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  • Merrilee MacLean

Off the Beaten Path in Scotland - the Highlands in Photos

The Highlands of Scotland, near the Glenfinnan Viaduct of Harry Potter fame
Loch Shiel, near Glenfinnan in the Highlands of Scotland

When people visit Scotland, they often focus on Edinburgh and Glasgow. While both cities are wonderful, there is a different side of Scotland to be seen – the Highlands, where sheep outnumber the people, and the stark subtle beauty of the landscape is like nothing else.

As a MacLean, I feel a close affinity to the land and the people. Having visited several times in the past (including a visit to Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull where Lord and Lady MacLean still live, and I was allowed to sign the family guestbook) this latest trip focused on the Highlands – an area not many people visit. Also, in past trips I had always traveled by car, either in rental cars or hitchhiking (in the “good old days”). But this trip is a rail trip, so the touring was a bit different, particularly since there aren’t that many train routes available and visits to the islands weren’t part of the plan.

Using Inverness as a base, we first traveled southwest across to the Kyle of Lochalsh – a small town on the western side of the country that formerly served as the ferry departure point to the Isle of Skye, before the Skye Bridge was built. One nice thing about train travel: you can actually enjoy the scenery, rather than worry about which side of the road you are driving on, what you will do when meeting an oncoming bus on a one lane road, and whether an errant sheep will suddenly hop in front of you. With the freedom of just being able to look, the photo ops were plentiful. Here are some photos of the gorgeous countryside as we traveled west across the county.

The next day we took the train up to the northeastern corner of Scotland, to Wick and Thurso, the jumping off point for the Orkney Islands. En route we saw lots of sheep, a few oil derricks (along the east coast) and many more cultivated fields than I had expected, especially that far north. Best of all was a rainbow when the sun shone through the raindrops. At the end of the line, in Wick, we found the Corner Café, and had a warm lunch (mac and cheese – quite hardy and good) with the locals before heading back south. Again, the photos speak for themselves.

Our next stop was Mallaig, a port town on the west side of Scotland, both a fishing and ferry base to the western isles including Skye, Eigg, Rum and Muck. There was no train from Inverness, so we took the bus from Inverness to Fort William, along the north shore of Loch Ness. We had bright sun for that part of the trip, and Loch Ness simply doesn’t look as foreboding as one expects when it’s sunny. At Fort William (also the home of Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the British Isles at 1,435 meters (4,411 feet)) we switched back to the train for what some say is one of the prettiest train rides in Europe. Since we have spent the last two months riding the trains throughout Europe, that may be a bit of exaggeration, but it was a lovely ride, including the “famous Glenfinnan Viaduct” with its 21 arches (made famous in the Harry Potter films). Millaig was a good place for a rest day, with several good restaurants, an art gallery and other shops for wandering. And of course one can take a ferry there for a number of excursions to the western islands. Photos of Loch Ness, Glenfinnan Viaduct and Mallaig harbor are below (click on the right arrow on the top photo to see all photos full size)

Finishing our adventure in the Highlands, we took the bus again (the train lines were closed for engineering works) from Fort William south past the boats on Lochaber (which eventually leads out to the sea). The road then headed inland through Glen Coe (a famous national trust area and the site for James Bond’s ancestral home in the movie Skyfall), a gorgeous mountainy area with waterfalls and lakes. That was followed by fields shining in the sun. Perfect for dramatic photos:

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive account of visiting Scotland. It is a fascinating country, with strong traditions and lots of pride. It has had to adjust from the days (in the late 1800’s) when it produced one third of all ships built in the world, had major iron and steel factories and a prominent textile industry. It is now known for its financial services (Royal Bank of Scotland is the second largest bank in Europe and 5th largest in the world), shortbread, golf and of course Scotch whiskey. Fishing, farming and forestry are still major industries, as are oil and gas. Tourism represents only 3% of its economy. A land of 5.2 million people, it has 7.6 million sheep. Outside the cities, the pace is slow – no one really hurries – they can just look around them and it puts everything in perspective. Politically, Scots have become a bit more active. In 2014, they voted to stay in the United Kingdom, but the vote was close – 55% to 45%. The latest challenges of Brexit have raised new issues of seeking independence. But for visitors, there is no need to worry about such things. Just head for the Highlands and enjoy life as they live it.


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