The Highlands of Scotland are often thought of as empty and wild and, to an extent, this is true. There are not many people in this corner of the world. However, those who do call the Highlands home make all guests feel truly welcome. This is an ancient way of life, the welcoming of the stranger, and it is a crucial part of the Highlander’s psyche. There is so much to see, so much to do, experience and learn that one visit in a lifetime is a must, although you may well find yourself returning, as many do. Here are 12 reasons you should seriously consider the Scottish Highlands as a place to visit.
Scotland is beautiful, and the Scottish Highlands are sublime. From the mountains to the sea and everything in between, visitors have been attracted to this corner of the world for many years. Here, you will find views that take your breath away, even more so as the seasons, weather and light change. No two visits can ever be alike.
Those who call the Highlands home continue ancient traditions of hospitality, bringing a warmth and welcome that makes the guest feel like an old friend. Sharing is a natural part of living in the Highlands, whether it is sharing in the views, the natural bounty of food available or laughter, dance, song or whisky – these are all things which keep visitors coming back, keen to feel included again.
The Highlands can be wreathed in mist and low clouds one moment, startlingly clear the next, only to have sharp showers arrive later in the day. All seasons in one day. There can be times when it is hard to tear yourself away from staring at the sky. The clouds speak a language of their own here, and, once you learn it, you can gain foresight into what the coming weather will be. It helps that these same clouds add another level to the beauty of the scenery.
The nation’s spirit, whisky really is an important part of the culture in the Highlands. The water here is pure and makes the softest of drinks, while the care, attention to detail and sheer craftsmanship of those who produce single malts is legendary. A dram by a fire on a cool autumnal evening, or shared with new friends mid-ceilidh, is something never to be forgotten.
Despite the name, the Highlands could just as easily have been called the coastlands. Due to the ancient glaciers, powerful rivers and relentless seas, the shores here are fractured, long and ever-changing. There are parts where the beaches are gentle and parts where the cliffs drop away to a churning ocean below. With thousands of miles of coastline it is easy to find your own secluded spot, perhaps shared with otters, seals, orca or dolphins offshore.
In recent years, the capital of the Highlands, Inverness, has undergone something of a renaissance. Gone are the tired and clichéd eateries, replaced by restaurants and cafés which use local and sustainable ingredients, transformed by chefs into wonderful meals. Likewise with the visitor attractions. With brilliant accommodation options, no matter your budget, Inverness has firmly established itself as a perfect base to explore the wider area.
One thing any visitor to the Highlands immediately notices is the simple fact that this region of Scotland is well named. The high places are ever present, whether you are following a single-track road weaving along the coast or between craggy peaks or staying the night in a glen. Be it broad or narrow, the mountains are always near. The Munros are those over 3,000 feet (914 metres) tall, but they often appear much larger as the land rises swiftly from sea level.
The most famous Loch in the world, with perhaps the most famous monster. Loch Ness is only a short distance from Inverness. There are several excellent ways to experience the loch, ranging from walking or cycling along the length of the Great Glen Way or perhaps taking a boat trip out to the ruins of Urquhart castle, itself very much worth a visit. The Loch Ness Centre and exhibition answers any questions you may have and, who knows, maybe it will be you who captures proof of Nessie?
There is nothing like a ceilidh. When the fiddle catches you and the beat of the drum pulls you to the floor to dance a reel, waltz or jig, Scotland can suddenly feel like home, no matter how far you have travelled. The pure joy of dancing for fun, new friends teaching you the steps and everyone laughing together – these are a powerful and old magic, and you may not want to stop.
The Highlands have had a fascinating past, often violent and bloody (as George R.R. Martin learnt, weaving elements of Scottish history into his Song of Ice and Fire), sometimes tragic and haunting, but a past that is deep and interesting on many levels. This was the Roman frontier, the legions tried to come north but failed. The Vikings realised settling was better than pillaging, and many Highlanders can thus claim Viking descent. In more recent times, the Highland Clearances emptied vast areas of the land, many thousands sailing for Canada, America and other places, mostly against their will. The history here will enthral and, if you have Scottish Highland heritage, a visit to the land of your ancestors will be a deeply personal experience.
Traditional ways of life, including gatherings for games, were banned for many years in Scotland in order to try and erode the Highland way of life following the failed 1745 uprising. The games themselves were modernised, altered, but ultimately saved by the Victorians. These days, the games are definitely a must-visit. No matter that they have been exported across the globe, the Highland Games need to be experienced in their native glens, where cabers are tossed, burly kilted entrants (heavies) compete with good nature and raw strength and the swirl of the bagpipes echo across the site.
Scotland is famed for its wild places, and the birds and beasts that call them home. Nowhere is this more true than in the Highlands where, if they are lucky, visitors can see a staggering array of species, including golden eagles, pine marten, otter, seals, dolphins, whales, wildcat and the monarch of the glen, the red deer stag. Seeing nature’s majesty first-hand in the Highlands will stay in the memory forever.