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The Rough Guide to Scottish Highlands
The Rough Guide to Scottish Highlands...

Northern Highlands
Northern Highlands (Pocket Mountains)

The Cairngorms
The Cairngorms (Pocket Mountains)

The Northern Highlands
The Northern Highlands: The Empty Lands,...

Scottish Western Highlands Drawings
Scottish Mountain Drawings: The Western Highlands


The Scottish Highlands

The Highlands cover a large area of Scotland. Perhaps
one of the best known regions is the Spey Valley which includes popular tourist spots like Aviemore, Carrbridge, Grantown on Spey, Kingussie and Newtonmore. Over
the last few years a determined effort has been made to attract visitors to this part of the country, now both active and more leisurely sporting activities can be followed virtually all the year round.

The Cairngorm mountains have always been a keen attraction for skiers. Nearby Aviemore has large complex of hotels, chalets and restaurants with such amenities as a swimming pool, ice rink, children’s playground, and theatre and dancehall. it is particularly popular during the ski-ing season, roughly November to May and some of the hotels run packaged holidays to include hotel accommodation, hire of ski equipment and full instructions both for beginners and the more experienced skier.
While the Aviemore Centre provides activities and enter-
tainment for all seasons and all weathers, some visitors prefer a quieter, less organised holiday And of course there are still many small villages more or less untouched by the tourist traffic, like Kingussie which houses a folk museum displaying furniture, tools and crafts showing day to day life in the Highlands centuries ago, and Newtonmore which has the Clan Macpherson Museum. For nature lovers, there is a nature trail at Craigellachie, and the Osprey Hide at Loch Garten where the almost extinct birds come each year to nest from April to August and can be viewed by binoculars from the specially constructed hide.

Britain’s only herd of reindeer can be found near Glenmore, in a fairly rugged two-hour hill walk. Centres of interest to visitors include the Highland Wildlife Park between Kingussie and Aviemore, 260 acres of natural landscape where red and roe deer, wild horses and Soay sheep can be seen, together with brown bear, reindeer and lynx. Rather ironically, one of the species introduced (and kept in an enclosure) is the wolf, the first to be seen in the Badenoch area since 1743 when the last wolf was shot, no doubt to the great relief of the inhabitants! Not far off, in Carrbridge, is Landmark, which has an exhibition hail where visitors can appreciate the struggle of early life in the Highlands from Stone Age, Viking times, and clan life; and a multi-screen auditorium which brings hundreds of years of Highland history vividly to life. With sound effects of wind, rushing water, and battle cries in the background, visitors can grind their own grain at a stone quern, chip flints, and inspect the kiad of skin coracle which was once used on the river Spey, Part of the Landmark complex includes a restaurant, shop, with a picnic park and a nature trail through the pine woods.

It would of course be wrong to think that catering for tourists was the single purpose to life in the Spey valley.
Sheep and cattle farming, pony breeding, forestry and
whisky distilling all thrive, and new light industries have
been introduced. The high school at Kingussie, is a centre for secondary education for the whole district where Gaelic is taught to the first-year classes and where instruction in piping and choral singing can also
be taken. The school also encourages shinty, a traditional Highland game allied to the Irish game of hurley; it is played with tremendous enthusiasm and teams from towns like Newtonmore, Kingussie, Oban and Inveraray compete annually for the Camanach Cup and other tournaments. Played with curved sticks, the game is fast and rugged, and spectators new to the game find it hard to believe that the players can emerge unscathed!

Prehistoric standing stones at Delfour, Aviemore, and on
Granish Moor, and a vitrified for Dun-da-lamh, or the Fort of the Two Hands stands above Strathmashie. Ruined stones on one of the islands of Loch Laggan, Eilean an Righ (the island of the Kings) is believed to have been a hunting lodge belonging to an early Scottish king, and certainly the countryside round about is still one of the best parts of stalking land for deer and stags. Another building with a long history is Ruthven, near Kingussie, now partially ruined but dating back to the 13th century when the Lord of Badenoch built his castle which later fell into the hands of the notorious Wolf of Badenoch, a descendent of Robert the Bruce. Ruthven saw many battles and was destroyed by fire; but in 1718 the site was rebuilt as army barracks to overawe the Scottish Highlanders , though the Jacobites later captured it and
Prince Charles himself stayed nearby.

The magnificent range of the Cairngorm mountains prob-
ably typifies most people’s idea of the Highlands: wild, remote, uninhabited. Climbers find tremendous challenge in these mountains, but it can hardly be over-emphasised how quickly pleasant weather conditions can change to thick mist or a stinging winter blizzard. Bothies, or small shelters, are marked on maps of the areas, but as too many climbers have found to their cost, a site which looks obvious on paper is treacherously difficult to find in blinding snow. The Cairngorms can be a study in contrasts. There is the contrast of the windswept plateaux. silent and bare, with the acres of pinewood, rich and green and fragrant, dating back to the original great pine forests. There is wild-life for those with the patience to look for it, roe deer, red deer and their fawns, squirrels, and stoats which change their coats to white in the winter. Birds too abound, golden eagle and rarer species like the ptarmigan, snow bunting, and brilliant capercailzie, a large kind of grouse. And despite the wild weather conditions, alpine plants like moun-
tain saxifrage, moss speedwelll and campion somehow manage to flourish in rich clumps.

