Scotland’s Highland region, covering the northern two-thirds of the country, holds much of the mainland’s most spectacular scenery. You may be surprised at just how remote much of it still is: the vast peat bogs in the north, for example, are among the most extensive and unspoilt wilderness areas in Europe, while a handful of the west coast’s isolated crofting villages can still be reached only by boat. The only major city, Inverness, is best used as a springboard for more remote areas where you can soak in the Highlands’ classic combination of mountains, glens, lochs and rivers, surrounded on three sides by a magnificently pitted and rugged coastline.
South of Inverness, the Strathspey region, with a string of villages lying along the River Spey, is dominated by the dramatic Cairngorm mountains, an area brimming with attractive scenery and opportunities for outdoor activity. The Monadhliath mountains lie between Strathspey and Loch Ness, the largest and most famous of the necklace of lochs which make up the Great Glen, an ancient geological fault line which cuts southwest across the region from Inverness to the town of Fort William. From Fort William, located beneath Scotland’s highest peak, Ben Nevis, it’s possible to branch out to some fine scenery – most conveniently the beautiful expanses of Glen Coe, but also in the direction of the appealing west coast, notably the remote and tranquil Ardnamurchan peninsula, the “Road to the Isles” to Mallaig, and the lochs and glens that lead to Kyle of Lochalsh on the most direct route to Skye. Between Kyle of Lochalsh and Ullapool, the main settlement in the northwest, lies Wester Ross, home to quintessentially west-coast scenes of sparkling sea lochs, rocky headlands and sandy beaches set against some of Scotland’s most dramatic mountains, with Skye and the Western Isles on the horizon.
The little-visited north coast stretching from wind-lashed Cape Wrath, at the very northwest tip of the mainland, east to John O’Groats is even more rugged, with sheer cliffs and sand-filled bays bearing the brunt of frequently fierce Atlantic storms. The main settlement on this coast is Thurso, jumping-off point for the main ferry service to Orkney.
On the fertile east coast, stretching north from Inverness to the old herring port of Wick, green fields and woodland run down to the sweeping sandy beaches of the Black Isle and the Cromarty and Dornoch firths. This region is rich with historical sites, including the Sutherland Monument by Golspie, Dornoch’s fourteenth-century sandstone cathedral, and a number of places linked to the Clearances, a poignantly remembered chapter in the Highland story.