Stretching from the Orkney Islands in the north to the Isle of Mull in the south, and west from the Isle of Skye to Stirling in the east, the Scottish Highlands have a lot of “firsts” for Scotland. It has the highest peak at Ben Nevis. Loch Ness is the deepest Loch and is said to be able to hold the volume of all other freshwater lochs in Scotland combined. But Loch Lomond is said to be the largest loch based on surface area. The Highlands are the largest region of Scotland but has the lowest population density at 8 persons per square kilometer.
This region is home of probably the world’s best-known myth – the legend of Loch Ness. Said to be a prehistoric dinosaur that somehow survived the mass extinction, there are still people who claim that Nessie is real.
The Highlands are the home of the sad legend of Clan MacDonald, who were virtually wiped out by the Campbell clan who were in league with the British Army. The incident is the origin of the saying “Never trust a Campbell”.
And, much of the area is covered with heath, which is essentially a peat bog. It makes farming and raising livestock there difficult, but the peat is a great source of fuel for heating – and making whisky.
With an area this large, it is difficult to cover every part of the region, but here are some of the major points of interest here.
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, 4,413 feet above sea level. It is part of the Grampian mountain range and attracts hikers and mountain climbers to take advantage of the views from its summit. Its name, is derived from the Gaelic language “Beinn Nibheis,” meaning “mountain with its head in the clouds.” The awe-inspiring landscape surrounding Ben Nevis is rich with rugged beauty, showcasing deep glens, cascading waterfalls, and serene lochs. It offers visitors an unforgettable and rewarding experience as they venture to its peak.
Fort Willliam and the Glenfinnan Viaduct
At the base of Ben Nevis is Fort William. Visitors here are attracted not only by Ben Nevis, but also the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This railroad, which will be very familiar to Harry Potter fans, measures almost 1,300 feet spanning the glen, and is almost 100 feet high. There are 21 arches in the viaduct.
The railroad running on this viaduct is the Jacobite Steam Train (also known as the Hogwarts Express), which runs an 85 mile route from Ft William to Loch Nevis.
Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
Located just to the east of Loch Lomond, the Trossachs National Park is known for its stunning landscapes, glens, and lochs.
Highlights of Trossachs National Park include scenic drives, like the one through Duke’s Pass, boat cruises on Loch Katrine, and Rob Roy’s gravesite.
Loch Lomond is the largest loch in Scotland, as measured by surface area.
Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
While Loch Lomond is larger by surface area, and Loch Morar is the deepest, Loch Ness is the largest by total volume. This loch, famous enough by itself, also has the remaining ruins of Urquhart Castle on its shores. The castle dates back to the 1300s and changed hands often between the Scottish and the English in the various wars between the two countries.
Loch Ness also runs on the fault line between two tectonic plates dividing Scotland in two.
Perhaps the most famous story about Glencoe is story of the MacDonald and Campbell Clans. The legend of the Campbell and MacDonald Clans is centered around a tragic event known as the Massacre of Glencoe, which took place in the Scottish Highlands on February 13, 1692.
The story begins with the MacDonalds of Glencoe, who refused to pledge allegiance to the King of England. On the other hand, the Campbell’s often feuded with the MacDonalds, The Campbells were loyal to the crown, and saw an opportunity to gain favor with the King.
Under the pretext of seeking shelter, a contingent of the Campbell Clan, led by Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, was invited into the homes of the MacDonalds in Glencoe. For nearly two weeks, they lived amongst the MacDonalds, sharing food and shelter.
During this time, the MacDonald chief, Alastair MacIain, sought to fulfill the required oath of allegiance to the crown. He had been led to believe that his submission would be accepted even though it was past the deadline. However, an order for the extermination of the MacDonalds was signed by William III on February 1, 1692, stating that any MacDonald who had not taken the oath of allegiance by January 1 would be considered traitors and punished accordingly.
On the morning of February 13, 1692, the Campbell soldiers turned on their hosts. They murdered at least 38 MacDonald men, women, and children. Some were killed in their sleep, others while trying to escape the massacre. The homes were burned to the ground, leaving behind a scene of devastation.
The incident remains part of the story of the political development of Scotland and gave rise to the saying “Never trust a Campbell”.
The Three Sisters
And speaking of the Clan MacDonald, Scottish folklore tells of the Three Sisters of Glencoe, also known as the Three Sisters of Bidean nam Bian. The story behind the Three Sisters, named Beinn Fhada, Gearr Aonach, and Aonach Dubh, fell in love with three brothers from the rival Clan MacDonald. The clans were feuding, and their love was forbidden. In an attempt to be together, the brothers sought refuge in Glencoe. However, they were ambushed and killed, and the grieving sisters transformed into the three distinct peaks, perpetually watching over the glen as a lasting tribute to their lost love.
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle is situated on a small tidal island where three lochs, Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh, meet in the western Scottish Highlands. The Castle dates back to the 13th century, and served as a strategic stronghold during the Jacobite uprisings. Despite being destroyed in the 18th century, the castle was restored in the early 20th century. Eilean Donan Castle is one of Scotland’s most photographed landmarks and remains a popular destination for visitors.
Visiting the Scottish Highlands is best done by car or with a tour group. These are easily arranged from Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverness.
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