Rough Guide has taken the step of recognising that visitors to Scotland will find at least two different worlds - the Lowlands, extending from the English border to the two major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and, to some extent, following the east coast round through the cities of Dundee and Aberdeen. Much of the tourist trade will be centred on this area, with many people heading in to the two major cities. City guides are available, meeting the specific needs of visitors to, say, the Edinburgh Festival or exploring the many attractions of the capital or of Glasgow. Travel within the Lowlands is fairly well catered for, but once you leave the Lowlands and enter the Highlands, you are into a very different world.
The Highlands is characterised by its mountains, with limited road access, and very limited rail access. Roads often become single track, or even dirt track, weaving their ways through the mountain valleys. The weather can be variable, and any traveller has to view this region with respect. The mountains may only be 3-4000 foot in height, but they take an annual toll of the lives of those who set out to explore them without adequate equipment or preparation.
And the West coast is an entirely different prospect from the east. It is carved into by the sea and broken up by river estuaries, creating an almost fjord-like landscape. Beyond the major routes, navigation skills are at a premium. Off-shore, you will find scores of small islands, rich in archaeology and romance, often accessible only through infrequent ferry or light aircraft journeys (though the Isle of Skye can be reached by bridge, now, gloriously free of tolls).
The Highlands and Islands constitute a wonderful landscape for exploration, but, once off the road, you will rapidly find yourself in wilderness country. I have to repeat myself - navigational skills and the proper clothing are at a premium. But it's a landscape worth exploring. The hospitality is legendary, and the romance and adventure is beyond description in such a short space.
'The Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands & Islands" is a densely packed little volume, crammed with maps, cultural and historical insights, route planners, information about hotels and B&B's, eating places, drinking places, local folk festivals and games, etc., etc. This is truly a traveller's guide - it is not a picture book, but an essential tool for anyone planning a visit to the region, offering an encyclopaedic coverage of the options available. Published in 2004, some things will have changed, so make use of the telephone or Internet to check afore ye go, but if you want to spend time in Scotland ... and the Highlands and Islands are worthy of a lifetime's exploration ... then this is the best little book on the market.