Things to Do in The Scottish Highlands - page 2
The ruins of Urquhart Castle sit on the shores of Loch Ness. Visitors can still climb the Grant Tower, which offers scenic views of the famous loch and Great Gen. It was once one of Scotland's largest castles, and it spent hundreds of years as an important medieval fortress. The castle was frequently invaded and taken over by enemies only to be won back later. It also played a big role during the Scots’ struggle for independence in the 1300s and came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots in 1306. The castle was blown up in 1692 to prevent it from becoming a Jacobite stronghold.
Visitors can learn about Urquhart Castle in the visitor center which includes an exhibition, film show, gift shop and restaurant. Items in the exhibition include a collection of artifacts left by the castle's former residents and historic replicas. Urquhart Castle is also one of the main sites for reported sightings of the legendary Loch Ness Monster.
One of Iverness’ oldest and most unusual historic sites, the Clava Cairns, or the Stones of Clava are a series of stone chambers thought to date back to the early Bronze Age (c 2000 BC). The unique site, also known as the Balnuaran of Clava, comprises three sizable Cairns of stones, the largest measuring 31 meters in diameter, each featuring an outer curb surrounding an inner chamber of larger stones.
Located close to the Culloden Battlefield, the Clava Cairns lie in a picturesque setting surrounded by woodlands and close to the River Nairn. A series of 15 similar stone piles are also dotted around the Nairn valley. The Cairns, thought to be closely linked to other prehistoric stone circles found in the British Isles, might also have been burial sites, with a number of bones found when the Cairns were first excavated back in 1828.
More Things to Do in The Scottish Highlands
As every Scot knows, Bannockburn was where King Robert the Bruce led Scottish forces to victory over a much larger English force led by Edward II in 1314. Moviegoers may remember the decisive battle from the end of the film Braveheart. This event, so critical to the development of Scottish national identity, is now marked by an imposing equestrian statue of Robert, from where you can survey the surrounding countryside. There is also a more modern monument at the spot where soldiers camped on the eve of the battle. The Bannockburn Heritage Centre explains the historical importance of this conflict amidst the long, fraught relations between Scotland and the “Sassenachs” to the south.
Overlooking Loch Roag and the hills of Great Bernera on the Isle of Lewis, Callanish Standing Stones date back to the late Neolithic period over 4,500 years ago. At the famous site there are nearly 50 megaliths which radiate out from the main stone in the shape of a distorted Celtic cross.
Thought to have been abandoned in 1500 BC because of the change in the Outer Hebrides’ climate to colder, wetter weather, over the years the stones became veiled in a thick blanket of peat. Since then, many theories have been given for why our ancestors built the stones. The most likely reason is that they formed a prehistoric lunar observatory. The Callanish Stones are also the focal point of many Lewis islanders’ folk tales — a popular story is that the stones are "False Men;" island giants turned to stone by Saint Kieran who was furious when the men refused to convert to Christianity.
No bricks, no mortar, no buttress -- just stone placed on top of stone on an exposed Lewis hilltop nearly 2,000 years ago, Carloway Broch roundhouse has stood tall against the Isle of Lewis’s raging Atlantic storms since the Iron Age. Looking out to Loch Roag, this is one of the best preserved brochs in Scotland, and parts of the Dun Carloway still come close to its original height at nine meters tall. It’s not clear why these brochs (Scottish drystone roundhouses) were ever built, but it’s thought that they could have been the homes of the high-status local leaders. Even though the building of brochs fell out of fashion in 150 AD, this multi-story roundhouse has continued to be used through the ages. Dun Carloway was even the scene of one particularly dramatic fight back in the 1500s, when a party of Morrisons stole cattle from the Macaulay clan and hid out in the broch. What did the Macaulays do? Smoke their enemies out with burning heather, of course.
Hairpin bends aren’t just for the Alps. At Bealach Na Ba Pass in the remote Scottish Highlands, you can drive along the greatest road ascent in Britain. Full of twists and turns through the remote Highland landscape, the historic road runs from the pretty coastal village of Applecross right through the mountains up to 2,054 feet, making it the third-highest road in Scotland.
The drive can be a little scary at times, but just take it slow and be courteous enough to use the passing places. Local etiquette on Scotland’s single-track roads is to give the person who "gives way" a cheery wave or raise of the hand to say thanks. When you get to the top of Bealach Na Ba, enjoy the views across the sea out to the isles of Skye, Rum and the Outer Hebrides. From the top car park, there are some great peaks to explore if you’re an experienced hiker, and as you’re already over 2,000 feet up, half the work has already been done for you.
Standing proud against the fearsome storms that ravage the north coast of Lewis is the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Designed by Scottish lighthouse engineer David Stevenson in the 1860s, the watchtower wasn’t automated until 1998, making it one of the last in the British Isles to lose its lighthouse keeper. While you can no longer go inside, there are information plaques outside, and it’s interesting just to see the lighthouse in all its exposed red-brick glory instead of the usual white. A birdwatcher’s paradise, look out for buzzards, gulls and the occasional puffin soaring around the cliffs. Also, take a close look at the crags being buffeted by the North Sea, some of the oldest exposed rock in Europe, created up to 300 million years ago back in the Cambrian period. While you’re here, follow the coast southwest past the lighthouse. You’ll soon see a natural sea cave, known as the Eye of the Butt
Considering Corrieshalloch Gorge is such a beautiful spot, full of Caledonian pines and rare Atlantic lichen, it might come as a surprise that its name is actually Gaelic for “Ugly Hollow.” Created at the end of the last Ice Age, the gorge is one of Britain’s most impressive box canyons. Carved by glacial meltwaters that burst through the Scottish Highlands over 12,000 years ago, today you can walk the trails along the top of the mossy gorge and get great views down the 60-meter deep crevice, where the Droma river flows in a chain of waterfalls until it makes its most impressive roar of all, in a 46-meter plunge from the Falls of Measach.
If you just want to check out the waterfall and head back, follow the trail to the small suspension bridge 300 meters from the car park. From here, you’ll get great views of the rushing waters and surrounding woods.
Duncansby Head, located in northern Scotland, is the northernmost point on the British mainland. It is a set of dramatic sandstone cliffs that overlook the sea. Some of the cliffs reach up to 200 feet high. Exploring the area along the coastal pathway will give you a great opportunity to see some of the region's unique seabirds and other wildlife. Some of the birds you might see include guillemot, kittiwakes, and puffins, depending on the time of year.
From Duncansby Head, visitors will have a view of the Duncansby Stacks, a group of large jagged sea rocks, and Thirle Door, a rocky arch. Sometimes it is also possible to catch a glimpse of some of the sea life here, including seals, dolphins, minke and killer whales. The nearby village of John O'Groats is the northernmost settlement on the mainland of Britain, and the Duncansby Head Lighthouse marks the northernmost point.
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