Think of Scotland and you will conjure up images of tartan kilted Highlanders, skirling bagpipes, the Loch Ness Monster, lonely castles, birthplace of golf, magnificent scenery, and shaggy Highland cattle. All of these are part of the fabric that makes up this unique country. You can tour the castles and fabled battlefields where clans fought fiercely, trace the footsteps of legendary kings and queens, or follow literary trails blazed by the likes of Robbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott. Another of Scotland's great attractions is its solitude, with its remote stretches of heather-covered moors, secluded beaches and wild, romantic mountains with their deep glens and lochs, all waiting to be explored.
Ideally situated between Edinburgh and Glasgow, Stirling is famous for the Battle of Bannockburn which saw Robert the Bruce defeating the English invaders in 1314, as well as the Battle of Stirling Bridge, a victory for Scottish independence secured by the legendary William Wallace. The splendid Bannockburn Heritage Centre offers excellent displays and exhibits regarding this important era. Between Stirling and Bridge of Allan stands the majestic Wallace Monument, a spectacular 246-step tower with incredible views of the area, as well as artifacts that belonged to the great Wallace himself. Finally, there is the spectacular Stirling Castle built atop a 250 ft high volcanic crag.
The Northern highlands
Encompassing a broad swath of Scotland stretching from Inverness all the way north to Thurso, Scotland's spectacular Northern Highlands is separated from the rest of the country by the ‘Great Glen’. This ancient fault line was used to create the remarkable Caledonian Canal extending from the west coast to the east, from Loch Linnhe to the Moray Firth. While much of this mountainous region is uninhabited - and therefore excellent for hiking and biking adventures - it does boast many lovely small towns and villages. One of the pretties is the tiny coastal town of Dornoch, noted for its cathedral and castle ruins.
Isle of Arran
It is for good reason that the lovely Isle of Arran is known as ‘Scotland in Miniature’. Only 166 square miles in size, Arran is a mirror image of the landscape found on the mainland. Like mainland Scotland, it boasts majestic mountains, moorland, sandy beaches, wildlife, castles, fishing harbors, great golf, and plenty of friendly people. It is also easy to get to from Glasgow, less than an hour's ferry ride away, and buses run regularly around the island.
Isle of Skye
The largest of Scotland's inner isles, Skye is hugely popular amongst nature lovers. Its wild, romantic mountain scenery and green valleys, caves and attractive glens, magnificent waterfalls and sandy beaches - all crammed into an island makes it extremely appealing. In addition to its deep inlets and quaint villages, the island is home to the remains of primeval oak forests, as well as an abundance of wildlife including otters, seals, and some 200 species of birds.
Idyllic Loch Lomond, just a short drive northwest of Glasgow, is Britain's largest lake. With plentiful trout, salmon and whitefish as a lure for anglers, this beautiful corner of Scotland is also popular amongst day-trippers, water sports enthusiasts, hikers and those simply drawn by the wonderful scenery. Loch Lomond is a great first stop when touring along the Western Highland Way from Glasgow through the beautiful Argyll countryside to Fort William. Cameron House at the south end is an excellent place to savor the romance of a Scottish castle, breathe in the lakeside air and enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities.
Think of Loch Ness and you will probably picture the mythical monster that, according to legend, has made this amazing loch home for countless centuries. Nowhere does a better job of fuelling the legend than the Loch Ness Exhibition at Drumnadrochit Hotel with exhibits of the famous ‘beastie’ and the surrounding area. Then, of course, there is the much-photographed Urquhart Castle standing on a strip of land jutting into the loch. The center of many ancient myths, the 12th Century castle fell victim to a fire some 500 years ago. Despite its condition, the castle and Loch Ness remain some of the most visited of Scotland's numerous attractions.
Scotland's castle trail
Much of Scotland's spectacular castle trail focuses on Aberdeenshire, home to 17 of the country's best preserved and most dramatic castle sites. Using the city of Aberdeen as your base, your itinerary can, if castles are your thing, be stretched over four days, or crammed into one. In addition to seeing such lovely old fortresses as the fairy-tale looking Crathes Castle and 13th-century Drum Castle, you will be rewarded by a chance to explore the slightly more recent 15th-century Craigievar Castle with its delightful towers, gables, round oriel windows, quaint conical roofs, and ornamental stone cannons. The castle tour is also an excellent way to take in the Grampian Region's majestic mountains and dramatic coastlines.
Scotland's most famous fortress has dominated the city's skyline since the 13th Century and is the most popular national monument in the country. Perched atop black basalt rock, Edinburgh's spectacular castle affords magnificent views of city landmarks including the Royal Mile, Princes Street, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Entrance to the castle is via a drawbridge over an old moat from the broad Esplanade where the famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo is held every August. On the way, you will pass bronze statues of legendary heroes William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, both of whom defeated the English.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews
The Scots lay claim to many inventions, including the bicycle, postage stamps, telephones and steam engines. But perhaps their most enduring invention is the great game of golf. One of the country's biggest tourist draws is the much revered Royal and Ancient Golf Club located in historic St. Andrews just 12 miles southeast of Dundee. Founded in 1750 and recognized internationally as golf's ruling body, St Andrews regularly hosts the famous British Open at one of its many 18-hole course.