This guide highlights the best places to sleep, eat and drink, and, in the remoter areas, whether there's anywhere at all. There is coverage of outdoor activities, and background information on subjects ranging from the Highland Clearances to the wildlife of Orkney and Shetland.
Donald Reid is an Edingurgh resident and has written the Rough Guide to his home town as well as titles to Scotland and South Africa. Rob Humphreys has been writing for Rough Guides since 1989, He is author of Rough Guides to Scotland, London, Prague, Czech & Slovak Republics and St Petersburg.
Where to go Most visitors come to the Highlands and Islands through the gateway of the Central Belt of Scotland, dominated by the major cities of Glasgow in the west and Edinburgh in the east. The majority of routes into the region connect with these centres at some point, or with those strung along the edge of the Highland fault - Stirling, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen. None are far from the Highlands: from Glasgow, for example, you can be by the banks of Loch Lomond in less than thirty minutes.
West of Glasgow, a rich mix of mountains and sea can be found in Argyll, the most southwesterly part of the region. Gathered around the long sea-lochs of the Firth of Clyde and the zigzag coastline from the Mull of Kintyre up to the busy port of Oban, Argyll includes a number of Scotland's most accessible islands, including craggy Arran in the Firth of Clyde, Islay, famous for its peaty single malt whiskies and its huge wintering population of geese, and Mull, with its moody volcanic mountains and intriguing off-lying islands, including the spiritual haven of Iona and the geological wonders of Staffa.
East of Argyll, in the heart of Scotland, are the Central Highlands, stretching from the first rise of hills north of the Highland Fault to the Great Glen. Here, in the nineteenth century, the Trossachs' forested slopes and sparkling lochs inspired some of the world's first mass tourism, while Deeside was made famous by Queen Victoria's attachment to its wild beauty. To the north of the region is the huge Cairngorm massif, which has many of Scotland's highest peaks and the Highland's best-organized array of outdoor activities, plus Speyside, a region synonymous with two icons of Scottish leisure: whisky and salmon-fishing.
Cutting a dramatic southwest-northeast swath through northern Scotland is the Great Glen, a string of lochs interlinked by the Caledonian Canal, with the Highlands' two major towns of Fort William and Inverness at either end. Though of limited appeal in their own right, both are useful bases for exploring the Glen, which includes two of Scotland's best-known (if slightly disappointing) sights: Loch Ness, speculative home of the eponymous monster; and Ben Nevis, the very highest of the Highland peaks. You don't have to look hard to find evidence of the thickly layered history of the region: near Inverness is the battlesite of Culloden, where Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite rebellion ended in 1746; on the shores of Loch Ness is Urquhart Castle, one of the most dramatic ruins in the Highlands; and south of Fort William is the beautiful Glen Coe, poignant scene of an infamous seventeenth-century clan massacre.
The Great Glen sees the largest concentration of visitors to the Highlands and Islands, but many also take in the island of Skye - effortlessly reached by a controversial bridge but also, more romantically, by ferry from Mallaig or Glenelg. A deeply indented coastline, dark sea-lochs and the towering Cullin peaks make for some of the west coast's fiercest scenery, good for touring, walking and mountaineering. Beyond Skye, across a body of water known as the Minch, lie the Outer Hebrides or Western Isles, a string of islands forming a barrier between the mainland and the North Atlantic. The largest and most populated of this Gaelic-speaking archipelago is the dual island of Lewis and Harris, where you'll the prehistoric standing stones at Calanais (Callanish), a sight to rival England's Stonehenge. To the south lies the "Long Island" of the Uists, Benbecula and Barra, fringed by an almost uninterrupted series of golden beaches.
Back on the mainland, the wildest and remotest parts of the country are found in the north and northwest Highlands, which include three very different coastlines and a memorable array of landscapes. Along the west coast, the mountain ranges of Torridon and Assynt are most popular with walkers, while the stunning coastal scenery of Wester Ross and its lively main town, Ullapool, make this one of the Highlands' most celebrated corners. The stormy north coast, from Cape Wrath to John O'Groats, harbours a poignant history of villages forcibly cleared in the nineteenth century, as well as the ecological treasure of the flat, boggy Flow Country. The east coast, from the Black Isle immediately north of Inverness to the town of Wick, is often passed over, but offers a rich heritage, including prehistoric remains and memories of fast-disappearing fishing communities.
