09 Feb Central & Western Highlands
From the high, subarctic plateau of the Cairngorms and the great, humpbacked hills of Monadhliath to the more rugged, rocky peaks of Glen Coe, the Mamores and Ben Nevis, the central mountain ranges of the Scottish Highlands are testimony to the sculpting power of ice and weather. Here the Scottish scenery is at its grandest, with soaring hills of rock and heather bounded by rugged glens, rushing waterfalls and stands of Scots pine, remnants of the Caledonian forest that once covered the whole country.
Not surprisingly this part of the country is an adventure playground for outdoor sports enthusiasts. Aviemore, Glen Coe and Fort William draw hordes of hill walkers and rock climbers in summer and skiers snowboarders and ice climbers in winter. There are purpose-built mountain biking trails at Nevis Range and Laggan (near Newtonmore), the world’s biggest indoor ice-climbing wall at Krnlochleven, and three of Scotland s five ski resorts at Range, Cairngorm and Glen Coe.
Inverness, the Highland capital provides a spot of urban rest and relaxation before you strike south through the forests and lochs of the Great Glen, stopping perhaps check Loch Ness for monsterish disturbances. The glens to the northwest of Loch Ness – Strathfarrar, Strathglass and Glen Affric – are among the most beautiful in the country offer a wealth of scenic low-level hiking.
From Fort William the base camp for climbing Ben Nevis the aptly named Road to the Isles skirts one of Europe’s last great wilderness areas before reaching the gorgeous beaches of Arisaig and Morar and the ferry port of Mallaig, jumping-off point for exploring the isles of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna.
Inverness & The Great Glen
Inverness, one of the fastest growing towns in Britain, is the capital of the Highlands. It’s a transport hub and jumping-off point for the central, western and northern Highlands, the Moray Firth coast and the Great Glen.
The Great Glen is a geological fault running in an arrow-straight line across Scotland from Fort William to Inverness. The glaciers of the last ice age eroded a deep trough along the fault line that is now filled by a series of lochs – Linnhe, Lochy, Oich and Ness. The glen has always been an important communication route – General George Wade built a military road along the southern side of Loch Ness in the early 18th century, and in 1822 the various lochs were linked by the Caledonian Canal to create a cross-country waterway. The modern road along the glen was completed in 1933 – a date that coincides neatly with the first modern sightings of the Loch Ness Monster.
Inverness, the primary city and shopping centre of the Highlands, has a great location astride the River Ness at the northern end of the Great Glen. In summer visitors flock, intent on monster hunting at nearby Loch Ness, but it’s worth a visit in its own right for a stroll along the picturesque River Ness and a cruise on the Moray Firth in search of its famous bottlenose dolphins. The city was probably founded by King David in the 12th century, but thanks to its often violent history few buildings of real age or historical significance have survived – much of the older part of the city dates from the period following the completion of the Caledonian Canal in 1822.
Things To Do
The hill above the city centre is topped by the picturesque Baronial turrets of Inverness Castle, a pink-sandstone confection dating from 1847 that replaced a medieval castle blown up by the Jacobites in 1746; it serves today as the Sheriff’s Court. Between the castle and the tourist office is Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, with wildlife dioramas, geological displays, period rooms with historic weapons, Pictish stones and an art gallery. But save the museum for a rainy day – the main attraction in Inverness is a leisurely stroll along the river to the Ness Islands. Planted with mature Scots pine, fir, beech and sycamore, and linked to the river banks and each other by elegant Victorian footbridges, the islands make an appealing picnic spot. They’re a 20-minute walk south of the castle – head upstream on either side of the river (the start of the Great Glen Way), and return on the opposite bank. On the way you’ll pass the red-sandstone towers of St Andrew’s Cathedral, dating from 1869, and the modern Eden Court Theatre, which hosts regular art exhibits, both on the west bank.
The Battle of Culloden in 1746, the last pitched battle ever fought on British soil, saw the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the end of the Jacobite dream when 1200 Highlanders were slaughtered by government forces in a 68-minute rout. The duke of Cumberland, son of the reigning king George II and leader of the Hanoverian army, earned the nickname ‘Butcher’ for his brutal treatment of the defeated Scottish forces. The battle sounded the death knell for the old clan system, and the horrors of the Clearances soon followed. The sombre moor where the conflict took place has scarcely changed in the ensuing 260 years.
The headland guarding the narrows in the Moray Firth opposite Fortrose is occupied by the magnificent and virtually unaltered 18th century artillery fortification of Fort. One of the finest examples of its kind in Europe, it was established in 1748 as a base for George II’s army of occupation in the Highlands – by the time of its completion in 1769 it had cost the equivalent of around £1 billion in today’s money. The mile-plus walk around the ramparts offers fine views out to sea and back to the Great Glen. Given its size, you’ll need at least two hours to do the place justice.
Central & Western Highlands are a real must see attraction on your tours of Scotland.