SCOTLAND wows no matter the weather; as beautiful in the thundering rain, with dark clouds looming low over a Highland loch, as she is on a summer’s night, with red rays glinting off an ancient castle’s rocks.
The landscape has inspired music and poetry for generations and in normal times, draws tourists and film-makers from around the world in their droves.
Now, with travel further afield so limited for so long, more of us have been making the effort to see what lies just beyond our own doorsteps. You will surely have your own favoured spots but these are a selection of scenic locations that set the heather on fire.
1. Loch Maree from the NC500
The beauty of Loch Maree was encapsulated in a well known Scots song written by Inverness composer Kenneth MacKenzie and first recorded by ceilidh king, accordionist Fergie MacDonald: “Below me Loch Maree, oh leave me to my solitude and let me wander free…” The view over the loch in Wester Ross, in the north west Highlands, was enjoyed by none other than Queen Victoria on a visit in 1877 and Victoria Falls was named in her honour, with the water tumbling down from Beinn Eighe, the impressive bulk of a mountain to the south of the loch. Driving on the North Coast 500, the winding road to Kinlochewe offers a spectacular view of Glen Docherty and Loch Maree, dotted with more than 60 islands which contain some of the last fragments of the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest.
2. Glenfinnan Viaduct
A truly magical place, Glenfinnan is now familiar to fans of Harry Potter, featuring in the movies of JK Rowling’s famous novels about the boy wizard. Its magnificent 21 arch concrete viaduct has marvelled visitors since it was built in 1901, and draws Harry fans from all over the world. And if you stand high enough on the hillside, you can see the viaduct and Glenfinnan Monument, built more than 200 years ago as a tribute to the Highlanders who “fought and bled” in the 1745 Jacobite Rising, with the glittering loch behind. Or instead, take a seat on the bench at the head of Loch Shiel and look out over the still water surrounded by mountains. Not even a spell could summon such a sight.
3. The Small Isles from Arisaig
The saying goes that you are born in Eigg, buried in Rum and die in Muck, but while we are still here, taking in the view of the Small Isles in the Inner Hebrides from the shoreline in Arisaig is quite something. And as well as looking out, you would do well to glance around, as Arisaig is itself a beauty spot on the Road to the Isles – notably the white sands and turquoise waters of Camusdarach Beach. Meanwhile, a boat trip out to the isles takes you past majestic cliffs and rocky shores and offers a fine viewpoint of the distinctive profile of Eigg and its prominent An Sgurr hill, the result of one of the last eruptions of a volcano, the core of which now forms the isle of Rum.
4. Loch Garry from the A87
This freshwater loch, 15 miles north of Fort William, creates an attractive vista, but it has an unusual claim to fame that makes it one of the most popular views in Scotland. From a viewpoint looking west on the A87, south of Fort Augustus, it looks just like the shape of a map of Scotland and, as a result, is much photographed and a must-stop spot for visitors to the area.
5. The Forth Bridge from North Queensferry
It is an obvious choice, but for a reason…the truly impressive feat of engineering that is the Forth Bridge is simply impossible to ignore and looks particularly stunning when glimpsed from between the quaint buildings of North Queensferry. The railway bridge, crossing the Forth Estuary, was completed in 1890 and was awarded World Heritage status in 2015. It is one of the most iconic structures of its kind in the world that features on countless postcards.
6. Edinburgh Castle
I know it seems like a ‘Well, of course!’ choice, but perhaps for many of us residing in Scotland, familiarity means we don’t quite see this icon with appreciative eyes. Towering over Edinburgh atop Castle Rock, there are plenty of spots in the capital which offer a good view of the castle, but one viewpoint in particular is worth a visit – venture to the top of the steps at the historic Vennel alleyway, just off the Grassmarket opposite King’s Stables Road. The advice is to count the steps and on the 50th one, turn around to be treated to one of the most stunning views in the city – the castle in all its glory.
7. Dunnottar Castle
Aberdeenshire is bursting with beautiful views and Scotland itself has plenty of stunning castles to choose from, but it has to be said Dunnottar is truly jaw-dropping. The ruined medieval fortress’s spectacular cliff top location gives it a dramatic edge on the north-eastern coast, about two miles south of Stonehaven. It is the spot where the Scottish crown jewels – the ‘Honours of Scotland’ – were hidden from Oliver Cromwell’s invading army in the 17th century, while the castle also inspired the design of the castle in Pixar animated movie, Brave, and doubled as 16th century Denmark for Mel Gibson in his Hamlet movie in 1990.
8. Loch Duich, from the Ratagan Pass
The Mam Ratagan – or Bealach Ratagain – is an old military road 1,112ft at its highest point, popular with tourists due to the sightseeing opportunities it affords. Linking isolated, picturesque Glenelg in Lochalsh with the Kylerhea Ferry service to the isle of Skye, the pass is 10 miles of mostly single track road, but once you get to the viewpoints, on a clear day, the reward is spectacular, with fantastic vistas over Loch Duich toward the Five Sisters of Kintail in the north west.
9. Sumburgh Head
Designed by Robert Stevenson in 1821 – grandfather to author Robert Louis – Sumburgh Lighthouse, perched 298ft above sea level, shines its beacon across the waters around the southern tip of the mainland of Shetland. Pause on the track up to the structure to take in a panoramic view of the lighthouse itself and absorb the drama, before you head on up to the building itself and one of its many viewpoints to look out across the North Sea and catch a glimpse of the huge colonies of seabirds, including puffins and gannets.