From Thurso and John O'Groats, boats leave for the cluster of islands that make up the Orkney Islands. By far the most picturesque town here is the port of Stromness, the main point of arrival for those coming by boat, while the capital, Kirkwall, boasts a magnificent medieval cathedral. Further north, now two hundred miles from Aberdeen, are the Shetland Islands, where the bustling and historic harbour at Lerwick shelters craft from every corner of the North Atlantic. Orkney and Shetland, both with a rich Norse heritage, differ not only from each other but are also quite distinct from other islands and the Highlands in both dialect and culture. Far-flung and weather-buffeted, they offer some of the country's wildest scenery, finest birdwatching and stunning archeological remains.
Most helpful customer reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful.
Proved its usefulness in the field, summer 2002
By Frank Lynch
If we had relied solely on our standby Scotland Blue Guide this August, we would have had a very difficult time. IN retrospect, we could have dispensed with the Blue Guide, and soloed with the Rough Guide. Rough Guide's Highland volume provided us with a basic reality check early on: we would not be able to see as much as we wanted, and would have to make trade offs. Rough Guide made those trade offs far easier. In each geographically based section, they provided a list of the area's key points to hit. (Blue Guide has a hierarchy also, but it's not nearly so easy to tap into.) And while some of Rough Guide's advice on accommodations and restaurants may go out of date, it was nice to have that information (Blue Guide chooses not to cover these aspects).
We knew little or nothing about the Highlands a few weeks ago... Rough Guide helped us have a very good time.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful.
An Updated Guide for the Thinking Traveler
By HMS Warspite
Most travel guides to Scotland consist of lots of photographs taken on the best weather days, bumper sticker location descriptions, a few travel hints, and listings for high-end accomodations. The Rough Guide to Scottish Highlands and Islands aims at a somewhat more demanding audience, those readers who have already decided to visit Scotland and want honest and substantive travel narrative, along with practical details about a range of accomodations and travel possibilities.
This rough guide is densely packed with the kind of information one gets from the locals. It favors maps, graphics, and written description over photographs, although a nice selection is included. The guide provides a narrative oriented along the major travel routes, with enough description to allow travelers to make their own choices about what might be worth visiting and what should be avoided for overcrowding. A useful amount of historical detail is provided about many points of interest without overwhelming the reader. The information about hiking, biking, and other outdoor fun is enough to permit advance planning, while pointing the enthusiast toward additional details once on the ground in Scotland. Discussions about accomodation and dining center on mid-range facilities, and includes some inexpensive hostels and bunkhouses. The information on trains, planes, and automobiles will allow the traveler to figure out his or her own itinerary in Scotland, where the travel infrastructure can be fairly limited.
This book is highly recommended to those planning a vacation in the Scottish Highlands or Islands.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
A Thinking Traveler's Guide to the Highlands...
By HMS Warspite
The Highlands and Islands of Scotland comprise some of the most beautiful mountains, glens, and rugged seascapes in the British Isles. The unique flavor of the iconic Highland culture makes it all the more special for the informed visitor. The 2008 version of "The Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands and Islands" aims at the demanding traveler, someone who has already decided to visit and wants honest and substantive travel narrative and practical details about accomodations and sightseeing.
This Rough Guide is densely packed with the kind of information one gets from the locals. It favors maps, graphics, and written description over bumper sticker descriptions and photographs, although a nice selection is included. The guide provides a narrative oriented along the major travel routes, with enough description to allow travelers to make their own choices about what might be worth visiting and what should be avoided for overcrowding. A useful amount of historical background is presented about many points of interest, without drowning the reader in details. The included information about hiking, biking, and other outdoor fun is sufficient for advance planning, while pointing the enthusiast toward additional resources once on the ground in Scotland. Discussions about accomodations and dining center on mid-range facilities while including some inexpensive hostels and bunkhouses. Information on planes, trains, and rental automobiles will allow the reader to figure out his or her own itinerary across some rugged country, where the travel infrastructure can be fairly limited.
The highlands and islands of Scotland are very highly recommended as a travel destination for those looking to mix stunning landscape with a bit of history and local culture. From the Great Glen to Ben Nevis to the rugged Isle of Skye to the many castles hidden around the landscape, Scotland is worth the trip. "The Rough Guide to Scottish Highlands and Islands" is a terrific resource to get would-be visitors started on their planning.