1. The West Highland Railway
The West Highland Line is one of the most exciting and dramatic railway journeys in the world. The southern part of the line travels from Glasgow along the Clyde estuary, and traverses desolate Rannoch Moor. The second leg of the journey, form Fort William to Mallaig, is even more spectacular, crossing the magnificent 21-arch viaduct at Glenfinnan. Reaching the coast there are unforgettable views of the Small Isles and Skye as the train runs past the famous silver sands of Morar and up to Mallaig.
2. Glen Coe and Visitor Centre
Glen Coe is breathtakingly beautiful and the best known of the Highland glens, a spectacular mountain valley lying between velvety-green conical peaks, their tops often wreathed in cloud, their flanks streaked by cascades of rock and scree. A mile south of the village, the NTS visitor centre is an interesting eco-friendly building. Informative ranger-led guided walks leave from the centre, while a cabin area provides information on the local weather and wildlife, and a cafe sells good cakes.
3. Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
At 23 miles long, a mile wide and estimated at up to 1000 feet deep (deeper than the North Sea) the scale of the loch is huge. Surrounded by heather clad mountains, even in summer the waters can appear dark and lifeless. Loch Ness is of course famous for “Nessie” the Loch Ness Monster. The first mention of this creature was in a 7th century biography of St Columba who allegedly claimed that an aquatic animal had attacked one of his monks.
4. Wester Ross
Wester Ross contains all the classic elements of Scotland’s coastal scenery – dramatic mountains, sandy beaches, whitewashed crofting cottages and shimmering island views, all come together in spectacular fashion. Although popular with holidaymakers, places such as Applecross and the peninsulas north and south of Gairloch still maintain an endearing simplicity and sense of isolation. The main settlement is the fishing town of Ullapool, a pleasant place to use as a base.
5. The Knoydart Peninsula
The Knoydart peninsula is regarded by many as mainland Britain’s most dramatic and unspoilt wilderness area. Flanked by Loch Nevis in the south, and Loch Hourn to the north, Knoydart’s knobbly green peaks sweep straight out to sea, shrouded for much of the time in a pall of grey mist. Knoydart supports around 70 people, most of whom live in the hamlet of Inverie, with mainland Britain’s most remote pub, the Forge, serving real ales and generous bar meals featuring freshly caught seafood.
6. Cape Wrath
Pounded by one of the world’s most ferocious seaways, spectacular Cape Wrath is mainland Britain’s most northwesterly promontory, topped off with a lighthouse and retaining an end-of-the-world mystique that has been largely lost at John O’Groats. Take a day return trip starting at Keoldale. A foot passenger ferry operates from here and crosses the spectacular Kyle of Durness estuary. At the other side of the estuary you board a minibus that takes you the remaining 11 miles to Cape Wrath.
Inverness is the only city in the Highland region, and although relatively small with a population of around 100 000, is a busy and prosperous hub. It’s a good base from which to explore the lure of the nearby sea and mountains, and has some interesting attractions of its own, including Inverness Castle, a Museum and Art Gallery, Kiltmaker Centre, theatre and nearby Fort George – an 18th century fort re-creating the life of the ordinary Scottish soldier over 200 years ago.
8. Moray Firth Dolphin Dolphin Watching Trips
Take a dolphin spotting boat trip in the Moray Firth from Inverness, and see these fascinating wild animals in their natural habitat. This great wedge shaped bay forms the eastern coastline of the Highlands, and is one of only three areas of UK waters that supports a resident population of dolphins. Over a hundred of these beautiful, intelligent marine mammals live in the estuary, the most northerly breeding ground for this particular species (the bottle-nosed dolphin) in Europe.
9. Glen Nevis and Visitor Centre
Glen Nevis is among the Highland’s most impressive glens, a classic U shaped glacial valley hemmed in by steep bracken covered slopes and swaths of blue-grey scree. Herds of shaggy Highland cattle graze the valley floor, where a sparkling river gushes through glades of trees. A great low-level walk runs along a good but rocky path through a dramatic gorge with impressive falls and rapids, then opens out into a secret hanging valley, carpeted with wild flowers, with a high waterfall at the far end.
10. The Cairngorms
The huge, mountainous and sparsely inhabited region of Scotland known as the Cairngorms, rises to 4,296 ft above sea level and is the highest landmass in Britain. Sub-arctic conditions support snow hares and reindeer, with golden eagles and ospreys inhabiting crags and pine forests.In summer, walking, camping, watersports and mountain biking are the main outdoor activities. In winter, you can visit one of the skiing and snowboarding resorts in the area, Aviemore or the Cairngorm Ski Area.