Farther north yet are the counties of Ross & Cromarty,
Sutherland, and Caithness, broadly speaking making up the Northern Highlands which in many places form lonely, bare landscapes, the epitome of ‘Hail Caledonia, stern and wild’. The Atlantic coastline of the north-west is often compared with the seaboard of Norway on a smaller scale; though there are less trees here, there is the same abundance of mountains and countless sea-bitten fjords. On the east side is Dornoch, the small but dignified county town of Sutherland, with a cathedral founded in the 13th century, in whjch sixteen earls of Sutherland are said to be buried. Domoch is famous too for its golf links, which were the third earliest recorded, to which visitors are welcome, and there is good sea bathing with a caravan and camping site close to the beach.

All around this area up to the Pentland Firth there are
remains of brochs or duns indicating that at one time the
Picts held the land: one is at Strathbrora and parts of the walls are still standing 15’ high, and farther north is Dun Dornadilla, near Strathmore. Around Wick, the county town of Caithness, are several interesting ruined castles, an ancient tower called ‘The Old Man of Wick’, and some very fine specimens of brochs. Some years ago, Caithness Glass started up a factory in Wick, and the glasshouses themselves have proved to be of
great interest to visitors as they watch the distinctive smokey hued glass being blown into decanters, tumblers and jugs, and some special pieces being engraved by hand. Some sixteen miles along the coast road is John O’Groats, a bleak corner of Scotland overlooking the powerful tidal races of the Pentland Firth. To be strictly accurate, John O’Groats is not in fact the most northerly point of the Scottish mainland, that distinction is held by Dunnet Head, near Thurso.

John O’Groats gets its name, it is said, from a Dutchman John de Groot who lived in the district in the 16th
century. To avert a quarrel over which of the eight members of his family had the right to enter the ancestral home first, de Groot built a house with eight walls, eight windows, eight doors and even an eight-sided table!

Nearby Thurso, where the steamers for Orkney leave from the harbour at Scrabster, has a good stretch of sandy beach and a golf course. Traditional furniture designs of the area are being kept alive by a small firm making Caithness chairs. Made without screws or nails, they are homely and comfortable, based on the old chairs without being straight reproductions, and the same firm also makes wooden stools called ‘creepies’, dating back to the days when the children crept into the fireside with their stools, the chairs being reserved for adults only!

The road along the extreme north coast of the country
passes near to the sixteenth century Castle of Mey, or
Barogill Castle, the Queen Mother’s summer residence; and
Dunnet Bay with its breath-taking sweep of firm sands on
which in recent years the unusual sport of sand yachting
has been developed. Lonely sandy bays are found in pockets from Bettyhill to Balnakiel and Durness; and near Durness is the famous Smoo Cave where a waterfall crashes down to sea level through the cave’s natural arch. On the west coast the village of Scourie looks across the North Minch to Lewis. Just off shore and
reached by a small boat (weather permitting) lies the isle of Handa, owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This bird sanctuary has breathtakingly sheer cliffs with churning currents below, and the Stack of Handa is the precarious home of thousands of breeding seabirds including great skuas and red-throated divers. A handful of families once lived on Handa, but all that remains of their village now are the crumbling stones.

Some miles to the south is Inverpolly, Britains second
largest National Nature Reserve of some 27,000 acres,
including moorland, mountains, lochs and islands. Hundreds of years ago this area was well wooded but this was gradually destroyed by climatic changes and faulty cultivation, and now the Nature Conservancy are trying to build up the forests again. On the reserve roam wild life like stags, deer, wildcats and pine martens, with nesting tree pipits, willow warblers, and the long-eared owl. Inverpolly also issues a motor trail brochure to help the visitor explore the neighbouring districts.

Ullapool, now popular with visitors because of its bathing
and sea-angling, is a fishing village which (like Oban) was
originally established by the British Fisheries Association in 1788 to make the most of the local herring. Nearby too are the tropical gardens of Inverewe, started by Osgood Mackenzie in the nineteenth century and containing a unique collection of plants and flowers. The gardens were virtually started from scratch with even the soil having to be brought in piece-meal, and then Mackenzie planted conifers, oak, larch, and beech trees, patiently waiting some twenty years until they grew up to provide the sheltering windbreaks necessary. This shelter, plus the influence of the warm Gulf Stream, meant that he was able to grow plants which normally only thrive in much more humid and sunny climates. Perhaps (though
opinions vary on this) the best months to visit the gardens are May and June.

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