You lookin’ at me Jimmie? Famously sturdy and stand-their-ground Scottish Highland cattle are a common sight. Photo by Mike Peel.
• Unpredictable weather, often wet or cold or both.
• Limited local cuisine.
• Voracious squadrons of midges (like small mosquitoes but less easy to swat) in the summer in the countryside, especially near fresh water.
• Scotland has very short daylight hours in the winter.
• The Scottish accent can be tricky for foreigners to understand. And that includes English people.
Best: May-September, especially August for the Edinburgh Festival.
Worst: January-March (wet, cold, grey, and very, very short of daylight). Many small museums close November-March.
Edinburgh has an accommodation problem around Hogmanay (Dec 29-Jan 2) and during the Festival (August), so book rooms well in advance.
Things to see and do in Scotland
***Edinburgh, a dramatic city with the world reputation for its cutting-edge arts scene. See Edinburgh City Guide.
Edinburgh panorama including Holyrood Palace (Scottish Parliament) and Calton Hill. Photo by Saffron Blaze.
***The Scottish Highlands, another set of splendid landscapes, wilder and more dramatic than the Lake District, covering two-thirds of Scotland, with mountains, glens (valleys) and lochs (lakes). Ideal for hiking and driving – apart from attacks by biting midges when near water, which is almost always.
The highlights are the Great Glen, across from *Inverness to Fort William (both are obvious bases for the Highlands), Nessie-spotting at *Loch Ness, climbing **Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, and walking around ***Glen Coe – it’s astonishingly beautiful and comes with a tragic history.
*** The Hebrides islands are a pain to get to but wonderfully scenic and lacking in crowds, cars and new millennium stress. This is the place for solitude, splendour and superb beaches.
The view from part way up Ben Nevis mountain in the Highlands, Scotland’s highest peak. On the right Fort William town is just visible. Photo by Nilfanion.
**Glasgow, a big industry city with a bad reputation, but actually one of the most cultured and lively urban spaces in the UK. There’s some remarkable architecture by C. R. Mackintosh and brilliant museums and galleries – especially the Burrell Collection of art and antiquities.
One of Glasgow’s spectacular new structures, the Science Centre. Photo by Florian Fuchs.
**Achmelvich is a popular summer activity centre – especially windsurfing, coasteering, caving, climbing and hiking – 40 miles (64 km) north of Ullapool even though visitors have to get there via a tiresome single lane road off the B869 coast road. Adjacent are camping and caravan sites.
Wildlife also enjoy the area with plentiful numbers of whales, seals, basking sharks, otters, pine martens, ospreys and white-tailed eagles regularly spotted.
The Bay of Alchmelvich in the Highlands on Scotland’s west coast. Photo by Raikage.
**St Andrews, a university town with the famous old golf course – the Royal & Ancient Golf Club – that is a mecca for golfers.
***The Borders, a tranquil pastoral area with delightful towns such as **Melrose, Kelso and Peebles. The highlights are Abbotsford House (Sir Walter Scott’s house), Floors Castle (the Scotland’s biggest inhabited castle), Traquair House (the oldest inhabited house). Ideal for walking, cycling, and driving.
**Stirling, a compact and historic town with an imposing castle, is a perfect base for outdoor activities in the Trossachs lowland countryside – ‘ Rob Roy country’.
Royal & Ancient Golf Clubhouse on the Old Course, with Swilcan Burn bridge. Photo by Optograph.
Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland. Really? As in done robbin’? Photo by Jack Spellingbacon.
**Famous Castles: Eilean Donan near Kyle of Lochalsh, Floors in Kelso on the The Borders, Urquhart by Loch Ness, Cawdor (Macbeth) near Inverness.
Try to stay in a castle-become-hotel if you can afford it. e. g. Leslie Castle, Insch, Aberdeenshire or Borthwick Castle, North Middleton, Midlothian.
*The Orkneys and Shetlands islands are a flight away further north, good for viewing seabirds such as gannets and puffins and a couple of prehistoric sites. If lucky you could see the Northern Lights from there.
The Military Tottoo during the Edinburgh Festival in August.
Dec 31-Jan 2, Hogmanay, a truly wild New Year’s celebration.
Last Tuesday of January, Up-Helly-Aa (Viking fire festival) in Lerwick, Shetland.
End of January, Burns Night (celebration for Scotland’s greatest poet with special dinner)
May, Mayfest, the UK’s 2nd largest arts festival in Glasgow.
May- August, Highland Games, traditional sport, folk music and dance, nationwide.
Most of August, Edinburgh International Festival, and the more wacky Fringe Festival, certainly the UK’s and maybe the world’s best arts festival. See Edinburgh Festival Pictures.
Early September, Braemar Royal Highland Gathering/Games.