My first impression of Scotland was just the same as everyone else. Men wear a Scottish skirt, weird Scottish cuisine (the bowels), windpipes, red hair, and the Scottish accent… It has a distinct character that is separate from England. Before going, I may have heard a little bit more about the spectacular landscape and historic castles, but I didn’t know anything more than that. After I went, I finally had a deeper understanding of the region’s history and culture and I found it fascinating.
The Scottish Highlands is an extraordinarily unique existence. It is not blessed with natural resources. It is filled with a solid culture and history. Composed of ancient, scattered highlands, rocks were molded by numerous streams and glaciers and shaped into a stunningly beautiful landscape that shakes your core.
The Scotland Highlands
As we left Edinburgh, heading to the north we passed the iconic Forth Bridge. There, we started to move away from the Scottish Lowlands and headed to the Highlands. The Highlands and the Lowlands are culturally diverged from the later Middle Ages into the modern period, while the Scottish Gaelic was replaced throughout most of the Lowlands. Most cities of Scotland are located in the Lowlands: Stirling, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh. The Highlands, on the other hand, is a historic region that is sparsely populated and filled with spectacular high mountain ranges, and deep and mystical lochs (a Scottish Gaelic term for lakes). There, is also where old castles stand silently in the wilderness overlooking the peaceful wildlife and withstanding the dramatic and ever-changing weather.
There is a lot to see and do in the Highlands. Highlights include Loch Ness (and Inverness), the Isle of Skye (Neist Point, and Quiraing), Callander, Glencoe, and many, many castles. Although I have yet made it to the legendary Isle of Skye. I was deeply impressed by my visit to Loch Ness and Glencoe, and I can’t wait to go back to Scotland and visit other places!
Beautiful Scotland is also a great place for barleys. Scotch Whisky is a national brand worth toasting. The word “Whisky” came from Celtic languages “Uisge Beatha”, meaning the “water of life”. There are five categories of Scotch Whisky, single malt Scotch whisky, single grain Scotch whisky, blended malt Scotch whisky, blended grain Scotch whisky, and blended Scotch whisky.
The scotch is still a beloved drink because it’s still using a traditional distillation method and it has a nutty aftertaste. The entire process takes at least more than three years and some of them even takes 40 years. There are four regions in Scotland produce Whisky, including the Lowlands, the Highlands, Speyside, and Islay. The different weather in each region gives a unique taste to the wine, some like it Smoky and some like it Peaty. The best way to tour the vineyards in Scotland is by hiring a car. Another option is to hop on the Stagecoach Bluebird Number 10 that passes through the key locations like Keith, Elgin, and Forres. Not to mention the beautiful sceneries along the Keith and Dufftown Railway. For a short visit, head to the Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown, it is the large Whikey manufacturer in the world. The taste of the scotch is mild and it’s popular among customers. Strathisla Distillery is one of the oldest distillery in Scotland established in 1788, the wine is filled with a nutty flavour and fragrance.
The cathedral is an important crossing point on the River Tay. Dunkeld was once the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland. For more than a thousand years this has been a place of Christian worship. The Dunkeld Cathedral is considered to be one of the most picturesque cathedrals in Europe, and it has a strong tie with the Irish nobleman, priest, and missionary, Columba. Columba traveled widely in Scotland, including Dunkeld, where became the center of the church in Scotland when relics of St Columba were brought to Dunkeld for safekeeping during the Viking raids of the 9th century.
The monastic church became a cathedral in 1127 when King David I established a system of church government based on bishops and dioceses in line with the Church of Rome. The Cathedral has mixed Gothic and Norman architectural styles, and it was richly decorated in the late middle ages. The stained glass of the East window was impressive!
Nearby Dunkeld and Birnam are the Hermitage. It is a pleasure ground and one of the oldest tourist attractions in Scotland. Stepping into the Hermitage, I was following in the footsteps of Wordsworth, Turner, Mendelssohn, and countless thousands of others. The Hermitage was originally an extension to the landscaped pleasure grounds of Dunkeld House. Good soil and sheltered conditions have allowed the plantation to grow into giants since it was planted in 1920. The cathedral-like groves of the Hermitage provide a fitting memorial to past generations of foresters.
Discover the Pitlochry Paths Network which links Pitlochry with the peaceful settlements of Killiecrankie, Moulin, and Strathtay using signposted paths, tracks, and quiet roads. The area was stunning along banks of lochs, and rivers. There are several paths in the region for visitors to choose from. Like the Bealach or Clunie Paths, which pass through high open moorlands; or Craig Fonvuick and Craigower Paths, which pass through steep paths in the lower ground. The Black Spout Wood Waterfall is a great site located on the Edradour Path!
