Even by Scottish standards, the legendary Highlands are off the beaten path, requiring a little extra effort to reach, but rewarding the persistent traveler with stunning natural scenery (weather permitting) and many locations of historical interest. This 2014 edition is the latest version of the Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands & Islands, with updated content and a slightly revised format.
The Highlands and Islands are located north of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and west of Aberdeen, which with Inverness are the principal entry points into the region. It is a surprisingly large area with few major population centers and a thin transportation and hospitality infrastructure. The elbow room and the opportunity to wander are a magnet for many visitors, but planning ahead is recommended, especially to reach some of the remoter islands.
This guide is divided by geographic area: the southeast coast of Argyll, the Central Highlands including the Cairngorms, the Great Glen including Loch Ness, sparsely populated Northern Scotland, Skye, the Western Isles, Orkney, and the Shetlands. Each section discusses items of interest such as castles, lochs, mountain walking, whisky distilleries, and museums. The sections include maps and graphics of the few towns, along with information on how to get there and where to eat and to stay. This edition also includes lots of websites and a healthy if limited selection of color photographs. There are practical hints on how to avoid school holidays and how to minimize the impact of the highly variable weather.
This reviewer's favorite area is the vast Cairngorms National Park, set in the rugged Grampian Mountains but easily explored by day trips from any of several pleasant small towns such as Braemar, which also hosts the annual Highland Gathering, a celebrated highland games often attended by members of the British royal family from nearby Balmoral Castle. Many towns in the Highlands have their own games. Pitlochry, for example, has theirs in September, a true municipal celebration of highland culture that includes competitive highland dancing and a huge bagpipe band competition along with the usual athletics, all in the town's riverside park.
With averagely good weather, the Scottish Highlands and Islands provide superb opportunities to explore, whether on foot or bike, or by automobile or train (or even ferry). The region and this guide are highly recommended.