5. Bealach na Bà
In a country blessed with a mother lode of dazzling Highland roads, few rival the bucket-list potential of this uppy-downy, twisty-turny big dipper connecting Torridon to Applecross. On a typically Scottish slate-gray day, the mountains may vanish in a film noir fug, the road little more than a hard, outside line, but when the clouds part you’ll find it fully coloured-in.
You may not stay here long, but the views of Wester Ross from the Applecross Inn will never leave you.
The first reason people come is the toy-town strip of red, yellow and blue houses in island capital Tobermory. But that’s missing the point. Because Mull is Scotland in microcosm, with stark beaches, centrefold hills, a corker of a whisky distillery, wildlife galore and the Gribun Cliffs, a puzzle of rock, sea and sky.
For yet another highlight, make the 10-minute ferry trip to neighbouring Iona to discover its monastic abbey, where Columba first landed in Scotland to spread the good word.
Loch Lomond is one of Scotland’s greatest obsessions. Ever since the folk song The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond debuted in 1841, Scots have romanticised its waters, pined for its hills and sought inspiration in its forests.
The country has lochs ten-a-penny, but by any measure Loch Lomond is extraordinary. The largest in the country, it’s best seen from the top of Ben Lomond’s signature scrawl, then celebrated from across the water at The Drovers Inn, a stopped-clock pub in Inverarnan that hasn’t changed since the turn of the century.
The road north reveals the knuckle-shaped Buachaille Etive Mòr hogging the skyline, then the A82 dips, roller coaster-like, to unveil a landscape with enough blockbuster razzmatazz to fill an IMAX theatre. The thrills of the glen – its Machiavellian clan history, charmingly ragged pubs and Harry Potter and James Bond patronage – say much about this storied landscape.
But the real beauty can be found while hiking in the Lost Valley on Bidean nam Bian, or from atop the Aonach Eagach playing peek-a-boo with the clouds.
Not for the first time has the sublime drama of this Inner Hebridean island caused a fuss. Try approaching the Quiraing or The Old Man of Storr, two geological riddles on the Trotternish peninsula, without stopping to gawp. Then consider the Fairy Pools, a cascading tier of glacier-clear jacuzzis, or the Black Cuillin Ridge, a leviathan of rock topped-out by the 986m-high splinter of the Inaccessible Pinnacle.
The ever-changing light on the sharp-cliffs and sea lochs matches the unpredictability of the weather, but when that damp blanket is pulled back, you’ll find yourself in a very special place indeed.