7 Things to do in Scotland’s Highlands
Scotland is known for many things, Irn Bru, rain; it is also a fantastic place for a wide variety of outdoor pursuits. With a countryside rich in everything from towering mountains to crystal-clear lochs, Scotland’s Highlands boast some of the most impressive scenery in Europe. With a varied national geography running from the lowlands on the English border to the stunning Highlands. Up north you’ll find everything from mountain ranges for snow sports, sweeping lochs from watersports, and no shortage of stunning scenery for trekking through, mountain biking across and generally marvelling at. All of which makes the land of kilts, bagpipes and haggis a must-visit destination for active adventures.
Scotland has all manner of sky-scraping mountains for snow sports. There are five ski centres spread across the country’s central belt: the Nevis Range, Cairngorm Mountain, Glencoe Mountain, The Lecht and the Glenshee Ski Centre. The Nevis Range, seven miles north of the harbour town of Fort William, has wonderful snowboarding conditions at altitudes just shy at 4000ft. Glencoe Mountain to the south was the country’s first sky centre – it opened in 1956 – and has 19 runs.
At the Glenshee Centre, you’ll find one of the most challenging black runs in the country. This is the largest ski centre in the UK, with a grand total of 36 runs. The Lecht, to the east, is the smallest of the Scottish skiing centres, but with 18 runs is still a good snowsports destination. Ski-perfect conditions can last from the autumn all the way through to the winter, with some of the most outstanding scenery to boot. So, grab those skis and discover Scotland’s too-well-kept secret.
Try the Nevis Range – with the highest mountain in the UK towering above you, and with skill-testing red and black runs and an array of runs for the less talented in the Snowgoose bowl, it’s a great option for everyone. Also, don’t think that just because you’re not in the Alps you can’t get hurt – there are some very tricky runs here. So, tread or ski carefully.
Known for its lochs and miles of coastline, Scotland has not shortage of watersports options. There’s sea kayaking, diving, white water rafting and even surfing. For the hardy, there’s also loch swimming, although even in the midst of the summer months, you best brace for a cold shock! The numerous glacially forged lochs provide ample routes for exploratory kayaking, and the Atlantic coast’s a haven of islands and inlets ripe for investigation. Sunken Second World War ships and submarines make Scotland a treasure trove for wreck divers, and the swell from out west makes it a surprise surf site, too.
Try Lochaber Yachting and Watersports on the banks of loch Leven. However, remember if the weather looks unsuitable for on-the-water activities, wait it out for a bit before giving up. The climate is incredibly changeable in these parts.
In the winter months, the peaks and faces of the mountainous ranges provide plenty of challenging ascents for climbers. For those keen on some ‘out of season’ ice climbing, there is the UK’s premier mountain activity centre, home to the world’s biggest indoor ice climbing arena. It also houses the UK’s highest articulated overhanging rock climbing wall and is a perfect venue for beginners through to pros seeking to hone their skills.
Try Ice factor, Kinlochleven, and don’t underestimate how much your arms will ache! Furious climbing takes its toll.
With beautiful coastlines, stunning lochs and glens, lakes, rivers, brooks, beaches, seaside towns, remote villages, and all kinds of hidden away nooks and crannies, taking off on foot is perhaps the best way to explore the country and its countryside for yourself. You can take your time, make your own route and there are treks available for all experiences, tastes and ambitions. For a gentle waterside perambulation, try Loch Lomond, or for a steeper, Munro-scalping challenge look no further than the Nevis Range. Try Sandwood Bay, Sutherland. The beautiful, secluded beach is a thing of wonder. Don’t forget to take our waterproofs, otherwise you won’t get far without them.
The land of Robert Burns is home to a wealth of wildlife: rose deer, bottlenose dolphins, majestic eagles, the elusive red squirrel, wildcats and, of course, the iconic Highland cattle. Marine life such as seals, killer whales and basking sharks can be spotted off the western coastline of Argyll and the Isles, with plenty of excursions to see the beasts in their habitat. There’s more than 370 bird species on the Outer Hebrides for amateur ornithologists. Ancient woodland and island habitats offer the chance to see nature in all its breath-taking beauty, and there are nature trails and feeding stations, too.
Try the Cairngorms National Park, Britain’s largest national park at a 4528qkm – twice the size of the Lake District, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. It has five of Scotland’s highest mountains, an arctic wilderness, and its forests have remnants of the original Caledonian pine forests that once covered Scotland.
Scotland has a relaxed attitude towards campers – pitching your tent where ever you want is perfectly legal, so pick your favourite spot in the painterly surrounds. Then you can just kick back, get some grub warming on the stove and sup on a single malt while the sun goes down. In the longer summer months, due to the northerly latitude, the sun can be out late into the evening.
Try Loch Etive, in the borough of Argyll and Bute. Marching through the glen down to the lower loch, you can marvel at the impressiveness of the wilds and truly feel you’ve escaped from it all. Remember to carry a trowel for convenience and courtesy – it makes sense! Also, be sure to respect the environment and take rubbish away with you.
The tradition of the Highland Games goes back to the times of warring clans in the medieval times when the biggest, boldest and most surly from each clan would compete to show off their strength and skills. Just think of the scene in Braveheart in which Gibbo faces off against his old chum in a stone throwing contest.
It is moreover a celebration of Scottish and Celtic culture, with poetry, theatre and music alongside the heavyweight athletics entertaining crowds. You’ll find plenty of locals enjoying the spectacle as well as out-of-town visitors.
The modern-day Highland Games dates back to the Victorian era and most take place during the summer months. Muscled men compete in events such as tug-o-war, the Scottish hammer throw, the stone put, and the iconic caber toss, but this isn’t just about feats of brawn over brain.
Just as important to the spirit of the games is music, particularly pipe bands, with the World Highland Dancing Championship held every year to celebrate this. The Ceres Highland Games, in Aberdeenshire, is the oldest free games in Scotland, and the Cowal games in Dunoon is the largest of all