The view from part way up Ben Nevis mountain in the Highlands, Scotland highest peak. On the right Fort William town is just visible. Photo by Nilfanion.
• 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 in Scotland
You lookin’ at me Jimmie? Famously sturdy and stand-their-ground Scottish Highland cattle are a common sight. Photo by Mike Peel.
***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.
***Edinburgh, a dramatic city with the world reputation for its cutting-edge arts scene. See Edinburgh City Guide.
Edinburgh view from Calton Hill. Photo by duimdog.
**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.
Things to do in Scotland
**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.
Walking and Hiking: Especially try to travel the Duke’s Pass between Callander and Aberfoyle in the Trossachs, The West Highland Way (95 miles from Glasgow to Fort Williams via Loch Lomond and Glen Coe) and the Great Glen Way.
Climbing: Mt. Ben Nevis (1, 344m), Britain’s highest peak, and mountains more peaks and cliffs.
Bird-watching: Orkney Isles, Shetland Isles.
Fishing: The Borders, Deeside and masses of private rivers or public seas.
Biking: Heaps of spectacular small, quiet roads in the Highlands, the Borders, the Trossachs (especially from Callander to Balquhidder), and more. . .
Skiing: Aviemore, UK’s biggest skiing centre has some good runs if global warming doesn’t kill off the snow.
Golfing: From the wonderful, mad old Edinburgh city centre Brunswick Links to St Andrews, there are more than 400 golf courses in Scotland
Nightlife & Entertainment: Edinburgh or Glasgow are very lively, if not crazed, otherwise forget it.
St Abbs town in the Scottish Borders region. Photo by Nachosan.
**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.
**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.
Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland. Really? As in done robbin’? Photo by Jack Spellingbacon.
Accommodation in Scotland
The more affluent or romantic visitors should certainly stay at least a couple of nights in a Scottish castle, many have been beautifully converted and are fascinating places to stay. The smaller castles in Scotland (i. e. not Floors castle! ) are often privately owned Bed and Breakfast places with the owners doing the grunt work such as serving drinks, so the experience can be quite sociable though hardly cheap.
Naturally there is a range of hotels, hostels and self-catering accommodation available but somehow bed and breakfast in Scotland is ubiquitous, ranging from superbly converted Georgian mansions to modest farm houses (in addition to castles), with prices to match.
Main Scotland festivals
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.
A few Scottish facts
A Loch Lomond stream. Photo by Remi Mathis. Paradise spot for a bit of romance you’re thinking? Hah! Won’t be long till the swarms of midges find you!
This raw and beautiful country occupies the northern third of Great Britain and offers the tourist some great holiday attractions, ranging from the sophisticated and lively cultures of Glasgow (the largest city) and Edinburgh (the Scottish capital and home of the wild and world famous Edinburgh Festival), to fabulous historic golf courses (such as St Andrews where the laws of the game were ordained), stunning castles in picturesque settings (travellers can stay in some of them), a few neolithic sites (especially on the Orkney Islands), staggeringly beautiful, empty roads for driving or biking tours (particularly in the Highlands) but most of all Scotland tourism offers some of the world’s most spectacular hiking routes, over rolling green hills and past monstrous lochs (lakes) with only occasional ruined castles or isolated cottages to remind the walker of humanity. Smaller castles in Scotland often serve as delightful if pricey b&bs.
On the positive side the country is cheap, cheerful, lush and curvy, unspoilt and has vastly long daylight hours in the summer; on the negative side the climate has a tendency towards cool, wet and changeable while walkers pausing beside some awesome loch may not enjoy the attentions of the notorious Scottish midges (tiny biting, swarming creatures).
Note that Scotland is quite northerly so daylight in wintertime is in very short supply, so save the walking tours for summertime!