For such a compact country, Scotland packs a mighty punch. An epic land of misty glens, craggy peaks and windswept isles, steeped with a magical mix of Celtic and Norse legends. Dramatic vistas are within easy reach but beyond the iconic cities is a vast untamed wilderness waiting to be explored.
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Half the size of England with just a tenth of its inhabitants, Scotland is one of the least crowded countries in Europe. Most of the population resides in a narrow belt of fertile farmland, leaving great swathes of ancient moorland, craggy mountains and lush Caledonian forest virtually untouched.
The rugged terrain is a haven for wildlife. Red deer roam across heather-flecked hills, golden eagles soar above remote island glens. Meanwhile, the convoluted coastline is one of the best places in the world to spot marine mammals such as sea otters, minke whales and a million nesting seabirds.
Walk barefoot along a white-sand beach and kayak through turquoise waters. Bag a Munro before taking a bracing dip in an icy loch. Explore ruined castles then retreat to a cosy inn for a warming dram of single malt whisky. When the mist clears and the rain stops falling, there’s no more beautiful place on Earth.
REGIONS OF SCOTLAND
Search for images of the Western Isles and you might think you’ve found the Caribbean: pristine white sands lapped by impossibly clear water and backed by endless skies. Yet, this Atlantic archipelago is remarkably diverse. From the haunting Callanish Stones of Lewis and the rugged Harris mountains, to the rocky patchwork of the Uists and towering birdcliffs of St Kilda, remote Gaelic communities live alongside an array of wildlife including puffins, porpoises and basking sharks
These unspoiled islands, off Scotland’s western coast, are an easy hop from the mainland via the Skye Bridge or ferry. Known for the dramatic knife-edged ridges of its Black Cuillin mountains, crofting villages and medieval castles, Skye is a photographer’s dream. To the south are wildlife-rich Mull with its colourful harbour, the whisky capital of Islay and the brooding hills of Jura, together with dozens of stunning islets that would take weeks to explore.
Orkney & Shetland
With a combined coastline of more than 2000 miles, Scotland’s Northern Isles are like a paint splatter across the North Sea. Windswept and treeless, the islands of Orkney are largely flat and fertile, in contrast to more rugged Shetland, famed for its diminutive ponies. Both offer spectacular landscapes, fascinating Neolithic sites and rocky coasts teeming with seabirds, dolphins and the occasional orca. Thanks to their relative isolation, the islanders celebrate some unique Norse traditions.
In a country of spectacular beauty, the Highlands are the major draw. Severe glaciation has carved out a dramatic landscape of high peaks and ancient plateaux separated by loch-filled glens. Serious climbers flock to the high-level ridge walks of Lochaber and Glen Coe, while magnificent multi-day hikes can be found in the granitic Cairngorms and coastal mountains of Wester Ross. With five of the six highest UK peaks, this is Scotland at its most wild.
This relatively low-lying region consists of rolling hills and wooded valleys, heather-clad moorland and rushing waterfalls. Thanks to the rich fertile soil, many of Scotland’s cities are here, along with half its population. Every corner of the landscape is steeped in history with abbeys, stately homes and formidable castles that bear testimony to the country’s turbulent past. Many a poet has been inspired by serene Loch Lomond, skirted by the West Highland Way.
Six times bigger than Snowdonia, the Scottish Border region is gloriously remote. Often overlooked in favour of the Highlands, you can walk for miles – if not days – through undulating moorland and tranquil glens, with only the sheep for company. Dotting the bucolic landscape are evocative ruins of the Border Abbeys, a remnant of medieval battles. In the west, the pine-covered hills of Galloway Forest are ideal for mountain biking or gazing up at the dark night sky.
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Highlights of Scotland
Self Drive Scotland
Scotland was made for road trips. Single track lanes snake across snow-patched moorland. Scenic coastal routes hug rugged clifftops and skirt secluded beaches. Dramatic detours lead to atmospheric abbeys and crumbling castles. Whether you take the sleeper train from London to Edinburgh, fly to Inverness for the North Coast 500, or land on Barra's tidal beach to ferry-hop through the islands, a self-drive holiday allows you to move at your own pace and take in the spectacular views.
Scotland City Breaks
No visit to Scotland would be complete without visiting its historic cities. Each has a unique character and makes a great stop-off before venturing into the wild. Edinburgh is an obvious choice for its cobbled streets, royal castle and world-famous fringe festival. Glasgow, too, is a creative hub with a vibrant music scene and contemporary galleries. Stop off at Stirling or Inverness before visiting the Highlands, soak up Aberdeen’s maritime history or stroll along the picturesque riverfronts of Perth or Dundee.
Sparsely populated and wild, Scotland’s land, sea and skies offer diverse wildlife encounters. In summer, the Hebrides are a haven for porpoises, minke whales and basking sharks, while orcas hunt for seals year-round off remote Orkney and Shetland. Seabirds flock to the rocky coasts with cute puffins, elusive ospreys and white-tailed sea eagles amongst vast numbers of noisy visitors. Inland, herds of red deer, highland cows and wild ponies graze peacefully on open moorland, while golden eagles soar high above remote northern glens.
Every corner of Scotland has a story to tell – and more often than not, it's a bloody tale of treachery and high treason. Fairytale fortresses rise silently out of misty lochs, stately stone bastions tower over historic towns and grand medieval palaces nestle amidst landscaped parks. Many of these national treasures now offer exclusive accommodation. Choose from breathtaking bed and breakfast at Glengorm Castle on the Isle of Mull to 5-star luxury and Michelin-starred dining at romantic Inverlochy Castle Hotel.
TV & Film
With brooding mountains, desolate moors, ancient monoliths and moody skies, Scotland’s atmospheric scenery has been the backdrop for many memorable films. Who can forget Bond's epic drive through Glen Itive in Skyfall, or the Hogwarts Express steaming across the incredible Glenfinnan Viaduct? From the rugged Highlands of Macbeth and Braveheart to Edinburgh's stunning Rossel Chapel featured in The Da Vinci Code, we can include a number of photogenic film locations within our itineraries. Just don’t forget your camera.