Three Stunning Places to Visit on the West Coast of Scotland
What Makes Scotland Unique?
Scotland is a land of mists and mountains, of ancient rocks, deep, dark lochs and ever present history. For many a journey to Scotland is rather like a pilgrimage, a journey to find their family roots, for Scotland's greatest export is not its whisky, it's the Scots themselves.
The country is small on any world scale, but Scotland is a country which has made its mark on world history in many ways. Fiercely independent, the Scots made a Union with their old enemies, the English, in 1707, but the treaty guaranteed them a separate system of Law and Education. Scotland is proud of her mixed legal tradition and roman law heritage. This is a country where 15 people, not 12 decide the fate of the accused in a criminal trial, and where three verdicts are possible, guilty, not guilty, and not proven.
When it comes to education, Scotland has a long and proud history. Many unviersities were founded in the 15th century, and while England might boast about the history of Oxford and Cambridge, these remained the only universities in the country, while Scoltand had Edinburgh, Glasgow (founded in 1451) , St Andrews (found in 1413) and no less than two universities in Aberdeen. Most of these number within the world's top 100 universities, and perhaps most remarkably of all, tuition is free. Education has long been regarded as a priority in Scotland.
Fort William is an excellent base for touring the West Highlands
Wild, stunning, dark and mysterious
Site of the famous massacre
Best Places to Visit in Scotland
There's no need to study the law or the educational system in Scotland in order to appreciate the country. The beautiful, varied scenery speaks for itself.
If you love gentle rolling hills and beautiful foliage, visit the border lands in autumn and learn about the feuds between rival clans and frequent cross border clashes. Visit the home of Sir Walter Scot, the ruins of Melrose Abbey and sample the delights of Scottish weaving at one of the many lowland wollen mills.
If you enjoy skiing, visit the Grampians in winter time and ski around Aviemore, and if you love Scotlands national game of Golf, the courses are world class. Visit St Andrews and Carnoustie.
If, like me, you love the wild, legendary side of Scotland, you need to venture further North than the major towns and set your sites on the West Highlands. Make the town of Fort William your base and enjoy the view of the UK highest mountain, Ben Nevis. In sunshine it seems stunningly unimpressive, but the volatile west coast weather can close in fast. Many climbers have started out in sunshine only to get lost in cloud, lose the footing, and many have fallen to their deaths on this seemingly harmless mountain.
Fort William is an excellent base for anyone who wants to explore the West Highlands. There are many good hotels and guest houses, though we like to stay at the Inverlochy Castle hotel where the food is excellent and the service friendly. On our various travels we've found that some hotels don't seem to cater well to children, but here we were treated very well indeed.
Fort William is at the southern end of the Great Glen, the fault line which divides Scotland. You can follow the route of the fault travelling along the Glen you go from Loch Linnhe (which is open to the sea), Loch Oich, Loch Lochy to the famous Loch Ness, from which the river Ness flows into the Moray first and the North Sea.
At the foot of Loch Ness you'll find another fort, Fort Augustus, and near Inverness, Fort George. The line of forts was used to subdue the Scots following the Jacobite uprisings in 1715 and 1745.
Your first day trip from Fort William is the journey along the Great Glen to Inverness. At Fort Augustus choose to follow the lesser known road along the southern edge of the Loch for some less well known scenery, the journey back along the North shore where you'll see more of the loch and beautiful Urquhart Castle. Before you dismiss takes of the monster, consider that the loch is more than 750 feet deep, cold and very dark. Who knows what may lie at the bottom?
Over the Sea to Skye
Everyone knows the famous song 'speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing, over the sea to Skye' but the truth is, you don't need a boat to get there these days. The trip to Skye from Fort William is long one, but well worth the journey. It's not just that the island is worth a visit, it's what you pass on the way.
The most photographed castle in Scotland has an almost perfect scenic location.
A history of clan MCleod
The Road to Skye
Along the way to the Skye Bridge you'll pass some of Scotland's msot beautiful sea lochs and one of the most photographed locations in the world, Eilean Donan Castle.
Memorably featured in 'Highlander' the castle is surrounded by water on three sides. originally built in the 13th century, what you see now is mostly 20th century reconstruction, but the spirit is there, and the castle, seat of Clan McRae, won't disappoint. The staircase is one of only two left handed spirals in the UK.
The castle has an important strategic position and played a part in many would be invasions. It was eventually destroyed by the English in 1719 and remained a ruin for almost 200 years until is was bought and restored, reopening in 1932.
When you reach the island of Skye, there's plenty to see, the scenery on the road to Portree is simply stunning, and the Castle of Dunvegan, home to the McLeods and their legendary fairy flag, is well worth a visit.
Returing by the same road to Fort William is no hardship, there is always something you didn't see on the way north!
A much shorter drive from Fort William will take you to Glen Coe, often described as 'the Weeping Glen'. This desolate area was the scene of one of the more shameful events in British history, where a troop of 120 soldiers stayed in the Glen as guests of Clan McDonald, then turned and murdered their unsuspecting hosts. 38 men died and 40 women and children died of exposure following the destruction of their homes. At least two of the soldiers refused to carry out their orders and went so far as to break their swords.
The narrow glen is the remains of supervolcano which errupted over 420 million years ago. The valley was created by glaciers during the ice age.