The Real Scotland: Traveling in the Highlands

Scottish Tartans. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland
Scottish Tartans. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland

Since the clans played a starring role in the history of Scotland, it’s no surprise that their stories often are closely associated with the turreted castles that dot the landscape. Some survive as sumptuous stately homes, while others are ruined fortresses that provide only hints of their past glory.

The visitor to Eilean Donan soon learns why it is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. The rebuilt thirteenth-century fortress is perched on a rocky promontory reached by a causeway, at the meeting point of three lochs. Surrounded by water and mountains, the castle has a proud past that is brought to life in its furnishings and artifacts.

It served as home base for the MacKenzie and MacRae clans. The walls of the banquet hall still are adorned by numerous coats of arms, and a lively painting in the billeting room depicts MacRaes, dressed in belted plaids, dancing on the roof of Eilean Donan the night before a major battle.

Cawdor Castle, built in the late fourteenth century, is what many people picture when they think of a fortress. According to legend, its soaring central tower, walled garden and drawbridge entrance provided the setting for Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

A particularly bloody history unfolded at Urquhart Castle, another fourteenth-century structure that was one of the largest fortresses in Scotland.

Its extensive ruins occupy a rugged ledge that juts into the deep waters of Loch Ness.

A highlands farm. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland
A highlands farm. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland

The castle played important roles during the Scots’ struggle for independence from England in the fourteenth century. Throughout the next 200 years, it was frequently raided and plundered by a stream of attackers.

This edifice would be interesting for no other reason than its location overlooking the best-known loch in Scotland. Sightings of a monster in the 23-mile long, 754-foot deep lake were first reported as far back as 565 A.D. That’s when St. Columba, an Irish missionary to Scotland, told of seeing a “water beast.”

Subsequent reports, including more recent photographs of questionable authenticity, have spawned an entire Nessie industry, scientific expeditions and an official Loch Ness Exhibition Centre. Along with an audiovisual presentation, craft demonstrations and the ubiquitous gift shop, the complex boasts a life-size statue of Nessie standing in a miniature outdoor lake, which is the closest thing to the real monster that visitors are likely to see.

This touch of commercialism isn’t what most travelers to the Highlands of Scotland are likely to remember following their visit. More recollections, and photographs, probably will portray some of Mother Nature’s most memorable handiworks.

Highlands scenery. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland
Highlands scenery. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland

That can be as dramatic as rolling moors and distant mountains, as scenic as a hillside set off by a stone fence, and as colorful as lavender heather blanketing a deep green field as it stretches toward the horizon.

This ever-changing setting provides variety which transforms the Highlands, one small region in the United Kingdom, into a destination as memorable as it is inviting.

If You Travel to Scotland

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Author Bio: After gallivanting throughout the United States and to more than 75 other countries around the world, and writing about what he sees, does and learns, Victor Block retains the travel bug. He firmly believes that travel is the best possible education, and claims he still has a lot to learn. He loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won a number of writing awards.