Green and rugged, atmospheric and wild: there aren’t enough adjectives to do justice to the Scottish Highlands and Islands. We began our hiking trip, Highlands and Islands of Scotland, on May Day, departing from Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. Although we had our fair share of rain and mist (“grand soft days”), the sun shone brightly for one brief moment on Inverness castle.
Our warm-up hike took us to the top of Craigmonie Crag, where we could look out over the famous Loch Ness. Although Nessie was nowhere to be seen in the loch, we had already seen her on the Ness Islands in the middle of the river that traverses Inverness.
We stopped briefly at the picturesque ruins of the Beaulty Priory while en route to The Coul House.
Our first full day of hiking took us to one of the most beautiful places in all of Scotland: Glen Affric. The heather wasn’t yet in bloom, but the owner’s lodge reflected perfectly in the loch.
The next day, on our way to Ullapool to catch the ferry to the Outer Hebrides, we stopped at a stone bridge. Built by the British after the decisive defeat of the Jacobite supporters of Bonnie Prince Charles at the Battle of Culloden, this bridge and others facilitated the rounding up of Scottish loyalists and the subsequent Clearances.
We made our way on to the Outer Hebrides, where we stopped on rock-strewn Isle of Lewis to take in the ancient Calanais (Callanish) Standing Stones, erected about 4,000 years ago. Slabs of pink-streaked Lewisian granite, the enormous stones are largely intact and located in the middle of a neighborhood. Unlike Stonehenge, which is cordoned off, we were able to walk right up to the stones.
From our hotel in Tarbert on the Isle of Harris, a short ride took us across the bridge to the Isle of Scalpay where we walked to one of the four original Scottish lighthouses, complete with a bothy, ready to house any hikers in need of shelter.
The Isle of Harris is known for its magnificent white-sand beaches, especially Luskentyre. There is no gentle breeze here—the wind blew hard, but we still saw moon jelly fish and all manner of shells. One of our intrepid guides, Kat, even had a “paddle” in the cold water.
A quick ferry ride took us to the Isle of Skye, perhaps the most famous of the Inner Hebrides. It is so beautiful here that it was easy to lose my heart. Here is the Quiraing, with its amazing rock formations, including “The Castle,” which soon became enveloped in mist.
During our stay at our Skeabost House Hotel, we admired the “fairy chairs” and indulged in a delectable cream tea.
After a dinner of the best mussels ever, we stood on the back lawn that sweeps down to a salt water loch to watch the sun set.
Portree delighted us with its quaint shops and colorful harbor.
A day trip to the tiny but beautiful Isle of Raasay let us visit the ruins of Brochel Castle, an ingenious fusion of natural rock and masonry built atop a 15-meter-high volcanic plug. An imposing sight, this castle was nearly impervious to anyone approaching by land or sea.
And all too soon, our trip to the magical highlands and islands came to an end with a special musical performance by Katie Douglas (on accordion) and Iain Smith (on guitar) who serenaded us with jigs and waltzes and reels as well as a moving rendition of “Caledonia,” which brought our guide, Cory, to tears.
But there was still one more castle to see! En route back to Inverness, we stopped at perhaps the most picturesque of them all: Eilean Donan.
—Text and photos by WT-adventurers Jeannée Sacken and Michael Briselli, Highlands and Islands of Scotland.