The Highlands in the north of Scotland are one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe - an El Dorado for outdoor activists of all kinds seeking unspoilt nature and the peace of solitude.
The Highlands in the north of Scotland are world-famous for their lonely grassy plains, quiet lochs, melancholy bays and sleepy little towns - this is probably also due to the famous Hollywood film "Highlander", which tells in epic style about the battles between Scots and the soldiers of the British Crown. The wild and romantic landscape is one of our top 10 sights in Great Britain.
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PICTURES: Scottish Highlands
The huge Great Glen, which appears as a dead straight line from the air, separates the Scottish Highlands from the Grampian Mountains to the south. Along this moat, along with several other lochs, lies the famous Loch Ness.
The Highlands is actually just an administrative district in northern Great Britain. However, the term is often used more broadly and as a contrast to the Lowlands. This would mean that the Grampian Mountains are also part of the Highlands.
Sights in the Highlands
In contrast to Scotland's southern Lowlands, the Highlands have not been so strongly influenced by the English in recent centuries and have been able to preserve their original culture. Thus, even today, a few of the typical Scottish clans still live in the Highlands, which, together with the excellent whiskey, made the Scottish Highlands famous all over the world.
Hiking and mountaineering
The landscape of the Highlands is characterised by endless, grassy areas without trees and seemingly far away from any civilisation. Every now and then an old stone ruin grows out of the vast plains or a lake or river glistens in the rare sunshine.
Otters, wildcats, ptarmigans, capercaillies and ospreys feel at home in the deserted solitude. For their protection, by the way, it is not allowed to leave the paved paths at some times.
From short walks to challenging mountain adventures, everything is possible in the Highlands. Especially climbing and "collecting" the so-called "Munros", those mountains in the Scottish Highlands that are higher than 914 metres (3,000 feet), has become a mountain sports discipline in its own right in Scotland. Hiking and mountain maps are available in all tourist information offices and sometimes also in supermarkets or at petrol stations.
Tip: It is not advisable to spend the night outdoors in the Highlands. Especially when the humidity is high, thousands of small black mosquitoes appear out of nowhere in the evening and become a real plague.
Attention: The Highlands are not the Alps!
Even though the Highlands do not seem high, due to their northern location, they cannot be compared to conditions in the Alps. To estimate temperature and altitude air, one should add about 1,200 metres to the "alpine altitude". For comparison, the tree line in the Highlands is at 500 metres. The weather in the Highlands can change quickly, and without a compass you can hardly find your way out of the fog.
Theadministrative and tourist centre of the Highlands is Inverness, the largest city in the Scottish Highlands, directly on the Great Glen. Many shopping temples have their northernmost branch in Great Britain here, and numerous tours to the surrounding countryside also start from Inverness.
Fort William is not a fortification, but the main town at the southern end of the Great Glen. The Atlantic gives nature around Fort William a mild climate and allows lush fairytale forests with vast quantities of mosses and ferns to flourish. The railway line from Fort William to the ferry port of Mallaig is one of the most beautiful travel routes in the world. Fort William is the ideal starting point for mountain bike tours, hikes, horseback riding and trekking, including to Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain.
Other popular tourist destinations in the Highlands are the two coastal towns of Ullapool and Thurso, as this is where the ferries leave for the Outer Hebrides and the Orkney Islands respectively.
At 1,343 metres, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland. It is located in the Grampian Mountains, which depending on the definition are often still counted as part of the Highlands, near Fort William and can be climbed via an arduous 8km hiking trail.
On the 3 to 4 hour hike, you should take enough to eat and drink with you, as there is no catering. Warm clothing is also absolutely necessary! From the summit of Ben Nevis, the view falls far over the hills of the Highlands. In the summer months, however, be prepared for crowds.
The rugged valley of Glencoe is one of the most famous sights in the Highlands. Only one village, Glencoe, is located there, right at the mouth of the valley. The lush green hills provide the ideal backdrop for walking and skiing, and have been used in several well-known films, including Highlander, Braveheart, James Bond - Skyfall and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
3,800 square kilometres of the lush green valleys and rugged peaks of the Cairngorm Mountains have been protected as Britain's largest national park since 2003. Depending on the time of day, the spectacular backdrop of the Cairngorm Mountains presents itself in fascinating plays of light and shadow and is characterised by ancient pine forests, rocky landscapes, moors, marshes and lochs. Enchanting villages are scattered across the lush greenery of the Cairngorm National Park, offering accommodation for golfers, walkers and skiers.
The famous Loch Ness 10km southwest of Inverness is worth a visit not only for its alleged monster but also for its breathtaking scenic beauty. Scotland's second largest loch is one of the most fish-rich waters in the whole of the UK and holds the ruins of the once imposing Urquhart Castle on its shores.
Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye has arguably the most spectacular mountain panorama in the entire Highlands. Two ferry connections from Mallaig and Glenelg and the famous Skye Bridge lead from the mainland to the breathtaking landscape of the rugged island. The Cuillins of Skye in particular, whose rugged peaks of up to almost 1,000m are reserved for experienced mountaineers, offer numerous fantastic walks and viewpoints. Those who prefer gently rolling hills and green woodland should head for the south of Skye.
The magnificent nature in Moray in the north-east of Scotland is a paradise for various outdoor activities. Besides breathtaking beaches like Burghead, Hopeman or Losiemouth and stretches of coastline like Spey Bay or Culbin Sands, which are overflowing with seabirds, the regional whiskey also attracts tourists to Moray, whose history and taste can be discovered on the Malt Whiskey Trail.
The steep cliffs of the Moray Firth, the largest estuary in Scotland, are even visited by whales and dolphins, along with vast numbers of birds, and provide ideal conditions for salmon and trout fishing.
History of the Highlands
The "original inhabitants" of the Scottish Highlands were Celts and Scandinavians who organised themselves into so-called "clans". The clan leader ruled over his clan and its ancestral territory, fights between the clans were not uncommon, even with the House of Stuart, which ruled over the Lowlands, there were frequent wars. By the end of the 16th century, however, this was over and most of the clan leaders were loyal to the House of Stuart after political and military service.
Those rebellious clans who did not agree with the amalgamation of England and Scotland under English leadership could be put down, partly with the help of the loyal clans. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, after the infamous Highland Clearance ("Purge"), the clans were finally over. They were driven off their land for sheep farming and most emigrated to North America and Australia.
Today, the Highlands are almost uninhabited. The Gaelic language of the Highlands is almost extinct, only a few people in the far north and west still use it and some place names go back to Gaelic. And so the Highlands are still one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world.