Having a Highland fling in Scotland

Summer in Europe usually means sand, sun and some Mediterranean Sea! But for PAUL BLEAKLEY it meant Scotland, Skye and sensational scenery.


Scotland Skye cliffs

THE summer is typically a period of mass exodus for Antipodeans living in the United Kingdom. The golden beaches and warm temperatures of Europe provide a welcome respite from the grey skies and drizzling rain that generally make up ‘the British experience’. While the hordes descended upon the islands of Greece and Croatia however, I found myself somewhere that could not have been more different: the Scottish Highlands.

Righting the wrongs
The last time I attempted to brave the Highlands was during a holiday to Scotland a few years ago, in the winter of 2009. It was not long before a snow-storm in the mountains forced an untimely end to the expedition. The failure had long been a point of shame, the misty Highlands providing a tangible reflection of my failure.

This summer seemed the perfect time to redeem myself, to conquer the mountains and see what lay on the other side. Who needs the sand and surf of the Adriatic Sea when men wearing kilts and plates filled with haggis awaited just beyond the horizon?

The target of my trek into the wild expanses of the Highlands was the Isle of Skye, situated on Scotland’s west coast and only accessible from the mainland by passing through the mountains and crossing a bridge over the picturesque Loch Alsh. The Isle of Skye was the goal of my initial (and failed) voyage into the Highlands for one simple reason: heritage. It was this part of the United Kingdom that my family used to call home.

Way up high
The best way to explore the Highlands is by car, with quaint villages and scenic landscapes peppered throughout the pilgrimage into the mountain range. A sense of peace descends upon the traveller almost immediately after leaving the urban surroundings of Inverness, with industrial parks and shopping malls replaced by charming guest houses and luscious woodland.

The sudden shift to the rural community can be somewhat jarring, and it is necessary to plan for the drive through the mountains. Fuel stations are few and far between in these deep part of Scotland, and as such, it is important to have a full fuel-tank to avoid breaking down along the winding mountain path. The road itself provides its own complications for drivers: sharp bends and single-lane sections are typical of the trek into the idyllic mountain range.

While you may be reconsidering your trip into the Highlands after several near-misses with trucks along the single-lane path, the descent into the coastal area on the other side should be enough to make the stress worthwhile. The foothills provide some of the most scenic and untouched views in the entirety of the United Kingdom. The hills are perfect for hiking, with the fresh air providing welcome respite from the urban haze of London.

Isle in the Skye
The expansive landscape is punctuated along the road by the magnificent Eilean Donan Castle, situated on a small island on Loch Duich not far from the Isle of Skye. The castle has a long and notorious history as a flashpoint of Scotland’s fight for independence, and its secluded position amongst the Highlands makes it one of the best preserved historic sites in the nation.

The bridge leading to the Isle of Skye becomes visible as you pass through the fishing village of Kyle of Lochalsh, looming in the distance as a reminder of the island’s historic seclusion from the mainland. Skye is a deceptively large island, and as such, it is a thirty minute drive from the bridge to the island’s major town of Portree. The town is an ideal base for tourists exploring the Isle of Skye, set against the stunning backdrop of Portree’s cliff-lined harbour.

Summer in Scotland
The resounding silence and calm of the Highlands could not be any further away from the deafening bass-line of a Mykonos nightclub. The scantily-clad European women of the French Riviera are replaced by bearded Scotsman speaking their own hybrid language that lies somewhere between English and Gaelic.

The Scottish Highlands are not your typical summer adventure, yet for the traveller that seeks out peace and a secluded getaway, it provides the perfect opportunity for relaxation. Explore the pristine environment, take in the fresh air and enjoy being virtually cut-off from the rest of the world. With the fast-paced nature of modern life, it might be just what you need.