If you are not up for a walk along the hiking trails, visit the Pitlochry Dam, or enjoy a lovely lunch or scone in bakeries in town.
Later we moved on to Blair Castle. The Blair Castle was the home of the Clan Murray standing in Glen Garry, a strategic position on the main route through the center of Highlands. The castle was inherited by Stewards and Murrays of the Atholl family and their many generations (The current heir Bruce Murray, 12th Duke of Atholl, lives in South Africa). It served as a fortification of Scotland and it has a close connection with the history of Scotland. In fact, Queen Victoria visited here and established the mercenary the Atholl Highlanders. The entrance showcases the weapons, especially those used in the Battle of Culloden.
The castle covers a huge ground – attractions include the Banvie Hall, Deer Park, Pony Trekking Center, Diana’s Grove, St. Bride’s Kirk, and Hercules Garden.
Aberdeen in Scotland is filled with fairytale-like castles and the castle trail is one of the most popular attractions among tourists. For those who follow this path is like passing through the time tunnel and get to see Medieval heritages one right after the other. All these sites offer magnificent architecture and gardens that like no other. It takes at least three days to visit all castles, and there is a total of seventeen of them. But if you want to pick the highlights, Crathes Castle is the most visited; Castle Fraser and Fyvie Castle are extravagent on the interior; Haddo House has a killer garden, Drum Castle combines architectural styles in different times. Huntly Castle and Kildrummy Castle are perfect locations for appreciating castle on the moor. To tour all seventeen castles, it’s possible to join a castle tour in June to September.
- Castle Fraser
- Fyvie Castle
- Crathes Castle
- Craigievar Castle
- Drum Castle
- Duff House
- Haddo House
- Cawdor Castle
- Blair Castle
Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore
The 80-acre site displays aspects of Highland rural life from circa 1700 to 1930s. Through traditional and living displays, in and around original in-situ, re-erected, and reconstructed buildings in differing environments. There are four sections including Aultlarie Farm, Open Air Section, Pinewoods, and Township. The museum gave me in-depth introductions of the Scottish way of life in different aspects. For example, I have learned that a ‘fank’ is a sheep pen, which is a maze-like structure that has been an integral part of the Highland landscape for over 200 years.
North-east Passage Grave and Balnuaran of Clava (a prehistoric cemetery)
It is a Neolithic Burial Claim located near Culloden. The monuments were built between three and four thousand years ago. These are circular chamber tomb Cairns named after the group of three cairns at Balnuaran of Clava. From the outside, they look like a pile of rock rubble now, but it was originally dome-shaped graves with a center chamber, connected by passages so low that people would need to crawl along with it.
Culloden is located near Inverness, a historic battlefield of the Battle of Culloden, the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and part of a religious civil war in Britain. Great Britain won the battle in the end and facilitated the integration of the Scottish Highlands into the Kingdom of Great Britain.
The exhibition hall showcased the history of the battle but that was not much. Standing in the wilderness of Culloden Battlefield, the War Grave gave me chills. I imagined what the was like 270 years ago and wondered how history would change had the battle turned out differently.
Loch Ness (Loch Ness Clansman)
I supposed no monsters in the world are as famous as the monster in Loch Ness. Although many now may believe that the monster is only a myth, the mystical Loch Ness has become a famous attraction because of it. That had me wondering, just what if, I saw a monster popping out from the water when I was on the cruise? St Columba, the Irish nobleman, is said to have seen the Loch’s elusive monster in the 6th century. But even recent detective work hasn’t proved its existence.
Monster aside, the narrow lake holds more water (it’s 230m deep!) than all the lakes and reservoirs in England. Not to mention the lake is filled with algae, underwater caves, and mud which makes it really hard to have a good vision. That’s why for 1,500 years, the myth of the Loch Ness monster has never stopped. The Inverness Castle is standing at the top of the hill and it was built in the 12th century. It took 12 years to restore the castle after it was destroyed by Prince Edward in 1746. The castle is now a high court of the county and not open to the public. If you have time, head to the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery to explore not only paintings, but artifacts, gemstones, and vintage windpipes.
It is also an important site that ties with the Culloden’s Battle, while the details of the Scottish past could be found in Culloden, Fort George, the Highland Folk Museum, and the West Highland Museum in Fort William.
Fort William is another major pit stop in the Highlands. The Commando Memorial is nearby, which is a monument dedicated to the officers and men of the commandos who died in the Second World War. High Street is the main business area with lots of fun and restaurants. Before heading back to Edinburgh, don’t forget to stop by Glencoe, the majestic U-shaped glen (valley formed by an ice age glacier), originated by volcanic actions, and the filming site of the James Bond film Skyfall… where it was Daniel Craig’s family estate is located (Skyfall) and later it was destructed down into pieces after adrenaline-raising fights.