Famed for its magnificent landscapes and wild beauty, the Scottish Highlands is a region steeped in legend and tradition. With ruined castles, ancient sites, mountains, lochs and glens seemingly at every turn, their splendour only enhanced by their links to a history filled with stories of proud defiance, betrayal and bloodshed.
I finally got to experience the Highlands in person when I decided to trace one of its most famous routes, the Great Glen Way. A trail that follows a geological fault line from Inverness to Fort William, the Glen has always been an important communication route. In 1822, the Caledonian Canal was built, connecting the four lochs along the route and creating the cross-country waterway we see today.
My journey began in Inverness right on the Firth of Moray on what would be a whistle-stop tour. Here are just a few of my favourite stops along the way.
Cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands, the city of Inverness sits on Scotland’s northeast coast, where the River Ness meets the Firth of Moray. It’s the Highlands’ largest city, rich in history and boasts iconic castles, majestic mountains, prehistoric sites and breath-taking scenery.
Take a walk up to Inverness Castle which overlooks the city from above the River Ness, today’s 19th-century castle of red sandstone sits where the original 11th-century stronghold of Malcolm III was established. Or you can visit the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery just a short walk away. Although the Highlands’ main city, Inverness has a small-town feel and is a great jump-off point for visiting the rest of the Highlands.
Just six miles east of Inverness and a mile from the famous site of the Battle of Culloden is an ancient burial ground that dates back to the Bronze Age. This well-preserved prehistoric site boasts a number of impressive standing stones and cairns.
On the shortest day of the year, sunlight floods up the passageway to light up the chamber. Although the original burials have long since faded away these cairns and stones live on.
Arguably the world’s most famous loch, Loch Ness is a large, deep, freshwater loch located just 23 miles southwest of Inverness. It is, of course, best known as home to the mythical Loch Ness Monster (affectionately called Nessie) which was allegedly first sighted in 1933. It boasts some stunning views too.
The lore of Nessie has spawned international search expeditions and dedicated Nessie-hunter Steve Feltham is still going strong. Sightings of the monster continue to this day.
Located at the most southerly end of Loch Ness, the village of Fort Augustus is full of history and a popular tourist destination. The Gaelic name for the modern village is Cille Chuimein but it was renamed Fort Augustus after the Jacobite Rising of 1715.
Today, the village and its surrounding countryside is a paradise for nature lovers, walkers and cyclists alike. It provides wonderful views of Loch Ness too. You won’t regret spending 50 minutes on a scenic cruise up and down the Loch.
The highest point of the Caledonian Canal, Loch Oich is a narrow, freshwater loch about twenty miles southwest of Loch Ness. Home to a variety of wildlife, it’s one of the spawning nests used by Atlantic salmon every Autumn. You can fish, kayak or paddleboard the summers away here but it felt more misty and mysterious the day I visited.
As the only sea loch along the Great Glen, Loch Linnhe is a favourite of photographers because of the wonderful scenery and fantastic sunsets. The loch boasts a wide range of wildlife including seals, porpoises, dolphins and even eagles. It’s a firm favourite of nature and wildlife lovers.
Perhaps Scotland’s most loved and scenic glen, Glencoe is also the site of one of the most shameful events in Scottish history. On February 13, 1692, about forty members of Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed by members of Clan Campbell (acting as Scottish government forces) allegedly for failing to pledge allegiance to the new monarch William III by a January 1st deadline. This after enjoying the Clan MacDonald’s hospitality for ten days. The distrust and enmity between the two clans would endure for hundreds of years after.
The glen is named after the river glen which meanders through it and is was one of the most hauntingly beautiful, peaceful and awe-inspiring places I’ve visited.
The Three Sisters (Aonach Dubh, Beinn Fhada and Gearr Aonach)
Glencoe was hands-down the highlight of my trip to the Highlands and no surprise that it was voted Scotland’s most romantic glen.
What are you waiting for? The Highlands are calling
That rounds up my brief visit to the Highlands, an exhilarating yet calming excursion. Since the first tourists visited Scotland back in the 19th century it’s easy to see why the Highlands continue to draw visitors in the millions year after year. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re looking for awe-inspiring vistas, adventure, romance, history or simply a bit of solitude. History unfurls with every step you take through mountain passes and across deserted glens and tranquil lochs. If it’s not yet on it the Highlands is a worthy addition to your bucket list.