itw ith Torridon provides some fantastic views of 3456ft Liathach; 3232ft Ben Alligin, and 2995ft Beinn Dcarg. A newly built road west of the village to Applccross has opened up a panorama over the lnner Sound to the islands of Raasay and Skye. Many of the rocks in the vicinity have characteristic horizontal red bands of Torridon sandstone.
Smoo Cave, which lies a mile or so to the east of Durness, is a huge cavern cut into the base of the limestone cliff. The first of the three chambers is the largest – 200ft long by 120ft high, and is entered through a 53ft-high arch. The name probably comes from smjuga (‘a rock’).
Strath Spey is the wide, lower valley of the River Spey. It begins as the Upper Spey emerges from the very much narrower route it takes between the Cairngorms and the Monadhliath mountains (where it originates). An important salmon river, it is also rich in brown trout and, funnily enough, or so the story goes, pearls: according to one estimate, one out of every hundred mussels fished out of the river contains a pearl. The beautiful broad valley is the heart of Scotland’s whisky country. Until the beginning of the 18th century all regions of Scotland were scattered with small whisky stills. The fine whiskies derive their exquisite taste from the peaty Highland waters. Several distilleries can be visited, including the Glenfarclas Distillery at Marypark, and the Glenliddich Distillery at Dufftown.
Thurso is splendidly situated: on a broad, sandy bay in the Pentland Firth, between the towering cliffs of Holborn Head and Clardon Head. Its hinterland is the fertile Caithness plain. Scotland’s northernmost mainland town affords views towards Dunnet Head, and across the Pentland Forth to the cliffs of Hoy in the Orkneys. Old St Peter’s Kirk, by the once important harbour, occupies the site of a Viking church. Gilbert Murray, Bishop of Caithness, established his church here in the 13th a century: the present ruins are 16th to 17th century. The medieval Bishop’s Palace stands on Thurso Bay. The old fishermen’s houses by the harbour have been carefully restored. From nearby Scrabster, the Orkney ferries sail; and, in both World Wars, convoys sailed for Scapa Flow. Dounreay nuclear power station 10 miles west has meant much expansion around Thurso.
This village, at the head of Upper Loch Torridon, at Glen Torridon’s west end, is set amid splendid Highland scenery. The National Trust for Scotland has a Visitor Centre here to guide you, and a Deer Museum. Loch Torridon is a magnificent sea loch, opposite the north-eastern tip of Skye. It extends into Loch Shieldaig to the south, and into Upper Loch Torridon through the narrow straits to the east. On the Ploc of Torridon, a promontory in the Upper Loch, are the prehistoric stones of the Church of Ploc. The Wild and beautiful Glen Torridon, with its Corrie of a Hundred Hills, cuts through the Torridon mountains where the peaks of Ben Eighe (3309ft), form a National Nature Reserve: Liathach, the highest peak in the Torridons, is one of Scotland’s finest mountains: 3456ft high, its terraces extend for three miles, towering above the spectacular Coire na Caime. The mountains, of stratified red sandstone, some topped in white quartzite, attract geologists and climbers and afford views from Cape Wrath to Ardnamurchan and the Outer Hebrides.
Ullapool was founded in 1788 to expand the herring industry and it is still a traditional fishing town, though today it also attracts deep sea anglers, especially those in pursuit of shark. Its lovely setting near the mouth of Loch Broom has made it a popular resort and touring centre; the attractive Outer Loch islands can be reached by boat, and to the north the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve offers sanctuary to Wildcat, pine-marten and golden eagle in a 27,000-acre expanse of unspoiled Highland countryside. One of the original buildings of Ullapool houses the Lochbroom Highland Museum.
Ulva, Isle of
The caves and basalt cliffs of Ulva, the island traditionally associated with the popular ballad Lord Ullin’s Daughter, have attracted some famous visitors Dr Johnson, Boswell, Sir Walter Scott and Livingstone among them. It is separated from Mull only by the tiny Sound of Ulva, and a passenger ferry links the two.
At Unapool the waters of Loch Glencoul and Loch Glendhu come together at Kylesku, on the narrows which divide these two stretches of water from Cairnbawm. The road to the south passes the seven peaks of Quinag, and Eas Coul Aulin, Britain’s highest waterfall, plunges from 2541ft Glas Bheinn, its sheer drop of well over 600ft exceeding that of Niagara Falls.
The ancient settlement of Wick is an important sea-fishing centre, its large harbour designed originally by Telford. The ‘Old Man of Wick’, a windowless 14th-century tower, crowns a rock which juts into the sea about a mile south of the town. Nearby are the curious rock stacks known as Brig o’Tram and the Brough. The coastal scenery of the area is dramatic with enormous rocks topping the rugged cliffs. To the north stands Noss Head Lighthouse; looking across Sinclair’s Bay west of the ‘ lighthouse are the ruins of Castle Sinclair and Castle Girnigoe, both destroyed in 17th-century clan wars. The Wick Heritage Centre near the harbour is devoted to local history, and the Caithness Factory on Harrow Hill can be visited. Glass blowing can be observed here and there is also a shop.
At Arisaig the Road to the Isles meets the sea, with Rhum, Eigg and Muck clearly visible across the bay and the mountains of Skye beyond. To the north of the Village stretch smooth expanses of silver-white sand and to its south lies Borrodale Beach, scene of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s landing in 1745 and his flight the followin year;the cave in which he hid before his escape is near Arisaig House.