Arran itself is often described as ‘Scotland in miniature’, with a fault that runs through its heart, splitting the isle into a mountainous landscape on one side and a green lowland on the other. There are a vast array of amazing sights on the isle, but for a good view of Arran itself, a walk along the the beaches of South Ayrshire, such as Troon or Ayr, offers an impressive vista of the island rising up out of the Firth of Clyde. The South Ayrshire sands also offers a good view of the distinctive Ailsa Craig – the ancient volcanic plug in the Firth, home to 36,000 pairs of gannets.
11. Glen Coe
What words could ever capture the essence of Glen Coe? It has to be seen to be believed. This ancient Highland landscape, formed by a super volcano hundreds of millions of years ago and then sculpted by massive glaciers in the last Ice Age, rises and falls in sweeping arcs, in and out of the mist. Its haunting history lingers in the air, going back to 1692 when 38 men, women and children of the MacDonald clan were murdered in the glen. Glen Coe has appeared in movies, from Harry Potter to Skyfall, and is a photographer’s dream location because at every turn, there is beauty untold.
12. Isle of Barra from above
You can arrive in Barra – sitting at the southern end of the island chain of the Outer Hebrides – by ferry from Oban and South Uist, but many visitors arrive by plane and it is the view from the window of the aircraft that is a vantage point to remember. The bird’s eye scene of crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches is unforgettable and then comes the landing on Traigh Mhòr beach, which is the only beach runway in the world for scheduled flights. Only eight miles long and four miles wide, Barra is tranquility personified and an ideal starting point for visiting and exploring the Uists and Benbecula.
13. The Callanish Stones
The Calanais Stones – or Callanish in English – are one of Scotland’s best preserved Neolithic monuments. Located on the west coast of Lewis, standing back to take in the site of the 5,000-year-old stone circle is other-worldly. The changing weather impacts the moment too, whether the sun is setting or the wind is howling, it is beyond atmospheric to look at the 13 structures that are surrounded by so much mystery. It is believed they were most likely an astronomical observatory and a place of ritual activity, but no matter what they were, they are still an amazing sight.
14. Snow Roads, Cairngorms
With its collection of lochs, mountain tops and castles, the Cairngorms National Park is renowned for its amazing scenery. But the Snow Roads Scenic Route – a 90-mile journey from Blairgowrie to Grantown-on-Spey – traversing the highest public road in the UK, takes you through some truly outstanding Cairngorms landscapes. There are three Scenic Route Installations along the way to provide prompts to stop and explore the area, with a ‘photo-post’ at each installation to capture the changes in the landscapes. At the Still art installation, the view over Tomintoul is reflected in the mirrored sides as the structure towers over the textures and colours of the landscape.
15. The Fairy Pools, Skye
This has to be among one of the most striking natural places to visit in Scotland, with – as its name suggests – a magical aura and a view to match, as a series of waterfalls cascade down through the rocks into sparkling turquoise pools that make this neck of Scotland look like a Caribbean lagoon. Situated at the foot of the Cuillins near the village of Carbost on Skye, these spring water pools draw visitors from around the world and if you don’t fancy a wild swim, you can always get your camera out. In modern-day speak, the pools are 100 per cent ‘Instagram-worthy’.
16. Glasgow from Queen’s Park Flagpole
It’s not a beach or a loch, but when you need to take the air and you want a good view along the way, a wander to the flagpole at Queen’s Park in Glasgow’s southside is worth it as it offers a fine vantage point of the city, from the south to the east, to the city centre to the west end. On a crisp, clear day, you can see to the Campsies and Ben Lomond and pick out all the places of note along the way.
17. Lochan na h-Achlaise from Rannoch Moor
Lochan na h-Achlaise translates from Gaelic to ‘small Loch of the Armpit’, which, granted, isn’t the most attractive moniker, but no matter, as this is a real beauty spot in the heart of the country. Set in the midst of the wild and windswept Rannoch Moor, the expanse of 50 square miles of boggy moor that stretches into Perth and Kinross, Lochaber and Argyll and Bute, the small, heart-shaped lochan, is surrounded by the imposing Black Mount snow-capped mountain range.
18. The isles from Bealach Na Ba
Bealach Na Ba, which translates as ‘pass of the cattle’ from Gaelic, is a winding mostly single track road through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula, recognised as one of the most scenic – and most challenging – drives in Scotland. Starting the drive at Lochcarron, it is a route that is not advised for campervans or learner drivers as it is narrow, with extremely tight uphill corners, but if you are confident enough to tackle it, it’s worth the journey. At the 2053ft summit, you can see across to so many Scots isles, from Skye and Rum to Harris and Lewis.
19. The Queen’s View, Perthshire
Overlooking Loch Tummel in the heart of Perthshire, the oft-photographed Queen’s View is often said to have been named after Queen Victoria, after she visited the area in 1866, although many say it was in fact given its name more than 550 years earlier, in honour of King Robert the Bruce’s wife, Queen Isabella of Scotland. It is a regal outlook either way, with a panorama over the loch and beyond to the iconic Schiehallion mountain.
20. Fingal’s Cave, Staffa
Not that easy to get to but as Sir Walter Scott said, “one of the most extraordinary places I ever beheld”. Fingal’s Cave on the isle of Staffa, in the Inner Hebrides, west of Mull, is a sea cave. But unlike others, is formed entirely of hexagonally jointed basalt columns, similar to the ones forming the Giant’s Causeway. Scott also wrote the cave “baffles all description” but if one was to try, arriving by boat you see a large, arched entrance filled by the sea with fractured columns allowing you to walk inside. Once in, looking back out, the cave entrance frames the island of Iona across the water. Mendelssohn visited in 1829 and wrote his Finga’s Cave overture, inspired by the echoes within. Quite a cave and quite a sight.