Overview of Scotland
When one thinks of Scotland certain images spring to mind. A piper playing bagpipes in full traditional dress, haggis, 'neeps and tatties on Burns Night, tartan, shortbread, men wearing kilts, heather covered moors, thistles and probably the two greatest things that Scotland has given to the world, golf and whisky. Sure, all those things are Scottish but the country has so much more to offer. It is a country of contrasts from bustling cities to remote lochs and glens, from sandy beaches to snow covered mountains, Scotland has something for everyone. It has Britain's highest mountains, deepest lakes and largest national park within its borders. The country is divided into regions each with its own unique character and attractions to captivate the visitor.
The Scottish Borders region abuts the north of England and is famous for salmon and trout fishing and offers excellent walking over the Southern Uplands.
In the Lothian region can be found Edinburgh, the county's capital which is one of Europe's most beautiful cities and has a rich mix of architecture, top class museums and galleries. There are wonderful parks, great shopping areas and a huge range of entertainment and eating places. Edinburgh Castle is a must see destination as it dominates the city and each August the world famous Military Tattoo takes place at the Castle Esplanade. The annual Fringe Festival brings comedians and entertainers from far and wide, performing hundreds of shows around the town (many of which are free).
Glasgow, some forty miles to the west of Edinburgh is a fine Victorian city and the main city of the Clyde Valley, the industrial heartland of Scotland with the shipyards on the River Clyde. In the city can be found several fine galleries and museums, it was awarded the status of European City of Culture in 1990. Off the west coast of the Clyde region can be found the lovely Isle of Arran where visitors can see the standing stones on Machrie Moor, visit the castle at the main town of Brodick or see the sun set from Ailsa Craig on its south coast.
Dumfries and Galloway in the south west is the region most famously associated with the poet Robert Burns who lived for some time in the town of Dumfries. His house is now a museum and there can be viewed the desk where he penned the words to 'Auld Lang Syne'. The region has a mild climate and attracts rare bird species which in turn makes this a great spot for nature lovers and bird watchers. The hills of the Galloway Forest Park or the coast of the Solway Firth are very popular with walkers of all abilities.
North of Clyde can be found the picturesque region of Loch Lomond and the Cowal Peninsular which are popular destinations for tourists. The loch is the largest in the country being 24 miles in length and 5 miles across at its widest point. The Cowal Peninsular is a great place for climbers and sailors to explore. The road in Argyll which runs west from Tarbet through Glen Croe is spectacular as it climbs up the shoulder of Beinn Ime to The Rest and Be Thankful, the views from the top are magnificent on a clear day. To the east of Loch Lomond can be found the Trossachs National Park where visitors can walk through wooded glens on to the moors or up to Bracklinn Falls or to the picturesque Falls of Leny. This is Rob Roy country and there is a visitor centre in Callander dedicated to the Highland folk hero.
The most northerly mainland region is the Highlands which as its name suggests contains many mountains including the highest in the country, Ben Nevis. Also in the region is the world famous Loch Ness, home of Nessie the monster. Visit the Cairngorms National Park, the largest national park in Britain at any time of year, pony trekking, walking and climbing are popular in the summer while there are several ski centres which run a thriving business during the winter. Here can be seen many rare species of wild life and birds. There is also a RSPB Osprey Centre at Loch Garten where webcams are trained on these handsome birds. Throughout the region in the summer visitors are quite likely to see Highland Games contests taking place in many towns and villages featuring traditional skills such as tug-of-war, caber tossing and sword dancing.
The Orkney Isles are a collection of islands off the north eastern tip of Scotland. Famous for both its bird life and wildlife and offering wonderful walking and cycling it is a great place for the outdoors enthusiast. As in most of Scotland there are also several fine golf courses to choose from. If scuba diving is your passion then head for the Orkneys as there are many wrecks to explore around the islands.
Off the north west coast can be found the Outer Hebrides, a chain of interlinked islands which are blessed with lovely white beaches, windswept moors and rugged hills. It is a wonderful area for walking, fishing, cycling and watching wildlife. A perfect destination to get away from it all and enjoy all that nature can offer.
To the far north of the mainland can be found the Shetland Isles which have roots with the Vikings as well as the Scots. Here can be seen many rare birds as well as sea life including whales and seals around the coasts. The famous fire festival, the Up Hella Aa is held each year in Lerwick in January and is Europe's biggest fire festival culminating in the burning of the Galley (Viking boat) at the end of the parade at Market Cross.