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Written by
Catherine Allan
Catherine Allan

A Scottish Snapshot: Highlights of The Highlands in 8 Days

I joined our tour development team in the summer of 2017 and am currently working on our Scottish tours, as part of becoming familiar with our most popular Scottish trips I took my Mum, Barbara, on our Highlands & Isle of Skye: Rail & Hike trip.  Normally my holidays consist of rock climbing and hiking in the mountains with my boyfriend so I wasn't sure about how much I would enjoy a trip with a focus on travel throughout.  However, I am pleased to say my Mum and I came back with wonderful memories and great experiences, and some of the journeys during were a real highlight. Indeed, the West Highland Line is consistently voted one of the best railway journeys in the world, and takes you through remote landscapes that it would take days to walk to!  The trip is the perfect way to see as much of Scotland as possible in a week; we hiked through the woodlands of Perthshire, strolled around the Highland city of Inverness, gazed in awe at the rock formations of The Storr, walked coastal clifftops on Skye, rode the Jacobite steam train to Fort William, and followed the banks of the Caledonian Canal at either end of the renowned Great Glen Way.

1. The Wild Woodlands of Blair Atholl Estates, Perthshire

The airy deciduous woodlands of Blair Atholl Estate in Perthshire - a rewarding scene at the top of Banvie Burn Glen.

The first two nights of the trip are spent in the quaint Perthshire village of Blair Atholl.  The village is dominated by Blair Castle, the earliest parts of the castle date from as far back as the 1200s.  We provide a choice of walks in the area, and my Mum and I chose the Banvie Burn walk that takes you into the upland moors and woodlands behind the Atholl Estate and then down through the charming hamlet of Old Blair and passing the castle grounds through pretty farmland.  

2. The Heart of the Highlands: Inverness

Blue skies over the Highland city of Inverness. 

One of the many suspension bridges that criss-cross the River Ness in the heart of Inverness.

On our third night we stayed in the friendly city of Inverness, after a scenic rail journey from Blair Atholl.  On arriving we settled into our accommodation, welcomed with coffee and homemade muffins from our hosts. Having already been to Inverness, explored the sites and visited legendary Loch Ness we chose the Inverness loop walk that makes an 11 km circuit along the River Ness and out across the Caledonian Canal to the sea before following the river back into the city centre.  There are plenty of places to eat, drink, and explore so your evening is what you make of it!    

3. Over The Sea to Skye: Adventuring on The Isle of Skye

Make sure to allow plenty of time for admiring the spectacular vistas of The Storr formation on the Isle of Skye.

Appreciate the wonderful views (and variable weather!) from the trig-point at the summit of Sithean Bhealaich Chumhaing, the highest point on the coastal ridge. As an alternative to the entertaining Skye guided day tour Mum and I wanted to get some miles beneath our feet so we walked a section of the long-distance Skye Trail from The Storr to the harbour town of Portree.  But first, we couldn't resist walking around the Quiraing to see The Storr formations.  The landscape here is amazingly otherworldly; arrive there in the morning to appreciate the wild atmosphere at it's best!  We then set out across the moorland hugging the clifftops of the coastal ridge to Portree before enjoying a lovely evening meal in Portree's main square.  

4. Scotland's Most Famous Rail Journey: The Jacobite Steam Train to Fort William

The windows of the Jacobite steam train open out onto some rarely trod terrain, and of course, give the best views of the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct.

From the small harbour town of Portree, where we spent two nights, we journeyed to Fort William on the trip's most varied day of travelling.  The scenery on the bus ride from Portree to the ferry terminal at Armadale is absolutely beautiful, and then to Mallaig by ferry - there's nothing like a ferry journey to let you know that you're on an adventure.  From Mallaig, we took the Jacobite steam train (the "Hogwarts Express" train) to Fort William - the outdoor capital of the western Highlands.  We had plenty of time to enjoy the sights of Fort William before a hearty dinner.  

5. Walk the Great Glen Way

Follow the inky waters of the Caledonian Canal walking a section of the Great Glen Way. The Caledonian Canal spans the breadth of the country from Fort William to Inerness.

Looking out over an autumnal woodland en route to Spean Bridge after our canal-side walk to Gairlochy.

Our last day of walking took us from Fort William to the quiet village of Spean Bridge along the Caledonian Canal towpath on easy-going terrain.  It's a nice touch to walk from the Fort William side of the canal after walking the opposite end when we were in Inverness.  Travelling in early October meant we could appreciate the canal-side woodlands in all their autumnal finery! The trip proved to be a the perfect way to explore the classic sights of the Scottish Highlands in a truly immersive experience, away from bus tours and group guided trips.

If you would like to know more about the Highlands & Isle of Skye: Rail & Hike trip, don't hesitate to get in touch with one of our specialists who will be more than happy to help.