Is­land-hopping

Top ex­pe­ri­ences

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Much of the unique char­ac­ter of western and north­ern Scot­land is down to the ex­pan­sive vis­tas of sea and is­lands – there are more than 700 is­lands off Scot­land’s coast, of which al­most 100 are in­hab­ited. Ferry ser­vices link these is­lands to the main­land and each other, and buy­ing a Cal­mac Is­land Rover ticket (un­lim­ited travel on Cal­mac fer­ries for 15 days; cal­mac.co.uk) pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing way to ex­plore. It’s pos­si­ble to hop all the way from Ar­ran or Bute to the Outer He­brides, touch­ing the main­land only at Kin­tyre and Oban. In a coun­try fa­mous for its stun­ning scenery, the Cuillin Hills take top prize. This range of craggy peaks in­spired the 19th-cen­tury po­ets and painters of the Ro­man­tic move­ment and pro­vided the ul­ti­mate train­ing ground for Bri­tish alpin­ists. Its rocky sum­mits are out of bounds to all ex­cept ex­pe­ri­enced walk­ers. There are easy trails through the glens and into the cor­ries, where hik­ers can soak up the views and share the land­scape with red deer and golden ea­gles. Whether you’re look­ing for grim, des­o­late stone fortresses loom­ing in the mist; no­ble royal cas­tles tow­er­ing over his­toric towns; or lux­u­ri­ous palaces built in ex­pan­sive grounds by lairds more con­cerned with sta­tus and show than with mil­i­tary might – the High­lands sport the full range of cas­tles, re­flect­ing the re­gion’s tur­bu­lent his­tory. Most cas­tles have a story or 10 to tell of plots, in­trigues, im­pris­on­ments and treach­ery and a wor­ry­ingly high per­cent­age have a phan­tom ru­moured to stalk their para­pets. For that per­fect pic­ture, none can beat Eilean Do­nan Cas­tle (eile­an­do­nan­cas­tle.com; adult/child £5.50/£4.50 or $A8.20/$A6.70; hours: 9.30am-6pm mid-march to mid-nov).

Glen­coe

Scot­land’s most fa­mous glen com­bines those two es­sen­tial qual­i­ties of the High­land land­scape – dra­matic scenery and deep his­tory. The peace­ful­ness and beauty of this val­ley to­day be­lie the fact that it was the scene of a 17th-cen­tury mas­sacre that saw the lo­cal Mac­don­alds mur­dered by soldiers of the Camp­bell clan. Some of the glen’s finest walks, for ex­am­ple to the Lost Val­ley, fol­low the routes used by clans­men and women try­ing to flee their at­tack­ers, routes where many per­ished in the snow.

Stand­ing stones

Few sights con­jure up the mys­tery and ro­mance of the High­lands and Is­lands like the pre­his­toric mon­u­ments that punc­tu­ate the land­scape from Orkney to the Western Isles. The 5000-yearold Cal­lan­ish stones on the Isle of Lewis – con­tem­po­raries of the pyra­mids of Egypt – are the ar­che­typal stone cir­cle, with beau­ti­fully weath­ered slabs of banded gneiss ar­ranged as if in wor­ship around a cen­tral mono­lith. To ex­pe­ri­ence the stones at dawn, be­fore the crowds ar­rive, is to step back in time and sense some­thing deep and truly an­cient. This is an edited ex­tract from Lonely Planet

(2nd Edi­tion) by Neil Wilson Lonely Planet 2012. RRP: $34.99. lone­ly­planet.com

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