Most Scottish travel dreams are set in the Highlands, the rugged and remote northern fringe of Great Britain. The Highlands are the most mountainous, least inhabited, and most scenic and romantic part of Scotland. In the Highlands, grizzled islanders man drizzly ferry crossings, intrepid Munro baggers scale bald mountains, and mini-mosquitoes called midges make life miserable (bring bug spray). Here are a few of my favorite pictures of the Scottish heartland.
I’ve driven thousands of miles across Scotland… and the valley called Glencoe may just have my favorite Scottish scenery anywhere. It’s famous as the site of the Glencoe Massacre, when British Redcoats rose from their beds and murdered their Clan MacDonald hosts, violating the rules of Highland hospitality. It’s fitting that this achingly beautiful place — where countless waterfalls inspired the nickname “the Weeping Glen” — would host one of the most tragic stories in Scotland’s very tragic history. Today the valley is justifiably popular with hikers. I attempted a hike myself, but the saturated turf stymied my plans. With each step, my foot disappeared into a brown puddle. The summer of 2015 has not been ideal for Highland hikes.
At the excellent Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay — which Rick wrote about after his visit there — I enjoyed touring the reconstructed stilt house and learning about Stone Age tools. I watched in awe as our guide created fire out of nothing but wood, string, and stone.
The Highlands are littered with castles. Inveraray Castle, between Loch Lomond and the west coast, was one of my favorites. The outside is a turreted masterpiece. And inside, its grand public spaces have a lived-in coziness. Here in the main atrium, swords and rifles are artfully splayed into starbursts. Public television fans may recognize Inveraray as “Duneagle Castle” (a.k.a. Uncle Shrimpy’s pad) from one of the Downton Abbey Christmas specials. (Big photos of the Grantham and MacClare clans decorate the genteel rooms.)
When I’m in the Highlands, I can’t get enough of the adorable “Hairy Coos.” These shaggy Highland cattle have hair falling in their eyes, protecting them from troublesome insects and unpredictable weather. Hairy coos graze on sparse vegetation that other animals ignore, and, with a heavy coat (rather than fat) to keep them insulated, produce a lean meat that resembles venison. Highland cattle meat is not commonly eaten, so they’re basically kept for patriotic reasons…like gigantic mascots.
You probably know the Glenfinnan Viaduct from the Harry Potter movies — it’s where the Hogwarts Express made its journey to a remote school of witchcraft and wizardry. But patriotic Scots also know it as the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie began his Jacobite uprising. To reclaim the thrones of England and Scotland, the fresh-faced, 24-year-old prince would need the support of the Highlanders. And here at Glenfinnan, he held his breath at the moment of truth: Would the Highland clans come to his aid? As Prince Charles waited, gradually he began to hear the drone of bagpipes filtering through the forest. And then, the clan chiefs appeared: MacDonalds. Camerons. MacDonnells. McPhees. They had been holding back — watching and waiting, to make sure they weren’t the only ones. And before long, the prince felt confident that he’d reached a clan quorum. And so, here at Glenfinnan, on August 19, 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the royal standard — officially kicking off the armed Jacobite uprising that came to be known as “The ’45.” (Sadly, Glenfinnan is also the place Bonnie Prince Charlie retreated to eight months later, after his campaign failed in the crushing defeat at Culloden.)